Your Guide to Making the Most of Your Stay in the UK

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Your Guide to Making the Most of Your Stay in the UK

Studying abroad can be one of the most eye-opening, life-changing, mind-bending experiences that you go through in life, but until you actually have the experience, you cannot really know what studying abroad is like. Therefore, it's a difficult thing for which to prepare. All the research in the world, all the pictures and glossy brochures and all the second-hand accounts of friends' and peers' semesters away cannot adequately prepare you for the adventures. That said, you don't have to go into the experience completely blind either. Students have been studying abroad for decades, and over the years, several have been kind enough to share advice, tips and "wish-I-would-have-knowns" with school counselors and other students alike. This post details just a few of the more important bits of insight and advice so that you can prepare as best you can for the trip of a lifetime.

  • Culture Shock is Real

    No matter how much you think you're prepared to live abroad, you will experience culture shock, and no amount of research, language studies or immersion in your country's version of the UK’s culture can prepare you for it. Culture shock affects people in different ways. For some people, it comes as a slight pang when they see a family walking down the street. For others, it occurs when they crave a food from home. For others, it occurs when they realize that they aren't as well-versed in English as they thought they were. Culture shock can last for just a few moments, or it can last for weeks. It can come and go at random intervals or it can completely consume one's life. Though you cannot prevent culture shock, you can prevent it from controlling your life abroad. Here are just a few strategies and tips for alleviating the impact of culture shock during your time in the UK: Immerse yourself in the UK's culture before you leave home. You can do this via books, guides, TV shows, novels and tales from people who have been there. Write down what you love about your new home when you first arrive so that you can look back on it later when you're feeling down. Find a healthy distraction as soon as you get to the UK. The more you have to do, the less time you have to think about home. Make friends with both locals and other study abroad students. Try to view the experience through your host culture's eyes. Keep practicing English. If your skills aren’t where they should be, work hard to improve them through courses, exercises or support from someone at school.

  • Get All Your Paperwork in Order

    You won't get to experience culture shock for yourself if you don't have your paperwork in order. There are a lot of paperwork requirements that you must fulfill before you can even step foot in another country, much less study in one. First and foremost, you will need a visa. The U.S. State Department’s International Travel Country Specific Information page gives an overview of each country's visa requirements, including the UK. You can likely get away with obtaining a student visa, but if you plan on extending your stay throughout the summer or beyond the typical school year, you may need an actual visa. Once you have your visa, you need to get a passport. Your passport allows you to leave and reenter your own country without a problem. A passport takes four to six weeks to process, and it does require a bit of paperwork, so it's important that you begin the passport application process early. If you already have a passport, check the expiration dates, as each country has its own requirements regarding validity. Most countries require that a passport be valid for three to six months beyond the departure date. Finally, you will need certification of vaccination. Check with the study abroad coordinator about what vaccinations are required in the UK, and find out what, if any, proof is required. More often than not, you can just obtain a proof of vaccination from your general practitioner or an on-campus doctor.

  • Secure Flights and Housing

    Once you have your visa and passport, you can finally book that flight ticket. Most countries require that study abroad students arrive no more than one month in advance. If you arrive any earlier, you may be in violation of your student visa, which could get you in trouble. However, there is no limit on when you can book your flight. The best time to book your flight is about three months in advance, though, if you're someone who likes to plan really far in advance, you can find decent prices at around 320 days before your trip. Once you have your flight, it's time to find housing. Finding student housing abroad will probably be the most difficult aspect of actually preparing for your trip. You need housing, but you are not permitted to arrive enough time in advance to actually look for it. Therefore, you must do everything online. When looking for housing online, you need to be wary of scams, as there are a lot of them. That said, if you look in the right places, and if you stick to reputable sites such as Homestay.com, UniversityRooms and Beroomers, you should be fine.

  • Get Insurance

    You are just as susceptible to injury and illness when abroad as you are at home, which is why you need to make sure that you have the right insurance to study abroad in the UK. Most health policies cover only certain regions – in fact, most only cover services provided within a city's limits. However, some insurance companies do offer international policies and allow you to customize your options based on your length of stay, area of coverage, possible exposures and mode of payment.

  • Organize your banking situation

    Banking is one aspect that most people don't consider until it's too late. If you don’t want to be stuck abroad without any way to access money in your bank account, get the details lined up in advance. Though your debit and credit cards will probably be accepted just about anywhere, you never know when your bank is going to put a hold on your funds. Chances are, a hold will occur within days of arrival or once your bank sees transactions from across the globe. You can prevent this from happening by calling your bank before you leave and letting them know what your plans are. Let them know where you'll be living and for how long and inform them that there is a great possibility that you'll be traveling to other countries as well. By calling your bank, you may even discover that you bank has partners overseas from which you can withdraw cash without an additional fee.

  • Start Packing

    Once you have all the technicalities taken care of, it's time for the fun stuff. Packing in general isn't any fun, but packing for your semester or year abroad is different. The point at which you start putting your clothes in a bag and all your nearest and dearest belongings in a box is the point at which you'll finally begin to feel as if the whole thing is real. Packing for a semester away can be difficult. You may want to bring everything with you – after all, you'll be living in the UK for one to two semesters – but refrain from doing so. Bring along only the essentials, such as your clothes, toiletries, bed linens, bath towels, phone charger, camera and the like. Keep in mind that you will be able to get a lot of the basics when you arrive at your destination, so if you find you're running low on suitcase space, ditch the towels and pick some up after you arrive in the UK.

  • Finally, Don't Set Too Many Expectations

    Once you get over the culture shock, you WILL have a blast abroad. That said, expectations of a semester away rarely ever align with reality. Save yourself from disappointment by making sure that your only expectation is to expect the unexpected. There is the very real possibility that you will have over prepared and underprepared at the same time. For instance, you may have packed one too many jackets but not enough t-shirts. You may have remembered to talk to your bank but forgotten to talk to your credit card companies. You may have packed your phone charger but failed to consider the fact that your phone may not work while you're away. Even though this post is full of useful information that you can benefit from, none of it is as helpful as this: enjoy the surprises as they come, accept each experience for what it's worth and appreciate your host country for what it is and not what you would like it to be. If you can do that, you will no doubt have the study abroad experience of a lifetime. For more tips and tricks on how to make the most of your semester away, check out SchoolApply's blog. You can find all the information you need regarding best schools to study at, costs, accommodations and more.

Levels Explained

  • Bachelor's

    A bachelor's degree (also called a first degree or undergraduate degree) is attained after receiving a post-secondary (high school) education and generally spans four years. Students pursuing these types of degrees are commonly referred to as bachelor or undergraduate students. A bachelor's degree is usually offered at an institution of higher education, such as a university.

  • Master's

    A master’s degree (or postgraduate or graduate education) involves learning and studying for academic or professional degrees. This degree is preceded by a bachelor’s degree and generally takes two years to complete. Students pursuing these types of degrees are commonly referred to as master's, or grad students.

  • Pathway

    Bachelor’s and master’s pathway programs are designed for international students who need additional English language and academic preparation before continuing to a degree program at a university. The purpose of these programs are to give students the confidence and skills needed to succeed in college.