STUDYING IN THE UK – ESSEX UNIVERSITY STUDENT’S EXPERIENCE
by Grzegorz Michalski
The United Kingdom (UK) has been recognised as a home to world’s best universities for hundreds of years. After the Oxford University had been founded in 11th century, Great Britain became a place, where wealthy, ambitious and intelligent people were coming in order to gain top-quality education. The situation has not changed significantly since that time – the UK still hosts many international students, who arrive at its airports and start their university career there. But the question remains – is it still a good country to study at? Is it still worth to go to the UK to get the British diploma? What are the challenges and obstacles that students need to overcome and what are the benefits of studying there? In this text, I will try to answer some of the questions many young people may have. By sharing the story of an Essex University student, I will describe how does a British university student’s life look like, and what is living in the UK like.
BENEFITS OF STUDYING IN THE UK
QUALITY OF EDUCATION
The first, and potentially the most important, benefit of studying in the UK is an outstanding quality of British education. During studying at a British university, students have a tremendous opportunity to meet great lecturers, who are both good at explaining sophisticated topics and who are passionate about what they teach. Their engagement is crucial for students to understand the material that is taught. For example, at Essex, where I am based, and where I am studying Accounting, the university is not only about weekly lectures and seminars. Many additional classes are being organised, the majority of modules have “Voluntary Support Classes”, which are additional and not compulsory sessions, where students can ask various questions about the lecture material, class questions and about everything related to the module. Lecturers also run “Support Hours”. Every lecturer has their support hours at least twice a week. During those hours, students who have questions or who do not understand some module material, can come to lecturer’s office (or now, during the pandemic – set up a Zoom meeting) and just ask. Many voluntary extra classes are organised like Maths support classes, Bloomberg Terminal sessions, Statistics sessions, and so on. They aim at helping students who need extra support or at helping students to extend their knowledge. Furthermore, students at Essex have access to many online services, like Moodle where lecture notes and additional educational help can be found, or Listen Again, where students can listen again to the lectures (all lectures are recorded so that each student can re-listen to a part of or the whole lecture). Essex Business School students also receive access to many professional magazines, like the Financial Times for example. Finally, every Business student is taught how to use professional resources, like for example the Bloomberg Terminal, which is an extremely important tool for Finance and Accounting students.
Overall, all mentioned above points, and many more that were not introduced in this text, prove that British education is of a great quality. What is really important, is the fact that students learn how to use their knowledge in practice. Case studies and analyses of many companies help us to get a practical overview of how a real Business world looks like so that we are better prepared to start working after graduation. Student are also encouraged to think critically, not only to learn and accept various theories, but to question them, to think about why particular solutions might not be the best. Essays are marked based on not whether we agree or disagree with a particular theses. It is the argumentation what really counts. This teaches students to think critically and to be independent, which is crucial in the contemporary world. All in all, the support we get while studying and the skills we learn are and will be very useful for future careers and I strongly believe that they will help us to be better players on a job market. Therefore, overall quality of education at British universities is very high and it seems to be the most important benefit of studying in the UK as it helps to get a good and well-paid job in the future.
https://vimeo.com/361802994 Study in Essex, https://www.kaplanpathways.com/universities/university-of-essex/
INTERNATIONALITY AND OPENESS
British universities are places, where people from all around the world live and learn. A big percentage of students at Essex, are international students. This gives us great opportunities – to make new friends, to broaden the horizons, to try new dishes, and to learn about various cultures, habits and traditions. Meeting so many people from so many countries around the world gave me new, great experiences and helped me to understand and appreciate the diversity of the world we live in. Universities in the UK are very open places, where being Black, Asian, White, Straight, Gay, Lesbian, Christian, Muslim, coming from Europe, Asia, America, or anywhere in the world really does not matter. Everyone is equal, and place of origin, faith, colour of the skin, sexual orientation simply makes no difference. Living in such an open and diverse environment is in my opinion very beneficial. It helps to understand that many borders do not exist. In terms of Business - the area of my interest, it is also extremely important – the better the knowledge of different cultures we have, the more costly mistakes and bad business decisions can be avoided. But finally, I believe that such an international experience can be funny and can bring a lot of positive energy. So many cultures, so many cuisines, and so many open-minded people in one place is a great benefit of every British university.
LIVING IN ANOTHER COUNTRY AND LEARNING ENGLISH
Apart from an excellent quality of education and international spirit, there are some other benefits of coming to the UK to study. For international students, it is also a new experience. Experience of living alone, in a different country. No more making the bed in the morning! No more control of what time do you come back home. Those things sound funny, but for many this sense of freedom is a great feeling. However, living alone means that no one controls your budget, and no one helps you to make decisions. It is a nice feeling, but it is also a responsibility. From the moment of leaving the family house, only you are responsible for everything. This might be a bit difficult in the beginning, but the earlier we get self-reliant, the better for us. Many challenges that international students face help them to learn how to deal with real-life problems, which can be very beneficial in the future.
Another thing, that I believe is a big benefit of studying in the UK, is learning English. Even though international students have language requirements, for example to pass CAE exam, there is a period of approximately one month, when many international students develop new English language skills. Real-life English is far different from what language schools teach all around the world. After coming to the UK (unless you come from other English-speaking country), you will learn professional academic English as well as slang English. Great knowledge of English, both the formal and informal, is another important outcome that needs to be considered when deciding whether to come to study in the UK.
DRAWBACKS OF STUDYING IN THE UK
Studying in the UK is expensive. Tuition fees and living costs can be a big obstacle. I have been lucky enough to get a Student Finance for the whole period of studying in the UK as a European Union student. But Brexit has happened, and since 2021 there will be no Student Finance for EU students. The costs of tuition fees are very high when compared to other European countries. Despite this situation, I would suggest every person willing to study in the UK finding some kind of scholarship. There are many institutions that offer financial aid for less wealthy people, who want to study in countries, where education is expensive. The solution is just not to give up and do good research about funding options. Maybe you are eligible for some kind of scholarship and this will help you deal with financial concerns?
HOMESICKNESS AND BEING FAR FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Another drawback of studying abroad is homesickness. Living hundreds or thousands of miles away from home might be a challenge. But many students face the same problem, and the universities are very helpful when dealing with homesickness. Many events are organised so that you can meet new people and make friends. During Fresher’s Week (the first week of the Autumn Term), many social events are organised so that no one is left alone. If you are worried that you might feel lonely, I would suggest meeting new people, making friends with them, and focusing on studies. You can also use Skype or Whatsapp or any other Internet service to remain in touch with your relatives and closest friends. More professional support is also available at university, where students are able to get help with mental health issues – there is always someone to talk to if you feel bad.
Taking everything into consideration, I would answer that studying in the UK is still worth it. British universities have some disadvantages like high prices and problems related to homesickness for example. However, I strongly believe that most of those problems could be overcome. Sometimes finding a suitable solution will take some time, but the overall result will be great. Benefits of studying in the UK outweigh its drawbacks. After graduating from a British university, you are awarded a diploma that is recognised worldwide. During studies in Great Britain you will have gained excellent knowledge, both theoretical and practical, that will be very useful during your future working life. Furthermore, having friends in every corner of the planet is another great advantage – it helps not only in the business life, when for example you need to get some knowledge about law in a particular country. It is very useful for travelling – imagine having friends in many countries of the world. Wherever you go, you will know someone who comes from there. This helps with many practical issues – what places to visit, what clothes to take for a particular journey, and so on. Living in such an international place broadens the horizons and teaches that many borders are not real. Finally, getting a good knowledge of English is also a great plus point. English became an international language, and wherever you go in the world, there will be someone speaking English there. All in all, if someone asked me a question if going to the UK was worth it, I would say ‘yes’. Despite some drawbacks, living and studying in the UK has given me an incredible experience. I believe that overcoming many obstacles during studying in the UK gave me additional confidence, which will be very useful in my future life. Having friends from every corner of the planet and the world-class education seem to be the most important points for me. I strongly believe that education experience in the UK will contribute to my future work and personal life and will help me to be a wealthier and happier person.
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