My Year Abroad: Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

This blog is one of many written by Ramya Manivannan about her time studying abroad in Lyon, France from the UK. Her blog has a dedicated website here, where you can find posts on all aspects of moving to France as a student, from opening a French bank account and working as an ELA, to finding accommodation and making friends at university. We highly recommend her blog as a resource for any UK student considering or in the process of studying abroad in France. 

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Summary of topic: difficult but worth it

Arriving at my Flat

When I first got there I was actually terrified to leave my room and go to the kitchen when there were others there. I had convinced myself that my French was awful, so I didn't know what I would say to them and didn't want to seem silly. I genuinely did my very best to avoid any socialising for a good while. Looking back I shouldn't have but it just gave me the absolute fear.

One of my flatmates when we got close told me how she thought it was weird I hid away in my room and since I'm Scottish she thought I just sat in my room and got drunk alone all day. I laughed out loud at how ridiculous that was but it just shows how closed off I was being.

An Act of Kindness

Anyway, since I had to be in Lyon for Christmas and New Year (Brexit/Covid...), one of my flatmates very kindly invited me to a small Christmas celebration with her friends. (I have no idea why she did because I was the most closed off person ever, she was a very kind girl!) 

Honestly it took sooooo much convincing for me to actually go. I remember telling people back home about it and they all collectively had to hype me up so much to actually go. Just the thought of actually having to speak French and spend Christmas with people I had just met made me feel really anxious. 

However, once I went I was glad I did. Everyone was lovely and made me feel really welcome. Although it wasn't fully my type of scene, it was something new and I learned a lot.

Slowly after that, I actually came out my room more. We had a small New Years celebration at the flat and this is when I really got to chat to my other flatmates and realise that they were all really nice and understanding. Here is a pic of me and two of my flatmates.

My point of this story is that it may not be instant for you to get out of your comfort zone and that's okay. But please do try to take any chance you get, and if you hate the experience at least you'll know you gave it a shot! It does get easier. 

Learn from me and don't sit in your room moping about what you can't do. Put yourself out there and show what you can do! You'll surprise yourself I am sure of it.

Written by: Ramya Manivannan
Full blog here.

Visas, Brexit, Covid... Confused about coming to study in the UK?

Are you coming to study in the UK and feeling… confused? We don’t blame you! Between Brexit and Covid, visas and PCR tests, it is more complicated than ever to consider moving abroad for study. We hope that this post will help to alleviate some of the concerns you may have. 

 

VISAS

 

Visas are very specific to each individual’s situation; the type of visa you need will depend on where you are coming from and how long you are staying for, which is why we always recommend contacting the International/Study Abroad Office at your host university for guidance specific to you. Some universities are even running designated support services for this purpose, so it is worth investigating if this is the case for you.

The main deadline to apply for the EU settlement scheme has now passed, and the large majority of non-UK citizens will now need a visa to study in the UK. If you are studying for a period of more than six months, you must apply for a Student visa before travelling to the UK.  If you are studying for a period of less than six months on any other programme, you can choose to apply for a Student visa or a Visitor Visa. A Visitor Visa is suitable for most students, but a Student Visa allows you to work part-time while you are studying. There is a huge amount of information online about this and it can be overwhelming - after contacting your university, the best places to find more information are the UK Government website or the UKCISA website

If your university is unable to help you, we recommend contacting UKCISA’s student advice helpline.

 

STUDENT FEES

 

The student fees you have to pay can depend on many factors such as the country you are coming from, the nation of the UK you are heading to, and if on exchange even the specific arrangement your home university has with your exchange university. Usually, if you are studying a full degree abroad you will pay this to your host university, but if on exchange you will continue to pay your fees to your home university. You can again find lots of information on the UKCISA website, but we recommend that you contact the UK university you will be attending about this in the first instance. 

If your university is unable to help you, we recommend contacting UKCISA’s student advice helpline.

 

COVID REQUIREMENTS

 

Depending on where you are coming from in the 10 days before you enter the UK, and which area of the UK you are entering, there are different requirements for testing, paperwork, and quarantine on entry to the UK. All areas of the UK are using a ‘traffic light’ system for other countries, with ‘red’ for the countries deemed the highest risk, ‘amber’ for countries deemed medium risk, and ‘green’ for the lowest risk countries. On the UK government website you can find links to information about entering the UK depending on whether you are entering England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, or Wales. You may have to first search which traffic light colour the country you will be travelling from has been assigned, before checking the specific guidance for that colour depending on where you are travelling to. 

It is likely that you will have to complete a PCR test on arrival - be wary that each UK nation has a list of accredited suppliers for this which are the only ones which will be accepted. 

You can find more general information regarding coronavirus in the UK for international students on the UKCISA website

If you are still unsure about your situation after reading the above information, do not hesitate to get in contact with your university in the first instance. If they cannot help you, we again recommend contacting UKCISA.

Beyond Erasmus: International Exchanges - Asia

The nations of the UK are currently developing mobility programmes to replace the previous Erasmus+ programme. While we are hugely supportive of the Erasmus+ programme, we want to highlight that there are many incredible and rewarding international exchange experiences outside of this programme. This blog is the first in a series featuring interviews with students who participated in non-Erasmus exchanges.

This article, written by Iona Murdoch, originally featured on ESNblog

Beyond Erasmus: International Exchanges - Asia

There’s a lot of change happening in the world of mobility programmes right now. The new Erasmus+ Programme 2021-27 has been launched, with twice the budget of the last one, and a complete makeover of the funding allowances. It also has key priorities, including: inclusion and diversity, digital transformation, and the environment.

However, this isn’t the only new mobility programme. Following the Brexit agreement and the UK Government deciding not to continue associating with the Erasmus+ Programme, they set up their own - the Turing Scheme. This programme will provide funding for international opportunities in education and training, allowing students studying in the UK to travel farther afield and with higher funding than the Erasmus+ programme previously allowed. In addition to this is the Welsh mobility scheme, and there is wind of the Scottish Government setting up their own to support all other internationalisation programmes provided at universities across Scotland…

And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of mobility opportunities available for students!

Going through the confusing transition of UK mobility programmes from the old to the new, I wanted to write a series of interviews from people that have taken part in non-Erasmus+ mobility opportunities. My hope is that it will educate people on just about in how many different ways you can go on exchange, and you really can go (almost) anywhere! Therefore, I interviewed a number of people, and they’ve kindly shared how they found their designated mobility programme, how they funded their life abroad for a few months, their most memorable experiences, and more.

If you are someone who went on exchange and want to share your experience, let us know in the comments below!

The Interview

Olivia - went from Germany to South Korea

Sofia - went from the UK to Singapore 

Freija - went from Finland to Japan

 

The Essentials:

What kind of exchange programme did you take part in on your mobility experience?

Olivia: I went on an international mobility exchange through my university, arranged by the international office.

Sofia: I heard about it from the exchange coordinator in my department at university. I think it was an international exchange where the uni has partner universities across the world.

Freija: A bilateral exchange between universities. I heard about it in the exchange information presentation in my home university.

 

How long were you on exchange for?

Olivia: One semester.

Sofia: One academic year, from August to May.

Freija: One academic year.

 

How did you support yourself financially?

Olivia: I managed to get a scholarship to help pay for my time abroad.

Sofia: I covered all expenses myself.

Freija: I secured a study grant from the government, a scholarship from the university, used my own savings, and took out a personal loan to cover the rest of the year. I was also able to work a little while I was on exchange.

 

The Experience:

What did you enjoy the most during your exchange?

Olivia: Going to South Korea and being so far away from home really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. This was an experience I really valued, as well as being able to travel through East Asia! The best place I went to was definitely Jeonju (a very old and traditional city) during Chuseok (Korean national holiday week).

Sofia: Making friends worldwide and travelling around with them. My all-time favourite place that I went to was the Philippines, although I also really enjoyed Indonesia and Thailand.

Freija: Learning about the Japanese culture first-hand and meeting new people. The country itself is also stunning and it is pretty magical to be surrounded by it.



 

Did you have a once-in-a-lifetime moment that you wouldn’t have found on Erasmus+?

Olivia: Absolutely! East Asia is culturally much more distant than any Erasmus+ Programme country, so there were countless moments like this. Most mobility in Asia happens between Asian countries, so exchange students from the West are rare - I never would've felt that "out of place" (in a great way) in Europe.

Also, the fact that the trip home is around 800€ and takes close to 24 hours forced me to fully commit. If I had stayed in Europe, I probably would've made the trip home once or twice.

Sofia: The Asian culture is very different from the European and getting to know so many different countries and their way of living was invaluable and incredibly inspiring. Here in Europe, we all share quite similar habits and countries are generally much more developed compared to the ones I got to travel around in South-East Asia. 

Also, being able to explore Asia as a student with just a backpack made me realise that I have so much stuff I really don't need and could definitely live with less as a result of the consumer society we have in Europe.

Freija: Yes - I was able to experience the unique Japanese university system! Their education system differs quite a bit from that of many European universities I have experienced, especially that of Finland. It is a very intense method of learning, with a LOT of seminar classes back-to-back - very different to the Socratic discussions and group work that is more popular in Finland, not to mention the class division of teacher-student…

Otherwise, learning about the local culture and language. Working while in Japan gave me a real insight into some elements of the culture you would otherwise never have the opportunity to experience if merely travelling there on holiday. 

 

 

Culture:

What food did you miss the most?

Olivia: Fresh bread. It isn’t a thing there - the only thing you can get remotely close in the supermarkets is toast.

Sofia: As a Spaniard, I really missed any kind of traditional Spanish food - especially tortilla española.

Freija: I didn’t miss Western food too much, but when I returned to my home university, I sorely missed ramen (especially the proper tonkatsu ramen)! I haven’t been able to find a good one yet outside of Japan.

 

What was the weirdest thing you ate?

Olivia: Chicken feet…

Sofia: ‘Chicken’ soup, although the meat in the dish didn’t taste (or look) remotely like the chicken I am used to…

Freija: Either jellyfish or pig ears. I also tried chicken stomach, intestines and heart...there were so many different kinds of food that I tried in Japan that there are probably a lot more!

 

What elements of your host country did you bring back home?

Olivia: A lot of the cuisine, and even more K-Pop.

Sofia: I learnt to appreciate the great food variety Singapore has, and also living with less. I now try to cook some of their dishes on occasion and gave so much of the stuff I had to charity.

Freija: Politeness and appreciating aesthetics also in your daily life and routines. There are many others also but those are some of the top ones I really miss.


 

The Big Questions:

Would you recommend this exchange country to others?

Olivia: I actually planned a trip to go back, but COVID got in the way…

I'm going on another exchange to Japan as soon as the pandemic ends, and I am planning to visit Seoul as soon as the borders reopen since it is quite close. I couldn’t recommend visiting the country highly enough, and you can probably tell it really made a positive impact on me!

Sofia: Let’s just say, as soon as I save up enough money for tickets, I am on that first flight back to Singapore!

Freija: 100% - any form of mobility is such an eye-opener, but especially one that is so culturally different to your own. Immersing yourself in a completely new culture and atmosphere, as well as forming relationships that may last for the rest of your life, opens some incredible doors you may not realise now but will thank yourself for doing so in the future. Plus, everyone should try some proper Japanese ramen at some point in their life...