How to thrive and survive while studying abroad (and a bit about underwater hockey and other weird/wonderful student societies)

A few days ago I popped over to the Durham University Freshers’ Fair (sort of like Freshers’ Week stands at UoM). The amount of flyers and freebies I received were more or less on par with those I have gotten in Malta, but the array of societies and associations that were on display completely blew my mind. It’s not just regular societies like ELSA or the student newspaper, but dynamic (and thriving) clubs for snowboarding, folk, lacrosse, freefalling, dodgeball, playing Assassins… I could go on for quite a while. There were also some really obscure ones like ethnographic film, croquet, hill walking, and a chocolate society.

Since there’s so much on offer, I’m looking forward to attend some yoga, pilates, and meditation sessions, as well as possibly dabbling in some theatre and writing in some student publications. This will all be apart from the giant challenge and commitment that is my Master’s, obviously. Ashamedly, I did join the Eurovision society, but being Maltese, I intuitively felt that it would be expected of me. Or maybe I just wanted to be a part of the madness.

My favourite society has to be the Durham University Happiness society, which sends daily emails bursting with positivity and, well, happiness! There are also college-specific societies here which add to a friendly community feeling, and ensure that there’s always something going on to get involved in.

My first few weeks in the UK have been very pleasant, and I’ve settled in rather well. Many Maltese students are venturing abroad for their studies or travels, and are bound to be faced with the need to immerse themselves in a new culture, even if it’s another European country where they drive on the “right” side of the road. Therefore the following are a few tips which I found particularly valuable over the last few weeks.

  • Attend all the “introductory” stuff – induction meetings, the first lecture of each module, freshers’/international students’ meetings… It’s where all the vital information will be laid out for you (and where you can ask any niggling questions).
  • Get your bearings ASAP – not just with regard to university buildings, but also check out where the cheapest, closest grocery store is located, find out if there are any shortcuts to make your commute shorter, and pinpoint your nearest bus stops (as well as their names). Take note of a couple of taxi numbers too.
  • Introduce yourself to as many people as possible. I’ve only been here for a couple of weeks, but it’s already the case that I can’t walk through the centre without meeting at least two people whom I’ve previously met and spoken to here. You’ll meet the most fascinating people, I promise. (For example, at an international students’ party I met a German guy who actively participates in underwater hockey.)
  • Check out the facilities that are available to you. Large, foreign universities may be able to offer more facilities than you’re used to at UoM. For example, I’m lucky enough to have a few glorious libraries with lots of study rooms and computer labs, and I’m currently writing this article in a dedicated postgraduate student study hall (with a secret access code, a kitchenette and everything!).
  • Embrace the differences between Malta and your new home. I’m currently coming to terms with the ridiculous weather (cold! rainy! cold-and-rainy!), the joys of grocery shopping, and the large amount of intelligent, international students I’m getting to meet.

Generally, just stay safe and take advantage of all the activities and facilities in your beautiful, new environment. Your life is about to change, forever, and it’s going to be (for the most part) utterly fantastic.

(This article originally appeared in the second edition of The Insiter, Vol. 12.)

2 thoughts on “How to thrive and survive while studying abroad (and a bit about underwater hockey and other weird/wonderful student societies)

  1. David

    It might be worth pointing out that generally (UOM included) universities have more facilities on offer than students bother to make use of.

    Reply
    1. clairecommando

      True. But Durham has laptops at the library and and and lots of awesome stuff. And I’m a person who generally makes more use than most of the facilities available, so it’s not like I just plopped over to Durham and am suddenly aware of facilities.

      Reply

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