Sara-Anne went on a semester exchange to the University of Aberdeen. Here is a posting about her experience.
The Phrase ‘Fit Like’ is a Doric (the local dialect in Aberdeen, Scotland) expression which translates to ‘How are you?’ When on exchange in Aberdeen you will hear a variety of odd turns of phrase like this, so keep your ears tuned, as what you think you hear may be something completely different to what you were expecting…but it’s ‘nae bad’ (not bad); you’ll get an introductory lecture on Doric when you arrive. And if you take nothing from it, at least you’ll get a good chuckle.
All jokes aside, I hope you’ll find the following at least a little helpful in preparing for what will be one of the most rewarding experiences you could have.
First off, start early. With everything. Starting the ball rolling as early as possible helps keep the stress down to a minimum and allows you to adequately manage your time – especially as this is your final year of your LLB degree and you can’t afford to let the ball drop on the academic side of things.
I began at the end of my fourth year (as a post-grad LLB student) with chatting to the International Office and the faculty about what exactly the exchange process would require of me – from documents that would need to be submitted for my application, to how my studies would be affected (as a law student you will need to continue your Companies and Evidence year modules whilst on exchange). These conversations gave me a general overview of how it all works (interviews, information sessions and that sort of thing). By doing this, via face-to-face conversations, it will help put what can first appear to be a rather daunting task into perspective and will allow you to make a timeline of when you need to have things done by – which can then be fitted around your academic commitments.
Most of the process of applying for the exchange to when you’re accepted by your host institution is a ‘hurry up and wait’ type situation with moments of concentrated activity followed by periods of waiting.
But use this time to work ahead on your list that you have compiled of what you still need to do. Whether you need to make sure medical insurance is in order for when you leave; working ahead in class with case readings; whatever you can do to lighten the load, your future self will thank you for.
The more demanding side of things will be in respect to making sure your documentation is in order for your visa application – this is vital, no visa = no travel.
The University of Aberdeen will email you your acceptance letter and a visa documentation letter stating that you’ve been accepted to do a semester exchange there and how long your study period etc. is (this is after you have accepted their offer for you to study there). You cannot apply for a study visa unless you have this. Once you have this letter, applying for your visa is relatively straightforward, so long as you have to hand all documentation regarding your exchange. In order to apply for the visa you simply search for your local visa office for British visas and follow the application instructions (this is where it is helpful to have all your information to hand). A fee will be required, and it is a bit expensive – so make sure you fill the application out properly to avoid having it rejected and wasting the money paid.
When you go for your visa interview they will require you to provide a list of documents – make sure you have them all (on a side note its helpful to have at least two copies of each document for your own travel purposes and immigration checks, as well as making sure your parents have a copy of everything and that you have saved all documents and correspondence on email – you never know when you may need access to this information). You will also need to make sure you have a valid passport, so get this renewed early on, as Home Affairs can sometimes take a few weeks if they are facing heavy demand.
And really anything you are uncertain about – go and see the relevant person and ask them for help, everyone wants to make this as painless as possible. Or if you can’t see them email and ask (Aberdeen’s Go Abroad Office for example is very hands on with answering queries, and if they can’t help you they will direct your question to the individual who can). Also I would highly recommend signing up for any airport shuttle service the University of Aberdeen offers (as part of your pre-departure preparation) – it really is a relief arriving at Aberdeen airport and not having to worry about how you’re going to get from there to the Halls of Residence…especially if you’re like me and have just finished a solid 24 hours of travelling!
I would recommend making sure everything you want to take actually fits into the luggage you plan on taking (try leave a little breathing space in your bags for gifts you’re bound to bring back from your tip). This practice pack helps to whittle down unnecessary clothes, shoes etc. that you really don’t need to take – think smart about the outfits you will wear and how different combinations of the same things could work. And remember Scotland will be going into winter during your time there, and winter clothes take up space – think of layering your clothes.
Double check you have all notes, textbooks, documents are packed…and then check again.
Before leaving Stellenbosch, if you have any issues with the work you have to do for Companies and Evidence go and chat to the lecturers and get it sorted. You don’t want to be worrying about this on top of adjusting to a new learning environment and new routines.
I would recommend figuring out exactly what you want to get from the exchange experience before you leave Stellenbosch – if you want to use it as a springboard to travel Europe, that is up to you (although you will still have to pass all of the modules at home and at your host institution). However, if you want to fully immerse yourself in the academic environment of your host institution, Aberdeen is a wonderful University to do this at (this is the route I took). Where you can really become an Aberdeen student – attend lectures and seminars of subjects you’re genuinely interested in – a lot of the ones offered are very topical, for example the module I took on the ‘Commercial Legal Implications of Brexit for the UK’ where you engage with topics that are taking shape as you learn about it – and want to do well in; discuss the material with your lecturers; study in the library (yes it does become as full as the Bib and the SS back at home)…sorry had to nerd out a little there!
Before leaving Stellenbosch (usually around June/July) you would have been put in contact with your Go Abroad Tutor at Aberdeen (they will be your go to person for academic issues at Aberdeen that can’t be dealt with by you subject lecturer), they will be the person who registers you for your chosen subjects (ensure you have a few subjects pre-approved just in case there are timetable clashes or one isn’t offered, it will save the toing and froing to get others approved before registration).
It is worth noting that Aberdeen does class a little different to back at home. You will be taking their honours level courses and so instead of large lectures you will attend seminars (a bit like tutorials) where there are around 15 in a class and you will be expected to pre-read the prescribed material (this is rather extensive) in order to participate in the class. Your level of preparation and contribution in the class will dictate what you get out of the experience, and this will also form the basis of what you will study for the exam – so do it properly. But Stellies would have more than adequately prepared you for the debates that will take place.
For most of the modules you will also have to write an essay on a set topic. This topic is generally quite broad, and the scope of the paper rather narrow (2000-3000 words usually) – as such you will need to really focus in on what the core issue is and spend more than the night before on it if you want to do well (which is doable). Another fact you should bear in mind is that Aberdeen uses a different referencing system to our law faculty, so chat to your lecturer and find out what they require of you and which system they use (you don’t want to unnecessarily lose marks by doing this incorrectly).
All the activities:
Now that I have sufficiently dealt with the practicalities and the academics there are a few activities that you have to do while in Aberdeen and Scotland as a whole…see I’m not all about the studying life, and neither is the exchange experience.
To immerse yourself as a local a few ideas from what I did: go to a student pub quiz; head down to the ‘Fun Beach’ and stick a toe in the North Sea; wander around the back streets of the City on a Saturday (the shops are wonderfully varied) – as the Festive season kicks off you’ll smell mulled wine on the air with faint tinkles of Christmas music everywhere as kids ice skate (you can too) on the pop-up ice rink in the city centre. Oh and a definite must is the Aberdeen firework display that takes place down by the beach on Guy Fawkes Day – absolutely stunning! Then to be a real Scottish tourist a visit to Loch Ness and the town of Inverness has to be on the list. Make a weekend of it with friends, stay in accommodation (a BnB is a nice splurge) in Inverness – there is a lot to do there – and head down to find Nessy early in the morning to ensure a seat on the boat…big tick off the bucket list!
Each person who goes on exchange takes something different away from the experience – some find that they prefer being in their comfort zone, others find that they enjoy challenging themselves in new environments and will continue to do so. But really, it is something that if it can be done, should be. You will learn how independent you can be away from what is normal for you, and you will adjust to different ways of doing things and really how some things just aren’t worth stressing over. How other people view and see things; and how international academic debate can teach you a lot about your own views on a variety of topics.
So my five pointers for anyone going on exchange would be to PLAN; ASK QUESTIONS; TIME MANAGE; TALK TO LOCALS; AND TAKE THE EXPERIENCE FOR WHAT IT IS – AN EXPERIENCE!