Studying abroad in the UK: an international student's guide


I had always known I wanted to pursue higher education abroad in England. It was the only path I ever envisioned for myself as I adored the English language and my home country in Portugal didn’t provide the course I wanted to pursue.

My last school years were spent anticipating how my days would be spent studying what I loved in a new and exciting country. No matter how much I believed myself to be prepared for the changes I was going to experience, there were a few things I wish someone would have told me in advance, which I will now share with you.

Recalling the day I got out of the plane by myself, I remember the feeling of adrenaline. I had never travelled by myself: was I going to make the train in time?

  • How was I going to be able to carry two suitcases out of the carriage by myself?
  • Did I have enough battery on my phone to update my family on my well-being?

I did make the train in time; a stranger helped me unload my luggage, and two power banks made sure my battery never even wavered. However, as soon as I made it to the place I was to call home, I sobbed for hours. 

Person standing next to a tram.

I called my parents, and I couldn’t tell them what my issue was. I was safe and where I wanted to be, but I had never lived by myself before, let alone in a new country.

The reality that I was miles away from everything that was familiar to me had sunk in. Obviously, this is normal, and it is perfectly okay to feel this way. Eventually, it will all feel better. Giving yourself time to process your new surroundings before you create a new routine definitely helps with this feeling.

Work towards feeling at ‘home’


For me, the next step in processing these significant changes was finding and pursuing things, people, and moments that make you feel happy and at ease – or, in other words, ‘home’.

I found that decorating my room so it feels like a comfortable, homey space to return to after a long day really helps. Make your room a reflection of who you are and what you love. For example, I printed a bunch of pictures of friends and family from back home, along with posters from my favourite shows, movies, and books!


If you were brave enough to move to another country to study, you are also brave enough to meet new people. The great thing about university is that those studying in the same course as you share your interests, and so, although it is normal to worry about finding ‘your’ people, try not to get intimidated by the unfamiliar student culture.

It is important to note that university life can be whatever you want it to be and no matter what it is that you like to do, you are sure to find someone who feels the same. If you don’t like going out late at night, you can always go to a coffee shop, have sleepovers, or go on road trips with your friends so you can get to know new places. 


There is also usually a wide range of student societies to choose from in university, where you can meet people with an already common bond and expand your circle of friends outside of lecture rooms and seminars.

Being a part of the Creative Writing Society at my university granted me not only new friends but also expanded my network of contacts relevant to my course. It also looks great on a CV to be a member of a society committee!

By putting yourself out there as far as you feel comfortable to, you’ll find the right people who match your lifestyle. 

Image of a student sitting with a sweet snack.

Search for your hometown community

Finding your footing in a new country doesn’t mean you can’t still be connected to your roots. Just as you’re being introduced to new things in the UK, grant your friends the opportunity to do the same.  

I shared with my friends Pastéis de Nata from a local Portuguese bakery, as it is the most popular sweet in Portugal. My best friend from the UK also came to visit me in Portugal for Spring Break, so I introduced her to other sweets like Pão de Deus  and traditional foods like Francesinha. As for music, I showed them some traditional Fado music, along with more recent tracks like 'Boa Memória' by Capitão Fausto. 

I attended the World Cup screening at the Student Union when Portugal played, even though I don’t particularly like football. It overwhelmed me with joy to sing the national anthem with fellow Portuguese students studying at my university whom I had never met until then. I hugged them as I left and even kept in contact with a few of them. 

Whether it be through university-organised events for international students, looking for restaurants, or attending live sports screenings, meeting other people who come from the same place as you will make you realise you aren’t alone. Who knows, they might visit you when you go back home for break ... 

Students services and support

Based on my experience, being an international student has sometimes made me feel like there is a gap between myself and my course peers who have studied in the UK their whole lives. This leads to feeling like I’m constantly playing catch-up, even if that’s not necessarily the case. 

Truthfully, my experience interacting with the student services support for international people specifically was bittersweet. Everyone was always very keen on assisting me, but sometimes they had to indicate to me other people who could help directly since not all university employers are aware of how to deal with the intricacies of Student VISA issues and other specific matters.

Image of a student's desk with a laptop and notebook in a seminar.

Sometimes this process of being redirected to other sectors of the university drags out and leads to delays in dealing with urgent affairs.

Find out who or where you can specifically go for help, whether the issue is academic or personal. Reach out to friends, family, pastoral services, or teachers. In fact, many of my teachers have supported me, helping me tackle challenges, offering me tissues as I cried in their office from overworking myself.

The university and its staff are there to help you, so make use of them! 

London buses moving down the street.

Don't forget!

Celebrate your victories, even if they are just raising your hand in a seminar. When the homesickness gets hard, remind yourself of the reasons that brought you abroad and of everything you have accomplished.

If no one has told you lately, the path you’ve chosen takes great courage, and the mere fact that you’re walking it is an achievement in itself.

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