Settling in: adjusting to a new environment

Settling in

Welcome to all new students, and welcome back to all of you who are returning to continue with your studies. Well done for your efforts and achievements to get to this point.

For some of you this may be the first time that you are away from your familiar environment. And for others, this may have meant a long journey from your home country to come to study in the UK. And some of you, although being a home student, will also be exploring your new space.

Whether you have travelled a long distance or have come from a nearby area, you will notice some differences as you start your new life here at Reading. For those of you who are continuing with your studies, starting a new academic year will also bring some changes that will require some time to adjust to.

By viewing these unexpected situations and feelings as part of the overall experience, we can manage the transition more effectively. Trust that you have the capacity to deal with the situations proactively and give yourself credit for making the effort to resolve the situation.

Often having a bit more information will make a difference. If you have some concerns about your course, you can contact your Support Centre or speak with your Academic Tutor. It is always better to consult with others at an early stage so that you can adjust and prevent things from becoming more problematic.

Managing transitions
New beginnings start with endings. Whenever we make a change it means we leave something behind. Sometimes we may miss what we left behind, such as family, a group of friends, or a familiar environment.

Starting a new course will mean that you will be finding out about the various subjects that will be covered, how things are done in your department, and about the evaluation process. It is understandable if you feel uncertain about how you will do academically as this is likely to be very different to your previous academic experiences. Whatever activities you were used to, you had developed your skills and were familiar with how things were done (such as preparing for A level exams/or equivalent in your country).

You already have experience of adjusting to new situations. For example, when starting school, or moving to a new house. You may remember some of your experiences of how you adapted to these changes in the past. You can use what you learned, maintain an open mind and a flexible attitude, and view new situations as part of your learning process.

Whenever we move to live in a different environment there is a natural process of reorientation. Initially we start to familiarise ourselves with the space, how things work, and getting to know people.

As we learn more about our new environment, we may start to compare it with where we have been before, what is familiar. We may compare the new people we meet with our family and friends and wonder whether we will find likeminded people we can relate to.

As we become more familiar with our new surroundings, we gradually start the adaptation process which also involves some internal adjustments: how we see ourselves, and how we relate to others. When comparing we tend to focus our attention on what we do not like, which can prevent us from focusing on what can turn out to be positive experiences.

Whenever you notice the tendency to compare, view these thoughts as part of the adaptation process. Then, redirect your attention to the present and focus on doing something practical to familiarise yourself with your surroundings. Of course, there will be some things that you may not like. However, they can also provide information that could be useful. Accepting that some things may not be of your liking, and that these also can contribute to your learning experience, will facilitate your adjustment.

Strategies to settling in:

1.Develop healthy routines:
Initiating your degree will require a lot of energy to develop new skills and to concentrate on learning new material. Your brain will be busy processing new information and learning new ways of working.

Your whole body will experience changes as it adapts to your new environment and new routine. You will notice the difference in how you structure your day:  times of meals, when you can participate in activities in addition to your lectures, or when you plan your laundry.

You may notice that the bed is different to the one you were used to, or other aspects of your environment may contribute to make it uncomfortable to sleep. It is quite common for people to have difficulty sleeping when in a new place.  You may notice your sleep is altered and you may feel tired as a result.

Developing a healthy routine enables to maintain your energy: eating well to nurture your body, doing exercise to strengthen your fitness, and sleeping well to maintain an optimum level of energy. Make sure you plan breaks so that you can restore your energy after busy days. Managing your energy is fundamental to feel well and confident as you go about your day.

2.Communicating in a second language:
As an international student, studying in a second language, you may notice that you require a lot of energy, and it is likely that you may feel very tired at the end of the day. This is in great part due to your brain being very busy processing new information to understand and learn.

Studying in a second language tends to require extra energy to focus on learning the language, as well as getting used to a different academic system. It will require time to become more proficient and confident in your language skills. Although you may worry about not being able to speak/write well yet, do not let this prevent you from practising English.

Even though you might feel self-conscious when speaking with native speakers, practise speaking and writing as much as you can. Instead of trying to speak the language without errors, keep in mind that what matters is to communicate with others. If you do not understand something do ask others to repeat. They will be understanding and give time as they also want to communicate with you. After a while, you will build your confidence and will gradually become more fluent.

3.Focus on learning:
In the first few weeks, as you familiarise yourself with your course and get to know other students, focus on what you are learning. By maintaining an open mind, and a flexible attitude, you will be more able to adjust to now ways of doing things.

During your induction you will receive information about your course and meet with your Tutors and lectures. Find out about the activities within your department and identify what you might want to explore further. You can also ask staff in your Support Centre who will be able to provide you with information, or signpost you to the appropriate service.

Each day look for what was good about your day, and what you learned. If there were some disappointing or frustrating experiences decide what you can learn from the experience, and what you may do different next time.

“Your attitude is like a box of crayons that colour your world.
Constantly colour your picture grey, and your picture will always be bleak.
Try adding some bright colours to the picture by including humour, and your picture begins to lighten up.”  (Allen Klein)

4.Adjusting to academic standards:
It is understandable that you might feel a bit unsettled as you discover that academic work at university is very different to what you have done before.

Most courses require students to dedicate time to self-study, and all require self-management. Take the opportunity to ask questions and explore your field, as well as find out about other topics of interest through conversations with your peers.

Some courses have a busy timetable, and others have less contact hours. Having free time in between lectures means that you can decide how you use your time. Organising your tasks, and structuring your day, will make a big difference to your productivity and how you feel at the end of each day.

Ask your Academic Tutor for advice on studying your subject, and you can also arrange a meeting to discuss academic strategies with the Study Advice team. Check the Study Advice website where you will find useful information on study techniques, and more. Although you may feel that it is challenging to develop a way of studying to work effectively, allow time to adjust and to find out what works best for you.

5.Understanding emotions:
Even though you may be optimistic and looking forward to starting your degree, you may feel unsettled in the beginning. These feelings are a normal experience as the new situation will trigger a range of reactions. It is important to be aware of them, and understand them, so that we can manage our responses.

By reflecting on your feelings, you can identify obstacles that could prevent you from enjoying your new adventure. This way you build your strengths and confidence in your ability to manage the challenges as learning opportunities.

Acknowledge your feelings and then focus on what you can do to familiarise yourself with your new environment.  Having mixed feelings is not evidence of having made a wrong decision, or that you cannot adapt to your new environment. It just means that you are going through a transition and that your body needs a bit of time to adjust to the new situation, and to the new people around you.

If you are coming from a different culture, or this is the first time you are away from home, feeling homesick is a normal reaction as a result of being away from what you are familiar with. You will gradually get used to the new situation, and as you develop a healthy routine, and begin to contact others, you will notice that these feelings will gradually ease and you will gradually notice that you are becoming familiar with your new academic life

6.Making social connections:
As you begin your journey at university your curiosity and interest in getting to know other students will be stimulating and rewarding. You may also, though, feel a little unease as you may feel unsure about how things will unfold.

Whenever we find ourselves in a new place our hope is to make new friends and establish relationships. Our natural inclination is to communicate with others, and where it is possible, to feel comfortable to talk and share experiences.

Perhaps it may take a bit longer than you expected to make new friends, and you may feel the need to contact your family frequently. Whenever possible delay contacting them for a short while and initiate contact with other students. Then when you contact your family you will be able to tell them about your new experiences.

At first you may feel a bit self-conscious taking the initiative to contact other people. This feeling is normal as you are learning about them. In your previous environment you knew the people around you and had established relationships with them. You also were familiar with how things were done.

In addition, when being away from home relationships with family and friends will go through some changes too as you adjust to your different activities and establish a work pattern. Fortunately, digital technology can make it easy to keep in contact with them, share how things are developing for you, and able to continue to nurture your relationships with them as you also form new relationships.
This is all good, provided that you take breaks from technology and give yourself the opportunity to go out and meet others.

You will already have found out about some information about the activities available on campus you can participate in and meet new people. You can also check the Student Life blog where you can find out more about student life. 

You can also participate in the Life Tools programme where you can expand your knowledge, develop strategies to do well academically and keep well.

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention,  sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”            (Aristotle)

 

Reference:

Bridges, W. (2004) Transitions. Making sense of life´s changes. Massachusetts: Da Capo Press.