Our BA (Hons) Illustration student Sophia tells us about her move from New York to Leeds...
Each step of the moving process was a big deal for me. Asking my parents, applying to Leeds Arts University, getting accepted, sorting out my visa and my living situation. My emotions seemed to flip between excited and anxious every minute. When I was on the red eye flight to England that night of July 31st, I knew I made the right decision. I was moving to better myself and to experience something new.
When I landed, I felt at home and yet still a bit out of place. Being from NYC, I felt like I walked too fast and I talked too loud. There is a different culture here that I wasn’t prepared for. British people are kind, they are softly spoken, and they are much more relaxed when they walk. Where I’m from, it’s a fast-paced lifestyle. Everyone is in a rush and no one seems to have the time. In Leeds, it was the complete opposite and it was such a refreshing change, one that I so desperately needed.
Adapting to Leeds
I could say that I completely understand the British culture now that I have been here for two years, but that wouldn’t be true! I have discovered a lot in that time, but I am still learning about British culture. Honestly, I’m happy about that because it makes living here interesting and I can have a good laugh with my friends when we find something to compare/contrast.
In terms of adapting, I took my time exploring the city and the surrounding areas. This helped ground me in my environment and as silly as it sounds, it also helped me adapt to small changes like crosswalks and street signs. These may be tiny but it can still affect the way you feel in a new city because you can feel out of place in the beginning. Thankfully, that feeling goes away with time and the more I took to going out, the more free I felt.
One great thing about the size of Leeds is that once you get the hang of walking around the city, you might not need your phone map to show you where you need to go! Take time to get to know the city at your own pace and on your own terms. Make plans with your flatmates or grab a coffee by yourself. Find a shop that is familiar to you - my place was Starbucks because NY is riddled with them. This can help you feel less overwhelmed and more at home. Then find a shop that you’ve never heard of. I went to the Arcades and had a look at the small shops there. If you don’t want to explore just yet, watch some British TV shows. The IT Crowd, Gavin and Stacey, and the Great British Bake Off are good shows that helped me adapt to British culture and humour!
My Advice: Take your time. There is no race and no finish line - besides graduation at Leeds Arts University! You are moving to a new city to get to know yourself and to enjoy a new culture. Walk around, make friends, take the bus or train to different places in the UK and don’t worry about doing it all at once. You will naturally adapt to your surroundings the longer you live there, so just enjoy the experience for what it is.
The first friend that I made after my move was my partner’s dog Chester. I’m mostly kidding, but being able to move in with my significant other just before uni started definitely helped build my confidence in getting to know the English lifestyle. If you have any friends or family in the country and you feel comfortable doing so, ask to meet up! They can give you advice and help you better understand the culture before you go to university.
If that's not something you're able to do, don’t fret. Making friends as a student is so easy, because Leeds is a student-based city! I stayed at Liberty Park (now called Hepworth Lodge) for my first year and I would definitely recommend it to my international friends. This accommodation houses students from Leeds Arts University, meaning you will be rooming with 4-5 other creatives going to the same uni as you. This was important because when we had our first day of class, our Illustration group was able to walk to uni together! This gave us the opportunity to get to know each other better and was honestly just a sweet experience. Our tutors played ice breaker games, which can be double the fun if you’re an international student as the first thing someone will notice is your accent!
Leeds Arts University and the University of Leeds host a joint fair for Freshers Week. This is a great opportunity to sign-up for clubs and activities that you are interested in. Like-minded people will also be signing up, so make sure you attend at least the first few meetings. I went to a club meeting and although I didn’t end up going back, I met some great people and had fun!
My Advice: Don’t sweat it and if you are, just know you’re not alone. Whether you’re an international student, British student from far away or a local student commuting in every day, everyone is worried about making friends. Friendships will always fall into place and that could be during your first month at uni or your second year. I am going into my third year and I am honestly still making friends. This university and city are full of brilliant people, you just have to find them.
The best advice I can give to someone who is moving is to be ready to accept change. There will be changes in yourself, your environment, and in the people around you. These changes can be brought up over time and will naturally progress with you. Moving to a new place will help you grow as a person. It boosts your confidence and gives you skills that will shape you into the person you are meant to be. Be ready to talk about culture because people will ask you about where you come from. This can lead to some exciting conversations and will help you learn about the world. Take a deep breath and remember your own reasons for moving. Most importantly, take your time.