Preparing for “the best years of your life”

by Chelsey Celecia

You think of ‘uni life’ as being a new chapter, a fresh start, an escape from the reality of life in Gib. You envision nothing but positivity and ‘good vibes’ as you level up into the role of a university student. You’ll be living abroad in a new place, with new people, and new possibilities and you’ll be free and independent to make your own decisions.

You dream of finding your ‘tribe’ who you’ll spend every minute of every day with and who you’ll make the most amazing memories with. You can already feel the excitement of collecting these memories in little snapshots and sharing them on Instagram so everyone can see you ‘living your best life’.  You’ll experiment with your style and take up new interests, and you’ll be studying the one subject that you’re actually passionate about!

This is everything you could ever want for “the best years of your life!”

But let’s be real…

The student life isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. You’re not going to like everyone you meet, you’ll probably be broke most of the time and you definitely won’t be spending every night dancing around to ABBA in a random kitchen at 3am.

Nights out come to an end, money gets spent and keeping up with uni work becomes more and more challenging.


Before you begin to wonder if going to university is the right decision for you, there is SO MUCH to be excited about and studying abroad will no doubt, be an experience of a lifetime!

Our goal here is to paint a realistic picture of what your years at university could look like and how best to prepare yourself for life as a student.

Everyone’s experience of uni is different. Some struggle to make friends whilst others find their lifelong friends on day one. Some love their course whilst others realise half way through that they should have chosen a different course. Some students even find themselves having to make significant life decisions due to the unforeseen circumstances that life has thrown at them.

The truth is, uni may not be “the best years of your life” but that’s ok and absolutely normal. You may not become friends with every person you meet, you may experience every single emotion known to man and your experience as a student may be completely different to everyone else’s.

So how best to prepare for this?

  • Let go of expectations and trust the journey.
  • Accept the experience for what it is, even when it becomes tough.
  • Remember that everything you experience is a part of life and everyone is going through it – You are not alone!
  • Know that there is a whole life to experience after your years as a student are over – Your best years are yet to come!
Students sometimes find that the course they’ve chosen is not as enjoyable as they thought it would be and would like to either leave their studies or change course. Other students may be happy with their course but wish that they were studying at a different university.

In these situations, you would have to:

  • Discuss your dilemma with your university tutor.
  • Find out if you can continue your subject at a different university without having to repeat the year.
  • Inform the Department of Education who will advise you on your options.
Having to make these changes during your life as a student can be super stressful and may bring up feelings of failure. This is not the case!

It’s important to remember that making the decision to change your circumstances to fulfil your needs is an extremely brave move and students are encouraged to do so.

Nevertheless, having a clear idea of what you’re getting yourself into will make student life SO much easier.

How best to prepare for this?

  • Ensure you read all of the information on the university’s website – Most university websites give clear overviews of each course, along with each module. They also involve information about the facilities and general student life at the university.
  • Call the university and speak to an advisor – They will give you clear information about the university and can support you in finding accommodation.
  • Visit the university’s Instragram account – these are usually run by the Student’s Union and will allow you to ask lots of questions about the courses, university and life in the area you’ll be living in.
  • Find out more about the area that you’ll be living in – Choosing a place to live is just as important as choosing a university to study in. If you get the chance to visit universities beforehand, make sure you explore the area!
  • Speak to other Gibraltarian students – They are the people who can tell you first-hand what the university, courses and student life are like! Most students will be more than happy to share their experience and give you the advice that they wish they had.
Money is one of the BIGGEST struggles of any student. You’ll constantly find yourself torn between spending the last of your savings on a night out or on a food shop, and having to depend on your family for financial stability can really take a toll on your sense of freedom.

How best to prepare for this?

  • If possible, get a summer job and SAVE, SAVE, SAVE – You’ll be thankful you did when it comes to fresher’s week!
  • Find out if there are any jobs you can apply for as a student. This could be giving tours around the university, promoting and selling tickets for events or working at a theatre, bar or coffee shop for a few hours a week.
  • FOMO is real! However, try to be mindful about the plans and events you attend and try to find cheaper alternatives.
  • Budget your money and ensure you’re getting the best possible price for groceries.
  • Take advantage of Student Discounts – Download apps like UNiDAYS and Student Beans to get discount codes for some of the best stores in the UK. You can also show your Student ID card to get discounts at stores, so make sure you take it everywhere you go!
  • Register for a Railcard – Train tickets can be expensive, especially if you need to travel for placements or want to visit other cities in the UK. Railcards are a good way to get affordable prices for train tickets. For the Railcard Link click here.
POV: Your uni friends have taken the train home for the weekend. You’re sent a photo on your family group chat. Everyone is out for lunch at your favourite restaurant in Gib. You’re sitting alone in an empty accommodation, no one is around and you have no plans for the next few days.

This is the very real part of uni life which you don’t tend to see on social media. Some days can get lonely and you’ll find yourself spending more time on your own than expected.

How best to prepare for this?

  • Keep in touch with your Gibraltarian friends – Facetiming your friends from home can be super therapeutic. Never underestimate the joy of speaking Llanito when you’ve spent weeks saying words like ‘peng’ ‘mint’ & ‘skint!’
  • Join a student Society at your university – Societies are usually run by the Students’ Union who will often plan social events at the university where you can ask questions and sign up to the Society that you’re interested in joining. These can be useful to meet people who have common interests or who may share the same social identity (e.g. Sports, Hobbies, Subjects, Religion, Race, LGBTQ+, Disability).
  • Invest time into making your space feel comfortable – Pictures are a good way to bring a piece of home into your new term-time home.
  • If you can afford to, TRAVEL – Visit friends who are studying in different cities and take advantage of being in a country that’s so easy to travel around in!
Being a Gibraltarian in the UK can sometimes feel quite isolating. You might have explained multiple times to your uni friends that you’re as British as they are, but all they see are the things that make you different to them. Your accent, your appearance, the food you cook, the music you listen to and the fact that your commute home involves a plane and not a train.

You might also experience seasonal depression for the first time ever.

There’ll be days when your Instagram is showing nothing but people in Gib, on the beach, in swimsuits and sipping on Tinto de Verano, whilst you’re on your way to the library in gloomy grey weather and wearing about 3 layers of clothing under your puffer in the middle of Spring.

How to prepare for this?

  • People’s lack of understanding about your nationality has nothing to do with you – Keep educating others about where you’re from, but try not to get frustrated if they keep considering you as an international student.
  • Although we are not technically international students, you should know that you probably have a lot more in common with them than you might think. Be open to making friends with students from all over the world!
  • Make the most of any sunshine that does pop up when studying abroad – You’ll find yourself having a new appreciation for the sun after spending 3 years in the UK.
There are so many uncertainties we carry throughout our life as a student. It’s important to know how to access the support that you need.

Academic support:

  • Meet your assigned tutor – Ensure you know who your tutor is and how you can contact them. They will be your first point of contact if you require any academic support.
  • Make use of your tutorials – Even if you think that you know what you’re doing for each of your assignments, if the support is offered, TAKE IT.
  • Student’s Union – They will be able to direct you to any specific support that you’re looking for.

Health and wellbeing support:

  • Visit the student support services on your university’s website – Here you will find out how to access medical support and register with a GP.
  • Most universities offer free counselling – You can access this by visiting the support services on the university’s website or by contacting the Student’s Union.
  • Mind is a charity which offers mental health and wellbeing support for people across the UK – You can find your local Mind by visiting the charity’s website.
As a student, you’ll probably experience homesickness and a constant uncertainty about the future, all on top of having a demanding workload. So it’s absolutely normal to feel stressed, anxious or even depressed sometimes.

The most important thing to remember is that almost every student will experience at least one of these struggles. Below you will find some of the ways you can support yourself during the more difficult days of your student life.

Self-care strategies:

  • Spend time outdoors – Even in the freezing cold weather, spending time in nature or just walking around the area you live in can be a good way to refresh yourself and regain the motivation that you need to focus on your uni work.
  • Take breaks! – There will be days where you’ll spend hours on end in the library working on your assignments. It’s important to make time for breaks and shift your focus on something different.
  • Never underestimate the power of movement – Join a gym, play sports or just dance around to your favourite song in your room. Moving your body daily can be a great way to manage stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Breathe! – Focusing on your breath and trying out different breathing techniques can help you when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Head Space, Amaha, Stop Breathe Think, Mindfulness App & Breathe to Relax are just some of many apps which you can download and try out for yourself.
  • Don’t isolate yourself – Stay connected with your friends and family.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat healthy foods – Having a balanced diet can boost your energy and mood.
  • Create a routine – Some students may only have to attend uni a couple of days a week. It’s important to create a sense of routine for the days you are free. This can be helpful for time management.
  • Prioritise your sleep – Having a good sleep schedule will help you feel well rested and energised for long days at uni.
  • Make time for the things that make you happy – Even when you’re overwhelmed with assignments, invest some time in your interests and hobbies, even if it’s only a for a few moments a week.
  • Focus on the positive! – Many students find themselves constantly waiting for the end of term so that they can go back home and have a break from uni. Don’t wish your student years away! Show gratitude and appreciation for the things that you WILL miss after your years as a student are over.

So …

Even if your years as a student do not become “the best years of your life”, they definitely will be filled with so many life lessons, self-growth and unforgettable memories. Going to university abroad is such a unique experience and we hope that these 7 ways to prepare yourself will support you throughout your journey.