Studying abroad is exciting and life-changing, but it can also be very scary for both the students and their parents. We spoke to Sooriya De Soysa, an Education Studies student from Norway studying in the UK, about her experience studying abroad.
We wanted to know the highlights, the challenges, her anxieties and her parents’ concerns.
Tell us a little about yourself
I am from Norway (sadly no EU discount for me!), and I have just finished my degree in BA Education Studies at University College London (UCL).
Why did you choose to study in the UK?
My decision to study in the UK was influenced by several factors. My parents met studying abroad, so I’d always fantasised about moving abroad for university. The thought of moving to a big city also appealed to me, so studying abroad seemed like the perfect excuse. It would be dubious not to mention the quality and prestige of a UK education. Global rankings and student surveys are controversial, but the prospect of studying at the leading institution for Education in the world was exciting and I felt like it would give me greater opportunities in the future. I also wanted to continue studying in English, and UK’s proximity to Norway was also a plus. While it would’ve been a far more economically rational decision to pursue higher education in Norway where it’s free, moving to the city of my dreams to study at one of the best universities in the world seemed like an invaluable experience. I should also mention that the Norwegian state has a fairly generous student finance system in place, so although the international fees are atrociously costly I did receive a considerable amount of funding, which definitely helped in my decision to study abroad.
Why did you choose to study an Education BA?
Without trying to sound too much like my cringeworthy personal statement, I do genuinely have a passion for education. I lived in Sri Lanka for a couple of years, and I was amazed at the value the Sri Lankan people place on education. The education system I encountered in Sri Lanka was also radically different from the one I was used to from Norway, so issues surrounding pedagogy, education quality, inequality and development definitely occupied my mind. Education has been hailed as a great social equalizer, and I was interested to unpick this claim further and gain a better understanding of it. I didn’t really have a specific career in mind when I first applied for this degree, but I think that education should first and foremost inspire you to develop as a person and to value the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, and that it shouldn’t necessarily only function a means to an end (in other words, just function as a stepping stone to a specific career). I chose my degree subject because I was interested to learn more about it, and that I can later on use this knowledge to work in education. Someone jokingly told me that I should start my own school in Sri Lanka one day if I care about it so much, and I figured that maybe I should!
Why did you choose to study your subject in the UK?
The UCL Institute of Education has been ranked as the best institution for Education research for five consecutive years, so when I was offered a place it seemed like a no-brainer. I also liked the idea of studying in an international environment. London is much more diverse than Norway, and I have found through prior experiences that I find international environments to be very stimulating. Plus, none of the universities in Norway actually offer an Education Studies degree or any other degree related to education that isn’t teaching or pedagogy.
How has your experience as an international student in the UK been?
It has been amazing! Apart from the huge amount of debt that I’ve amassed (thank you, London rent), I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I have met some incredible people from all over the world. I have been academically stimulated and challenged. I have learnt so much about the UK that you quite frankly cannot learn just by visiting. I will forever cherish my time in the UK and all the lessons it taught me – both in the lecture theatres and beyond.
Do you have any tips for finding other Norwegian speakers in the UK?
Finding other Norwegians wasn’t a big priority for me, as I wished to meet people from other places. However, I found that playing handball, which is a fairly niché sport in the UK but that is popular in Scandinavian countries, was a great way of befriending other fellow Norwegians. My university also had a Nordic Society. I didn’t participate, but that could be another possibility. Tinder and other dating apps also work since people love to include a little flag in their bio (but you didn’t hear that from me…).
If you would like to hear our top tips about meeting people abroad who speak your language, then click here.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to study abroad/in the UK?
Research, research, research! I spent countless hours reading everything from news articles to student newspapers to student chatrooms about UK universities. I watched hundreds of YouTube videos from UK-based students and alumni. I also knew people who studied in the UK and enquired about their experiences. There was also a university fair at my school where I got to speak to representatives from a few UK universities and grab lots of flyers and brochures. When weighing up different courses and universities you might want to ask yourself questions such as: “How do I learn best? How would I like to be assessed?”. Definitely use all the resources you can – there are plenty out there. Do keep in mind that everyone is different and one person’s “Why I quit uni” video shouldn’t put you off going to university. It is ultimately what you make it! That being said, if you notice a trend in what people are saying then there is probably some truth in it.
“Research, research, research!”
In addition to researching the university and your degree, I would also advise people to consider the place they’re potentially moving to. I had visited London several times before and absolutely loved it every time, so this helped assure me that London was the right place for me to study. Others might prefer more of a “campus feel” and a smaller town, so that’s also something worth looking into. You don’t want to be stuck studying Medicine for six years in some awful godforsaken town… unless you plan on living in the library.
Also think about what you can afford! University life can be really expensive, particularly for international students and those on tier 4 visas where you’re subjected to restrictions on how much you can work etc. Make budgeting spreadsheets and be realistic.
While I had a great experience here, many international students, unfortunately, don’t. It is a huge commitment, both in terms of time and money, so make sure you’re truly going to enjoy your degree, or at least see the value and meaning in doing it.
You parents studied abroad too, what was their experience like? Did this impact your choice to study abroad?
My parents had a fabulous time studying abroad and they still keep in touch with people they met along the way. They studied in Alabama, USA in the late 80s, so I’m not sure how many parallels can be drawn between their experience and that of current UK students, but they do recount these years as being some of the best years of their life.
Hearing about my parents’ experience of studying abroad definitely impacted my choice to study abroad as well. It just seemed like a fun way of meeting people from all corners of the world. There is definitely something educational about putting yourself in a new environment. My globetrotting parents’ dispositions have undoubtedly been passed on to me – not necessarily consciously, and my parents actually did encourage me to study in Norway, but their own experiences made them very open to the idea of letting me follow a similar path.
What concerns did your parents have about you studying abroad, and how were their concerns met?
My mum was definitely concerned about my safety moving to London. I moved to London around the time that a lot of terror attacks were taking place around Europe, and there are of course risks involved with living so centrally in a big city. I think their concerns were eased by the fact that I knew people here that could help if anything were to happen. They also trust me to take care of myself and we speak regularly through social media (parents know I’m safe and I get to FaceTime the dog – win win!).
What concerns did you have about studying abroad, and how were your concerns met?
My enthusiasm and excitement definitely outweighed any of my concerns, but I was of course worried that I wouldn’t make friends. However, I was incredibly fortunate to live with some amazing people in my halls and became good friends with them pretty quickly. I was also added to a group chat prior to moving in to my halls of residence, so that helped with familiarizing myself with some of the new names and faces, as well as some English “banter”. Everyone is in the same boat so as long as you’re receptive to new people and experiences making friends shouldn’t be an issue. Another concern of mine is the outrageous cost, but I can’t say that this concern has been quelled… I do take comfort in the following words though: 30p for a can of baked beans at Tesco.