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How To Make Your University Experience A Truly International One?

There are many reasons why people choose to pursue a degree abroad. For some, it is better facilities and infrastructure, for some the standard of teaching and research for others, it might be the reputation of the institution and the country. But there is one thing most international students tend to miss out on.

As soon as they are settled in their accommodation and start attending classes on campus, most international students sort themselves into groups. And unsurprisingly most of these groups consist of people from the same country or background in one way or the other. I suppose it is just a human tendency to try and find familiarity in a new environment.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you should avoid making friends with people just because they are from your country. Rather, you should try to make friends with others too, especially if they are not from your country or region.

Most international students miss out on the fact that pursuing a degree abroad allows them to have an international experience unlike any other. Almost every person on the campus of your university is just another person like you: trying to make new friends and have an incredible journey.

The two main reasons I felt that most people avoid interacting with their peers from different backgrounds are language barriers and cultural differences.

Having graduated from a university in the UK with students from over 130 different countries, I can assure you that neither of these is a valid reason to miss out on perhaps the greatest opportunity you will have to become a global citizen.

At universities, especially in the UK, everyone can speak English. It doesn't matter if your accent is different or if you are not used to speaking in English; no one cares. The person in front of you is just as curious to know more about you as you are about them. No one makes fun of you if you make a mistake or mispronounce something. Rather they will make a genuine effort to understand you. And on the plus side, talking to someone from a different country, you get to hear their accent which, in the words of Trevor Noah, is just them speaking English with the rules of their language and it is something really beautiful.

Now coming to cultural differences. And this time everyone cares!

At universities with international students, everyone comes with an open mind and is extremely accommodating of different beliefs and cultures. You will have the opportunity to meet new people from almost every country on the planet and learn about their country and their culture. At the same time, they will be curious to know more about your country and culture.

Of course, it is good to have friends from your home country when you are abroad, you find people with whom you share a lot in common, have similar food habits and can celebrate festivals together. Now imagine doing all this not just with people from your country but from a dozen or more different countries, you not only get to know about their cultures but also get to celebrate a whole bunch of new festivals together and enjoy a variety of different cuisines. Trust me on the last part, Shahi Tukra from Chandni Chowk in Delhi used to be my favourite dessert, but now it is Knafeh which was introduced to me by my Jordanian friend.

Interacting with people from different backgrounds also gives you a broader view of the world and makes you more receptive to different ideas as well as improves your ability to work more effectively in diverse teams. These are soft skills not covered in modules but are often appreciated in job interviews and could help you settle in easily into your place of work later on.

Now you might think that you want to get your diploma and find a job and that having a lot of friends is just going to be a distraction. That could be true if you are Mark Zuckerberg or someone with a similar level of intelligence and skills. For the rest of you mere mortals like me, networking will prove to be the cornerstone of your job hunt after your studies.

Having a wide network of friends all over the globe will be a huge advantage in your years after university. If nothing you will have a couch to crash on during your travels.

Not being an extrovert, it can be difficult to go out and interact with different people, I know it first hand. But like a great philosopher once asked "if you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted would you capture it, or just let it slip?".

So let's work on that shyness along with all other complexes that boarded the flight with you one new friend at a time. Talk to your coursemates, talk to the people you meet in the libraries and cafes. Make as many friends from as many different countries and cultures as possible. Make your university experience a truly international one.

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