Exchange students at Surrey

An insight into life at Surrey from current exchange students

From your Bedroom to the Classroom

There are two activities that take up the majority of every university student’s time: going to school, and going to sleep. Making sure you have these two areas covered before you head abroad will put you in a better position to worry about the real reasons you’ve over here: meeting new people, traveling to far off lands, etc. Here’s a little about what to expect before and after you venture out.

Housing

Once you’ve decided that Surrey is the school for you, you’re going to want to make sure you have a place to sleep. Although there are a lot more students here than beds, the school does its best to make sure that exchange students have a place on campus to call home if they so choose. You may also opt for non-university housing. This is a good option if you want that upper echelon of freedom or extra space than typical in a dorm, but it means you have to do a little more work on your own to find a place to live. Not to worry, the university will send you links in emails directing you to websites to look for off-campus accommodation, and the students I know who do live off campus (most second and third year native students live off campus) are really happy with where they live.

If you decide you’d rather live in a campus dorm, you have plenty of options for what suits you best. There are six different options of dorms, each with a different set of space and facilities reflected in the varying costs. Need a lot of space and your own personal bathroom? No problem. Just want a bed to sleep in and a roommate to meet someone new? There’s an option for you too. No matter what you decide, you’ll end up sharing your kitchen with your other flatmates. Try to be extra friendly with your flatmates at first and they may let you use some of their cutlery or seasoning until you’re fully settled in, just make sure you ask them first! Remember that you’re going to be living here for an entire semester, so you don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with anyone in the first week. If you respect other people’s stuff, they’ll respect you in return.

Courses

Additionally you’ll need to sort out which courses you’ll be taking at Surrey with your home university. UCF didn’t end up offering a ton of flexibility with my program, but many students have loads of options regarding which modules they can take. Surrey requires that all of its students enroll in exactly four courses, but make sure you pick out two or three on top of that that work for you as a backup plan if something doesn’t quite work out as planned. If possible, try to sign up for something that Surrey can offer a unique perspective on. Many of my friends here are studying law or politics at their home universities and are taking classes here where they can learn something that isn’t available to them outside of the European Union, for instance.

As a math student, all of my courses have the same grading outline: one mid-semester test (20%) and one final exam (80%), with two unassessed coursework assignments (think of them like homework assignments that are graded, but the mark doesn’t count for your actual grade). Now I don’t know about you, but 80% of my grade all in one exam?!?! This freaked me out when I was scheduling courses. So far though, the content has all been very manageable, and the material is about the same difficulty I would be expecting back at my home university. The professors are all eager to see you succeed, so they usually provide you with whatever resources they can to help you: old exam papers, review sheets, tons and tons of examples, etc. When they give you coursework, even when it isn’t for a grade, just do it anyway. With only two opportunities in class to show your professors what you know, it’s best to make sure what you think is sufficient is also what they think is sufficient. They also are waiting to see students at their office hours (I just don’t think too many English students go to see their professors outside of lecture time). In the times that I’ve made it to see my professors, they were so thrilled to see someone come ask them about class that they gave me more help than I anticipated—even offering me advice on how to best make my way around a new university.

One last thing you’ll want to find out is if your grades received here at Surrey will transfer to your GPA back at your home university. Many students I know only need a passing mark (which in England is a 40% on their shifted grading scale) to receive credit back home, where other students like me will receive a grade here that will also go on their transcripts back home. It all depends on your program and your own school. Either way, have no fear… even students like me who do need to worry about the grades they get find plenty of time to make it out to one of the local pubs.

Congratulations…. You Made it! Now What?

Okay so you have chosen Surrey to be your host university. All your papers are signed and submitted, your bags are packed, and your flight is booked. If you’re anything like I was then you are super nervous because you have no idea what to expect once you arrive. Don’t worry, I got you! Here are your tips and tricks to surviving your first few weeks at Surrey.

Exchange Meetings

You know how Freshman year of college most schools typically make you go through orientation, where you meet fellow first-year students, do activities, and get the basic information about school? Well that is pretty much what the first few days will be like. You will be asked to go to multiple exchange meetings so that you can meet other exchange students and learn about the school. Go to them! Seriously, you’ll learn a lot of useful information and you’ll meet some amazing friends. I’ve met some amazing people from all around the world, and some of them are my closest friends here. While you’re at the meetings, be sure to talk to a lot of people and make plans to hang out outside of the exchange events. It’s surprising how many people would love to join you on a day out.       

 Getting settled into accommodation

 Okay, if you have not set aside a part of your budget for settling in, please do. One of things that surprised me the most was how quickly my money was going just in the first two weeks of school. I was honestly horrified. I would say set aside $100-$150 at least just to settling in, you may not use it all but offers you a nice cushion to really get everything you need. Speaking of which, remember when you get here, you’re going to need to buy cookware, food, bedding, hangers, toilet paper, laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, and many other things that all add up pretty fast. Also, just a tip, when you first go grocery shopping, which will most likely be at Tesco’s, check the expiration date. I’ve noticed here that a lot of things expire so much quicker than they would in the U.S. Instead of buying in bulk, consider buying in smaller quantities that you can eat in a week or two and just go grocery shopping more often- especially for fruits and vegetables.

Plan on Shipping                                                                                                  

If you have family or friends back home who are supportive of this journey, it may not be a bad idea to ship you a care package. For whatever reason, when I first got to the U.K, I had a crazy craving for Flamin Hot Cheetos. They used to be my favorite chips when I was younger but I hadn’t eaten them as much when I got older. However, once I got here it was all I wanted but they do not sale them here. It was insane how badly I wanted them and it was making me a little homesick (crazy I know). Anyway, one day, my aunt messages me and asks me if I wanted her to send me anything. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. She sent me a care package with Flamin Hot Cheetos, Doritos (the Nacho Cheese kind), Oreos, Grape Jelly, and Nutella. I know it was a really weird combination, but it made me so happy because besides Oreos and Nutella I could not find any of the above items in stores. Which by the way, if you need jelly do not go into the store and ask for jelly, they’ll think you mean Jell-O, ask for jam instead (but remember they do not have the grape kind).

Well, the point of the story is that the little things from home can make all the difference. I know sometimes there isn’t enough room to pack snacks or little trinkets from home, but I do think they are worth having. So, ask someone to ship them if you can. Trust me, when you get that email saying your package has arrived you’ll be jumping for joy.

Okay, well I hope you have a good time settling in and feel a little more prepared. I’ll try to add at least a couple of tips in each post to hopefully make this journey a little easier for anyone reading.

The University of Surrey: How Did I End Up Here?

I drove one thousand forty-three miles in a car from the University of Central Florida to my house in Cortland, Ohio, hopped on one quick flight to New York, took countless exchanges on the NYC subway system, grabbed one not-so-quick flight from JFK to LGW (that’s London Gatwick airport for those who don’t know), caught one last train ride to Guildford Station, and walked just another mile and a half through campus up to Manor Park. That’s officially how I got here. As someone who’s never been outside of my home country, I never really knew if I would ever be an entire ocean away in Europe, let alone planning to be here for an entire semester. That is, not until the people I was closest to back home told me it would be the best thing I could do for myself as a college student. After endless nagging and a lot of… encouragement I thought to myself, “well, they haven’t led me wrong yet.”

Alright so maybe I’m being a little excessive… nagging probably isn’t the best word. While it’s definitely true that most of my friends and many people I looked up to at my university back home enjoyed their experiences studied abroad, this made me curious to ask them if it was something I should look into. If you know anyone who’s studied abroad in your life, chances are you’ll hear the same thing I did if you ask them about their experience: “Yes you should definitely do it! It was literally the best time of my life!” I was a little hesitant to trust their hyperbole at first. “Is it really for me?” I would ask myself. Then I would ask another friend, then another friend, then a cousin who studied abroad, then another friend, and they all responded the same way (see enthusiastic answer from above).

After about my first year of being in college, I decided to really look into a semester abroad. The part of my freshman year at school that I liked most was that I had met so many new people in such a short amount of time. I lived with 50+ other out of state students my first year, and we all became friends immediately in one way or another. Not that I loved all fifty of them, but something about being with so many other people who are on their own, searching for a friend, brings the lot of you rather close to each other fairly quickly. In addition to that, I wanted to really learn about other cultures in the world… not just by sitting in a lecture but by actually being there, living everyday with people who weren’t very much like me. More and more, time abroad sounded like something I would really enjoy. I wanted to find out what was possible for me. Sure maybe this was something that sounded fun, but could I even do this?

UCF (thankfully) has a wonderful department full of people willing and eager to help students find opportunities at universities in different countries across the globe—a Study Abroad Department. (I bet your university has one too!) I sent a few emails to a coordinator in the department and started browsing the office’s website to just get a general sense of the kinds of programs that were offered at my school. After just a few minutes of digging, I couldn’t believe how many different abroad options I had. There were programs ranging from just a few weeks overseas to entire semesters, for nearly every course of study at my school in over a hundred different countries all over the world. I decided that if I was going to go abroad, I wanted to get a full experience by spending a whole semester on exchange. Luckily for me, there were three exchange programs offered through the mathematics department (my course of study) at UCF: Melbourne, Australia; Cantabria, Spain; and Surrey, England.

As I thought about the three options, two questions remain in the forefront of my mind: how much will things cost? and will I have to learn a new language? Since Australia was literally half a world away, it was much more expensive than my other options—so Melbourne faded quickly. Likewise, the program in Cantabria was one where I would need to be fluent in Spanish (all of my math classes would’ve been taught in Spanish) which my four years of high school Spanish classes weren’t quite enough for. So the only option left standing for me was Surrey, which was perfect! It was going to be within my budget, there would be no language barrier, the cultural adjustment was worthwhile but not overwhelming, and their exchange coordinator was extremely helpful, professional, and reassuring that this was the place for me.

So here I am, many modes of transport and a continent away in the town of Guildford, England. After a month and a half, things here have been living up to my friends’ expectations of these few months being some of the best in my young life. I’m doing pretty well in all of my classes (or modules as they say in the UK), I’ve made a number of new friends—both here on exchange from other countries and a few locals who live here in Surrey, I’m experiencing not just one, but multiple new cultures (more on my adventures traveling to come in later posts), and learning more about myself every day. In case you’re thinking about heading off on a semester abroad yourself, let me be the first of many to tell you to go for it! I’m confident it will be one of the best times of your life.