Blog post

6,500 miles from home: my journey to university

International transfer student Marcus Chan offers some tips and advice on how to cope with moving away from home to go to university. And he shares his insights on how it felt to come to Derby for the first time.

By Marcus Chan - 4 March 2020

The first greeting

“Hello, are you alright?” That is the first greeting that I got when I first found my way to the person in charge of international student arrivals. Little did I know that this is the British way of saying “how are you?” This was my first time away from home, 6,500 miles away from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, alone, with no clue what to expect and a tad bit of cash in my pocket.

I was beyond excited to pave my own way in this intertwined world and determined to make a dent in it. With that thought, I boarded the coach that was provided by the University from Heathrow Airport to Derby. During this time, while waiting for the arrival of other international students, I made a few friends within the crowd of students that were on my collection point. That was one of first the moments I allowed myself to let my guard down and felt safe.

Arriving at halls

“We are 15 minutes away from Derby, wakey wakey everybody!” announced the bus driver. It all seemed as if Derby was a minute away from Heathrow, the journey went so fast. A quick taxi ride to my halls of residence led me to the reception desk as I arrived in the middle of the night. After settling my check-ins, I had help with my luggage as a security guard led me to my room. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised. The room came with some snacks, bedding and equipment. After a long travelling day on top of jet lag and cold breezes of the night, a hot shower felt like it brought my consciousness back to my body as I tried to grasp on to this new reality.

My first few days

The next day on waking, I met my first British friend who shared my flat. I felt utterly blessed as he offered to show me around Derby city and helped me buy some essentials. I spent the next few days meeting new people in induction events, where the University welcomed us as new students and briefed us on crucial matters. I also managed to scout the whole of Derby in just two days as it is nicely compact, which is very different to my home country.

My favourite places to shop

My main concern was where I was able to buy the things I need and where is the best place to get it. So here are the go-to places that I recommend, I thought it may help you also: Aldi, Lidl, and Sainsbury for grocery shopping but, for specific items, there are Asian grocery shops such as Pak Foods and Chung Hwa. For niche products, I would suggest online shopping such as Amazon Prime, which is free for students for the first six months and the products are delivered in a day or two.

Finding a connection

Growing up in a big city like Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, there is an undoubtedly a huge shift moving to a smaller city with a different culture. But, as I get to know more people and make more meaningful and lasting relationships with other international students from all over the world such as Hungary, Dubai, Croatia, Spain, Italy, USA, China, Hong Kong, Moldova, Romania, Poland, Singapore, Philippines, Cyprus, Greece, and many others, I realise that, deep down, we are all the same.

We all experience the same feelings, crave for the same things, laugh at the same jokes, are all suckers for good food. Having a deeper sense of understanding that we are all humans after all, all of these things made Derby feel more like home.

Tips for students coming to the UK

  1. Pack the essentials such as underwear, socks, good shoes (for lots of walking and rain) and comfortable clothes for winter
  2. Bring your tech stuff such as phones, tablets, iPads, laptops, and earbud headphones (game changers – they come in handy when you’re walking around university and the city)
  3. Bring at least £150 in cash because you will need time to open a bank account, or better yet, have an online bank like Monzo or N26 just in case
  4. Put some of your clothes in your hand carry bag as there are many cases when travelling by plane and coach, in the case of an emergency if luggage is lost during transit or check-in
  5. Make sure all your documents are with you and make copies of them because you’ll never know when things will go wrong
  6. Be calm and confident, there is no need to overthink situations as people are willing to help if you can just ask them

You’ll definitely enjoy your student life here. You will make new friends through the University societies and events. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I have never regretted coming all the way to the UK despite any setbacks that I may have faced as an international student. Know that any problems you come across are just temporary, and they make you a better and stronger person.

I know that sometimes it can be lonely while being far away from home but there are friends who are in the same position as you and people who can help. Just reach out and ask for their support, there is no need to be afraid or embarrassed. If it helps, there is an international meeting place every Monday at St Alkmund’s Church. Feel free to visit and meet new people. Who knows, you might even meet some of your best friends there.

About the author

Marcus Chan
Student in Business Management (International Business)

I am a Business Management (International Business) student. I'm interested in the finance sector as well. I do play the guitar and a little bit of piano too.