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Jash Hans

SFU Student Undergraduate
Arts + Social Sciences
Work-Study

University
Experience Faculty
My exchange became one of the best experiences of my life by allowing me to experience independence and connection. It has taught me that whenever I feel a sense of discomfort or fear of something new, that is a sign to push forward and take on a new opportunity.
Experience Details
Semester
Summer
Year
2022
Introduction + Preparation
Location Research

Before you begin your research, it's important to determine what factors are the most important to you when considering where to do your exchange. The factors I considered were course availability, on-campus residence, tuition, and whether it was taught in English. 

One of the main reasons I chose to do my exchange at the University of Leeds was because I wanted to take unique courses that I wouldn’t be able to take at SFU or in Canada. When looking at the module offerings for the University of Leeds summer school program, there were quite a few courses that caught my eye. In particular, the courses “The English Country House: A Social History” and “British Popular Music in the North of England” piqued my interest because they are courses that would not be taught anywhere else, and are directly related to the history and culture of the country I would be staying in. Plus, they included multiple field trips!

The other criteria that put Leeds at the top of my list included its guaranteed on-campus housing for exchange students, and all-inclusive tuition fee. 

Financial Preparation

As I mentioned, on top of the SFU regular UG fees (exchange fee and regular student fees such as the student activity fee), the program at Leeds had an all-inclusive fee. This was about £1500, and covered all tuition, on-campus residence, all field trips & excursions, social activities, and two meals a day. Definitely worth the investment, in my opinion!

In order to cover the cost of my tuition and travel, I opted to apply for a student loan. In terms of my living expenses, I covered that out of pocket with money I had saved from years of part-time work and two semesters of co-op. Since accommodation and two meals a day were included in the all-inclusive fee, my living expenses included my third meals, snacks, souvenirs, small trips with friends, activities, clothes, and household supplies (detergent and cleaners). When I calculated my cost for one month, I was completely shocked! I spent around $600CAD and that was much less than I expected! I found the cost of living much more affordable in Leeds and there were student discounts literally EVERYWHERE!

In terms of cash vs. card, I mistakenly brought quite a bit of cash with me as the majority of England is now cash-free. Even farmers markets! It was difficult for me to use up all of my cash after that so I would recommend only bringing about £150 as emergency cash if needed. Before going on my exchange, I looked into credit cards with 0% foreign transaction fees and ended up with a card from Scotiabank. I did not find it necessary to have a bank account there; however, I would recommend removing multi-factor authentication or text codes from your bank account or you may find it challenging to make purchases online, such as tickets for events or entertainment. It's also a good idea to contact your bank and let them know that you will be abroad in order to prevent your card or account from getting blocked. 

Packing

The weather in England is quite similar to Vancouver in the sense that it can change at any minute. To account for this, I packed a jacket or two along with my summer clothes and it was definitely a good decision.

However, I completely overpacked by bringing everything I thought I could possibly need and regretted that decision once I got there, not to mention my luggage was overweight. I packed multiple pairs of shoes, only to wear my white AF1s the entire time, so I definitely could have saved space and weight there. Additionally, for toiletries and other products, I made the mistake of over-packing and taking the full-size bottles of my hair products, only to learn that everything I bought could have been purchased in Leeds on arrival. So as a piece of advice, to save space and weight, only pack the necessary toiletries that you would need during your travel and buy everything else in your host country. I share more tips for packing further on. 

Travel and Transportation

I had some hesitancy in buying plane tickets due to nerves and the initial discomfort of being all on my own, so I bought my tickets to London Heathrow closer to the departing date and they ended up costing me around $1100. Had I bought them a bit earlier, the same flight would only have been around $700. Arriving at the airport, I picked up my luggage at baggage claim (tip: place an airtag in your luggage so you can keep track of it) and used the Underground to get to King’s Cross Station.

The Underground is the main form of public transport in London and uses the Oyster card, which is similar to a compass card. I had planned to spend some time in London after my term, so I actually bought an Oyster card online and received it in the mail, pre-loaded with fare, before leaving Canada. Once I arrived at King’s Cross Station, I took a LNER train to Leeds. I bought my LNER ticket in advance as it is cheaper to do so. It is best to purchase LNER tickets through their website or the app Trainline instead of at the station as wait times can be quite long. Arriving in Leeds, I happened to encounter other students heading to the university and we all split an Uber together which came out to about $2/person.

Preparation Tips for Future Students
  • Much of the UK and Europe is cashless so only bring what you would need in case of an emergency.
  • Speak to your bank beforehand to ensure that you will have no difficulties while abroad, looking into international credit cards or bank accounts can be beneficial as well.
  • Avoid overpacking like me and purchase all of your toiletries and bathroom supplies once you arrive. You can do a little grocery trip with friends!
  • Pack a pocket/travel towel as they are compact and easy to store, especially if you plan to travel afterwards.
  • It's a good idea to pack slippers as well, to wear around your room or in the case of needing to share a bathroom.
  • Doing a co-op beforehand is a great way to save up for an exchange.
  • Research the transportation systems used in your host country and create any accounts that you may need beforehand.
During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

The first day I arrived at Leeds, I threw all of my luggage into my room and headed straight for the welcome event. This is where I met my friends and we had solidified as a group by day 3! We stuck together throughout the whole exchange and still keep in touch! Along with the welcome event, there was a campus tour, recreation tour, and a grocery trip to help us all get settled. These events were hosted by the social assistants (SAs), who were either current or recently graduated students at the university. The SAs led us to our classes on the first day, took us on excursions, arranged countless social events, and basically ran the whole program for exchange students. 

 

Accommodation and Living

As previously mentioned, accommodation was guaranteed at Leeds and there were three buildings that all of the students in the program were placed in: Whetton, Dobree, or Storm Jameson, all located within Charles Morris Hall. Each student had their own room, although some had to share a bathroom, and common spaces (which included a kitchen & laundry) were shared on each floor. There was no preference for selection of room, but I made a request to have my own ensuite bathroom on the host application, and my request was fulfilled! 

Living on campus was super fun as it was easy to get to class or the dining hall, and I was able to host many movie nights with my friends! I commute to SFU, so I had been wanting to experience dorm-life for quite some time and I’m glad I got to experience that abroad! Definitely a highlight for me. 

Day to Day

Since this was a short term program, we were to complete two courses within four weeks. Classes were Monday-Friday from 9am-12pm, with the exception of field trip days where classes could start or end later. Breakfast was served 6am-9am, and lunch was promptly after class starting at noon. These are the meals included within the tuition fees. I found that studying was not extraneous and about 1-2 hours per day was enough, with a few longer study sessions the day before assignments were due. Neither course I took consisted of exams and grades were determined through presentations and written assignments. 

Learning and Adaptation

Classes were structured similarly to smaller SFU 300 & 400 level courses. Class sizes were around 20-40 students with the professor mainly teaching, and a few hands-on activities sprinkled in here and there. The classes also involved discussion components that I really enjoyed. I liked the idea of the class structure being flexible and including various ways of teaching and learning. This was fairly easy to adapt to and assignments were similar to those I have done at SFU. 

In particular, the English Country House course was incredibly engaging and involved multiple field trips to English Houses/Castles, one of which was Castle Howard (lead photo). Fun fact: Castle Howard is the estate that plays home to the Duke in season 1 of Bridgerton!

Social and Extracurricular Activities

With classes ending at noon, this meant the rest of the day was available to explore whenever studying was complete! There was so much to see and do in Leeds. I explored restaurants, entertainment & recreational venues, museums, and galleries everyday with my friends! We even hopped on a train for about £8 to Manchester after class one day, where we tried UK Tim Hortons, did Karaoke, and played mini golf! The UK is interconnected by rail very well and I managed to do both a day trip to Edinburgh and a weekend trip to London with my friends. 

Although we did a lot of exploring on our own, the program itself offered a bunch of excursions, at least one every weekend, and they were tons of fun! We got to explore York, Chester, Whitby, Harewood House, and the Kirkstall Abbey Festival, all led by the SAs. One of my favourite places to explore was York! This town is very culturally relevant to England and is the type of city you picture when thinking of traditional England. In fact, many of the Harry Potter sets (like Diagon Alley) were based off of York! Here, I had a delicious brunch, visited the train museum, a famous cathedral, and hung out in a park with friends.

The SAs also hosted a number on campus events in Leeds such as pub quiz night, jazz night, a board games social, food socials, and a lovely farewell event at the end of the program. The SAs were incredibly friendly and helpful throughout the program!

Reflection & Tips
Reflection

My experience at the University of Leeds has been one of the best experiences of my life and gave me memories for a lifetime. I still keep in touch with all of the friends I made on my exchange and hope to have a reunion with them soon! 

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

One of the most valuable aspects of this experience was the independence it gave me. Staying in residence on campus at Leeds was the first time I lived alone and away from family. At first, I experienced a sense of self-isolation and homesickness, but it soon became easy to manage as there were so many opportunities to make friends in class and at socials. I became a part of a pretty solid friend group who were all very supportive. Our personalities meshed together really well and there was always someone willing to hang-out, whether it was to do a grocery run, check out something new in the city, or to have a study session. Needless to say, I didn’t feel lonely for long, and it was actually a very enlightening experience to live on my own for a while.

The fear and discomfort I felt about living alone (which was also shown by my hesitancy to buy plane tickets), has taught me that this type of feeling is often a positive sign to take on a new challenge or opportunity. Whenever I get this feeling now, I know that the best way forward is to not let that feeling hold me back, and doing so will lead to another incredible experience. 

This experience taught me how to adapt to new environments and how it’s possible to overcome any challenge with a good support system. Plus, I now possess unique knowledge on English Country Houses, and northern British pop music.

Advice for Future Students

If there’s anything to take away from this, it would be to make the most of your experience at SFU and take advantage of the many opportunities offered! Go on an exchange, participate in co-op, join a club or student union. I’ve done it all and can gladly say that I’ve tried my best to make the most out of my degree. I hope that you can too!

Author

Jash Hans

SFU Student Undergraduate
Arts + Social Sciences
Work-Study
visibility  218
Nov 15, 2023

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