It’s that time of the year again. When younglings (no I haven’t been watching Star Wars lately, although I should) head off to greener, often colder shores (this cold bit applies if you’re living in the Middle East) to pursue their education. I remember all too well how it was for me two years ago – where has the time gone? – and I’m suddenly filled with the need to share what I experienced, and more often than not, learned.
Remember, I’m talking about my experience in going to the UK, so some things may not apply to other countries.
1. Got that stamp in your passport?
I’m hoping by now you’ve already gotten your visa sorted, if not actually having that stamp in your passport, but at least an appointment with whoever you need to have an appointment with to get it done. For the UK visas, it normally takes anywhere between 2 weeks to a month, which also depends on the number of applications that need to be processed. August is peak time for this because UK universities start their new academic year sometime in September. If you’re filling out a paper form, photocopy the original and fill out that form first. Recheck it to make sure you haven’t made any mistakes and then only fill out the original, precious, all-important form. You do NOT want to make a mistake in that one. Submit all the documents the main formand the appendix forms (yes, there used to be appendix forms last time I checked, so make sure there is/isn’t one) ask for. If you’re not sure whether a certain document is needed, take it anyway. It’s better to be over-prepared than found wanting, as it reflects badly on you. When it comes to the UK student visa, don’t be alarmed with the wait and the fact that they don’t tell you whether you got the visa or not. Settle yourself when your passport is sent back to you, and calmly look through its pages as opposed to what I did: tearing open the envelope frantically, flipping through the pages like a deranged woman, then screaming when you see the visa stamped firmly in your passport, sealing your fate for the next year (or two. Or three. However long your course is).
2. Mentally preparing yourself
Legally, you’re ready to go. Mentally? At 22, it was the first time I was going abroad, leaving my parents, and staying on my own. I was terrified and excited at the same time. Read up on anything about the university, the accomodation and the course. It helps give you an idea of what you need to look out for. For example, I think my room size was listed as being 12 square metres. I have no concept of size…so how could I make sense of that? Easy. Go to IKEA. No, I haven’t gone mad. The display rooms in IKEA list the size of the room, so all I did was find a room that was listed as being the same as my prospective dorm room, and I just went and stood in it for a bit. My Mom thought I was a bit cuckoo, but it helps. It gives you an idea of the space you’ll be living in for the next (few) year(s). Culture shock is another aspect if you’ve never been to the place where you’re going before. Again, read and research. I cannot emphasise that enough. Another thing is: use Facebook. I found my future flatmate on a Facebook group for my accomodation and it helped to connect with her before I flew out there. Now we’re tight friends, and I’m all the happier for it.
3. Flying out there
Hah. Good luck moving your life to a new place with a 20kg (or 30kg if you’re flying Emirates, which I was. Woohoo!) limit. I cheated. I took my 30kgs and a few days later my father arrived because luckily, he was in UK on a business trip. Now for those whose parents aren’t going on business trips that coincide with the time you move there…what can be done? Not much, I’m sorry to say. Except prioritise what you need for your luggage on the flight, and if there are any other essentials, ship them over.
4. How do I find where I have to go?! *clutches hair in agony*
I was studying in the lovely city of Sheffield, and I flew from Dubai to Manchester. Now, did I really want to take a train from the airport to Sheffield, then tackle a cab in a strange, new land, where many people seemed to call me ‘duck’ and ‘love’? I opted for the best service a university can offer (if you’re in London, then don’t bother with this…you just get off at Heathrow, having pre-booked a black cab – this website is awesome – and you’re okay) … the Meet-and-Greet service.
We were received at the airport by student reps, who then guided us to a massive coach (you’re in UK now, it’s not bus anymore) where the helpful driver effortlessly threw my over-sized bag into the luggage hold. Then I was treated to a lovely drive from Manchester to Sheffield through the Snake Pass.
Once we got to Sheffield, we got off at the Student Union, where people living in the same accomodation areas were bundled off together. Once you find your accomodation, it’s a piece of cake.
Except for the lugging-the-luggage-on-your-own bit.
5. Actually inside the place where you’ll live in a strange, new land
The dorm room!!! I’d booked a room in a flat with six rooms, all of which were en-suite (a fact that gets me a ribbing even now…apparently it’s posh to book an en-suite as opposed to sharing. But I can’t share my toilet unless I know/trust someone…!!!). I walked into my 12-metre-square room, took one look at the bareness of it all, felt alone, collapsed on the mattress and sobbed my heart out. This is what not to do.
To be continued… where I explain what you should take, what you shouldn’t and why a helpful flatmate is the best thing ever.