Hiya, Aamina here from the MSc in Sports and Health Sciences program. May marked the start of term 3 and it’s officially been 9 months of me being in Exeter, so I’m closer to the end of my program than the start (I have mixed feelings about it, which we can unpack some other time).

Being an international student, I was naturally worried about a lot of things before coming here. But I’ve since learned that the University of Exeter had already thought about those things and put in systems to help international students navigate nearly all of those challenges and worries.

A lot of international students have similar challenges. And in this post, I’ll break down each of them and give you my tips and advice on how you can overcome them so you can have the best time at the University of Exeter just like I’m having.

Bookmark this post if you’re coming to Exeter this fall or if you’re already an international student. You may relate to the challenges I’ll talk about and may find the solutions helpful.

1.     Finances – from budgeting to scholarships

Studying in the UK is not cheap. Living here isn’t particularly cheap either. So, finances are often one of the top worries for most international students.

Luckily, the University offers a range of scholarships and bursaries that you can apply for after your admission is confirmed. I applied for the Global Excellence Scholarship Award, which was approved, and was also awarded the Pakistan Global Leaders Scholarship 2023/24, which together covered a significant portion of my tuition fee.

I recommend you regularly check the University of Exeter’s scholarship page to see if there are any you can apply for. You can find some specific to your nationality or your program. Do take the time to craft your personal statement so it reflects your situation as perfectly as possible.

The University of Exeter also helps you find part-time work (for up to 20 hours a week for international students), refine your CV, and improve your portfolio and professional vibe. The International Student Support team and Career Zone are amazing at helping you prepare for full-time positions at the end of your program as well.

For example, as we’ve entered term 3 and many students are graduating soon, the Career Zone is arranging sessions to help us understand work visa requirements, when we should apply, and other tips. I’ve joined a few of their sessions and always left them with valuable information.

The University’s Student Blog has multiple posts on budgeting so definitely check those out for different perspectives. My two cents on budgeting are:

  • Plan your groceries and shopping in advance and always make a list. Trust me, you’ll save a ton if you buy what’s on the list. Otherwise, you run the risk of buying stuff that’ll rot in your fridge and ultimately go to waste.
  • Try one or two new foods a week. You can save money by eating local produce compared to your traditional dishes which may require imported ingredients.
  • Fresh produce in the UK may taste different than back home so don’t buy too much in case you don’t like it.
  • Check out different shops to see which one has the best price/deals – especially for international foods.
  • Don’t go shopping hungry (iykyk).

2.     Wellbeing services 

Being away from your family isn’t easy. I come from a big family and a busy home so being in a quiet room all by myself was a challenge I expected – but I didn’t realise how intense it would be.

The University of Exeter’s wellbeing services, the Student Guild’s give-it-a-go sessions and residence life events have been a literal lifesaver.

I go to the Wellbeing team when I want to talk to someone one-on-one or need to feel less anxious. The Residence Life events are wonderful when I’m missing home and need to get out of my head and enjoy some healthy banter. They host events including crafting (such as mosaic making), baking (my favourite), and off-campus trips to the quay and neighbouring towns.

Notebook decorating at one of the Guild’s events.

Talking to your family over videocalls is okay, but you also need physical connection to feel good. I’m so glad the University has such teams in place because you really do need them at times.

3.     Academic support services for international students

It’s no secret that different countries have different academic systems. I was worried about how my grades might change because of the different teaching styles and expectations from the students.

But the University had that covered as well. Every student is assigned a personal tutor whose job is to answer your questions about everything academic and guide you wherever you’re stuck.

You can talk to them about resources that may help your studies, ask for their advice on communicating with professors, seek tips about workload and everything else related to your learning and academic skills.

You can also book one-on-one appointments for assignment help for international students. The INTO team is excellent at helping you improve your essays by fixing the structure, academic depth, citation style, tone, etc.

Although they are not subject specialists, their advice is incredibly valuable. I’ve booked one-on-one sessions with the INTO team in each term and joined multiple on-site classes as well.

The INTO page on the University website

Many programs, like my Sports and Health Sciences one, have appointed INTO members who host sessions on how to do well in our specific course.

I recommend reaching out to all of these services if you’re worried about doing well academically. They’ve given me much confidence when it comes to assignments and presentations, and I feel incredibly supported at the University.

4.     Missing food from your home country

How can I not talk about this?

Food is a source of comfort. And one of the biggest challenges for international students is missing our comfort foods.

The good news is that Exeter is home to people from all over the world. And we have lots of international shops and restaurants that offer a taste of home.

I recommend learning a few of your favourite recipes because often the restaurants don’t make our mom’s recipes so knowing how to cook a few dishes will help you more than you know.

You can find most of the ingredients and fresh produce from the shops in Exeter city centre, which is very close to both our Exeter campuses.  

My go-to international food shops are Best One International, Heera International Foods and Mesopotamia. I can easily get fresh Halal chicken and meat as well as some amazing frozen Halal kebabs and Shan spices.

The restaurants are great too. I was pleasantly surprised to find a large variety of dishes on the menus, not just the popular ones.

Some of my favourite restaurants are Efes Grill, Roosters Peri Peri, German Doner Kebab and Spice Aroma.

A traditional Pakistani dish called Nihari (beef stew) (Spice Aroma)
Efes Grill
Efes Grill
Efes Grill
Roosters Peri Peri
Exeter Fried Chicken Peri Peri Grill and Fish & Chips (Halal)

5. Societies

I sometimes miss speaking in my native language or talking to people with the same cultural experiences.

Other times, I want to engage with people from all over the world and, often, interacting with international students makes me miss home a little less because it reminds me of all I’m gaining by being here.

Societies are great to do both. It’s a great way to make new friends from all over the world but also opportunities to connect with others from your home country. There are a ton of societies at the University of Exeter so you are sure to find some that you can relate to.

Here’s a detailed guide to finding societies at the University of Exeter so do give it a read (there’s also a Penryn Campus societies blog).

6.     Navigating transport 

International students often worry about moving around the city for fun, work, or exploring. I’m happy to report that Exeter has a wonderful transport system that isn’t too different from other countries. You have trains, buses and taxis that can take you anywhere.

Google Maps usually has updated routes and times. You just have to put in your departure and arrival locations, and it’ll show you different ways to get from point A to point B.

Buses do run a little late sometimes, especially as you go farther from the city centre, such as at the Honiton Road Park and Ride stop. Each bus stop in Exeter has a signboard that tells you which buses stop there. You can also visit the bus station in the City Centre to get all the details of the different routes and times or download the Stagecoach app to plan your journey and find out if there’s a bus near you.

I recommend getting a bus pass if you intend to use the bus a lot. It may save you money. Otherwise, you can use cash or contactless on nearly every bus and at both train stations (Exeter Central and Exeter St David’s) to pay for your journey.

7.     Accessing healthcare

As a new international student, you’ll be sent an email telling you how to sign up with a local Surgery/ doctor. And within a few weeks, you’ll get a letter at your address with details of your primary physician (GP) and their location. You can schedule appointments with them whenever you need, although the wait can sometimes be long.

You can walk into A&E (Accident and Emergency) of any hospital for serious health emergencies and the doctors there will tend to you ASAP.

Exeter city centre has multiple pharmacies – the most popular one being Boots – and a couple more. You can get over-the-counter medication from there for your seasonal flu. There’s also a walk-in NHS office in City Centre for minor issues.

Wrapping up

Whew! That’s a lot of information. Feel free to read it again if you need to or bookmark it so you can come to it later.

Being an international student is amazing. It’s a learning opportunity and you gain so much more than a degree from it.

Try to enjoy your time in Exeter – it’ll be hard not to. Worry a bit less and know that the University of Exeter has wonderful people who think about the challenges you may face and help you with them.