Arrival…and a few wee other things

Well heloo there!!

I was just sitting in an adorable cafe called ‘Tea Store’ – which, as you can probably guess, is a store that sells, well, teas…although not just tea, many, MANY a tea of all different shapes, varieties, flavours, colours, scents and temperature.  Yes, temperature – so having just had a ‘bella coola’ iced tea and a little chocolate cake (which was inordinately rich, chocolately and dreamy) I thought I’d give you a wee report on my time here so far!  However, as there’s so much and the topic of my one-ended convo might skip about a bit mimicking my head, I’ll divide it into wee categories to make it easier, so…

Flight!

Interesting.  My flight was direct from Glasgow International Airport to Toronto Pearson International Airport and sourced from ‘Moneysavingexpert.com’ (which gives links to finding cheap flights).  I just got a one-way so I can either travel/explore, or decide later if I want to return.  Minor misshap with my flight; at 1pm it was announced that  ‘The 1:30pm plane for toronto is missing a vital part.  We’re now getting this part flown in from Gatwick.  Your new departure time is 5:30pm’ (hmm, the left filangee perhaps???).  Shame, I had to fill my time in duty-free, darn ;).  Was very excited when they handed out free £5  vouchers.  Lunch and shopping helped occupy the 4 hours nicely!  Was admiring the view when the nice old lady beside me wore a somewhat bemused expression whilst saying; ‘Oh, I thought Greenland was Green!’  FYI.  No, Greenland is not green, it is a splended sheet of dazzling white of an extraordinarily vast scale!  It was 7  1/2 hours and I got a free meal and a chocolate chip muffin, good times 🙂

Other Transport

I stayed at a hotel at the airport which provided a free shuttle-bus to and from.  There’s a bus directly from Toronto Airport to Queen’s University which costs $50 by Coach Canada which takes about 4 hours.  I was really exhausted after my flight so was glad I rested, took my time and got in the next day, which I think is worth doing to give yourself to adjust!  It’s a big change so don’t give yourself extra stress by cutting things too fine/rushing.  The flaw in my splendiferous plan was that, when I dismounted the bus at Queen’s I had no mode of transport!!! Nooo!

1st Lesson in Kingston:  The people are nice.  As I wached the bus drive off, leaving me with a backpack, suitcase and what was clearly a fairly blank expression, I had barely made a full turn when a girl riding by on a bicycle said ‘Hey!  Are you lost?’.  She had me with a taxi number and a smile on my face within 10 seconds and I headed off to Jean Royce Halls where I was booked into for temporary accommodation through the Queen’s website.  It was so late by that point, my first meal in Kingston was a subway from round the corner…class will always out hee hee

Accommodation

Jean Royce is kinda a Murano-like joint.  Very simple, a bed, desk, drawers and phone.  There are two communal bathrooms with 2 showers and a toilet between a floor of about 25.  They’re not the most private of areas but there’s endless hot water and a very big mirror (or maybe I just used it all??).  Anyway, it’s not to put you off, just the truth that it’s very basic, absolutely fine for just now while I look for a place.  There are other halls which I would reccommend instead if you get a choice in the matter but if not and you stay there, the International Centre guy said it’s a great atmosphere when it’s filled with students! 🙂  (I’m here fairly early so it’s very quiet).  It’s 20 mins from campus though, not the 15 they try to tell you :p

1st Steps

The International Centre.  Here’s where I checked my UHIP (mandatory health insurance), spoke to an accommodation officer who gave me a very helpful leaflet of sites to check for listings, got a bus timetable, and the ladies there are SOOO nice and helpful, ask them anything!!

Gordon Hall.  They’ll send you there anyway to register for your QCARD – your Queen’s Uni student card (which, btw gets you on busses for free, Yey! & until you get it, tell the bus driver you’re a new student & they’re usually kind enough to let you on free of charge…if not it’s only $2.25 anyway.

I met two lovely exchange girls (from New Zealand and Norway) here, spent most of the day with them, then kept meeting people in the International Centre who have a phone you can use for free local calls.  If you see anyone, introduce yourself and start talking, it’s SO handy to share your worries/concerns/experiences with people and make friends.

CELLPHONE!!!!  TOTALLY NECESSARY FOR COMMUNICATION & FINDING A FLAT – if you need to that is.  Virgin Mobile seems to be the cheapest (we’ll see though!)  at $50 which I got from the Cateraqui Centre (a good indoor shopping mall about 1/2 an hour bus ride away from town), others are about $160.  Again, ask at the Int Centre where the stores are.

Flat-Finding

You’ll get info from the int centre, but just in case the one’s I’ve been using are:

http://quic.queensu.ca/resource/permanenthousing.asp
http://kingston.kijiji.ca/
http://kingston.en.craigslist.ca/

Rule:  DON’T PANICK!!

Everyone I’ve met is only staying 4 months (1 semester) and people are rushing into getting a flat.  I almost did and almost made a mistake.  The annoying thing is that as it gets closer to term-time, only now are students advertising spare rooms where you can visit the actual people in the flat so you get an idea of who you’re moving in with.  If you don’t mind you won’t have a problem, there’s plenty available, and people keep saying there are more houses than students, so that should be reassuring! 🙂

Miscellaneous

I got a Canadian Bank Account!!!  Felt very grown up when I sauntered in with my travellers’ cheques, passport and Study Permit to open a foreign account.  I have to say it gave me a bit of a buzz!  You don’t have to get one or anything, it’s just better for me and the TD Canada Trust has ATMs around campus – very handy.  Also, the cheques they give you make giving a deposit easier.  I’ve also seen an outdoor movie – The Aristocats – which was AWESOME!!!  And there’s a Jazz Festival on this weekend, too, there’s so much going on!!

Anyway, my tea is long-finished, stomachs are rumbling, and my friends and I are on our way to find somewhere for dinner…I’m off to listen to some Jazz!! 🙂 xx

Pre-Californian Dreams

Having got a lot of things in order I thought this would be the perfect time to fill everyone in on my experiences with
  • Getting visa for travel to California
  • Selecting courses at UCSB (Univerisity of California, Santa Barbara)
  • Finding housing

So, getting visa as you’ve probably read from the other blogs, it isn’t that big a deal. I realise it’s easier said than done, but as long as you have the necessary documents ready (see Visa Information), there’s no reason for them to reject your application. The interview which you’ll have to attend either in London or Belfast is actually a 5 min affair where they’ll ask you very general questions like “Have you ever been to the US before?” and “Purpose of your current visit?” Also, be prepared to wait for at least 2 hours before you actually give an interview so have a book/newspaper ready! Also, if you have a passport from a different country it is recommended that you go back to your home country and apply there.  This rule did apply to me as I actually have an Indian passport and as I was holidaying in India for 4 weeks of this summer, I actually got my J1 visa processed in Mumbai. The procedure was exactly the same as that in London, and I got my passport back with the J1 visa stamped on the very same day! Basically, don’t worry or stress about the visa procedure at all! It’s tedious to say the least but it’s one of those things you just have to do! Your stress is better spent on things like “do I need a pair of cool sunglasses” or “what clothes should I pack”….kidding!

Right, let’s move on to the issue of choosing courses at the institution abroad. For psychology students who plan to do their 3rd year abroad, please refer to Dr Frank Pollick’s website. This provides full details on which institutions you can apply to as well as what courses you should sign up for. Now, obviously this site cannot be updated every year as all the institutions abroad are continuously updating/removing/renaming their courses, so it should serve as a guide as opposed to God’s word 😉

Students from other departments may have similar websites created by their respective lecturer in charge of Study Abroad Students. At this stage, all I can say is, it really does help to be proactive about finding and adding compatible courses by liaising between the International Coordinator in your department at Glasgow and the International Advisor at the institution abroad. You’ll generally find that the advisors abroad are really friendly people who are more than willing to help in any way they can. As for me, I really started stressing when I saw that the courses offered abroad didn’t match up with what we’d been told to sign up to at Glasgow. I immediately started emailing the psychology dept at UCSB and was soon put in touch with the undergraduate advisor there. She very kindly explained the procedure for adding courses via the UCSB Gold system, which is similar to websurf. She also suggested alternative courses that could easily substitute the ones that were not being offered for this academic session. I discussed these suggestions further with Dr. Pollick and we eventually worked out a schedule that could work. Be prepared for some serious emailing 😉

You basically want to make sure that all the courses you do abroad are credited by Glasgow, as you don’t want to come back and then be told that you have to resit a year due to not completing an adequate level of statistics for example!

And finally, the issue of housing. My goodness, if you want to imagine my experience with finding housing, just imagine the week or even days before the summer exam when your stress levels are through the roof and you’re just waiting for the exam to be over. I really do regret to say, finding housing in Santa Barbara has been one hell of a roller-coaster ride which has yet to finish! Umm… yeh you can probably tell I’m not the happiest bunny right now! Me and another exchange student from Glasgow, started looking for housing as early as June. We were both declined student housing at UCSB, not because we’re a bunch weirdos but UCSB didn’t have any space!

Isla Vista, which is the area closest to UCSB is probably the most expensive place to stay followed by Goleta and down town Santa Barbara. So, we decided a budget of $600-700 per person which is quite a lot, but trust me when I say Santa Barbara is one of the most expensive places to stay in after LA. The cheapest option which we stumbled across on Craigslist was a family home, that had working parents who were leasing 2 separate rooms. This was ideal as usually we’d be expected to share a room. Obviously the down side to this option was that, we’d have restricted independence and a set of rules to follow. We decided to keep this as a backup option and continued scouting for other apartments. A few weeks later we found the perfect place which was being leased by a person in London, to shorten a long story, we were being duped. When the owner asked me to wire transfer money to rent.com I realised that this was not authentic as rent.com do not deal with money. Lesson to take home, if it’s too good to be true it probably is and more importantly just be on the guard because you’ll be looking for apartments from the UK and you may not even realise you’re being led on. The silver lining to this rather dark cloud was that we didn’t lose any money.

In conclusion, I’m still looking for a place to stay, perhaps a bit disheartened but eventually something will turn up! I realise the title of this blog is Pre-Californian Dreams and it is to an extent still a dream as, I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I actually got selected for the Study Abroad Programme as well as the fact that I got into the Psychology Department at Glasgow. The Psychologists amongst you will know the challenges of getting a place on the honours programme with limited seats! All in all, these stresses don’t even come close to the the rush of endorphins that are released each time I think about the fact that in a matter of weeks I’ll be in California!!

1 Day ’till Lift-Off…Canada Awaits!!

The following was written on the 21st of August, the day before my flight to Toronto.  As I haven’t had internet access until now, I’m posting it safe, well and happy from my temporary room in Jean Royce Halls!  This is my first morning in Kingston, so I’m off to explore today and go to the International Centre to get started 🙂

August 21st:

Well, this has been a summer of stress, nervousness, frustration, but most of all…EXCITEMENT!!  And tomorrow I’ll be on my way to Canada to spend a year at Queen’s University in Kingston.

Although most of my time has been spent trying to earn (and save – the more tricky part) money to go to Canada in the first place, the rest has been reserved for agonising about various survival necessities for the year of my life to be lived in a completely foreign country.  Things like ‘Study Permit’, ‘Do I need a Visa?’, ‘Credit Card’, ‘Accommodation’, ‘Flat’, ‘Clothes’, ‘Weather’, and ‘Seriously, how on earth can I be expected to only take 1 suitcase and 1 item of hand luggage out??? Let’s face it, I’M A GIRL!!!’…have been the most common thoughts chasing each other in my head.

Well, unfortunately, airlines don’t exactly make exceptions for unknowing exchange students – or, girls’ vanity hang-ups for that matter…damn.

Soooo, myyear-long adventure will begin without straighteners, a hairdryer, winter clothes, or many clothes at that – eek :0.  However, I have managed to remind myself that this study abroad experience just that:  an experience – a new, challenging, different, exciting experience and, most of all, a learning curve.  So I’m SURE I can learn to be without what seems like basic female rights to certain hair-devices etcetera…can I?…Either way, I’ll be finding out as of tomorrow!

My first recommendation is:  PACK EARLY!!!

Trust me, I wish I did.  Having spend just about an entire year contemplating the details of exactly what tops, jeans and general daily items I might need, nothing can prepare you for speed at which your suitcase will fill the moment you begin packing.  Despite keeping it to the very bare minimum, I still found myself having to make difficult sacrifices due to lack of space.

Second is:  TALK TO SOMEONE WHO’S BEEN BEFORE

I spoke to a previous exchange student who went to Queen’s who recommended bringing summer clothes and buying winter ones when I needed them as there’s about 6 weeks of summer in Kingston before the cold kicks in (albeit damn vicious biting cold).  I still tried to take a few things but my fleece just wouldn’t fit.  So most of my inclusion/exclusion choices were based on her advice and what I felt I could live without – In saying that, I still don’t know if that’s right or wrong – stay tuned for the verdict!

Third is:  APPLY TO SAAS AND YOUR STUDY PERMIT A.S.A.P!!!

This is perhaps the most important.  If you get SAAS funding, apply as soon as they let you and ask for an early confirmation letter.  You will need this to apply for your Study Permit (I did not need a VISA, I don’t think it’s necessary for Canada in general), which you shoudl do as soon as humanly possible as they may send it back if there’s a mistake in which case you may have to wait ANOTHER 6 weeks, which is not so fun.  Mine was sent back because of an error with the payment details.  And, the complicated ins-and-outs of the application itself will need a lot of pouring over.

Extra Tip:  Each visa office has its own extra specific forms you need to fill out so go onto the website of the visa office you specifically need to apply to (mine was London) where you will find details.

Anyway, my credit card, temporary accommodation confirmation (at Jean Royce Halls) and my Study Permit all came through exactly a week ago, which allowed me to relax a little and concentrate on packing and giving me plenty of time to get excited about going!

I still can’t quite believe I’m actually going having spent SO LONG preparing, I don’t think it will really sink in until I’m physically on the plane, on my own and on my way to Canada….

Well, here I go!  YEEEEEEY!

Hello Boston!

OK so I have just arrived in Boston and after only a few days I have had to do so many things! First thing on the to-do list was to find a place to live (kind of important). I had a hotel booked for the first week of being here and hoped to find accommodation in that week, which fortunately I have! The people at the  international housing office at BC are very helpful. They showed me a few places to check out and gave me contacts of other exchange students who were looking for a place to stay. So I’m sharing an apartment with two other french exchange students, very near to the college campus. Make sure to find a place which only has a 9 month lease. A lot of places ask for a full year but obviously that is unsuitable for exchange students. We were also luck that our apartment comes fully furnished, where as many others you will have to purchase your own furniture.  I had set up a couple of apartment viewings myself before I arrived in Boston but everyone here is very eager to help you find a place and settle in, they can’t do enough for you. So task one, find a house. Done.

Setting up an american bank account was suprisingly easy. All you need is 2 forms of ID and you’re basically all set. They give you a temporary debit card while you wait for a permanent one so you have access to your account immediately. It was all much easier than expected!

Medical insurance was the first big spend. It gets charged to your university account upon registration and the cost for semester one was $766!  That seemed a lot but not compared to semester two which is apparently around $930! So be aware that you will have that compulsory charge to pay before you are allowed to leave the BC in may.

So far everything has gone smoothly. I would advise people to do as much research as possible before arrival just so you know what to expect to have to do when you get here. I was advised to find a place to stay on the BC bus route which is a bus that goes in a loop to the campus every 15 mins for free, so that should be helpful especially in the winter months! The college itself is about 30 mins from the city centre but is still in a heavily populated are, most of which are BC students.

So thats what I’ve doen so far, but I’m sure there will be plenty more goings on in the next couple of weeks when orientation begins and classes start! Speak soon!

Craig

questions…questions…questions!!!

Hellooooo,

Ok so, i have approximately a week before i fly and i am totally not organised…more than that….i’m terrified! Excited too but i most definately have the fear! Is there anyone else going to, or anyone else who has been to ubc (or any other canadian uni) who could give me some info on insurance? whether you need to take out your own travel insurance etc seeing as we have the compulsory health insurance through uni.

Also, how the hell do you pack with such a tiny weight limit?! I’m not even a girly girl with millions of shoes and i’m struggling.

On the plus side however, my visa came – yaye. As did the universitas 21 cheque – whoop whoop!!

It’d be lovely if any of the soon to be UBC’ers or the past ones would get in touch.

Rachel

Almost ready but definately raring to go!

Right I’ve got my visa. Remember to pay the SEVIS fe before you go; I didn’t but luckily they have computers there which you can use to pay it. I forgot a book but managed to fill my three hour waiting time chatting to a nice girl who is also moving to New York. At the visa office, they take your thumb finger print. If you have an scratches or cuts, they wont accept it and you have to reschedule so wear gloves and be careful the whole week before your interview! A couple hours waiting and then you have to answer a few questions eg. where and why are you going, where is your money coming from, where are you staying. A few stamps and VOILA! you have a visa! Then you have to pay for it to be delivered to your house, which was £12. I celebrated with a Starbucks and then went to see Britney Spears in concert, which was ah-mazing.

Couple of days later, the visa arrived. Its nice to have something printed in my passport. Someone has to be in when the visa arrives to sign for it.

I used expedia to book my flights. I leave on the 23rd at 11am and get into JFK at 6.30pm. Make sure you book the right places: I searched for Albany New York and got results for Albany Schenectedy, which I almost booked -do NOT make that mistake. My connecting flight to Albany isn’t until 6am the next morning, which means I have one night in NYC all to myself…!

I have already started packing. The hardest part is choosing which clothes you want to take with you! I took out all the clothes from my wardrobe that I wanted to take, orgainsed it into piles of colour and remeoved any similar colours eg. two blues that were exactly the same. Then I organised the qualifying clothes into piles of style eg. sweater, jumpers with collars etc. Again, anything too similar and one was removed. So I’ve ended up with a really good capsule wardrobe. Obviously, I’ve remembered my heavy knitted woollens – I am arriving in autumn afterall. Apparently, Albany has hot summers and freezing winters.

Now, I’m just excited about leaving but the nerves are creeping in. The same thing happened when I left Aberdeen to move to Glasgow. The whole summer I was ready to go but a week before I got nervous. I’ll be fine once I get there. Its a funny realisation thinking that I’m not going to see my friends for a year and I’m leaving my best friends behind, but the power of Facebook will keep us united!

A week on Sunday and I hit the USA! I’ll let you know how I get on!

x

One week left

Next week I’m finally travelling to Chicago. I generally finished all the preparations, the last thing I need to do is to find out how to get from O’hare airport to Champaign, where I’m going to spend next year.

A few words on arrangements I had to make:

Visa:

There is no problem with that. The whole process of getting visa shouldn’t take more than a week. First, I had to complete two forms (DS-156 and DS-158) and schedule a visa interview by calling the Infoline. The interview took place three days later. Consul didn’t even ask any questions, they just had to scan fingerprints for all 10 fingers. The passport with my visa was sent back to me a few days later.

Flight:

It’s good to start searching for flights as soon as possible, at least a month before the departure. I’ll be flying with Lufthansa and change in Frankfurt (I’m flying from Katowice, Poland). I paid about 520 £ for a return ticked. I could never understand why, but the return ticket to US is usually cheaper than single.

Accommodation:

I decided to stay at university accommodation. They have some halls for international students which are cheaper than those for home students (usually student accommodation in US is a lot more expensive than the one in Scotland). But if someone wants to rent a private flat it is quite easy. I’ve seen a great deal of ads for apartments/rooms close to uni. Try craigslist.com or similar webpage.