So I will give some advice on preparations before you start your adventure abroad.
Packing: Try to pack as lightly as possible, as if you are going on a week long trip. This was an advice given to me by Prof. Chumbley who is in charge of the Birmingham engineering exchange program and it works very well. You can have clothes to wear for the whole week without repeating and then just wash them at the end of the week and you have them ready for the next week. Obviously keep enough under clothes and you can always go shopping if you need more clothes once you are at your destination. Do not panic and try not to think of packing for a whole semester or year. I thought of it and it was scary. Packing lightly has two main advantages, first your luggage will have less chances of not arriving at the same time as you because you will just have a suitcase or two, second it will be really easy for you to carry it anywhere.
Visa: Although the three other students who came with me from Iowa State were U.S. citizens and did not require any visa, but since I am an international student at Iowa State, I did require a visa for U.K. So this is mainly for international students like me who want to go for an exchange program . The visa process was fairly simple. I had to go for a biometric appointment in Des Moines and then mail all the papers and my passport to the U.K. embassy in New York. Then I got back everything mailed to me with the visa stamp in three weeks. There is also a fee attached to the visa that you have to pay. It is a little less than a hundred dollars. Yes, even a stamp can have that much price!
Now I went to see three different places in the past two weekends:
- Bicester village: This is a village as well as a big shopping hub with a lot of designer and expensive brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Zara and so on. It is like two hours away from Birmingham. I had never heard the names of half of the brands there before. Most of the shops are those types where such rich people come that they can pay any price for the product they like so there are not price tags on most of the articles! It is not a shopping mall but all the shops are small and in old style buildings which gives a very nice and classic village feel to the place. Here you go with the pictures:
2. Coventry: This is a small town about 20 miles from Birmingham. I went there with a group of exchange students and caught an inter city train for the first time. The highlight of the town was an old Cathedral which had 180 stairs on it’s bell tower, which you are allowed to climb, and we did climb those to find this awesome view (although it was a suffocating to climb the stairs, not in the sense of less air but because the stairs were small and the tower was narrow and dark, still gives me a chill):
3. Black Country Living Museum: Going on its name, this is a museum where staff of the museum actually dress up as how people used to in 1700s and 1800s and explain you what goes on in each building, including how schools for children used to be, oh yes I experienced sitting in a classroom with a really harsh teaching it! Trust me, our generation is lucky! It is an open museum meaning it does not have a one single building, rather spread out throughout the premises. The highlight was the coal mine we got to get in wearing helmets. The mine is setup how it was in the 1800s, but safe. I got to wear the mining helmet, which is cool!
I went to Bicester village and Black Country living museum in the trip organised by Global buddies, a student organisation for exchange & international students. So look out for it if you study in UOB.
I know I have to talk about classes and the Birmingham situ itself! Please be patient, I’ll be back next week with classes, city life and Cambridge!
Till then, cheers!