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Victoria San Martin

SFU Student Undergraduate
Arts + Social Sciences › English | All Faculties
Co-operative Education › Local Co-op

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Studying abroad for a semester at the University of Glasgow has been one of the best decisions I have made for my personal growth and development. It was not an easy process, but it has been rewarding in so many ways, and I am excited to return to SFU feeling inspired and with a fresh perspective.
Experience Details
Semester
Fall
Year
2023
Skills
Introduction + Preparation
Financial Preparation

I funded my study abroad through savings and scholarships which helped cover the cost of my tuition. I created a spreadsheet of scholarships to help keep track of application dates and other important information. This helped a lot with breaking down tasks like asking for reference letters. The study abroad team sends out emails with scholarships, so be sure to look out for that! I applied to the scholarships they shared and one through the British Columbia Study Abroad (BCSA) Consortium. 

Beforehand, I reviewed estimated costs on the SFU study abroad website and watched YouTube videos to have an idea of how much a semester abroad would cost. To save up, I worked part-time while studying and also worked a full-time co-op term in the summer before my exchange. I used a Wise card while in the UK which allowed me to load different currencies on my card for a better exchange rate than if I used my Visa. You load the card through an app, and I was also able to transfer money to friends through the app, which was great.

Packing

I found packing to be a bit daunting since I had never been away for so long from home. I watched a few packing videos on YouTube for inspiration. Leah’s video has some great tips on how to pack for 6 months, asking questions like, “What would I wear if I were a cartoon character?”

I would recommend starting by creating a list of the essentials like your passport, laptop, charger etc. because it can get overwhelming packing for an extended period, but knowing you have everything you need is the basis. 

Studying abroad for the fall semester in Scotland, I packed my favourite outfits for the cold weather: lots of layers along with my winter coat, gloves, toque, and scarf. I also had some summer clothes which I wore the first few weeks of September when it was still quite warm. I found the weather from October on to be even colder and windier than Vancouver, so I was grateful for all of my layers. 

I think the main difference between packing for a trip and study abroad is being aware of what you need and the things you can purchase while abroad. For example, I brought a lot of contact lenses, but not my big bottle of hair product, since I knew I could buy something similar abroad. This will help you avoid packing unnecessary items, and ideally have a little space in your suitcase for bringing things back from your exchange!

Travel and Transportation

I flew from Vancouver to Toronto, had a layover, and then flew to Glasgow where I then took a cab to my accommodation. Cabs are readily available outside of the airport or you could also call an Uber. My accommodation was near the city centre and the ride cost around £30. A more affordable option is the airport express bus which costs £10. I took the airport express on a few occasions where I had more time and was carrying less luggage. In the city, it is quite walkable. I ended up mostly walking to campus, since it was only 25 minutes from my accommodation and occasionally took the bus and subway to get around or an Uber if I was out late.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

The visiting students team organized an orientation where they shared information about course selection. I found course selection to be challenging, and I didn’t have my schedule confirmed until the week before classes. Overall, it was a bit of a bumpy process, but I found contacting my subject coordinator was the most helpful for confirming my enrollment into classes. 

I followed @uofgvisiting and @uofgwelcome on Instagram to find out about events going on, especially in the weeks leading up to classes. In the fall, there are also Freshers’ week events that new students are able to attend hosted by the student unions. I went on a campus tour where I ended up meeting one of my closest friends. I also enjoyed the house plant sale and vintage sale that were hosted at the start of fall. These events are great opportunities to meet new people and get familiar with campus before classes start. There can be so many different things to do, so pick a few that you are most interested in to avoid burnout.

Accommodation and Living

Finding accommodation was the most challenging part of preparing for my exchange. This was something the study abroad team flagged as it was the first semester that the University of Glasgow did not guarantee accommodation. I applied for university accommodation just after getting accepted, and it took quite a while to hear back. I ended up getting an offer of accommodation at the end of July/early August, although it was not any of my original choices and far from the main campus. 

When I learned I wouldn’t hear back for a while, I decided to look into private accommodation options since I did not want to delay the rest of my preparation, like flight booking. Private accommodation was quite hard to find for a 1-semester stay as most student accommodations only offered a full year and flats for rent had a 6-month minimum. I ended up looking on SpareRoom and Airbnb for a flatshare and booked a long stay through Airbnb. Looking for private accommodation is stressful and time-consuming as you have to inquire a lot and do research on the area to make sure the listing is legit. However, in my case, it ended up being worth it! I had originally wanted to stay in university accommodation to have the experience of living near campus and with other students. However, I ended up being pleased with my flat share as it was located nearby campus, spacious, and I had two other young women as flatmates.

Learning and Adaptation

I am in my final year studying English and found the upper-division English Literature seminars to be quite similar in structure, just a shorter time period. I think the biggest shock was how essays are submitted. They use a different citation style (MHRA), different grading system, and they are submitted anonymously with one’s student number.

Accomplishments and Challenges

I found the first month to be quite challenging since I had a lot to figure out from new transit systems, to Tesco cards, to class schedules and extra-curriculars. I think the thing that helped me the most during this time was to take breaks and remember that things would work out in time. “Uprooting your life” as someone would remark to me later, requires a lot of work, so it’s important to be patient with yourself during this transition period. I tried to focus on schoolwork during the week so on the weekend I could explore, plan for the week ahead, and grocery shop. It took a while for me to figure out new routines and while they were often disrupted by sickness and school work, it helped to have a general structure of my week. I was proud of myself for trying my best, learning new skills like cooking for myself, and taking time to rest when I needed it.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

There are many clubs and societies at UofG that students can join. I would recommend joining one right away to meet people and be part of the UofG community outside of academics. I joined the Cecilian Society (musical theatre society) in which I got to take part in a variety of socials and performances. When in Scotland, attending a Ceilidh is also a must. Ceilidhs are often put on by student groups or local pubs where a band plays traditional Scottish songs and leads the participants in the dance steps. I ended up going to one near the end of my exchange with the first friend I made in Glasgow, and we had such a fun night.

Reflection & Tips
Reflection

While I would have liked to stay in Glasgow even longer, studying for one semester made the most sense for me academically. Having the limited time made me really pack as much as possible in. While it’s important to plan ahead to make the most out of your time abroad, I also learned the importance of being flexible with your plans and prioritizing rest. I ended up getting quite sick near the end of my exchange and having to cancel one of my trips, which sucked. Studying in the UK, there is a lot of talk about how accessible it is to travel to the rest of Europe. Looking back, I would say it’s great to get excited and make travel plans on your exchange, but determine what your priorities are since it is unlikely you can do it all. In the end, I didn’t get to as many places as I had hoped, but it was more about the quality of experiences I had at the places I did travel to! I also had so much fun exploring Scotland and getting closer with my friends there.

Author

Victoria San Martin

SFU Student Undergraduate
Arts + Social Sciences › English | All Faculties
Co-operative Education › Local Co-op
visibility  252
Feb 2, 2024

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Photo of Victoria at the SFU Surrey campus
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As a communications assistant on campus, Victoria San Martin learned about the value of volunteer work in strengthening soft skills and finding community. Read about how her work term inspired her to seek out more involvement opportunities at SFU.