International Students

Studying abroad can be quite a nervous experience but it really doesn’t have to be! We have an ECSU International Rep who is happy to help with any issues that may be troubling you and will always be around for support. Contact him by emailing

In particular, for freshers just about to start at Emma, we have two International Freshers’ Reps whose main priority is to make sure you settle in nice and easy. They’re here to make sure moving to Emma goes as smoothly as possible so don’t hesitate to ask them for help if you see them around College! But also feel free to bombard them with any questions by emailing And be sure to check out our International Freshers Guide and CUSU’s International Freshers Week.

A Brief Checklist

This is a short checklist of things you may need/want, it is in no way all-inclusive and not everyone will want all of these things.

  • Warm clothes – in summer Cambridge is lovely, but can get pretty nippy in winter.
  • Waterproof clothes – welcome to England.
  • Formal dress – for fancy events like formals and matriculation.
  • Pillow case/sheets – pretty self-explanatory.
  • Skype – or something similar to keep in touch with distant friends and family for free.
  • UK sim card – for new friends.
  • Stationery – this can easily be purchased here, so no need to think too much about it.
  • Alarm, posters, blankets – anything that you want to decorate your room with.
  • Pans, toaster, a kettle – these are easily available here too so don’t waste space if you don’t want.
  • Open mind – super cheesy I know, but you will have so many new experiences here.

Student Experiences

Alethea Tan - HSPS - Singapore

When I first arrived at Emma I was overwhelmed, both from the huge move (all the way from Singapore!) and also the mass of new people I had to meet. Needless to say, I was quite homesick for the first few weeks, especially since I came from a foreign country and had very different experiences from everyone else. But honestly, I could not be more thankful for being in such a warm and friendly college, from the porters to my staircase, everybody was really kind in helping me get used to the new environment.

I really didn’t think I’d be able to feel so at home in Emma so quickly, but it’s hard not to, considering all the activities, the proximity of the bar etc. Some of my closest friends now are people I met during activities that I had possibly wanted to give a miss: pub crawl, the 50th tea & cake session in the bar…which really just shows the importance of being open-minded and participative (or that all my friends really like bar-related activities).

Of course, I still get homesick, but the best part is that Cambridge has so many international food restaurants/ supermarkets (which are all very close to Emma!), making it really easy to find comfort food and to introduce your college friends to a bit of your own culture.

Ruggero Chicco - HSPS - Italy

I didn’t really know what to expect coming to study at Emma; I couldn’t possibly have anticipated the amazing time I was going to have here. As soon as I got through the porter’s lodge, the fresher’s reps where there to help me settle and show me around. From there on, everything went so fast that I had no time to think about anything else than enjoying myself. Meeting so many different and interesting people as well as participating in the amazing opportunities of fresher’s week took all of my time. Eventually, later on, homesickness did momentarily hit but it was soon put aside by the amount of support I was provided with. The continuous bustle of College is really what makes Emma so great: there’s always something to do, someone to meet or somewhere to be - you’re just bound to feel welcome.

Coming to England to study was a huge decision but one I definitely do not regret. Cambridge and Emma are amazingly welcoming places: no matter what you like to do or who you like to hang out with you’re bound to find activities and people that will make you feel happy. Remember that although you’re at Emma to learn, studying in Cambridge is above all a social experience: make the most out of it by meeting as many different persons and taking part in as many different events as possible!

Emile Okada - Maths - Japan

Before traveling to Cambridge I spent much of the vacation biking along the busy highways of Osaka. Based on some articles I had read online I was expecting life to be quite similar to the crazy traffic I had to navigate. Freshers’ week was kind of similar to that, but once the dust had settled, the only semblance life had to crazy traffic was the literal interaction I had with it by the intersection at Mill Lane.

Life in college, while not exactly a calm oasis, was very different to what I had expected. There was ample time for sports - I tried rowing for a term and learned how to play squash. Of course work always took up a large portion of the day, but was rarely overbearing and I found I could maintain a good level of social life and fun without falling behind. I was also very lucky and ended up in a wonderful staircase.

Only in exam term did things get hectic and a bit bizarre. However, I really think the college did a great job at reducing the pressure and lowering stress levels. Restless weeks were offset by bouncy castles, puppies and cakes and we were rewarded for the stressful ordeal of exams with the may ball which was quite unlike anything I had attended before.

The only hiccup I had as an international student was the great confusion/outrage met by terms like pants, chips and awesome, but I’d say they were minor issues with regards to an overall great year.

Elsa Maishman - MML - Ireland

There’s a really lovely atmosphere at Emma, and international students are made to feel as welcome as any others – whether you’re from the other side of the world, or a demi-international like me.

As a Brit who grew up in Ireland, I was never really sure whether or not I counted as an international student. Either way, however, from my college parents who greeted me on arrival; to the new friends who explained all unfamiliar slang; to my Director of Studies who never fails to acknowledge that I came from a different, broader education than my supervision partners, College has welcomed me with open arms regardless of the difference in my background.

For me the best thing about Emma’s attitude to international students is the amount of storage space we get, and how easy it is to store huge amounts of stuff during the vacation – something that can be much more difficult at other colleges.

Another thing that helps when you’re alone in a new country is the wonderful atmosphere at Emma – you’ll hear it over and over again, but it’s true that the college is a really friendly, welcoming environment. Freshers’ week is full of activities designed to help you make new friends and find your way around, but even beyond that, the welfare provision and pastoral support system mean that college will help you with any problems you might have throughout the year – including the odd bout of homesickness.

Daniel Rasbash - AMES - Belgium/France

The night before coming to Cambridge I remember telling everyone that I didn’t feel nervous but that night I just couldn’t get to sleep for ages. A very long car journey later I was through the college gates and I realised that there really had been no need for worry.

My college parents met me and helped me move in and I immediately met another guy who lived next door to me who had lived in Cambridge most of his life, but seemed just as nervous as me. I realised two things that afternoon: everyone is nervous about coming, regardless of their background, and everyone at Emma is hugely friendly.

I can hardly believe that a year has already passed because I feel that I’ve known some of these people my whole life. The year has been so full and I’ve done so much, I’ve gotten involved in several plays, become international officer for ECSU and somehow ended up as president of the rugby club to name a few.

Of course there have been days when everything has been a bit overwhelming and late nights finishing essays, but there are so many people around to help you through this from your neighbour to the college counsellor and even the master, Dame Fiona.

Being an international student at Emma did not negatively impact me whatsoever, in fact it was a bit of a conversation starter during freshers’ week. So if you’re thinking of applying, are preparing for interview, are waiting on results or are joining us in October then don’t worry, you’re in really good hands.

Leah Aw - Singapore

Before I came to Cambridge I had never been away from my family before - I hadn’t even visited Europe previously. Choosing to apply to and matriculate at Cambridge was very much a leap into the dark. Looking back now, having done almost two-thirds of my degree, I am, frankly, quite amazed at how far I have progressed (and mostly not in academic work, which may be a surprise for someone at Cambridge!)

Being an international student anywhere is exciting, but difficult - and Cambridge isn’t an exception. I had the usual case of culture shock (although coming from relatively westernised Singapore helped to lessen it) - bad weather, strange food, peculiar Cambridge traditions and lingo, typical British reserve. Because of the difficulty of adjustment for many international students, a great number and variety of organisations and societies have sprung up to cater to their welfare and need for support and familiarity, especially in their first few months here. There are associations for students from particular countries, for instance the Indian Society, European Society, and more; there is also CUSU International, which is an independent subsidiary of the university students union responsible for representing international students to the university, and caring for their general welfare. It also aims to draw together international students from all sorts of different countries and backgrounds. Although the tendency to stick with the international crowd is initially strong, many international students, having more or less found their footing in Cambridge, then proceed to venture out and get to know the home students in their college better, or to join other societies which allow them to meet different people, or to become more active members of their faculty and in doing so expand their circle of friends. The options are limitless, and you can do entirely different things each term (like dress up as a banana and extol the merits of Free Trade at Market Square).

Internationals often find themselves spending long holidays here in Cambridge. Christmas break is particularly awful - it’s cold, grey, and everyone’s gone home to have a good time with their families and Cambridge morphs into a ghost-town. Fortunately, there are usually other internationals around, or a thoughtful British friend has invited you to spend the Christmas with his/her family, or the international workers at churches here in Cambridge have sought you out. Of course, there is always the option of travelling to warmer climes. Being at the doorstep of Europe is fantastic, what with the advent of budget airlines. For many of us international students, especially non-European ones, our time here in the UK is one of the best and most affordable opportunities we will ever get to explore Europe, a continent so utterly different from where we come from. The fact that Cambridge terms are ludicrously short - albeit hectic - also helps!

Work-wise (yes, I’ll have to at least mention that to not sound like a complete loafer!), it has proved to be much more independent that I envisioned it to be - at least that is the case for arts students (lucky scientists who get piles and piles of ready-compiled notes!). There isn’t very much of a structure to my days - there are lectures in the mornings (and even then not every morning of the week), and basically your afternoons and nights, and weekends, belong exclusively to you. This kind of system is drastically different from what I grew up in, and as a result, I frequently have problems with self-discipline (or lack thereof). That aside, the freedom to study what you choose to (well, mostly), and the intellectual rigour of one-on-one supervisions with some of the most brilliant minds in the field, have been truly liberating and exciting.

Having decided to pursue my undergraduate studies here in Cambridge, I can now say that I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without this experience - and that after barely two years here (less if you consider that we’re on holiday six months a year)! That is how much being an international student in Cambridge has changed me, be it my general outlook to life, or my personal character, or my intellectual state. What I tell every timorous junior who seeks advice about coming to Cambridge is: It isn’t going to be easy, but offer your energies and talents to Cambridge, and you will find that it has much more for you in return.

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