Coming here to Birmingham, I felt really awesome, studying as an international exchange students, it is truly an experience of a lifetime. But as we all know that every thing has two sides to it. I am not saying I felt as bad as I felt good. There were some small instances where I felt not so good, which affected me but only for a short duration. I am not saying that this was something happened to me personally, but these are general things that may be felt anyone studying abroad as an exchange student.
You may feel loneliness in the first few days or weeks. I am not counting homesickness because, I have been living away from my family in U.S., so I have become accustomed to it but nonetheless, if you feel homesick, what I am going to mention is going to bring you out of it. I felt lonely because I had no friends here in the beginning, I went to some social events organised by the university or different student clubs or they call it societies here. These were events for new students and exchange students to make new friends and get settled down in the new place.I used to get emails about events which were organised by the university but for the ones organised by the societies, I had to look out on facebook. Using a social media app like facebook is very useful while making friends in an exchange program, not only it is a means to reach out to new friends, but also almost everyone uses it to make group chats about travelling or maybe studying together or maybe to make plans to go out. Not everyone who is an exchange student will have a local number and ones you lose the person on the big campus, you may never see them again, it happened with me, I have not seen a lot of people I met since the beginning of the semester. I am a social person and I like to be around people or meet new people, so this worked for me, helped me to settle down. Not to forget, talk to people in your class.
You should also definitely look out for chances or opportunities to take part in the activities or the hobbies you pursue at your own university. For example, I play badminton ( I am actually the vice-president for the Badminton club at Iowa State, so if you play badminton at Iowa State, look out for me when I am back, haha) and I take interest in ballroom dancing also. I took part in the classes offered by the ballroom dance society here and also started learning Salsa when a friend here recommended me to go for it. But the second difficulty I faced here was because related to Badminton. I had brought my own badminton racket with me, super excited that I’ll play lots of badminton and maybe get a chance to interact with the coach here. But the badminton society here only takes in people on the basis of trial, no problem in that, but they conduct the trials in fall semester, in September only. So I couldn’t play with them. Felt disappointed but then I thought maybe I can just play casually in the gym with whoever is playing but I found out that the gym membership is not included with the tuition fee, so I don’t I have membership. I was ready to pay for it separately, only for the love of badminton but then they said the membership is full. I was really sad to hear it. Other exchange students faced the same issue. I met some other people enthusiastic about badminton, we made a group, played a few times,, although we had to pay six pounds each time we booked a court to play. To provide myself some exercise, I run around the campus and obviously walking around the city during the week or weekend is a lot of exercise. But the point of sharing this experience is that not everything will go as you thought when you are studying abroad, so just keep it in mind and avoid some disappointment.
But on the bright side I enjoyed watching UoB’s team play Badminton, got a chance to take a selfie with Uob’s mascot Rory:
Also I was lucky enough to get to watch one of the biggest badminton tournaments of the year, All England Badminton Open, 2017, right here in Birmingham, in Barclaycard Arena! I watched some of the greatest badminton players in the world like Lee Chong Wei, Lin Dan, Saina Nehwal (represented India in London Olympics, 2012, bronze medal winner) and P.V. Sindhu (represented India in Rio Olympics, 2016, silver medal winner). Here are some pictures:
And not only that I was able to take a fan selfie with P.V. Sindhu, while she was walking out in the corridor of the arena after a match:
All these difficulties, small problems, I mentioned are nothing, the biggest one for me was this:
Schengen area is the area compromising 26 countries of Europe and the visa required to get in to any of these countries is called Schengen visa, once you have this visa, you can visit any of the 26 countries for 3 months without requiring any separate visa for any of the 26 countries. The 26 countries do not include U.K. and Ireland.
Note that this visa is not required for all the people from different countries out of Europe or non-European countries in order to enter Europe. It depends upon the agreement your country has with the European union. Talking to people from different countries and also researching about this visa, I came to know that citizens of U.S., Canada, most of the South American countries, Japan, Australia and probably some other countries do NOT need to have this Visa in order to go to Europe for tourism purpose. India and China do for sure. All this is as of now, I do not know how it was in the past or how it will be in the future
I study in the U.S. but I am not an American citizen, I am an Indian citizen with an Indian passport. I knew that I would have to get this Visa after I get to U.K. in order to travel, I was prepared for it. I had made several travel plans, months ago. Also I had to get a short term student visa in order to go U.K. for this exchange program, if you are an American citizen, you wouldn’t need it. So why didn’t I apply for the Schengen Visa while in the U.S.? It is because I got my passport back from the U.K. embassy just a week before I was about to board the flight to Manchester, U.K. Also even if I wanted to apply for it from U.S., I can’t do it before 90 days from the trip and I planned to travel in April.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that I can’t apply for a visa from any of the 26 counties’ embassies because I have a short term visa for U.K. The rule says that if I have a short term student visa or to be specific a C-type visa, then I can only apply for a Schengen visa if my C-type visa for U.K. will be valid for 3 months from my return date from the Schengen area. I planned to travel from April 1 to April 20, somehow covering ten countries or cities, well at least I would have covered five. But my C-type visa is valid only till June 21, which is two months from my return date, hence, sadly, I can’t go to Europe and I can’t bring the European experience to read for any of my readers. I found out about this when I was going through the frequently asked questions on French embassy’s website. I was applying to through the French embassy as I was supposed to go to Paris first. I had my application form almost complete. It is not like I can never go to Europe, but I would either have to go to U.S. or to India to get a visa. Trust me, I wrote letters to ten embassies of ten different European countries. All of them wrote about the same rule, which would reserve them from giving me a visa. I wrote to Indian embassy as well. They said I should contact directly to the embassy I was applying the visa for.
I am not the only one, I met 2-3 students from China who were cannot go to Europe because of the same reason. I know these are just rules and agreements between the countries and nobody can do anything about them. But I am just another exchange students with opportunity to travel and travelling plans just like every other exchange students. I know it is not the last time I get to go to Europe and I’ll have many opportunities during my life but travelling as a student is another experience, which is unique and won’t come back. Oh, I had so many invitations from different friends I made here to travel to Spain or Germany or France and so on. I was also contacted by European friends I made in ISU, the ones which came to ISU as exchange students. But I feel lucky and glad they still remember me. I was really sad when it was confirmed that I couldn’t go to Europe, what made me sad was the fact that other students could go just because they were from a particular country and rules were different from them. I felt sad for all those who could not go because of a similar visa issue like me.
It took me like a week or so to get over it. But I feel happy that at least they get to travel and I can hear their travel stories later. I would thank all my friends in Birmingham, in Iowa state and my family in India for listening to my problem and helping me clear it out of my mind.
Now let me tell you something positive, a different side to this. I was feeling down due to this visa problem and was in an event with a friend. When we returned back from the event, I messaged her and told her that I was sad and on her asking what happened I remember exactly writing “I felt discriminated”, which I don’t feel now obviously and I understand that these are just rules, which one has to follow and is no one’s fault. She wanted to listen to the details and we agreed on meeting the next day over hot chocolate. We talked for two hours and I as far as I can recall we just talked about my problem for like 15-20 minutes. For the rest of the time, my friend diverted the talk to what fun activities I do in Iowa State and about my friends in Iowa State. I remember us getting up on the conclusion that hot chocolate from Starbucks is too sweet, the ones from local cafes are much better. This friend I talk about is from U.K., possessing one of the most powerful passports in the world. By powerful passports I mean the number of countries you can go to for tourism without needing a visa. But still she believes in the concept of world without a border. I am really grateful to her for talking to me that day. I mean I realised that not a lot of people would sit down and talk to you for as long as you feel alright, and I had merely known her for just a little more than month at that point. All I am saying is no matter how difficult the situation is, don’t panic, just keep going, you’ll always meet good people and will always get help.
Don’t hold yourself back from going for studying abroad, by reading all the possible problems you may face. That’s just to keep you alert. It may happen that you may not any difficulty at all!
Next would be travel tips, budgeting and Birmingham food!
Until next time, Cheers!