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SPARK Insight: SPARK Early Stage Researcher provides advice for fellow international students

One of our Early Stage Researchers, Hadil Sulieman, has written a very helpful article to help fellow international PhD students embed themselves at Queen's University Belfast.

At its core, the SPaRK Programme is driven by the need to develop future leaders whose skills combine disciplinary excellence with a capacity for interdisciplinary, intersectoral and international working.

Hadil Sulieman is already displaying these leadership skills within the 3i dimension. Hadil, who is from Jordan and is completing her PHD at the Centre for Cancer Research and Celll Biology identified that the transition to a new culture can be challenging for international students and has written a wonderful article with tips for international students as well as advice for Belfast natives to make the move a positive experience!

Read Hadil's article here:

Give it some time!

The Ultimate Measure Of A Man Is Not Where He Stands In Moments Of Comfort And Convenience, But Where He Stands At Times Of Challenge And Controversy. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Being an international student is the exciting part of the journey, moving to a new country, meeting new friends, visiting great places that are major attractions for tourists worldwide, but the other side of it is not as exciting at all! Let’s call it the dark side of being an international student.

This side is driven by stress and pressure making the experience nothing but a great burden if not controlled and contained! Moving to a new country and changing your life for the next two or three years is a life-changing experience! Some people would experience the independence for the first time in their lives, having their own flat or house, their own bills, and responsibilities, cleaning, cooking! I remember once I was sharing the house with another student in Italy and because we forgot to pay the bill on time, the electricity was shut off for two weeks!!

And what could make it even more difficult is if this is the first time outside their home country or they might have never experienced traveling before!

Yes, it can get worse, for the students who come from an entirely different cultural background triggering a cultural shock that affects people at different levels. All these features of the dark side can lead to a series of negative feelings, loneliness, lack of confidence, stress, and having ‘’the outsider’’ feeling!

It’s real!

It’s not a myth, it’s not a theory, it is a real-life situation where hundreds of students go through these feelings every day. I’ve encountered some students who told me literally that they count their days to go back home and finish their studies! And many of them bury themselves in studying and working 24/7 to escape these feelings and to finish and fly back home as soon as possible! The dark side of being an international student is hunting every one of them at least at the first three to six months, and for some, it could be longer, even till finishing their degree!!

How do they feel?

Almost everyone gets excited for a new life experience in a different place, but when they arrive there the drama begins, especially for those who never experienced traveling before;
- Coping with a new environment.
- Homesickness.
- ‘’The outsider’’ feeling!
- Isolated.
- Difficulty in their academic progress.
- Stress, stress, and stress!

How to avoid or minimize the above?

Look into the half-full glass, this is a life-changing experience, and I promise if you take advantage of the whole journey, you will never be the same again! Every beautiful experience has a downside or it contains some risks, but without taking risks you will never experience life. Therefore, don’t lose this great opportunity of learning, changing and growing up.

Trust me it is normal to feel like an outsider, sometimes you could feel that even around your own community. But, what is great about Belfast is the tolerant friendly environment, because people here are used to see different people from all around the world.

- When you step to a new place normally not everyone will start talking to you and in the same time everyone is curious about you and they want to know more about ‘’ the new guy”, so be initiative and start talking to other people and mingle with them, make friends and go out, and suggest activities. people here are so friendly and helpful, they can help you settle down easily, just be open and engage yourself in their activities.

- Coming here as a student from a different country that means most likely a whole different educational system, therefore you will possibly have academic issues and you’ll sense some mixed feelings of distrust and confusion, but the good news that it is all normal especially in the first year. And, it is your responsibility to ask for information from your supervisor, your colleagues, other international students who studied here before you. You should always seek advice and any information you don’t feel confident about it. And, yes, don’t fear to have a decent conversation with your supervisor, because he is there to help you and explain things to you, not to scare you!

- Stress is normal, varies from person to person, and being the new guy in town! Will put you through more stress no doubt! But, it's in your hands to deal with it, and I promise that if you follow what is written here, you’ll feel more relaxed, confident, and you’ll adjust quickly to the new place and duties and hence less stress!

- What worth mentioning that in case you felt too much pressure and stress that obstacles your daily life tasks, then you should talk to someone immediately, what is great and considerate of QUB, that they have counsellors and specialized professional people to just listen to you and help you overcome your fears or anything that worries you. Here is the link of the student wellbeing service, they have many activities and even useful drop-in sessions three times a week for 20 minutes, just for you to talk!

As well as, you can always talk to someone you trust, your BFF( even if you are a continent away), your parent, role models in your life, or even students who’ve gone through the same process as yourself, this will definitely help you a lot in gaining strength and confidence by learning from other student’s experiences and advice.

- My final advice, don’t isolate yourself, because it will always make things worse, we are humans and we were created to communicate with each other and help each other. And give it some time and everything will be great, I promise! Work during the week but go out at least on weekends to explore Belfast or even other cities in Northern Ireland, don’t miss the chance. Furthermore, at Qub there are many events and activities to change the academic atmosphere into a fun one, movie theatre events, international nights, free food and coffee, and clubs and societies, there are many of them and they are amazing, where you can gather with people who share the same interest, whether you are a sportsperson, artistic, a geek, or a loud musician, you’ll find a place for you to break out of study!

How can you help them?

This is for local students, or students who already got adjusted to this environment, when you spot the new guy in the room, just walk toward them and say Hey Ya! and then introduce yourself and the conversation will go naturally, don’t fear to approach the new international student, by approaching them and starting a conversation you’ll help them loads in adjusting and to have the guts to talk to other people! Don’t ignore them, please let them know how wonderful you are as a people!
You were granted a great opportunity to grow up, to change, to learn new things about people, different cultures from all around the world, to be enlightened and to see the truth, this is a valuable opportunity, so make the most of it, and yeah! Don’t forget to learn more about the beautiful Irish culture and their peculiar slang

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