V. lived and studied in Hong Kong for sixteen years before her family immigrated to the United Kingdom. Now a sixth-form student in London, she is preparing to study business in university and has taken to her new home like a duck to water. As a soon-to-be international student, I sat down with her to ask some questions that some might have before going overseas to study.
What's the biggest change you had to go through when starting school in the UK?
Due to the differences in culture, I didn't really relate to a lot of my classmates' experiences. The food was also a massive difference. Some of my classmates seem to think it’s fine, but most of the boarders think it’s gross, and their cultural food is inaccurate at best and a disgrace at worst. To get actual good food, you have to go out, which might not be easy depending on how strict the boarding school teachers feel like being.
Did you have any trouble adapting to a new education curriculum?
Not really. It’s easier than the DSE curriculum I had studied for a few months in Hong Kong. There wasn't much of a language barrier for me either, since I've always been more fluent in it than my native Cantonese. Plus, I was taking A-Levels six months before immigrating, so I was well-prepared.
How do you handle the culture shock that comes with moving to a different country?
I don’t usually pay too much attention to things like differences in pop culture. Authenticity helps a lot when it comes to making real friends — I find they tend to be easier to find when you’re yourself. You can bond with people over niche interests too. The laissez-faire attitude a lot of my classmates have towards school was certainly surprising, but this kind of environment is much better. There’s definitely less pressure, which is great. Things like clubbing and partying are more common in the UK but aren’t really my cup of tea, but whether you love them or hate them, you’ll always find people with similar views, so don’t sweat it.
As a boarding student, do you feel homesick?
I don’t really experience homesickness enough, but sometimes I do miss the hustle-and-bustle of the city. It’s a lot quieter here, and I find it pretty boring sometimes.
Do you have any tips for fellow students who will be living alone and overseas?
Don’t overthink things — they're usually not as complicated as you think. Step out of your comfort zone and to people; you’ll eventually find real friends who like you for who you are, no matter where you come from. Just like you would do in your home country, don't focus too much on school — leave yourself space for other stuff, or else you’ll burn out really quickly. Most importantly, you really should manage your money — spend sensibly.
If you had a choice, would you rather have completed high school in Hong Kong?
Nope. There's a lot more pressure on students in Hong Kong, and I cracked under the stress many times. It's nowhere as strenuous studying in the UK.
Many international students choose the UK as their destination when it comes to overseas schooling, whether it's for university or secondary school. Having to move countries as a teenager can be stressful, having to juggle a completely new culture as well as a new school, but making yourself take things slow and looking at things optimistically can help you settle in just fine.