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Studying in the UK: My first term at the University of Roehampton

The first few days in the UK at the University of Roehampton

What do I think about studying at the University of Roehampton? Do you want to know how I found studying abroad, from the very beginning? Read my story!

I arrived on 13 September, since that was the date from which my room was available. The worst day of my time in London was the first day, because I was worrying so much about how I’d manage – and even whether I’d manage at all.

Departure day was a tearful one, because I am very attached to my home and family, as well as my fiancé – who stayed behind in Poland. You can’t begin to imagine how difficult it was to leave him, but nevertheless, I did pluck up the courage to get on the plane. After all, even if you are in a relationship, that does not mean that you have to give up on your dreams. Love conquers everything… Don’t worry about being separated, it’s  worth trying a new path.

Going back to the day of my arrival at the University of Roehampton, I want to laugh when I think about how I was hauling two gigantic suitcases behind me. When I finally made it to the campus, lots of people offered to help me. I paid a fee for my bedding and was taken to my new room. Luckily, the room had everything I needed, a comfortable bed and plenty of room and storage for me and my two enormous cases. A “flat rep” of the University of Roehampton came to greet me and introduced me to my fellow residents, and then took me around the whole building  and the campus. I unpacked and then the first, most difficult, night was over. From that moment on, things only got better.

I needed to find a job as soon as possible, so I set about looking for it almost immediately. I knew that the essential National Insurance Number could only be applied for in the UK, so I rang the infoline and set up an appointment, where the interviewer asked me about myself, where I was from and what I was doing in the UK.

Once that was done, I needed to open a bank account so that whatever I earned  could be sent somewhere! I decided to go directly to the first bank I saw on the high street, and they were very helpful and told me exactly how to open an account, the options and the paperwork I needed to bring in. I think successfully completing these tasks took a lot of stress away, since I’d been worrying about the system, finding out the information I needed and actually organising myself on getting to London. When these essential practical matters were dealt with, the adventure at the University of Roeahampton could begin!

Of course, we are not all the same, but I for one like to share my life with other people and I’d choose friends over solitude every time. But where can we find these people when we arrive, and find ourselves alone and in a completely new environment?

One interesting option, organised by the University of Roehampton, is called Freshers’ Week, which is aimed at people who have just arrived. There are shows and films, outings and societies to join, all of which make it easy to meet other students. Remember, everyone has the same fears – everyone is  alone and new, so you can combine forces and get through this early stage of your university lives together.

I really recommend reaching out to other students. You will feel more confident and relaxed if you have another person to turn to and talk to. In addition, the huge range of activities organised by the university means that the first week just flies past, and there is no time to be bored.

Take advantage of the fact that lectures haven’t started yet and get to know your new town and neighbourhood. Why not go shopping — say, at Asda, where prices are low, and walk around your campus, so that you see all the facilities it offers, and where they are situated in relation to where you are living.

Of course, you are in a completely new and unknown environment, and far away from familiar surroundings and the support of loved ones, but everything will work out really well, you just need a little time. Get used to having to rely on yourself. As I’ve already mentioned, things will get better every single day, you just need to keep positive and remain open to having an amazing adventure, and appreciate all the opportunities that come from  studying abroad at the University of Roehampton.

Finding where to live

Once you have decided to take a risk, choose adventure and study abroad, one of the first things you will need to think about is finding accommodation, somewhere you can set up your new home. I still remember what a dilemma it was, looking through all the options and deciding where I really wanted to live.

At first, I considered renting a room, but in the end I decided against this option, because I was a little worried about who I might end up sharing with in a house, and it’s impossible to find out until you actually move in. I am very pleased that the idea of living with a stranger in someone’s house was quickly rejected because, thanks to that, I applied to live in the halls of residence. And I really recommend halls of residence to all new students. I think it’s an excellent solution to the problem of finding accommodation in an unknown place, and it has many more pluses than minuses.

First of all, it’s very convenient. I lived on campus, so it was a five-minute walk to lectures — of course, this depends where your halls and lectures are located, and the campus itself can be very large, so bear it in mind when you are choosing halls.

I was pleased that whenever I had a spare period, I could nip home, and eat something, rest and read. What a joy! In addition, I felt really safe, because it is difficult for anyone to access the campus at the University of Roehampton- in the evening and at night a security guard checks who is coming in through the gate, and only people who have university ID can get in.

From the moment I got to halls, I didn’t feel lonely, because everyone moves in on the same day so you get to meet each other, and the “flat rep” straight away. The flat rep is a senior  student and is responsible for the accommodation and everyone’s welfare, as well as making sure that we all have any information we might need, and someone to turn to if we have questions. Believe me, it’s really helpful when you arrive in a new country where everyone is speaking another language.

Moving on to the minuses, a few times, maybe four in all, I didn’t sleep very well because of the noisy celebrations that were taking place. This could happen, of course, but it just depends on the flatmates you are living with and their lifestyles.

My flatmates at the University of Roehampton were great and we all got on very well, we went out together and rallied round if anybody needed anything, whether advice, company or had a problem to resolve.

My room was furnished to a high standard, and I shared a bathroom and kitchen. The kitchen was big enough to take seven people, but it was so large that we never got in each others’ way and, anyway, it was extremely rare for everyone to be cooking at exactly the same time.

To add to my happiness, I had my own big fridge, so when I did go shopping for food, I could buy a whole week’s worth in one go and have somewhere to put it. When it comes to the bathrooms, there were so many of them that everyone virtually had their own one. And that is why I do believe that living in halls is a good choice.

The time will come for leaving the halls of residence, and the next question we need to ask ourselves is whether we want to rent and move into a single room, or to share a flat with someone. And this depends if we can think of someone we know and like well enough to get on with, living in close proximity in a flat.

I think that it’s important to know that renting a flat while brings a lot of extra costs and work with it – you have to pay an agency for finding you the flat, prepare all the documents they want to see – to make sure you are potentially a good tenant – and pay a deposit against damages. If you decide that you would rather just live on your own, I recommend spareroom.com, where you can find many different types of properties in various locations.

I am writing all this from personal experience, but we are all different and have our own preferences and ideas on how we want to live while we are studying abroad. Nevertheless, I do think it’s a good option to spend your first year in comfortable and secure halls of residence, because it will make your life in a new country a lot easier and less stressful.

When you are in your second year, why not try something new – by this time you will  have a large circle of friends and know people you would like to share a flat with, and whose company you enjoy. And it’s at this point that you will really begin to feel at home. And this is what I have done. After spending a happy year in halls, I am now ready to step out into a new environment and enjoy a new experience.

Working  while you are studying abroad – is it possible?

I suspect that most of you, like me, are going to need to find a job in order to have a stress-free life abroad. Luckily, I’m at the University of Roehampton, and London — and every town and city — offers many, many possibilities for finding work. I think you have to approach the subject calmly and logically.

The first step is to put together a CV, since any potential employer will want to see it. Make sure it’s clear, uncluttered and truthful, and doesn’t sprawl out over more than two A4 sheets, maximum!  Let me tell you about my own experiences looking for a job, and then I’ll move on to other options.

I was aware of the need to supplement my savings as quickly as possible, and to have an income, because the idea of running out of money was very stressful.

I wrote my CV while I was still in Poland and then printed 80 copies, because I wanted to be sure that I would find a job before I ran out of CVs. Shortly after arriving in the UK, I set aside a day for going into a local shopping centre, Westfield, and started going from shop to shop.

At first I walked into literally every shop I passed  and asked if they had any vacancies, and then I was normally asked for a copy of my CV, so remember to have it with you when it’s your turn! They also often asked me about when I was available, so it’s a good idea to know in advance what days you are attending lectures etc, so you can answer them.

I soon realised that this was a long-winded way of going about job-hunting, so I decided only to go into the shops I found appealing and thought I might like to work in.

It’s hard to remember exactly, but I suspect I gave out around 40 CVs and then stopped – since I thought that someone would surely respond. And that is what happened. The next day, I was contacted by phone and offered a few interviews.

The first interview is the most nerve-racking, and then you get used to answering the same questions and relax. After half a dozen interviews, I was offered a job. I know it seems easy to say, but try not to view the interviews as a huge hurdle or a big thing, but see them more as a normal conversation.

Some of the shops were great and I enjoyed meeting the people. In one shop, for example, I was asked to dress a client from head to toe, using a list of her preferences and her measurements, for a special occasion. It was great fun. In another place, after a few minutes’ chat, they just sent me out onto the shop floor, to deal with clients, help them and answer their questions, to see how I got on. I didn’t enjoy this as much, because I felt nervous and worried that they might ask me for something I did not know, and had no idea how to find, but in the end it was a good experience.

When it comes to shopping centres, one of the major disadvantages to working there is that most shop managers have a problem with us going home to Poland for Christmas. If you are lucky, and I was, then even this can be sorted out, and I did manage to go and see my family at Christmas. 

As well as working in retail outlets, we can look for a job in restaurants and cafes. You are bound to get lots of work offers in this sector, and some employers will even want you to start straight away. You certainly won’t go hungry here, because most jobs include meals, or at least access to some food. You will also find it easier to get time off to go to Poland at Christmas.

If you don’t want to walk around handing out your CV, or trawling round cafes, then I wholeheartedly recommend JobToday, an excellent source of work. Employers have to give you an answer within 24 hours of applying, so you won’t have to wait around, wondering if you got the job or not. As well as JobToday, you could also try indeed.com, and get daily emails from them about available part-time or temporary work. When it comes to London, work often looks for you, so you are bound to find something, sooner or later. Just be patient!

As for working and studying at the same time, the UK education system leaves you plenty of time for both. It’s not the same as in Poland, where you have to study five days a week, and you might end up having two hours of lessons in the morning, an hour in the afternoon and half an hour in the evening. In the UK, at the University of Roehampton, you have the time to study and to be an individual responsible for your own life. I think that, had it not been for working, I may well have been bored from time to time.

Of course, I am someone who likes to have a full life, and some people may want to live at a slower pace, but I still believe that working is good for staving off the odd moment of boredom. We don’t have too many lectures and it’s quite easy to do your student projects, reading etc on the days when you have to attend lectures, while the rest of your time can be spent working. Or at least that is what I decided to do.

On the days when I had formal teaching sessions, I dedicated the whole day to studying, namely going through my materials and books from dawn to dusk, attending lectures in the morning and then preparing for the following day’s teaching once the lecture was over. I did the same when it was a working day — working a full eight hour shift.

Of course, it took me a few hours to get ready, to eat, to travel to work and back, and so the whole day was taken up. This system suited me, because I don’t like doing anything in a bitty, scattered way, so if I’m going to read, then I’m going to really read –  not just read for a short time and then rush off to work.

This is a personal outlook, and not everyone will agree. I just think we all need to be organised and to decide if we want to do everything in intensive bursts or spread it out. I think we need to take small steps to reach our goal, although I do agree that when a deadline is coming up, we have to speed up a little and maybe set aside our routines and rigid divisions between work and studies. Nevertheless, this only happens a few times a year.

Studying in the UK at the University of Roehampton not only provides us with academic knowledge and experience, but it also teaches us a great deal about ourselves and about life in general. It’s only here that we can really learn about what adulthood involves – we have to be responsible and fulfil our obligations and cope with whatever is thrown at us. It might seem difficult to mix work and studying, but if learn how to focus, organise yourself and plan your days and weeks, then you will have learned a valuable lesson.