What is ‘Great British Mag’?
An insight into the support system of international students
By Zsofia Kiszely
Photo by Kyle Glenn via Unsplash
Being an international student can be challenging, bringing some very unwanted ‘side effects’. I had lived in Scotland for four years before starting university in Aberdeen, therefore not considering myself an international student. However, being foreign and moving away from my parents at the age of 19 was still incredibly testing. I can imagine the stress and the emotional strain that this can bring on an international student, hence why I think that the Great British Mag is an amazing place for the students to reach out to and get information from.
The Great British Mag is a digital magazine that was founded by Wahida Ashiq in order to “bridge the gap between the university and the student”.
Statistically, 36% of international students in the UK have experienced suicidal thoughts.
This is an incredibly high number that the Great British Mag is hoping to decrease with their work.
GB Mag is trying to fill a gap in resources for international students on arrival to the UK in order to avoid a huge culture shock and to help them settle into the UK more easily.
One of their ways of helping students is through a subscription service called the ‘UK Survival Service’. The main service it provides is the setting up of a bank account and a UK SIM-card before arrival for the students who subscribed. Moreover, they give access to a members-only page on their website, which focuses on services that are relevant to settling into the UK successfully. There is a one-off fee of £50 (at the time of writing) for the undergraduate package which means they give you support over the four years of your undergraduate degree. Other benefits the Survival Service provides include: digital student discount card, weekly e-magazines, careers guidance and invitations to events.
Even though there is a fee for the UK Survival Service, students who can’t afford it or don’t need all the services can still access all the useful articles, which have the intention of helping them settle into the UK. There is a massive amount of invaluable information available on their website, such as ‘How do I register with a GP?’, ‘How to open a bank account?’ and currently, students are able to find all the information about Covid-19 updates that might specifically affect their travel plans.
A recent University of Aberdeen graduate, Marta Rodriguez, said that she “would have absolutely loved to have GB Mag when [she] first came to uni.” She explained: “I experienced real culture shock––going to the supermarket was overwhelming, and I didn’t know how to go to the doctors in the UK. I also felt that I was overwhelmingly loud and obnoxious because British people can be quite reserved. And loneliness can hit you, especially if you don’t know anyone.” Marta reveals that, as a result, she struggled with her mental health as an international student in the UK.
I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Wahida Ashiq where she told me more about how and why GB Mag was founded.
Why did you start and how did you start GB Mag?
I started it, really, because I saw a gap in the market whereby international students were coming to the UK: they were being given some support by the universities, but it was lacking, and it was very front loaded. They were given all of the information through their induction week, so everything from: here’s the correct support as and when you need to access it, and here’s a bit about culture shock, and here’s a bit about if you get into problems. I felt like it was a lot to give somebody who is new to the country and has probably never moved away from home and is jetlagged. So, the idea about Great British Mag is that we’re their weekly resource, we’re their best British friend, and we’re there with them week in and week out, answering questions that international students have authentically. There was no competition and that is always a good thing.
Do you have any partnerships with universities?
Yes, so we have really been embraced by universities across the UK. Many of them have a link to our magazine on their pages relating to international students. So, they got really behind GB Mag because they see that we provide an amazing resource for students and it’s completely free of charge.
Have you experienced being an international student yourself?
Yes, so I have lived and worked in China. I suppose I experienced what it’s like to go to a country as an adult and have to start with the basics. When I was in China, it took me a week to figure out how to get a SIM-card, and you know, culture shock, food and climate and everything. So, I definitely can relate, as well as the fact that on my team I have international students. We really feel like we can not only empathise but we can direct students really well because we’ve been there, we’ve done it. We can be empathetic to the journey that they’re on.
GB Mag is really excited and proud to announce that they will be delivering content in the form of podcasts, launching this week. You can find them available under “GB Mag Chats” on all the podcast platforms. This will be a great place for international students to find their answers, as well as listen to other international students’ experiences and what they have learned through them. There will be experts interviewed as well, relating to how international students can navigate their time best while in the UK.