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Mitchell Han

SFU Student Undergraduate
Environment › Geography | Environment › Resource and Environmental Management
Study Abroad › Exchange

Experience Faculty
I had an amazing year studying abroad at University of Birmingham in Birmingham, England, as I made new friends from around the world and enhanced my global connections, and learned to navigate a different academic system. I took some classes that were not offered at SFU, which is a benefit, as I learned new things from these courses.
Experience Details
Introduction + Preparation
Financial Preparation

I completed an estimate of the budget I would need based on my research of the living costs in Birmingham for all the everyday things. The living costs there are similar to Vancouver, but more expensive than in the far outer suburbs near Vancouver or in small towns here. Certain things are more expensive, while other things are cheaper. Overall I find Birmingham more expensive, as the prices tend to be higher in GBP than in Vancouver in CAD, plus the conversion rate between the two currencies, as GBP has much more value. I applied for 2 awards that helped me cover the costs of my exchange, and was awarded both: one was IMA which I was awarded $1000, and the other was the Global Skills Opportunity funded, EDI IMA, which I was awarded $8000. 


The UK’s climate is similar to Vancouver, with similar monthly average temperatures. The weather there can change very quickly though, so it is wise to bring gear for all weather types. I checked the forecast for Birmingham when I was packing, and again just before leaving for the UK, in order to know what to pack and what clothing types to bring as carry-on. It took me 2-3 days to pack, after having a list of everything I needed to pack. 

Travel and Transportation

I took a direct Air Canada flight from Vancouver to London, which was slightly over 8 hours. I was going to book a flight with layover in Chicago, however, I ended up booking this direct flight to London. The plane ticket was about $1300, as I booked it last minute. For cheaper airfares, book a flight with layovers. 

I booked a shuttle bus organized by the uni to go to Heathrow to pick students up on arrival day. That shuttle bus was only available on certain days, and they only offer it in semester 1, and not semester 2. In order to book that shuttle, you need to arrive at either Heathrow Airport or Birmingham International Airport on one of those days where they have that shuttle bus. After arriving at Heathrow, I headed over to another terminal of the airport to meet my airport pickup team. 

Within Birmingham, most students take either the bus or train as public transportation. The bus has £1 fare for travel within a certain zone which includes the uni and the city centre, which means if you’re a student, you can take the bus one-way between the uni and city centre for £1 with a valid student ID card. Alternatively, you can buy a day-pass for £4. If you take the train, you can buy a 16-25 Railcard if you’re between ages 16-25, which gives you ⅓ discount for rail travel throughout the UK. If you’re over 25, you can still get it if you’re a full-time student. 

Preparation Tips for Future Students
  1. Pack a variety of clothing types, as the weather there can be variable
  2. As Birmingham is the UK’s 2nd largest city, you can easily find everything you may need there, so no need to pack too much, as if you ever need something, it won’t be too hard to find
During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

There was a mandatory orientation week before the first week of classes, where it was full of sessions, workshops, and activities for international students. There were different workshops each with different topics; such as visas and immigration requirements, academic system, the culture in the UK and Birmingham, and other info about the uni, general information about Birmingham City and its surrounding areas, etc. 

Accommodation and Living

Most students live in student accommodations, however there is also the option to live in accommodation that is not university-owned. The student accommodations that are owned by the uni are all technically off-campus, because they are all outside the campus gates. They are a short walk from the parameters of campus, though some (such as Selly Oak) are closer to campus than others (such as Maple Bank). There are also on-campus and off-campus organizations catering to student housing elsewhere in Birmingham that is not right beside the uni or university-owned. 

My accommodation Maple Bank is the cheapest and most basic one, while there are other accommodations in the Vale that are more expensive, but with better amenities. To find off-campus accommodations, there is a facebook page for it. 

Learning and Adaptation

Classes have lectures, just like at SFU. One of my classes had only lectures, with 2 2-hour lectures per week, another class had 1 2-hour lecture and 1 1-hour seminar per week. Most classes are a mix of lecture and workshops or seminars. Some class' schedules change weekly, so I had to check my class schedule each week.

The grading system felt kind of awkward, as students usually get lower grades. However, the equivalent percentage there is about 10-15% lower than at SFU, and anything 70% or above is First Class, the highest grade category. So for example, 60% there is like the low 70s at SFU, and 70% is like SFU's 80-85%. The passing grade is 40% (which equals 50% or low 50s at SFU), and it is very hard to get over 80% on a paper. Regarding class size, like SFU, some classes have more students, while others have less. I find the overall class size there smaller than SFU though.

Accomplishments and Challenges

I already had a global mindset before my exchange, and after exchange, it furthered it. I have always been very interested in other parts of the world, so getting to live elsewhere offered me a great way to experience another part of the world by living there. This wonderful opportunity is part of my pathway to an internationally related career goal. I am proud to have received a prize from one of the societies for being its most loyal member. I often felt very lonely being so far away from home. However, there were lots of counseling services there to help me. 

Social and Extracurricular Activities

I joined many societies, which is a great way to make friends. I was in Conservation Volunteers, Hiking Society, Modern Languages Society, Tea Society, and Canadian Society, and groups for international and exchange students. I received volunteer hours for doing conservation work in Conservation Volunteers, and an award in Modern Languages Society for being its most loyal member. The international and exchange student groups hosted events and outings for exploring Birmingham and visiting many of its sites, as well as weekend trips to other cities of the UK. I went on many of their events, and the exchange student organization’s trip to Brighton.

Reflection & Tips

I have learned a lot on my exchange, from learning a new academic system, the culture there, and much more. It was my first time being away from my family for that long, as I was in Birmingham for 9 months and hadn’t been back in Vancouver all that time. Once I got back to Vancouver, I felt “bitter sweet”, glad to see my family again, but sad as I miss my friends in Birmingham. Now I have had the experience of living, studying, playing, and traveling in another environment, which gave me some global skills. 

I did lots of traveling by myself, which at first, I was scared to do, meaning I’ve accomplished something new, and now reflecting on every moment of my solo travels and how I felt during these times. I visited other cities in the UK, including London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Bath, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, most of them I went alone. I also went to Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany alone.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

This exchange provided me with an opportunity to study in a different academic system, which made me more resilient to adapting to differences. I had the opportunity to learn from a different perspective, and meet new people from various countries, which gave me global connections and allowed me to adapt to a global perspective. It contributed a lot to my personal growth. As I had to come up with my own itineraries, and there were so many places I wanted to visit, it was challenging to decide the places to visit. In addition, at times I had to search for directions in cities I’m not familiar with. 

Advice for Future Students

Cherish every moment of your experience. Studying abroad is a great way to expand your horizons and step out of your comfort zone.