Challenges I overcame as an international student

Bryan is a second-year Pharmacy MPharm student, originally from Hong Kong. He moved to the UK in 2011 to study Key Stage 3. He arrived with limited English language skills and quickly had to adapt to a new culture and make new friends.

In this blog post, Bryan shares how he coped with some of the challenges and obstacles he faced.

Profile image of Bryan Tsui, University of Bradford MPharm student from Hong Kong
Bryan Tsui, MPharm

Being alone

When I first came to the United Kingdom to begin my KS3 study, it was a tough feeling to be away from home for the first time. You are away from your comfort area and you will need to establish new friends. At that time, I was shy and spent most of the time staying in my allocated room within the boarding house after school finished.

I recommend that newly arrived international students stay outdoors, sign up to the enrolment activities that are organised by the University, and head to the student union for social events. By chance, you may meet your course mates before attending your first-ever lecture!

New students and society members at Freshers' Fair 2018

New students can find out about events and join societies and sports clubs at the annual Freshers’ Fair.

Language barriers

To me personally, this is probably by far the most challenging problem that I encountered when I first came to the country.  I attended a primary school where English was not the predominant language, therefore, I was struggling to communicate with my subject teacher. I had to solely rely on a digital translator to pick up new vocabularies.

My advice to international students is not to put yourself in the corner of the room because it will not help you to overcome the language barrier. If English is not your first language, I recommend you put yourself forward and try to greet people who are fluent in English.

Being able to speak fluent English will certainly take time – it took me almost two years to pick up English to communicate with my friends back in secondary school.

Also, I will recommend purchasing a digital translator to aid international students to note down new vocabulary that they came across. The University itself also offers a variety of language classes to help International students to overcome language barriers, such as workshops on how to improve academic writing, presentation skills and English grammar.

International students in an English language class

International students can attend and host language classes to improve their English and learn other languages.

Cultural difference

As an international student from Hong Kong, there were certainly some cultural differences compared to what I experienced back home. When I first came to this country, I didn’t get used to the public transport atmosphere – the majority of the passengers will almost stay silent throughout the whole journey. Back in Hong Kong, almost all passengers will be either on their phone making a business call, chatting with friends over the phone, or playing loud music in public.

Probably the most outstanding cultural difference that I have encountered is the working pace. In the UK it’s not as rapid compared to Hong Kong. The majority of the high street shops back in Hong Kong will open from 8:00am and close at 9:00/10:00pm. In the UK, most shops tend to open from 9:00am and close at 6:00pm during weekdays and Saturday, with the majority of shops either closed on Sunday or open from 10:00am and closed at 5:00pm. It shows that UK society aims to achieve a good work-life balance while Hong Kong focuses on financial income to sustain living.

Shoppers at the Broadway, outside Marks and Spencer and Next

High street shops operate much longer opening hours in Hong Kong than in the UK

Furthermore, the way people greet in the UK has a big difference compared to the greeting styles in Hong Kong. Individuals in the UK may greet others in a more close and intimate way by giving a hug and kisses on the cheek. However, some international students may prefer to greet others by simply saying “hello”.

Expectation vs reality at university

You may have heard before that “the first year of the university doesn’t count toward your final degree, just drink and do whatever you want”. This is a myth. I will say that getting into a good study habit in the first year is crucial. You will be building a strong foundation for yourself to prepare for a more challenging topic that you may encounter in your second year. At the same time don’t forget to enjoy university life (not just studying 24/7), but I will say “work hard and play hard”.

A new chapter in your life

Overall, university will certainly open a new chapter of your life and is a fabulous opportunity to greet some lifelong friendships. Just keep your curiosity towards all available opportunities around you and looking after yourself at university to maintain a good work-life balance.

International student support

The University of Bradford offers a network of support services for new and current international students.

One Comment


Thanks so much for sharing such an honest and insightful experience of being an international student in the UK. I think you’re point about not being alone is such an important one – the best way to really immerse yourself is to get as involved as you can from the beginning. Allow yourself time to adjust too, as it always takes time to assimilate yourself to an entirely new place.


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