ISSUE #24 | THE PIE REVIEW | 49
“I WAS SITTING on a bus, and I heard local
people talking behind me… And I was like
‘oooh, they are speaking English!’” says Xinyu
Zhang, an international student from China at the University
of Dundee, who struggles to repress a surprised smile while
recalling her experience on camera. “Because I know the
Scottish accent is quite strong…but I wasn’t expecting it
was that strong!” she adds.
Zhang is sharing her experience as part of a UKCISA-financed
research project conducted in 2016 to create a
resource that prospective students could use to prepare for
university life in the UK.
With an unscripted format, international students shared
their thoughts on everyday topics around cultural adjust-ment,
such as getting used to the accent, social life, and the
weather in the UK.
According to UKCISA’s director of policy & services, Julie
Allen, the project not only gave an insight into what students
experience when they transition to university in a new coun-try,
but also served as a reminder that each student arriving
in the UK goes through it for the first time.
“The topics they came up with are all very familiar,” Allen
says. “But when staff have worked in the sector for a number
of years, sometimes it’s easy to forget that students are
going through it for the first time – that they are surprised by
the weather, or that they struggle with the different accents.”
Moving to a new country is indeed a delicate balance
between thrill and terror. Intricate support services that help
thread all the different challenging experiences together and
anticipate and accommodate student reticence and fears
can make a real difference to the overall experience.
And while international student support is a lifeline when
things edge more towards fear or isolation, its presence is
paramount to ensure that the experience is as successful as
possible – and this encompasses many elements, from aca-demic
achievement to integration and establishing fulfilling
Thematic seams of support
UKCISA has been granting funds to institutions interested
in running projects on international student support and
experience for the past four years and has developed an
extensive bank of practical resources that all universities
The work “highlights there are a lot of great services in
institutions that apply to all students, but there are some
issues where international students particularly need a little
bit of extra support,” Allen explains.
Without a pre-determined theme, institutions have been
able to come up with their own research needs – it’s been
quite interesting, Allen says, to see what they produced.
A strong theme was supporting transitions into the UK.