“Can you read in English?” was one of the first questions I heard sitting at this year's fresher's fair stall of the Czech and Slovak Society. I reluctantly nodded, somewhat suspicious of why a man is asking a university student whether they can read in English. I was then handed a copy of The Watchtower – a monthly magazine of Jehovah's witnesses. To be fair, I didn't really understand all of it. But I doubt it was because of my English. 

When I spoke to my Czech friends studying in the United Kingdom about coming here for university, they all said the same thing. British people stick together and so do internationals. Don't go there thinking you'll make any British friends, because it's not going to happen. They could not have been more wrong.

For the first term in Cambridge I listened to the advice given to me. I only hung out with international students, being almost afraid of any contact with a British person. Whenever anybody politely asked me a question in the kitchen I panicked, convincing myself I couldn't understand their accent, and blurted out something that usually had nothing to do with their initial enquiry. And when I did actually make an effort to speak to British people, I made the rooky mistake of doing it on a night out or when in a big group.

I don't know if you've noticed, but people act a lot more loud and rowdy when among friends, especially new ones that they want to impress. Girls especially tend to shout over each other, giving you the feeling that the ending of your sentence really isn't that important, that, in fact, whatever you were saying wasn't that important. I felt so intimidated by British people after this experience that I decided my friends back home were right and I wouldn't bother to make an effort.

Don't get me wrong; I still made many good friends this way. They were from all around the world – the Ivory Coast, Singapore, India, Russia or Germany. But I somehow felt that this dismissive approach of mine was not right, nor accurate. So I gathered up the courage yet again and joined a bunch of British people for a corridor dinner when they invited me. And when I gave them a chance I found out they were actually interested in where I come from and that I could actually understand their accent and being loud with them was actually fun and that when they did laugh at my pronunciation, it was always in a friendly, never a mean way.

I realized I could really be friends with them, despite what people back home had told me. Because, I realized, all these people, although they are of the same nationality, come from different cultural and social backgrounds, and they all have different experiences. When I talked to them I found out many of them felt a bit scared and intimidated in the beginning like me, and they didn't even have to be foreigners.

Of course, I could be writing this piece about the “academic stuff”, like understanding lecturers or supervisors (who have always been really helpful, by the way), as I am a Cambridge student, and that's what matters, right? But starting my third year here now, I couldn't imagine anything more important at university than friends. So this goes to you, Third floor short, and especially my girls for making feel at home, even though I come from a land far, far away!


Bottom line: What is your experience as being international student? Did the “local” people talk to you? Or did you have only international friends?

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