Portsmouth College is the proud home of several international students, from a wide variety of backgrounds and nations. Their experiences are unique compared to the average student, having to overcome not only the academic hurdles placed before them but also the cultural and linguistic challenges. To try and get a sense of one of these experiences, I spoke to Alex, a 19-year-old second-year student studying Maths, Economics and History.

Alex was born into a middle class and scientific family in Georgia. His father is an epidemiologist and his mother is an entomologist, and they were able to provide a high-quality education; at the age of 8 he began studying English with a tutor and in Georgia, he attended one of the best maths and science-oriented schools. However, his interest in history (in particular UK history), came from an unusual source. Strategy games! “I was really interested in strategy games and there was this game called Stronghold Crusader, and one of the characters in the game was Richard the Lionheart, and he was one of my favourite characters”. Through this, Alex gained a fascination with history. In 2015, he came to London for 2 weeks and was impressed by both its size and its museums. Then, through Unique Learning’s scholarship project, Alex got the opportunity to come to Portsmouth College. During his application process, he was interviewed by Tom Lloyd, Deputy Principal at Portsmouth College. As part of Tom’s role of building and managing a network of international agents and partners, he got the chance to interview 18 students and decide who would be able to come and study at the College.
“All of them were exceptional students,” Tom recalls, “but Alex really stood out to me because he had a clear direction. It was clear from the moment I met him that he was interested in the college, he had done his research and he was serious into making the big jump to study abroad.” Alex’s extracurricular interests were also important in highlighting him out as a noteworthy student. Conversations about the E6 program and the Student Union made it clear that the College was best suited for Alex, with the belief that the College was able to provide a “good life curriculum for Alex”. Finally, he was accepted and entered the College in 2019.

For his first month at the College, Alex enjoyed his new environment, “When you first arrive here, you just get a wow effect, so everything is fascinating to you and everything is interesting to you.” However after a few months, the shine wore off and he began to experience homesickness “It was really hard psychologically, I missed my friends, I missed my family” Alex admitted. Through October and November of his first year, he struggled to fully engage with his lessons as he was distracted by thoughts of home. However, he eventually overcame this by dedicating himself to his studies and by this year “he had absolutely no problem”. The E6 program was a major factor in his decision to come to Portsmouth College, and he’s since partaken in several programs. Alex is especially effusive in his praise of one “The Leadership Academy, especially, I really enjoyed. I met some wonderful people. It was both really fun and really professional.” Through these programs, Alex was able to gain the confidence to be able to interact with more people, and gained vital experience to put on his CV.

Throughout his time in England, Alex has lived with a host family, assigned after his application to the College was accepted. Once again, Alex is effusive in his praise of the host family, saying “I think they’ve done an exceptionally great job because they’ve become my second family, we’re really close, we share a lot of interests and they’ve helped me adapt to the British environment”.

Alex’s original goal was to assimilate into British culture and life before going to a British university, and with this, his host family has been invaluable. Whilst talking about British culture, we talked about some of the differences between Georgia and the UK. On education, Alex noted that the quality of education in the UK was markedly superior compared to Georgia’s, saying “Objectively speaking, British teachers are more professional”. Furthermore, he appreciates the emphasis on mental health which the College places, saying “they really look after that aspect” whilst in Georgia, “it’s kind of chaotic.”

Culturally, Britain also differs substantially from Georgia, with Alex’s belief that the UK is far more culturally diverse compared to Georgia with people from “different races from different countries, something you won’t see in Georgia”. However, there is one aspect where Alex believes Georgia is superior. Food! “I really miss Georgian food” Alex divulged. In particular, he misses his favourite dish of Khinkali (Georgian dumplings).

Alex now looks to go onto Loughborough and study business, and we wish him all the best!

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