Brighton is a completely new world for me! Even though I heard about it and saw it on the internet, the fact that I am living here, alone, without family, friends, or somebody I know, makes it a very strange, difficult and interesting experience!
I am a very enthusiastic person, who came here from Romania, with great desires and expectations. I decided to study at Sussex University because I strive to make real change in the increasingly helpless world we live in. I want to stress how useful and beneficial student services have been for me. I felt so confused when I saw comments in the SussFessions group from international students such as “we all tried to get along with local students but they never give a sh*t”, one student even remarking that they “sacrificed too much and all I have is loneliness”. My perspective is totally different.
The University does so many things in order to help the international students integrate into their new life. Firstly, starting at the airport, there was a Sussex team waiting to welcome and transport us, which helped the international students with their first step in this country. As well as, a team at the Brighton Railway station, which guided me to the University, and many more volunteers elsewhere.
Moreover, an outstanding service that I used almost daily, was the “ask me” service which was available the entire first week. A service where students trained by university staff, were available every day all over campus, to answer any questions we had, even through the cold and rain.
Likewise, I am grateful for all the services available for international and local students, such as the library services, the skills hub, the welcome hub, and the campus and library tours. All of which contributed to our feeling comfortable, safe and welcomed into a professional environment.
Freshers week plays a guiding role in forming student life for the rest of the year. It provides a multiplicity of opportunities to meet new people at events and societies. As well as, welcoming introductions to modules and the services offered. I was very enthusiastic when I heard about this particular week because there are few countries in the world which emphasize the student’s accommodation and well-being as much as Sussex do.
Therefore, the expansive resources the University provides means the first experiences of internationals are memorable and unforgettable – exactly how the student life ought to be.
Now we should move on to more serious aspects: the courses and teaching. What has surprised me since the very first lecture, is the fact that the lecturers are so considerate in speaking with such clarity and encourage us to ask as many questions as needed so that I can actually follow the topic of discussion. Especially considering that before term started, I was very concerned as to whether I would understand the lectures.
Sussex provides international students all the resources they need in order to evolve both intellectually and spiritually in the ‘uni life’.
Likewise, the seminar teachers definitely know how to integrate international students (whose first language is not English) in the discussions by being very patient when they are finding the proper words to express themselves. Also, the reading list for each week is comprehensive, grouped in essential and background categories, and thus creates the opportunity for students to choose readings which resonate with them.
Numerous courses are available for academic English here at Sussex, in order to aid internationals in learning the requirements of assessments.
Or more casual learning can be found at the language cafe, where students can meet and learn new languages together with trained members there to support them. I also find the academic advisors so helpful and approachable, as they are eager to help us, give advice, and offer both academic and emotional support. On top of, other services such as the International Student Advisers and the Student Life Center, whose services are invaluable to the wellbeing of the student body.
All in all, separation from home, family and friends is painful, and you need a lot of support to cope with it. Considering this, I strongly believe that the University of Sussex provides international students all the resources they need in order to evolve both intellectually and spiritually in the ‘uni life’.
With around 24% of students at Sussex coming from overseas and a large percentage coming from Europe, Sussex has a massive representation of International Students. The institution responsible for assisting and integrating the students to the University and to Brighton, as well as helping them understand academic expectation in the UK. However, I feel the University fails miserably in doing so.
Let’s look at communication; the University lacks a suitable communication mechanism for International Students. All the information is scattered across multiple platforms making it hard to access. There is also the issue of information overload. In my opinion, International students receive tons of unnecessary information which is not helpful along with vital information that gets lost and isn’t clear.
In addition, the international student support is highly understaffed to handle the queries from thousands of students, especially before and after moving in. For example, the campus tours held to introduce students to the campus are pointless because the Campus Guides aren’t trained well and don’t give a thorough tour, from what I have seen. It feels like the University performs these activities to tick off a box on their checklist.
Language and cultural barriers are also not addressed. Many international students do not speak English as their first language and struggle with it. They lack confidence while communicating with peers, hindering their ability to make new friends, and can escalate to affecting their academic performance. Although the University runs ELAS classes, I don’t think they are doing an excellent job of reaching out to students who need them.
Expecting international students to be proactive to find out about such courses, while the individual may be going through a plethora of issues after moving to a new country can be an unreasonable request. The University should try and integrate optional modules in the various schools for academic English support to assist international students better.
Concerning the culture shock of entering the UK, I feel there needs to be more support. Particularly because international students feel that there is a divide between themselves and local students. Many feel their identity is defined as an international student and find it difficult to make friends with local students.
Another issue is access to living assistance. Yes, the student decides to come to the University of Sussex, in the beautiful South of England. However, the University, chooses not to share the fact that the South of England is far more expensive than the North. The international students who have no idea about transportation, banking, medical care, shopping etc. in and around Brighton are expected to figure it out by themselves. There is an array of bureaucratic issues while trying to register for the General Practitioner and when subsequently trying to get an appointment. Massive waiting times when opening a bank account and in order to complete police registration. Inadequate support from the Student Accounts team for paying of fees and rent if living on campus. The list goes on. The University, instead of making their lives easier, only increases the several nightmares an international student has to go through to get accustomed to living in the UK.
I think the University also fails miserably at providing assistance with job-hunting and future careers. Students have to figure out the concept of the National Insurance Number alone and often face difficulty in finding part-time jobs. Even if they find one, many are exploited by their employers through a lack of awareness of the laws. By the same token, finding a suitable place to live, can turn out to be a horrific process for an international student. Even after charging exorbitant rent, they fail at providing essential maintenance and do not consider the particular requirements of specific international students. University housing actually has complaints from both international and local students. Not only that, they do not assist all international students in getting a UK Guarantor, which leads to them paying a considerable sum of money for a house.
Is this the kind of assistance the University promised while attracting international students from all across the world? Are international students just revenue making machines? Why is there no proper support for them being provided? If the University doesn’t pull up their socks soon and get their act together, it seems the standard of well-being for international students will continue to spiral.
If you are a student looking for additional support please contact the Student Life Centre on campus.
Image credit: amarandogala