Leaving home is never an easy transition, let alone leaving one’s country and travelling more than 24 hours away. Being an MA student at the University of Essex was my first time leaving India and I went into it not exactly knowing what to expect. But I took a chance, and it would go on to be the best plunge I’d ever take.
I’ve been at Essex for seven months now and within each of those months, the ducks in the Meadows’ pond have seen me grow not just academically but also as an independent person. From making friends to figuring out food (ok, still not great with that one) studying and staying at Essex has been a life changing experience. In this blog I’m going to attempt to highlight some of the things I’ve learned after being here for a while. If you’re an individual leaving your country for the first time with a suitcase full of cardigans and dreams, this one’s for you!
If you’re getting bent out of shape trying to decide what to pack, first: relax! It’s not as big a deal as you might think. What I have noticed here is people wear what they are most comfortable in and no one bats an eye. Whether it’s a simple sweatsuit or basic denim and T-shirt – though you might have to layer up to the point they aren’t even visible anymore – but it’s all still pretty low-key and comfy.
If you’re a minimalist in the clothing department, you just need a few winter staples a bit heavier than what you would normally wear for a tropical winter (I am from India, I know) and that’s about it. A durable jacket, some winter boots, gloves, socks, and a couple of hoodies and you’re good to go. And summers? Tropic students are already an expert on that!
I would highly recommend making this checklist and checking them off as soon as you’re somewhat settled in. I didn’t and I am still figuring things out as I go. Number one: Register with your local GP (you will be emailed the link) and then download the NHS app to have all your prescriptions and health information sorted. Next! Go get your BRP. You will have chosen the location at the time of your visa application depending on your campus, but it probably would’ve been either sent to the University or the post office. You will require it during Registration Day and then throughout your stay as your ID. Then, it is extremely handy and easy to have a local bank account set up, especially if you’re planning on getting a job or your travel card gets lost (RIP mine). Speaking of work, it might also be beneficial to apply for a National Insurance Number on the British Government website. Again, doesn’t take a lot of effort but is worth looking into.
People person or not!
Flatmates are your potential first friends and, dare I say, even like family. Little gatherings in the kitchen, sharing eclectic foods, experiencing different cultures start right there! They are the people who see you at your best and worst (that morning hair before you get coffee?) and that bond has its own place. Other than that, there are SO many mixers, games and events organised by the SU. There are many many clubs and societies you can join with likeminded people who also love reading YA and dance their heart out, or geek out over Mangas!
Let me assure you, as an introvert, everyone you meet will smile and talk to you as if they’ve known you for ages which makes you instantly comfortable. So, don’t be afraid to reciprocate.
My biggest challenge here has been food. This is mainly because I have always been the cleaner in “you cook, I clean” deals. Something I have learned to appreciate now as an Asian is rice. So, If you are the same, and you can, buy a mini rice cooker or even share one with another flatmate. It’s going to save a lot of time and you will always have something filling. But if you are a chef, it’ll be easy breezy for you, and you have my upmost respect. You can get groceries delivered and chef it up!
We do also have regional restaurants around Wivenhoe and Colchester town – from Indian, Chinese, fast food as well. And here’s the bonus: campus cafes and food outlets have delicious hot food daily for £2! That’s also not all! The Store on campus and the Mini Store by the Meadows accommodation also have quick food on hand – sandwiches, puffs, pies. For a kitchen dummy like me, these places haven’t let me sleep hungry once!
Class is in session!
Academics is the main reason why most of us leave our homes and each time I’m in class, I know it was all worth it. The professors have been so welcoming and approachable, I am now more open to talking in class – and even outside. Before I answer something, I don’t worry that I might be judged. Everyone in class is genuinely interested in your views. The professors are super approachable, and it helps us to let them know if we’re struggling even a little bit – they’ll help us out in any way they can.
One suggestion before anyone starts their MA course – or during even – is to possibly check out the Open Essex Ready for Success course. It is completely free and optional but might help you get a sense of what to expect in your classes and how to write papers. This is especially helpful if your Bachelor’s degree is from another country that had a slightly different approach. Other such short, helpful courses can also be found under Skills for Success.
Living and Travel
Living on or around campus is highly recommended as it is a world on its own and everything is at your fingertips. Even part-time jobs on campus are in abundance! If you’re a travel bug, apply for a rail card and First Bus card and get your bucket list going!
Though dealing with homesickness is tough, you can always get help. Other than your close friends, you can always reach out to your Residents Assistant and they’ll help you out further. Another seemingly small but good practice would be to schedule calls at home at a time that works with the time difference and keep at it. This way you won’t miss home quite so much.