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International Students: Finding your feet

Going to University is a very exciting and sometimes scary time in many people’s lives. Finding your feet once you’ve arrived can be difficult especially if you have moved to an entirely new country to study. If you’re an international student and are experiencing a bit of homesickness, don’t worry, you are not alone and this is completely normal! In fact, many home students will experience this too.

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  • When you First Arrive

    The first thing you should consider is registering at a GP service. The University Health Centre may be the most ideal one for you. You can find their information by clicking here.

    They accept new patients Tuesday-Friday between 10:00am-12:30pm and 1:30pm-3:00pm.

    Having a GP in Belfast means you can easily access care and treatment if you need it. If you don't register and find yourself in a situation where you need medication, you could end up waiting a couple of weeks rather than days.

  • The NHS

    The National Health Service (NHS) is the free health service in the UK. Patients are only charged for prescriptions (in some places), dental care and sight services.

    In the UK, it is FREE for anyone to receive:

    • emergency treatment at an Accident & Emergency (A&E) department in a hospital
    • emergency treatment in an NHS walk-in centre that gives similar services to an A&E department
    • family planning services (e.g. contraception)
    • compulsory psychiatric treatment
    • treatment for some infectious diseases

    Once you are registered with a GP, you only have to contact the GP surgery to make an appointment. It is normal for the appointment to be a couple of weeks later as waiting times can be  quite lengthy.  

  • What can I see a Doctor for?

    GP’s can help with a wide range of health issues, including

    • medical problems, including referrals to a specialist
    • mental health issues
    • contraception services
    • travel advice
    • Sexually transmitted infections or disease tests
  • Confidentiality and Medical Care

    Health records are confidential in the UK, which means that if you’re over 16, a doctor is not legally allowed to discuss details of your treatment with anyone unless they have your permission. This includes any member of your family.

    There are 3 types of medication in the UK.

    1. For prescription medication you need to see a GP or other healthcare professional. You need to take your prescription to a pharmacy to get your medication. Many health centres have their own pharmacy but you can get your medication at any pharmacy you choose.
    2. For pharmacy medication (‘P’ medicines) you don’t need a prescription, but you will need to talk to the pharmacist.
    3. Over-the-counter (OTC) medication can be bought from pharmacies, supermarkets and other shops without supervision.
  • Where can I get Advice on Contraception?

    Contraception services in the UK are free and confidential, and you can talk to a healthcare professional at:

    • Most GP surgeries
    • Sexual health clinics – The Students’ Union hosts a free sexual health clinic on Mondays from 10-3pm during Term Time (September - May)
    • Walk-in clinics with family planning clinics
    • Some Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) clinics
  • Everyday Living

    Adapting to life in a different country can be difficult, you may experience a period of transition, this is often known as "culture shock".

    But don't worry you are not alone in this. Here is some information about what to expect and some ideas for helping you to adapt to life in the UK.

    Differences that might contribute to culture shock

    • Social roles: such as the way in which people interact with one another
    • Rules of behaviour: for example time keeping and queuing
    • Academic expectations: different methods of teaching and learning
    • Language: you may encounter many different accents, , some stronger than others.
    • Climate: Belfast weather can be very unpredictable and is often a lot colder than most places.
    • Food: you may find local food very different to your home country and it may seem quite bland in comparison.
  • The Effects of Culture Shock

    You may experience health problems such as headaches or stomach aches. You may also find it difficult to sleep and concentrate and to focus on your studies. Some people also find that they become more irritable or emotional. All of these effects can increase your anxiety.

    Some tips on how to deal with culture shock

    • Remember that culture shock is a normal reaction and that many other people experience this.
    • Keep in contact with friends and family at home so that you still have a link to home.
    • Have familiar things around you that have personal meaning, such as photographs and other sentimental objects
    • Find a supplier of familiar food if you can. See further on for some suggestions.
    • Keep healthy: exercise regularly, eat well and get into a healthy sleep routine.
    • Work at making friends with other students, both from your own culture and others. Talk to other international students. They will understand how you are feeling.
    • Take advantage of the help and support that is on offer at the University: from the Student Guidance Centre, the Chaplaincy; the Students' Union and your personal tutor.
    • Find out about local faith communities if this is important to you.
    • Join one of the hundreds of clubs and societies that may interest you. This is also a great way of meeting new people and making friends which can help you feel more settled.
  • International Supermarkets and Local Supermarkets

    If you’re looking for a taste of home and struggling to find the right ingredients, you may want to look at some of the international supermarkets. The following are some within walking distance of the University:

    • Tipaza – 143 Lisburn Road
    • Asia Supermarket Belfast – 40 Ormeau Embankment
    • Bangla Bazar – 175-177 Ormeau Road

    If you are looking for a supermarket that sells more localised foods you can click the following and type in your postcode to find the nearest ones to you:

  • Homesickness

    Homesickness is the distress caused by being away from home. People who are homesick often have preoccupying thoughts of home. People experiencing homesickness typically report a combination of low mood, anxiety, being withdrawn and difficulty focusing on tasks. In the case of students, this can be difficulty focusing on university work.

    You can find information on homesickness and ways to manage this by looking at our webpage on Homesickness