Going abroad to study? – Part 1

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.


Our first @UAEArte

I was nervous. This was the first time I’d be placing Artism in the limelight, the first time I’d be seeing whether Karan’s work would be received well by the general public. I’m happy to say it went well and I’m looking forward to the next Ramadan market by ARTE on August 26, 2011 at Dubai Festival City, from 6-11pm.

It started out well, I got there at 5pm to set up and landed a sweet spot near the parking entrance, which meant loads of people saw my table first. Properly set up by about 5:30pm, people slowly started stopping at the table and having a look.


Many stopped by, commented on what was on offer, picked up the leaflet I’d printed out (which explained more about Artism) and almost all had something to tell me. To say I was overwhelmed by the encouragement would be accurate.

Karan stopped by too, with my parents. He sat at the table for a bit, then got excited (not sure why) and got a hold of one of his creations and energetically snapped it. Then began the rummage to find the beads that had exploded all over the place. He’s been told he’s going to have to make it again!

But the night went very well. We sold about 60% of the stock we had, with people asking if we took orders, which is great! Hope to see more people at the next one.

For the full set of photographs, check them out here.

Check out the snazzy slideshow of his work that was on display:

Tweets from the night:

View “Artism at ARTE” on Storify


If my brother didn’t have autism…

Inspired by this fantastic post from Love That Max.


“If I didn’t tell you, would you even know my brother has autism?”

If my brother didn’t have autism, I wouldn’t know as much as I do about various medicines, various therapies and feel like an expert in anything autism-related. As Ellen mentioned in her blog post, we’re all ready to open our own practices!

If my brother didn’t have autism, I wouldn’t have realized that something like drinking water from a glass is a milestone achievement. It’s when the kids achieve small things that everyone else takes for granted, that we appreciate it so much more. From being able to use a spoon, to drinking water, from being able to wear his socks on his own to understanding he’s not supposed to spit all over my photo frames (he still does this to annoy me, then looks at me from the corner of his eye and laughs at me as I come over, oh-so-angry) … we celebrate everything he does. No achievement is too small. It’s all AWESOME. He’s recently done something many children figure out before they are 4 or 5, and we are SO ecstatic. So ecstatic that we haven’t told anyone yet because we want to hug it to ourselves, be sure it’s here to stay before screaming it from the rooftops.

If my brother didn’t have autism, I would be so, so, so much more selfish than I already am. We’re all vain and selfish creatures – well most of us are (My Mom isn’t – hey Mom if you’re reading this, can we extend my curfew past midnight in lieu of the lavish praise? No? Okay.). And I’m quite honestly admitting I was, and sometimes am, a very selfish person and look out for myself. My brother’s autism has made me change my perspective about a few things, with me being less shallow than I could have been. 

If my brother didn’t have autism, I’d be more helpless than I am now. Unsure how to get things done.

If my brother didn’t have autism, I wouldn’t have realized what a wonderful world is out there, filled with families devoted to their children. I would never have realized how important it is to have passion in a family. I wouldn’t have felt this sense of community I do feel when I meet families with special needs.

If my brother didn’t have autism, I wouldn’t have had the courage to shout at truck drivers. True story.

If my brother didn’t have autism, I don’t think I would have loved him as much as I do now. We would’ve been the typical family, where I would bat him off for entering my room (now I always want him with me), where I would not have so many pics of him and me around, where I’d tell on him to my Mom for something he did. Oh wait, I still do the last thing 😉

If my brother didn’t have autism, I wouldn’t know what unconditional love means.

If my brother didn’t have autism, I wouldn’t have the a sense of empathy for other families who deal with special needs. Before we knew what autism was, I always had sympathy. Now I have none. I only have empathy. Because one thing I’ve realized families with special needs HATE… it’s sympathy and pity. Save it for yourselves. We just want to be understood.

If my brother didn’t have autism, I wouldn’t know who my real friends and supporters are. He helps weed out the trash from the gems. He helps keep the backward, mentally stunted (attitude-wise) and disgusting people away. I have real treasures with me because of him.

If my brother didn’t have autism, he wouldn’t be who he is – an amazing person who is smart and has a pretty decent sense of humour.

If my brother didn’t have autism, my life would never be same. He made me who I am, and for that I will always be grateful.