Tuning into BBC to cooking for self: 8 coping strategies for those planning to study in Britain
When I left Kolkata for London’s Heathrow Airport in September 2019, little did I know that some 13 months later, I would still not have come back home. Not even once.
Arriving in the United Kingdom to complete my master’s in journalism at the University of Sussex, I had originally planned to return to India for a fortnight during the spring break in March 2020. But the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic scuppered all my plans. Flights were cancelled (repatriation ones were too expensive!), and I had to spend the entire spring and summer under lockdown in the UK.
It is autumn now and I am still 5,000 miles away from home, looking for a full-time job in the Covid-ridden market, with the chances of coming back to Kolkata a distant prospect.
Staying for more than a year in the UK — or more specifically, in the picturesque coastal city of Brighton -- has reinforced a number of British myths that I had picked up while in India, from my years of following sport in the UK and compulsively binging Sherlock on Netflix. But significant myths have also been bursted in all these months, not least of which is the idea of the British being sticklers for discipline (no, they are not; but they aren’t overly unruly either).
In attempting to prevent my Indianness from mutating into a superfluous version of itself on British shores (à la chicken tikka masala!) all the while adapting to the gusty winds, empty buses, and lush greenery all around me, I have managed to cobble together my own survival kit.
Of course, the habits one inculcates for one’s comfort, peace and safety in a foreign land are often bespoke, but certain tips and tricks are common for immigrants, especially for 20-something Indian students like myself.
With that in mind, here’s presenting my UK survival kit for Indian students, which has held me in reasonably good stead thus far.
Rule no. 1: TRUST THE BBC
Yes, the BBC is not indispensable, and it most certainly is not neutral all the time. But it still remains the number one source for the latest news and updates in the UK, from national stories impacting universities to region-specific content detailing the Covid regulations in place for your neighbourhood. Outlets like The Independent and The Guardian are also thoroughly reliable and readable, but nothing beats the BBC app for instant updates and lucid, elegant communication.
Rule no. 2: DO NOT TRUST THE WEATHER
The sun may never set on the Empire, but it definitely disappears ever so often on British mornings and afternoons. Just when you think the weather is crystal clear and there is no chance of rain, the skies begin to spit in defiance. Yes, it is like spit from the skies in most parts of the UK, chiefly the south, where it drizzles with an irritating frequency. Further north, particularly in places like Manchester, it never rains but it pours. Either way, keep your umbrellas handy and do not trust your weather report, even if it is from the BBC.
Rule no. 3: EMBRACE EMAIL
Phone conversations or WhatsApp chats or in-person meet-ups are not the norm in British society, be it with professors, officials, and sometimes, even with your peers. The default channel is email and you will be expected to send at least half a dozen for a variety of reasons every day. So, have a stock format ready and settle on your preferred greeting!
Rule no. 4: ASK QUESTIONS IN CLASS
Unlike most Indian classrooms where learning is mostly one-way traffic with the teacher pronouncing uncontestable wisdom like a priest from the pulpit, professors in the UK are accustomed to being questioned, challenged and debated at every step. Being inquisitive and interrogating lecturers (in a civil way, of course) is not just desirable but a prerequisite for performance in class. So, read your texts and shoot your questions.
Rule no. 5: BECOME A GLOBAL CITIZEN
Do not take the words of former British prime minister Theresa May to heart, who once quipped: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.” In the UK, and specifically as part of the student community, you will receive a golden opportunity to interact with people from a broad range of backgrounds, cultures and nationalities.
Even if it seems daunting to strike up a conversation (as it initially did to me) with an Irishman, a Chinese girl and a teenager from Egypt while sipping coffee in the canteen, take the plunge and talk. Eventually, you will see that there is far more than unites people across the world than what divides them.
Rule no. 6: BE THANKFUL
One British myth that is absolutely true is their proclivity for thanking people. And if you do not want to stick out like a sore thumb on a bitter winter evening, you should follow suit. Thank the shopkeeper, the bus driver, the clerk at the library, the launderer, the bank cashier and anyone and everyone who does something for you. They will, invariably, thank you, too. If, like me, you get confused between the semantics of “thank you” and “thanks”, opt for the more ubiquitous “cheers”.
Rule no. 7: GO FOR A WALK
Walking in the UK can be therapeutic, especially in the scenic lanes of the countryside. Whenever you feel the pressure of deadlines or think too much is going on between your ears, step out for a stroll and let the internal noise settle down. You will not only feel relaxed but rejuvenated as well.
Rule no. 8: LEARN TO COOK
You cannot survive for more than a few weeks in the UK eating out of Sainsbury’s and KFC. I tried and failed. In all likelihood, your wallet will let up before your stomach does. You will be far better served if you acquire some basic culinary skills (there’s always YouTube for reference) and do your own cooking. Before coming to the UK, I could not even poach an egg; now I can manage an edible platter of dishes bordering on delicious. Learning to cook has not only budgeted my money, it has boosted my self-esteem, too!
Author bio: Priyam Marik is a freelance journalist based in the UK. He has recently completed his master’s in journalism at the University of Sussex.
IIT Kharagpur tightens security of online exams
Sign up for British Council’s Study UK Virtual Fair on Dec 5
Students of IIT Madras develop a self-navigating, typing and reading device for visually Impaired people
TISSNET 2021 application process begins
IIT Bhilai to get permanent address
IIT Alumni Council announces India Empowerment Fund