As I arrived on Aston Webb Boulevard after 48 hours of relentless travel, Birmingham was pitch black at 11 pm but Old Joe (the clock tower) towered proudly over the sprawling campus. With the campus on a daunting hillock, it felt like entering Hogwarts for the first time, and I knew I was ready for the magical ride that was going to be this exchange.
I never thought my first play performance at university, would be while on my exchange! We performed a pantomime of Treasure Island. Interestingly, the opening number – Shiver Me Timbers – was based on the New Zealand Haka; so it was nostalgic to sing and dance to it! Being the only international students in the play team of about 50 Brits was definitely an exciting and welcoming experience.
I was doing courses under the Business and Psychology departments, so I went to their course scheduling workshops to get my timetable sorted: highly recommend arriving earlier than the class start date to attend these! It was often easier to get a response in person as over 200 exchange students can have vastly differing requirements, which can be difficult to understand via email.
Courses rarely had assignments and were mostly assessed at the end, but this is changing in the 2019-2020 session as Birmingham attempts to make assessments more distributed throughout the semester. Lecturers are very understanding and helpful, so make sure to introduce yourself at the beginning of the semester!
Accommodation wise, it is best to apply for Bournbrook or Jarratt Hall as they are close to Bristol Road, which has cheap supermarkets like Aldi and Tesco and is the hub of social life at university. For those preferring to be catered, Shackleton Hall at the Vale has the main dining areas (although the meal plan can be purchased even if you are not at Shackleton).
This was the first time that I had moved from a halls to a flatting situation, so it was a huge learning experience! It was also the first time that I was going to fully cater for myself, so have definitely learned some quick, healthy meals. I would recommend being open, engaging and patient with cultural differences as there are quite a few even between NZ and the UK!
- Take the 61 or 63 bus from outside campus for 1 pound only to the city centre!
- Plan weekend travel beforehand: book buses/trains earlier as prices rise like flights!
- Recommend joining clubs, especially those that we don’t have at UoA! 😉
- Harry Potter Club
- Dance Club Latino
- Pole Fitness
- GYM MEMBERSHIP IS LIMITED AND GETS SOLD OUT MONTHS AGO SO PURCHASE ONE AS SOON AS YOU GET YOUR VISA!!!
- Put yourself in new situations (socially and otherwise); you might find new hobbies! Eg: If you are an outdoorsy person, try origami or board games with friends and try to have different social circles both in and out of class so that you don’t restrict your social activities or travel to the interests of one group
- Must-visit places: Cardiff (Wales), Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, Liverpool, Scotland, Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s birthplace), London (of course
- Get in touch with the Careers Network at UoB if you want to plan a future in the UK
- Network with UoA alumni in Birmingham or even just professionals in your industry of interest
- Keep a list of people you meet (professionals and friends) so that you can keep track later on: Facebook and Linkedin are not enough!
- Budget! You can only work part time if you get a visa for the whole year, there is much less contact hours here than UOA so it is possible to work
- KEEP A TRAVEL DIARY and/or vlog
- Invest time in a good ol’ Spotify playlist
- Write down your priorities for your exchange before you leave, and take note of how they evolve during and after your exchange
- In decreasing order of priority, write down your reasons for choosing your countries/universities in the Prospective Host Universities form. Sleep on this list and note how these reasons (or their order or priority) evolve with time and as you interact with other exchange students. Potential reasons: Travel, University/department rankings, Professional networks, Stepping stone to future study/career
- Learn proper cooking for at least a month before you go on exchange
- Must-haves: portable rice cooker and mixer/chopper/blender
- Birmingham was my FOURTH choice and I was hesitant to accept it but in hindsight, I would not change it for the world! Do not let the lack of your first/top 3 choices put you off the best experience of your university life 😀
- Try to vary your experiences as much as possible but do not let your FOMO (fear of missing out) exhaust you. This is YOUR exchange and there is no such thing as too much or too little of travelling/clubbing/socialising: do what feels natural!
- Having said that, be bold because it is, after all, a once – in – lifetime experience! 🙂
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED
- Exchange is more than worth the stress and sleepless nights. That is all 😉
MESSAGE TO OUTGOING EXCHANGE STUDENTS (TO BIRMINGHAM OR ELSEWHERE):
- If you have any inhibitions or fears regarding your exchange (or are just losing sleep at 3 pm), call me on Messenger and I am happy to chat about absolutely anything!
Roald Dahl once said: “Those who don’t believe in magic, will never find it”. I’m glad I did (and still do), because I found Birmingham!