An Environmental Sciences student at the University of East Anglia (UEA), for the academic year of 2016/17 I will be studying abroad at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). This is the first part in my series of posts focusing on my year abroad and the process, experience and any advice I may be able to offer.
In my first year at UEA, most of my friends were exchange students. Some for a semester, some for the whole academic year. For many reasons this was great (there were a few not so greats). One of the best things however is that it *inspired* me to swap onto the year abroad course. To do this I had to achieve 60%+ in my first year and then to actually go abroad for third year I needed 55%+ in my second year. I believe most year abroad diaries begin when the student is actually abroad. However that leaves a lot of unanswered questions as to you know, how to get there. So here I guess is a run down of how I’m now almost a month away from beginning my year on exchange.
1) DECIDING, if, where, how long
This for me as per usual, was the hardest part (deciding what university to apply to, not if I wanted to go away). So make sure you do your research and think about your individual situation. Do you want to do a semester and graduate with your friends or make the most of this opportunity and go for the full whammy? Do you want a totally new experience by going somewhere you’ve never been before or do you want to go somewhere familiar with fewer cultural differences?
The thought of the cost puts some people off, however at UEA the tuition fee for the year abroad is MUCH lower than usual (£1,350 instead of £9,000) and is still covered by student finance. You will also be eligible for a larger maintenance loan (around £800 more at base finance). Dependent on your situation you may be eligible for extra support – it’s best to speak to your individual university about these. If you get a job in second year, when you’re out there as well – if your visa permits – then you should be able to accumulate some savings. Accommodation is often subsidised if it is an exchange scheme but again this may vary between universities. The living costs will vary dependent on where you choose to go (naturally) just as living in London is more expensive than say Newcastle.
2) APPLYING, paperwork, waiting, not fucking up
Visa applications vary between countries (naturally). I am told the online Australian visa is very quick and easy to do, with a very fast response time. Whereas for my visa to HK I had to wait 2 months to receive confirmation (I am yet to receive the actual visa itself). The form provided through HKUST is easy to fill out and the Year Abroad (YA) office will go through it with you if you have any queries or just want to get it triple-checked. They will also post it for you. Make sure you have all documents on the checklist and that you have a spare copy of everything for your records. If you haven’t already, you will want to start keeping a file for all the paperwork.
My main concern with my visa was my photo. The example form had directed use of a UK passport photo, I used a new UK approved passport photo from a booth on campus and when I cut it to size for the form, I was left with white lines around the picture itself. However it was accepted so is clearly not a problem. If you don’t get your visa in time (and are going to HKUST, I imagine other universities have different procedures) then the protocol is to enter the country on a tourist visa and sort it out when you are there.
Some rather obvious advice, but not necessarily the easiest to follow is don’t get caught up. Whilst you should be making sure you reach the deadline in plenty of time (postage can take a while), don’t fall behind on your other work which you will need to get the grades to go away etc etc. Trust me, if you are just scrapping by and have your flights booked and have told all your friends/family, it can be very stressful. Good thing is on this front, once the paper work is done, it’s done. So to fill the long old wait that is waiting to hear from HKUST if you’ve been accepted, if they received your visa application, if it was successful, if you got the grades etc, you can actually do some work! If you’re a second year, keep in mind that essentially the next year of year of your life is going to feel like a concrete uncertainty.
You will find that people begin asking if you are ‘prepared’ an awful lot – it can get somewhat irritating. How do you even get prepared? I’ve since realised that being prepared is knowing what to expect. A few things you will want to investigate include; mobile phone networks, banking, public transport, academic calendar, cultural differences, specialities – HK is particularly good for water-sports so I’ve started swimming regularly to make the most of this when I am out there. Use the internet, speak to the YA office and any friends with experience of your destination.
At this stage I find the thing that has made me feel most prepared is discovering exactly what I need to do upon arrival. This is important as had I not researched this then I would not have known what to do with my visa upon landing at the airport (I have to hand it over on the visa page and then check that I am issued with the correct type and landing slip or else I will not be able to register as a student). Knowing this and the rather long list of things I need to do upon arrival has made me feel excited as opposed to stressed about this rather bold move. As for packing well, I’m not that prepared.