From India to the UK: Top tips from an international student

Starting university can be daunting at the best of times, but even more so when you’re studying overseas and leaving your home country for the first time.

That’s what Indian student Samia Mohinta faced when starting her MSc in Advanced Computing last month. Samia has thrown herself into life in Bristol and has some advice and insight for others in a similar position…

Hello readers,

Are you having cold feet – terrified to leave your home country? Or have you taken the big leap, but missing home? Keep reading! This post lists all that I found useful while coming to the UK and after two weeks of being here.

This is my first time anywhere outside India. I am an avid traveller, but stepping out of India, to go to a place for a year without family and friends, did freak me out. So, trust me, I can understand how you all are feeling. Don’t worry, you are not alone.

Here are a few tips to help organise yourself and shake off the blues before and after you travel to the UK:

  1. Prepare beforehand: If you are planning to study at the University of Bristol, get an idea about the city before you arrive. Bristol is hilly, so start working on improving stamina, because you’ll need a lot of that when you climb up to reach your lectures. There are quite a few blogs on the city of Bristol and reading one of those will give you sufficient information of what the city is like. Currently, for me, it’s fantastic.
  2. Review your goals: Think and write your aspirations on a page. Judge your potential. The Indian model of imparting education is very different from here. Unlike in India, you won’t be spoon-fed with information and details all the time. You need to be self-motivated and alert to grab the opportunities that come your way.
  3. Understand the course you are going to take: Go through your course modules and check if you understand what it’s about. This is very important. I have seen a lot of my friends dropping out of courses that they chose without self-judgement of potential. Follow your interests and think about your existing experience and skill set.
  4. University of Bristol flags at Heathrow airport
    Reach out for help: If you are travelling alone from India to UK, reach out to people if you face any problem. Don’t panic. Speak to your co-travellers, even if you don’t know them and ask for advice. You shall definitely find someone travelling to the same or a nearby place. Team up! I myself had a four-hour delayed flight, which led to a lot of problems after landing in Heathrow. I reached out to the University representatives, who were present at the airport, bus stops and train stations, and got my issues sorted.
  5. Only pack for one week: Don’t fill your bag with unnecessary stuff. Bring dry food to last a week. Pack some cooked food, just to soothe your cravings. Bring hoodies, warm jackets, gloves, mufflers and sweat shirts. Also pack a few cottons and summer dresses. If you can, pack a pressure cooker or a rice cooker – extremely useful to prepare a quick meal. Carry some cloth hangers and air-tight tiffin boxes as well.
  6. Indian food: Do not carry a lot of Indian spices because you can get everything in the supermarkets. But I shall ask you to pack a small amount of flour or rice for making chapattis or rice, so that you do not need to rush to a supermarket immediately after you arrive. There are a lot of Indian restaurants all around the city, pop in to satisfy your occasional cravings. Take a bus to Easton and find loads of Indian stuff.
  7. When in Britain, do as the British do: Try and get a brief idea about the British culture. You should know how to greet people when you meet them. In India, we usually don’t shake hands, but here it is a common courtesy. Be polite and friendly.
  8. Make new friends: I know it sounds weird. You cannot just be friends with someone after a tiny chit chat. However, meet a lot of people. I am not suggesting you to jump into parties, but during uni hours speak to your classmates and get to know each other. You can join a few societies or clubs (there are nearly 200 clubs and societies in UoB) and make a few friends. Get out of your comfort zone and shake a leg at a dance taster session.
  9. Exploring Bristol harbourside
    Explore Bristol, reduce boredom: Bored with sitting at home? Grab a backpack and put your travel shoes on. Time to explore Bristol! Bristol boasts of beautiful parks, hot-air balloons (I am personally fascinated with these), Ferry rides at the Harbourside, the Clifton Suspension Bridge (loved the view from it), Museums and some fantastic graffiti decorating the walls of the entire city. Get a student’s one-day bus pass for £3 and explore the Bristol inner zone. You can also buy an outer zone pass that lets you access Bath and Bristol completely for a day.
  10. Take your modules seriously: Go to the lectures. Don’t get unnerved if you find the first few a little difficult. Read the materials and ask for help from your professors. There are dedicated teams for mental health in the University, who can help you cope with the study pressure. A lot of Indians study at UoB as well, reach out to them via the Indian Society and share your worries.

Life is all about taking risks. Sign yourself up for an adventure every day and reap the satisfaction it brings. This new world in Bristol is a lot different from yours back in India. It is way more organised. It is also extremely welcoming. Be confident. You shall shine!

Thank you for being with me till the end.

PS : I shall come back with some other fun stuff about my adventures in Bristol. Stay tuned!

Student well-being

There are many options at Bristol if you need any support settling into University life or just need to chat to somebody. Find out where to get help here.

My mental health: An honest chat with Professor Dave Cliff

Dave Cliff, Professor of Computer Science, talks about his experience with a break down in his mental health. How catastrophic thinking, panic attacks and the stigma around mental health made his life miserable and how he came through the other side.

Talking about your mental health (good, bad and everything in between) is something we really encourage and we’re proud that our staff are leading by example. If you’re a student and need to talk to someone about your mental health or get some support you can talk to the teams in your school office, or find more resources on the University of Bristol website. If you ever need a chat you can contact the Samaritans 24/7  no matter who you are. 

“People said I was brave”

Dave talks about people’s reactions to  the video and the bravery of asking for help

I once made a video, or should I say: a video was once made of me. It was a talking-head interview, about the time I had a breakdown. Severe anxiety and depression; suicidal thoughts. It’s seven minutes long, and I speak maybe a thousand words.

I did it because I was asked to do so by a colleague, an old friend, who was putting together material for a new non-credit bearing elective course that would be made available to all students at The University of Bristol, where I work. I didn’t give it much thought, didn’t know what questions I would be asked and didn’t rehearse any of the answers. We shot it in one take, maybe 25 or 30 minutes in total, and then the video production folk went away and skilfully edited it down to a more manageable length. Once the final edit was released to our students, and to the rest of the world on YouTube, I started getting feedback, comments — people saying nice things about it — and in those comments something caught me by surprise. There was this one word that got used a lot when people commented on what I’d done, a word that I didn’t expect at all. People said that I was brave.

I’ve thought quite hard about this and, given this opportunity to write about it now, almost 18 months since we shot the footage and more than five years since I got sick, I’d like to explain why I don’t think I was brave at all. Or, at least, why I don’t want to be thought of as brave for making a video.

Should I first introduce myself? I’m a Professor of Computer Science at The University of Bristol, a role I’ve been in for the past 11 years. Prior to that I’d held professorial posts at Southampton and at MIT, plus I’d spent seven years working in frontline industrial artificial intelligence R&D for Hewlett-Packard and for Deutsche Bank. But what I’m writing here isn’t about my CV. Let’s get back to this bravery thing.

If someone was cycling too fast, had an accident, broke a limb, received medical care, took time off work to get well, and came back fixed, that’d be pretty routine. What if that person then made a talking-head video about what happened, how they’d been riding too fast for too long and how after the accident they don’t ride quite so fast now, quite so recklessly, now they know how painful the end-result can be? Would we call that person brave? I think not. When I made this video I didn’t for a moment think that I was being brave, because it shouldn’t be an act of bravery to talk about what is, after all, an experience that very many people go through and in which for many people, like me, the story ends well. I was just doing what I wish many more people would do, talking openly and honestly about mental health. I got sick, dangerously so. I sought help and got good care, for which I remain very very very thankful indeed. And I got better. And then I told people what happened. How does me telling that story mean that I’m brave?

I’m acutely aware that it doesn’t work out this way for everyone: some people suffer from chronic mental health issues that go on for a very long time, lifetimes even; some people don’t find, or ask for, the right help in time; their stories may not end nearly so as well as mine. In these senses, I was lucky.

As far as I’m concerned, me telling my story wasn’t a brave thing to do at all. It was an act of thanks, a little celebration of my recovery. Like getting back on the bike and going for a ride and enjoying the wind in your face and laughing out loud that you’re once again able to do something you love; that you’re fixed, the bad times are behind you, that you’re well.

Looking back over the whole sequence of events, if I had to choose one thing I did that I do think of as brave, it was the moment when I was first sat facing my doctor, took a deep breath, and spoke honestly about what was going on inside my head. Before I could get a word out I was in tears and could barely talk. But I knew I had run out of road, that I’d lost control and that I couldn’t deal with the situation alone. For me that was an extraordinarily difficult step to take, one that I very nearly didn’t. I am so glad that I did, and I guess I’m writing these words in the hope that maybe they’ll encourage someone else to take that first step, to reach out and ask for help. In my opinion, that’s the brave bit: the bit when you ask for help. No video required.

Writing this has made me think quite hard, and I realise now that when I spoke to my doctor that was the first time I’d said those words out loud. I was talking as much to myself as to the medic: it was my first admission, not just to my doctor but to me, that I was in a desperately bad way; the first time I said that I needed help. I wasn’t just telling my doctor I was sick, I was telling me too. For me, that was the really difficult part. If ever I was brave, that was the brave bit.

I’m very glad I took that step but it was not at all easy. If my video encourages others to take the same step when they’re in a bad place, to be brave enough to admit they need help and to seek that help, then I think it will have been useful. I hope that it is.

 

Formula Student is go go go!

Formula student team University of Bristol

The world’s largest student engineering design competition is back. We spoke to Engineering student Harry White about the Formula Student project and being a part of the Bristol Electric Racing team

The team showing off the car at last’s year University Open Day

Formula Student is a long-running international competition where the best engineering students across the world design, manufacture and race open-wheeled single seater formula styled vehicles. The vehicles produced by some of the top teams are truly astounding feats of engineering, with some cars able to accelerate from 0-60 MPH in under 1.5 seconds! The big finale is the head-to-head race at Silverstone, where the teams battle it out to find the overall winner.

Chief Engineer, Harry White, explains the uniqueness of this project: “This competition is one of the best opportunities available to university students to experience a complex, real-life engineering problem that requires analytical thinking, design and team work.”

“It allows students to develop important skills that may be less focused on in a classical engineering degree, such as business, marketing and cost analysis.” He continues “We’ll be working hard towards developing our business and marketing case, with the goal of ranking amongst the top teams next year.”

The team’s workspace, in the shadow of a helicopter!

This year’s team are currently building their first car to compete at the 2019 competition. Harry updates us on their progress: “We have most of a rolling chassis, with only a few modifications still required to produce a product that fundamentally works. The next steps this year will be to develop the powertrain, which is no small task, and to continue developing the rolling chassis until the car can drive under its own power. From there the next task will be an extensive testing and commissioning stage. There’s a significant difference between a car that can move and a car that can race.”

One of the great benefits of the project is for the students to work equally as part of team, with all members having the opportunity to contribute significantly to the design. As Harry points out: “There’s a lot of design involved with creating a car from scratch, and this means that younger members of the team can contribute in a way that would be almost impossible in more established teams.”

Importantly, there’s the social aspect of the project: “Working as part of a dedicated team, all focused on achieving the same goal, leads to a tight-knit group of friends, between different years and courses; a social dynamic that is difficult to find elsewhere.”

As Harry sums up: “Formula student is an amazing opportunity that gives real engineering experience and is as rewarding as it is demanding; at Bristol Electric Racing there is the opportunity for anyone who is motivated enough to do great things.”

You can follow the team’s progress on Facebook.