Experiences of a International Student at Queen’s

Guest Blog by Julien Kolta, PT International Student Officer, Queen’s Students’ Union

My name is Julien Kolta and I’m a second-year medical student. I’m from Egypt and I’ve lived in the United Arab Emirates for the past 15 years.

Along with being a medical student, I am the part-time International Student Officer at Queen’s Students’ Union and a faculty of Medicine Health and Life Sciences’ International Student Ambassador.

Being an international student living in Belfast and studying at Queen’s is incredibly exciting and I’ve learned so much in the past year that I’d love to share with you all!

What I wish I’d Known…

1. Feeling homesick is normal

During your first semester at Queen’s, you will be very eager and enthusiastic about the new experience. You’ll meet lots of new people and make new friends, so you won’t feel as homesick at the beginning. However, as semester two rolls around and deadlines get closer you might feel it a bit more.

This is completely normal and everyone goes through it, the trick to beating it is to keep yourself busy with work, sports and friends as well as keeping in touch with home. There’s also a lot of support available to students both within your school (e.g. the advisor of studies and the pastoral lead) and outside your school (e.g. the Students’ Union and Student Centre).

2. Be Patient with Yourself

Additionally, it’s important to realise that living away from home is a balancing act between work, your social life and your responsibilities (i.e. cooking, cleaning, washing). Likewise, there’s a bit of paperwork that comes with being an international student such as opening a bank account, registering with the police, and receiving your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) so you must know that these things take time but all you’ve got to do is be patient but persistent.

3. How to find ingredients from Home

A necessary piece of information I wish I was told is that you can still find certain ingredients for traditional foods but at specific supermarkets.

These are easy to find on google and many supermarkets around Belfast cater for different cultures where you’ll find all the spices and ingredients that you need.

Check out here for more details on International Supermarkets!

4. Belfast Public Transport

Navigating Belfast’s public transport (the bus specifically) was quite difficult for me at the start and I wasn’t sure what to do!

My biggest piece of advice is to apply for a ylink card, a type of student card that gives you discounts on rides.

What helped me at the beginning was I spoke to someone who knows how to navigate the bus and we took my first ride together.

I learned that buses are labelled with numbers and letters based on the different routes they take, for example if you are catching the bus from outside One Elmwood, the new Students’ Union and Student Centre, you will be jumping on the pink number 8 bus to take you into the city centre!

Google maps will tell you which bus to take and at which time, it will guide you to the stop where you need to take the bus and will give you the name of the last stop.

All you need to do is get on the right bus and most importantly on the right side of the road as there might be 2 stops on the same street going in opposite directions. Then you need to present your ylink card, tell the driver where you’re going and pay for your ticket.

Similarly, it’s really helpful to download different Belfast’s taxi apps such as Value Cabs, Fona Cabs and Uber.

Top Tips

Now there are a few things that don’t fit into the “Things I wish I’d known” section but they’re still very important. It’s advice I’d like to share with you all:

  • Firstly, it’s important to surround yourself with people who will support you and be there for you when you need it. Living alone can be tough sometimes and you might need someone to just have a chat with or take a walk with to make you feel better.
  • Stay close to home. Call home frequently and speak to your family and friends. This will help you feel supported and connected to your loved ones.
  • Cook food that reminds you of home because trust me it will have magical effects on you. The smell alone will make you feel happy and comforted.
  • Be proactive. Get to know different people from your course and other courses too. Attend events hosted by the Union during the freshers period (start of semester in September), or get involved in with SU Volunteer, SU Enterprise or SU Voice to meet new people whilst boosting your CV in the process!
  • Get involved with different activities and events around the University because you’ll start feeling less homesick, more included and you’ll enjoy your time a lot more.
  • Also, join some SU Clubs & Societies that are both related to your course but also ones that are not. This will help you grow your interests and maybe even create new ones. Be sure to stop by the Freshers’ Fair in September to meet with a wide range of clubs and societies!
  • Ask locals about the best places to eat, visit and hidden gems to get to know and love Belfast and Northern Ireland.
  • Explore the culture! Take tours of Belfast, check out the museums, travel around Northern Ireland, watch a live sporting match e.g. football, rugby, hockey etc.
  • Read the plethora of blogs available on Queen’s University’s website as they’ll have lots of tips and tricks.
  • Follow Queen’s Students Union, Societies, Clubs, QUB Accommodation etc. on social media for more information about what’s happening on campus!

Finally, if anyone has any more questions or queries please don’t hesitate to contact me at su.international@qub.ac.uk! Or if you need any advice on or guidance throughout your time at Queen’s you can contact SU Advice at su.advice@qub.ac.uk for free, independent and confidential advice.

I wish you all every success and I hope you all have lots of fun on your adventure! 🙂


Julien Kolta is a second-year medical student from Egypt, but has lived in the United Arab Emirates for the past 15 years.

Along with being a medical student, Julien is the part-time International Student Officer at Queen’s Students’ Union and an International Student Ambassador for the School of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences.

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