Top Tips

This section is dedicated to tips, hints and suggestions provided by previous students abroad. Some are specific to host Universities while others are more general, so there should be something for everyone!

Tips provided by Sian Easton, Canada, 2008-2009

  1. Give yourself time to settle in! This is something which I am sure that you will be told repeatedly before you depart by many different people, but they are right. In the beginning, trying to adjust to a new country, a new culture and a new academic system can be an overwhelming task. The main thing is Not To Panic – I must admit that I can not claim to have followed my own advice on this one when I was starting out in Canada. The first few weeks in Halifax had me convinced that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with the course work, that I was going to miss my friends and family at home too much, and that, basically, I wasn’t going to manage a year abroad… BUT I did manage and I loved it. I think that you just have to give yourself a little time to get used to things, and you can trust me when I say that you soon come to feel very at home in your host country.
  2. Ask Questions! As an exchange student you can not expect yourself to know everything about your new city, academic system and so forth, and no one is expecting you to. At Dalhousie, I was delighted to discover the friendliness of both the students and the staff at the univeristy. Dalhousie university has an international student exchange office, with a group of staff that couldn’t be more willing to offer exchange students assistance and help them make the most of their exchange experience. My professors and fellow students were always more than happy to help me out when I was unsure about something. When you are in a new country, people expect you to need some help from time to time, so make the most of this.
  3. Things may not be quite how you expect them, but that doesn’t need to be a bad thing. One of the main things that I learnt from going to Canada is that, although there are huge similiarities between Scotland and Canada, things are not exactly the same. The things I found most difficult to get used to were not the things that were drastically different from how things were done in Scotland, but rather the ones that were almost the same, just slighty different. This may be in the fact that you can basically get all the same foods in Canada as you can at home, but they may not taste the same, or the fact that in both countries Halloween is celebrated but to a far greater degree in Canada.
  4. Find out what your accommodation is equipped with – before you go. I remember arriving at my apartment without bedding or anything. This was my own mistake as I had misread the information I had been send. I was therefore without quite a few things which I desperately needed in my flat. Obvioulsy, you can’t take everything you are going to need (a rucksack full of saucepans, kettles and duvets is not exactly a good idea) but find out what you are going to need to get, and where to get it as soon as you can. The sooner you are able to make your new home really feel homely the easier it is to settle in.
  5. As some people have already suggested International students do tend to form a close group. I would say definitely do your best to meet as many Canadians as you can while you are away, just get chatting. At the same time, I would say that being close to other exchange students is a great thing, too. I now have friends in all corners of the globe and learned so much about different countries, cultures and people. International exchange students are also in the same boat as you (they are all trying to find their feet in a new country) and it’s nice to have people to talk with about that. Overall, getting to know exchange students and students of your host country is the best idea in my opinion.
  6. Travel! While you are away, there is likley to be many chances to go and explore. Do your best to see some of the country you are in. Of course it’s always important to fit things in around your assignments and deadlines, but one thing I would say is: don’t wait until you are comepletely assignment free…because that time never comes. Some of us went on a ski-ing trip to Newfoundland in our spring break; we all had exams coming up, but we went, and when we came back we got our heads down and did fine. Sometimes I found that we spent a lot of time talking about studying but not actually getting around to it, whereas when you decide to give yourself a little time off, and then get hard at work afterwards, it seems to work out.
  7. Skype! Encourage your friends and family to get skype before you leave. This makes contact home a lot cheaper AND it makes home seem a lot less far away when you can actually see people on the screen. I downloaded skype onto my parents computer before I left and I taught them how to sign on etc so that they didn’t have any difficulty working it.

Links for Queens University, provided by Rebekah Fleming, 2008-2009

A few interesting websites that might be useful or at least fun to look at:

Getting around Hong Kong, provided by Andrzej Plichta, 2008-2009

Getting around Hong Kong for a newcomer might be a little tricky and complicated. As much as nearly everything is in both Cantonese and English, some travelling arrangements in here can be a bit of a surprise to a Westerner and certainly was for me. Hong Kong is very compact and all of its many areas are incredibly well connected. In fact, it boasts one of the world’s most efficient and frequent public transport systems. One of the highlights of moving around Hong Kong is the use of the Octopus Card. Think about the Oyster Card but 100 times better. With your Octopus you can not only pay for buses, trams and MTR rides but also for shopping, parking meters and printing machines at uni! It is truly the most convenient system I have ever come across and one of the things I will miss the most when I finally make it back to bonnie Scotland. In Hong Kong, there are different modes of transportation that I listed for you below:

  • Buses – All double-deckers have destinations marked in both English and Cantonese and the big buses are probably the safest means of transport for newcomers. They are relatively cheap by the Scottish standards, for instance, a ride from Queen Mary Hospital to university costs around 5HKD, which is equivalent to 40pence.
  • Minibuses – Minibuses differ in that some have red roofs and some have green roofs. My advice: DO NOT get on red top minibuses unless you know Hong Kong well and/ or speak Cantonese. For red top ones, they have no fixed routes (just starting and finishing point) and passengers get on and off anywhere. Also, the octopus card is not commonly accepted on them and you need to have cash, but not exact fare as change can be given. Red top minibuses are incredibly fast and operate 24/7 which makes them great for late night escapades to Mong Kok or Causeway Bay. The green roof ones are easier to comprehend. They have fixed routes and you only need to tell the driver to stop whenever you want. Octopus cards can be used. Fares for minibuses are a little higher than buses, but at the same time they help you save sooo much time! A minibus is always faster than a big bus period!
  • Trains – The MTR network in Hong Kong is an astonishing work of art when it comes to efficiency and frequency. The trains run every 2 (TWO!!) minutes and they are as reliable as it gets. The network spans destinations on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. And there is a good news for students too. Once you receive your Student Octopus Card, you are entitled to half price travels!!! The discount does not apply to buses nor minibuses though, hence so many students travel on the MTR. The areas of the MTR are very clean and well maintained and you will never see the people of Hong Kong eating or drinking on stations or trains. You shouldn’t either!!
  • Tram – There is one tram line, which runs in the north of Hong Kong Island. It’s relatively slow and you’ll most likely take it a few times just to get familiar with the city as it runs past Central, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and other places that you’ll be visiting a lot. There is a flat fare of 2HKD per trip and it’s very cheap even by local standards. This, by and large, is how you move around Hong Kong. I am sure you would’ve worked it out yourself but this should be helpful for a start anyways.

Before I finish this post, I would also like to VERY STRONGLY recommend you one book, namely ‘Gweilo’ by Martin Booth. This position is a must for any westerner going to Hong Kong. It’s a story of a 7 year old boy whose parents move here. I don’t want to spoil it by telling you the entire plot of the story, just read it and you’ll have an idea of what kind of amazing things can happen to you here!

Tips provided by Cleo Barrable, Berkeley, California, 2008-2009

  1. Look at the Lecturers that do the courses you are choosing, because two different lecturers will teach the same course in the two semesters and they may teach it very differently. Try to look at lecturer reviews, or even better, ask people you may know (e.g. previous year abroad students) about their experience with the lecturers – as the lecturer will make a big difference to your experience of the course.
  2. If you want to experience what doing research is like and are considering doing a Phd in your subject, then you should apply for the URAP programme at Berkeley – http://research.berkeley.edu/urap/index.php or find some equivalent research opportunity at your host University.
  3. The result of a lot of flight searching for the cheapest fares ended up being the same for me on the way out and on the way back. So I’d like to recommend that, before you book yours, look at AerLingus. I found my best deal was to fly from London via Dublin straight to San Francisco, and this was a lot cheaper than other options, but did involve getting down to London (which I did by train on the way there and bus on the way back).

Also, here are a couple of tips for people thinking of going to Berkeley specifically:

  1. A little gem I found: a way to find out about different and fun activities in the Berkeley area and meet some interesting and lovely people is to turn up to the open nights and events at the Athletic Playground http://athleticplayground.com/. Check out their BluesPlayground, and if you find you like Blues dancing, there is an amazing Blues dancing scene in the bay area and SF.
  2. When you get a mobile Phone they usually let you choose your area code – choose Berkeley area code (which is 510) because from many phones it is free to call 510 numbers (this was very useful when calling my answer machine and calling other 510 numbers from my room phone as it was free).
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