Where to get help

From minor questions to major crises, make sure you know where you can find the people who have the answers. By Jessica Moore
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The Independent Online

Moving to university is a big deal for any student. It's a new environment, demanding a new way of working and bringing a new social scene. Add a different culture, climate, and possibly even a new language, and you're really setting yourself a challenge! But it's a challenge you can thrive on. Choosing to study at a UK university or college could be the best decision you ever make, both personally and professionally. Support services are there to help you settle in and do as well as you can. Knowing what they are and where to find them will help you make the best possible start.

Moving to university is a big deal for any student. It's a new environment, demanding a new way of working and bringing a new social scene. Add a different culture, climate, and possibly even a new language, and you're really setting yourself a challenge! But it's a challenge you can thrive on. Choosing to study at a UK university or college could be the best decision you ever make, both personally and professionally. Support services are there to help you settle in and do as well as you can. Knowing what they are and where to find them will help you make the best possible start.

The International Students' Office in your university or college offers support and advice. Whereas the students union caters for the general social and educational needs of all students, the International Students Office will have counsellors and advisers trained to help with your specific circumstances.

"Many issues, such as finance and course enquiries, face all new students, but international students come with a different set of priorities," says Liz Ball, International Students' Welfare Officer at De Montfort University. "I get all kinds of enquiries - from problems with visas to people grappling with culture shock. And there may also be practical problems, such as arranging English language classes."

In all probability your International Students' Office will be able to smooth out any problems quickly using university services but, if they can't, they make sure you get the support you need from services outside the university. Says Liz Ball: "Institutions usually have their own health centre, law clinic, and chaplaincy, with provisions for most religions. Occasionally, we also direct students to services off-campus, but they are always supported until their problem is resolved."

Most International Student Offices organise social functions and outings where you meet students and get to know your area. Joining clubs and societies is a good way to establish yourself in your new environment.

When you first arrive at your university or college you are known as a Fresher and your first term at UK university or college will kick off with Freshers' Week, which is uncompromisingly dedicated to fun. Fitted in around the socialising will be a Freshers' Fair, where representatives from various weird and wonderful societies will try to enlist you as a new recruit.

John Alexander, assistant director of the International Office at Glasgow University, agrees: "We run orientation programmes before term starts where international students are told how the university is run, what is expected of them and what services and support is available. It is a chance to acclimatise before the crowds - and the work - set in!"

Your university or college will write to you before term starts, inviting you to apply for student accommodation. Facilities range from the most basic single room with shared loos to modern flats with en-suite bathrooms. At some, you'll be treated to catered meals; at others, you cook for yourself. What you go for is up to you and what you can afford- indeed, you could opt out entirely and go for privately rented accommodation - but living with other new students is a good way to immerse yourself in UK student culture. And, as they are all included in the rent, it also means you won't have to worry about paying bills.

Beyond the facilities of your new educational establishment, public services are open to international students. These include practical and legal services - such as those offered by the Citizens Advice Bureau and the National Health Service - to counselling and support, including confidential help from The Samaritans is a telephone counselling service open to anyone who feels in distress and where your anonymity is guaranteed .

A number of organisations exist to deal with enquiries from international residents in the UK, including UKCOSA (The Council for International Education), Host and The British Council. So whether you're on- or off-campus, you will be well cared for during your time in the UK. "There should be no reason for any international student to feel isolated," says John Alexander. "Welfare services are in place to deal with all issues and concerns. Just make sure you look for them and speak up!"

FURTHER INFORMATION

www.ukcosa.org.uk

www.britishcouncil.org

www.educationUK.org

www.hostuk.org

www.citizensadvice.org.uk

www.nusonline.co.uk

www.samaritans.org.uk; 08457 90 90 90

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