Rafaela Simao Da Silva

International Foundation Year, BEng Chemical Engineering

Honestly, I was not very impressed with the programme in the beginning. Not because it was unpleasant, but because it was mainly online (no one could predict the pandemic, of course). I was worried that I would not have opportunities to make friends, or improve my English.

But in the end, I was proven wrong. The International Foundation Year (IFY) offered lots of socials to help break the ice. We had an interactive module, which helped me so much in boosting my confidence to speak English, and much more. I can confirm that the best friends I have made so far are because of the IFY.  

As for adjusting in the UK, it was quite fast. For my first year in the UK, I stayed in University accommodation, and the staff were really helpful. Any question I had, they helped me out, and I had good flatmates too. Hence I advise anyone who’s coming to the UK to apply for accommodation at the university. At least for your first year. It may help you to make friends, and be in touch with different cultures.

Also, by having flatmates, you will be able to come out of your comfort zone. I remember that after finishing my quarantine, I was so excited to go out that I got lost, and I did not know where I was. Because I did not have enough phone battery, the first thing I did was to call my flatmate and she came. Every time I needed to go out, they would offer to help me.  

Maybe one of the culture shocks I had was the food. My first dish in the UK was fish and chips. I didn’t like it the first time.  But for some reason, I started to enjoy it. Now it is my favourite dish. My favourite cultural shock was finding out that people will call you ‘love’ for no reason.

However, not everything was rainbow and unicorns. I was expecting that the educational system would be independent, but I think I had a different idea. Maybe because of high school, I expected teachers to go after us, pushing us, but that didn’t happen. All the extra reading, homework, it was up to you. I can say it took me some time to adjust to that.

Another problem was the weather. I knew the weather was not the best, but I did not know it was possible to rain and snow at the same time! 

The IFY team were always available to help us. When I arrived, I was struggling to open a bank account, and the IFY staff helped me. I really appreciated their weekly ‘virtual desk reception’. But my biggest appreciation goes to my tutor. My tutor was amazing. I can say that I have been able to adjust to my first year at uni because of her. She was so patient, and supportive.  

After studying the IFY I do feel incomparably more prepared than my current peers. While they were still managing navigating Minerva, finding about Skills@Library and so on, I was focused on the next steps. Another example was one of our first assignments. We needed to reference, and only me and the other previous IFY students knew how to do it. Specifically how to avoid plagiarism (a subject we talked about many times in the IFY). 

One of the reasons I chose Leeds was because of its big community of international students. Since I am part of a minority group, it was important for me to find a university that would not make me feel ‘out’.

Also, Leeds is one of the best universities in the UK for my course, and part of the Russell Group. I do not regret choosing Leeds for one second. If you want a top-class education, to live in a vibrant city, with great restaurants, (and the weather is not as bad as other cities in the UK), then come to Leeds.