Ever since I’ve been back from my semester abroad, people have been asking me LOTS of questions about my experience. Studying abroad is the opportunity of a lifetime, and not everyone gets to experience it. So naturally, most people are curious.
With that in mind, I have asked YOU guys on social media to send me any questions you have regarding studying abroad in the UK! I did receive quite a few questions, and not all of them are UK-specific, so I’ll just jump right into it!
Preparation – The Why
Learn more about preparing for a semester abroad here!
Why did you choose to study abroad in England?
Ahh, the grand question. Everyone asks me this one. You might be surprised to learn that England wasn’t my first choice! When the time came to choose my destination, I knew I wanted to go to Europe. That was the whole point of my semester abroad. I needed to choose a university where I would understand the language, so that narrowed it down to French and English-speaking countries. I then needed to find a communications program with classes that would complement what I am studying back home. My first choice was Paris. But, as it turns out, semester dates are quite different in France. The semester ended at the end of January in most universities! Clearly that couldn’t work for me, as I had to find an internship after winter break. I looked at Italy and Spain, but neither had classes that were appropriate. I honestly didn’t think of any other countries (Switzerland, Austria, or Germany might have had something interesting now that I think about it), so I resorted to England, which was still high on my bucket list. There was only one university listed in the study abroad program I chose, so as the classes seemed really interesting, that’s where I applied.
Why the need to study abroad?
I had never traveled before. Most people I know have been to Europe, and I was the girl who had never had the chance to do it. I’ve always been a big Europe fan even before I stepped foot on the continent, so I had the travel bug in me. But what really made me do it is watching Shannon, from Endless May, do it. I LOVED watching her videos and looking at her travel pictures on Instagram, and it made me want to have a similar experience. She seemed to be having the time of her life, and I was jealous of all of her pictures and videos. Clearly, our experiences ended up being very different, but she’s the main reason why I wanted to study abroad.
What did you pack?
Ah, the big question. That’s one I get asked a lot. I packed all of my belongings in one big suitcase and my backpack. I do plan on writing a whole blog post about it eventually, but to give you an idea, I packed a bunch of shirts and sweaters, a few pairs of jeans and pants, my underwear, a couple of pyjamas, 4 pairs of shoes (that’s including running shoes and my rain boots), a raincoat, a puffy coat, enough toiletries to get by for a week, medicine, my electronics, and some socks. I only brought what was absolutely necessary, thinking I would buy whatever I was missing once I got there.
What are the things you shouldn’t forget when you move abroad for a semester?
My top 3 essentials would be a pair of comfortable shoes (because you will be walking a lot), a backpack for your weekend trips, and an adaptor so you can charge your phone when you get off the plane! The rest doesn’t really matter.
What things did you wish you had brought with you? What did regret bringing or not bringing?
I wish I’d had a portable charger! During my weekend adventures, I cannot count how many times my phone died in the middle of the day and I had to go phoneless for a few hours. You don’t always get the opportunity to charge your phone in restaurants and other places when you’re on the go, and a portable charger is a lifesaver! I ended up buying one while I was there and it made things a whole lot easier.
Life in the UK
What was the commute to class like? Did you find yourself walking or using public transport more often? Was it easy to get around?
I lived on campus, so getting to class was quite easy. I did have to take a bus because there were two campuses – I lived on one and had classes on the other. The university, despite being big, was quite easy to get around. It does take a little adapting, but it was the same thing when I started university back home.
How are the people there?
Everyone is super nice!
What was your favorite place you have visited in the UK?
How did you organize yourself with food?
I went shopping every week or so at Asda, which was the grocery store closest to campus. It’s like a Wal-Mart, but UK version. I mostly bought pre-cooked chicken breasts fillets, rice, and pasta because that’s what is easiest to do and isn’t very expensive. I didn’t like spending time in my flat’s kitchen because it was either dirty or occupied 99% of the time, so I tried to avoid it as much as I could.
How did you set up your room?
My room was pretty much already set up when I got there (you might have seen it in my Instagram stories in September when I arrived). I was given a comforter, bed sheets, and a pillow so I didn’t have to bother with that.
How did you do laundry?
The same way I did in Canada! I did have to get a laundry card and put money on it, as each cycle cost money, but the principle is the exact same.
Is the culture in the UK different from the one in Canada?
You’d be surprised by how similar the Canadian and British culture actually are! Canada is a British colony, after all…
Are there any new expressions or pronunciations that you found funny or that you liked?
The pronunciation was a bit different, but it was still easily understandable. The thing that confused me the most is how chips are actually called crisps in the UK, and fries are called chips. I mean, how confusing is that? I once said the wrong thing in a restaurant and my friend and I had a good laugh. I also like how, instead of saying “have a nice day”, people will say “cheers”. A lot of people will also catcall you things like love, sweetheart, and honey. They don’t mean it in a demeaning way, they genuinely mean it in a nice way.
Was life in the UK very different from where you’re from? How so?
Things were pretty similar, as far as day-to-day life was concerned. Of course, everything was in English, so that was a bit different for me, as everyone back home speaks French. But since most of my friends were French or Quebec people, I still spoke French on a daily basis. The only thing that was different is my routine. Classes are different in the UK (more of that down below), and I had more downtime, meaning more travel for me. 🙂 I was gone basically every weekend, so that was very different.
How was it to study abroad?
Overall, it was an amazing experience! It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but things never are. 😉
Was it your first time being away from your family?
It was my first time being this far away from my family. I was living in another city before I left because of my internship, but I was still coming home every weekend. I had never been that far away for such a long period of time before. It was definitely a different experience. I did Facetime my parents every week or so, so I didn’t feel lonely or too homesick.
Was this your time first study abroad?
Experiences/feelings of going out of the country alone?
I won’t lie. It’s hard. You have to rely on yourself and no one else. But it’s also an eye-opening, and maybe even life-changing experience. I have gained confidence in myself like I had never before, and I trust myself a lot more. I never minded being on my own, so I guess that’s not something that bothers me. But there is something fun about traveling alone. You’ll discover things about yourself that you probably never would have found out otherwise.
What year would be best to study abroad?
I’d say junior year is probably the best one. You have to have accumulated a certain amount of credits before you can leave (or at least, that’s what it was for me), so freshman and sophomore year might be too early. Senior year isn’t a bad option either, but depending on your program’s requirements, it might be a chaotic year. I think the question is whether or not you feel ready to stay for at least 3 months entirely on your own in a country where you might not speak the language (and that is on a completely different continent!). I personally left during my senior year, but that’s because it was literally the only time where I could leave (because of my internships). If studying abroad is something you’re interested in, I’d recommend talking to your advisor and/or study abroad office. They are the ones in the best position to tell you when you should leave!
What steps did you take to effectively manage your money while abroad for a whole semester?
I have to admit money wasn’t really an issue for me. I had received two scholarships before I left for my semester abroad, and as I was working full-time and therefore earning a full-time income, I had quite a bit of money in my bank account. I knew I would be studying abroad, so I had saved my money for this opportunity. My scholarship covered my plane tickets, my accommodation payments, and my tuition, so the only things I had left to worry about was food and my personal spending. However, I did try to save as much money as I could. I used discounts codes and coupons, bought mostly stuff that was on sale, and logged every penny that I was spending in an Excel spreadsheet so that I was aware of what was coming out of my bank account.
Was the UK curriculum/schooling system different from what you’re used to? If so how did you handle the workload change?
The way UK classes are done is quite different from how things are done in Canada. Back home, you would get 5 classes per semester, and each would last 3 hours every week. So you have 5 classes a week of 3 hours each (yes, all done in one sitting!). In the UK, you get lectures, seminars, workshops, tutorials, and so on, depending on your major. As I was in humanities, I had lectures and seminars. Contact time with professors is reduced in the UK. I therefore had one lecture and one seminar per module every week, with the exception of that one class that lasted 3 hours. I had four modules throughout the semester. So, to sum up, I had 9 hours of class per week, spread out over two days (Tuesdays & Thursdays).
How did you get over being homesick?
I’ll be honest with you here. I didn’t really get homesick. I was eager to leave home and spread my own wings. I did miss it sometimes though. But I talked to my friends almost every day, so that made it easier. When I did miss it back home, I found that talking about it with someone who understood (in my case my travel buddy who came from the same university) helps. Try not to think so much about what you’re missing back home and enjoy your experience. It’ll be over in the blink of an eye, so make sure you make the best out it!
Any specific overall tips?
It’s better to be overprepared than not enough. Don’t stress too much about everything and don’t go in with the expectations that it’s going to change your life. Yes, it’ll definitely be different and you’ll come out a different person, but it’s also not life-changing, it won’t turn your world upside down. It’ll change you in a way you weren’t expecting.
How did you plan your weekend trips?
My travel buddy was actually the one who did most of the planning, but I did help out. After we had chosen our destination, we would write down a list of all the attractions that we wanted to see/do while in this city. To find said attractions, Pinterest and TripAdvisor are your friends! We would then rank them in order of importance (must-do, would be nice, and meh, it’s okay if we don’t do it), and wrote down the relevant info for each (pricing, opening hours, etc.). We would then map out our itinerary and tried to find a hotel/Airbnb that was close enough to everything on foot so we wouldn’t have to walk too much. Finally, we would book our train tickets!
How did you balance your travels with classes and studying?
At first, as I did not have any homework and had a lot of free time, I tried travel every weekend. I stayed in the UK, so I always traveled by train (except that one time when I flew to Edinburgh because it was cheaper and faster). I’d recommend traveling mostly during the first few weeks of your semester abroad because towards the end, it tends to get a bit hectic (it is finals week after all). I kept my London adventures for the end of the semester because it was closer to where I was based and could therefore sneak a day in London into my studying. The key here is time management. I always prioritized school, but as I was free 5 days every week (Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays), that allowed me to take more chances. I mostly traveled Fridays to Sundays, and that left me with Mondays and Wednesdays to work on school and blog-related stuff.
Are there any other places you’d like to study abroad/visit?
Like I said, England wasn’t my first choice, and as I didn’t visit any other places in Europe besides the UK, I really want to go back and explore the European continent more. I basically want to visit all of Europe, haha. But if I had to narrow it down to my top 3, it would be the following: Paris, Barcelona, and Italy! (can’t choose a city, haha)
Would you do it again? If yes, would it be in the UK? Why?
Yesyesyes, a thousand times YES! It was one of the best experiences of my life, and if you asked me, I would go back in a heartbeat. However, I think I would choose a more central location so that I can visit the rest of Europe seamlessly. It has been a dream of mine for the longest time, and while I loved the UK, I would like to experience something different.
That’s it! You made it! If you are still reading this, props to you! I know it was long, but I received SO many questions! Thank you so much to everyone who submitted questions – I’ve loved answering them!
If you have any more questions about studying abroad (whether they are UK-specific or general), leave a comment below! I promise I’ll answer every single one of them. 🙂
Otherwise, feel free to shoot me an email at email@example.com! I would love to help you to the best of my abilities. (I don’t bite, I promise!)