Cheers, Exeter! An International Experience

Cheers, Exeter! An International Experience

Malcolm Wong, incoming Comment Editor, discusses his experience and the highs and lows of being an international student at Exeter

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Coming to Exeter has been the best and worst decision of my life. Believe me.

The University of Exeter. “So where is it in London?” “Is it good?” “Where does it rank in the UK?” – just a few of many weird, yet entertaining questions that my family from back home asked when I broke the news.

It’s a shame that Oxbridge and London are the only two sets of Higher Education institutions which some people associate UK universities with; there’s a lot more under the “surface”. As an international student at Exeter, you wouldn’t expect anyone from home to know about this University, or where it is on the map; in fact, you probably only found out about it when you were exploring UCAS.

You probably wouldn’t say that Exeter is the best of the best, or the creme de la creme, but it’s certainly up there.

It’s just that people don’t know much about it. Does this constitute Exeter being the worst decision of my life? Yes, but only to a very small extent; sometimes I’m simply upset because this university gets under-appreciated on the global scale. However, the main reason for my doubts stem from my personal preferences. Most probably due to the fact that I was born and raised in Hong Kong, I do prefer living in a big city. Exeter is quite different on that account, but it’s important to note that coming to Exeter has only been a bad decision because I didn’t think I’d miss the city life that much – this was something I simply could not predict.

You’d probably think I’d steer this article in the direction of a balanced discussion of both the positives and negatives of being an international student at Exeter, but here’s why the pros outweigh the cons, and why I am, overall, more than happy to be taking my undergraduate degree at this great University. Some would argue that it’s difficult to blend in or to make friends if you study abroad, especially when there is such a strong cultural difference. The main thing is, however, that there is no need to blend in, which brings me to my first point. Students at Exeter are friendly and welcoming. As a second-year international student,  it was relatively easy for me to make conversation with other students, and be able to socialise with pretty much anyone and everyone.

Valentine’s Day is long gone, but love is still very much in the air because people are kind and down to earth.

There is no urge nor necessity to conform to a certain “build” in order for you to be “accepted”. The entire atmosphere you feel from being an international student is tangible yet indescribable. Personally, I’m not exactly sure how to put this in words, but Exeter does have a very positive and joyous “people vibe”, as well as a great sense of togetherness in the strive to bleed green.

Exeter has great support for international students on various fronts as well. Any related information on the websites was generally clear, and help is always there when you need it, no matter what it may concern. With a significant international student population in the university, cultural societies thrive and there are always events and campaigns going on. All this really helped with absorbing the culture shock. Thinking back to last year when I was a fresher, Freshers’ Week honestly wasn’t that great for me. Well, I could have just been overshadowed by the terrible feelings you get from being homesick, but anyone who’s experienced Freshers’ Week would understand the notion of it being the scariest week of your life. In reality, however, everything the Guild and the University arranged (Welcome Team, tasters, information sessions, being bombarded on Forum Hill – this one’s debatable – and much more) did certainly help international students with easing the pain that is Freshers’ Week.

The most important thing about going international is to experience and enjoy a culture different from your own (so that you have great stories to tell) and to meet lots of different people (so you can finally prove that you have friends), but jokes aside, Exeter has definitely achieved both of these things for me and studying here has been an absolute thrill of a ride, that genuinely embodies an international student experience.

So let’s mention the one negative of being an international student to conclude the article; the difficulty of understanding and adapting to British banter, or just the general British way of speech for that matter. Only in the UK have I converted from saying “what are you talking about?” to “what are you on about?”, “two weeks” to “fortnight” and “thank you” to “cheers”.

So cheers, Exeter!

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