Faith Blake is studying on exchange at the University of Sheffield in the UK for Semester 1 of 2017. As a GLObewriter, Faith shares her experiences with us every month.
Organisation has never been my strongest trait but my exchange was planned with the preciseness of a professional – or, at least, my first few days were. The most important task for me, being a first-time solo traveller, was booking the correct flights with a decent airline. Luckily, my Global Society membership put me in contact with a student friendly travel agent – STA Travel. Within two days, my flights were booked with highly commended Qatar Airways, and I was set to leave the warmth of Adelaide January 30th and arrive in cool, grey Sheffield on the 31st. This was perfect for me as it left one full week to explore before classes began, as well as attend my international intro week sessions on the Thursday and Friday.
Being the uncharacteristic planner that I was, I had booked accommodation at the Coniston Guest House before leaving Adelaide. This ensured I wouldn’t have to panic about where to stay when I arrived. Coniston Guest House was located 20 minutes away from the university by tram and included breakfast, making it the best choice for me. So, when I arrived at Manchester Airport, I collected my train tickets, spent ten minutes looking at a train debating whether it was actually my train, boarded, and gazed out the window at green hills seeped in fog for two hours. I then pulled into Sheffield’s icy train station and scattered around for ten minutes looking for the correct bus. Upon my arrival at Coniston Guest House, I was warmly greeted by the owner and led up to my spacious room, where I promptly collapsed onto the comfortable bed. Thus, ending my journey and starting my adventure.
My first full day in Sheffield was spent alone but I preferred this; it provided me with the opportunity to explore my surroundings and check out what shops they had while navigating their confusing traffic light system. Alone time also allowed me to adjust to the steep hills and slopes Sheffield was built on – my legs no longer burn painfully from five minutes of walking- and the unique Sheffield accent. There were a few times when I couldn’t understand what people were saying (especially the tram ticket officers) and picking up differences in language was humorous and embarrassing, such as my mistake in calling “peppers” capsicums at Subway. Another difference was the endearing term “love” which I understand to be the equivalent of “mate”.
However, after a day alone I was eager for some interaction with other students and Thursday brought this with Sheffield University’s orientation day for international students. It is surreal for me to be considered an international student when for so long I’ve been a domestic student and watched other international students from a distance. But I now understand how special being part of the international student community is; we are bonded together with our fear, anxiety but also excitement to explore a new country and university. I found myself making friends during the orientation day with people from around the world including Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, America, Italy, Germany and much more! It was so easy to strike up a conversation with others and discuss our home country – people love Australians! Sheffield University facilitated our bonding superbly from icebreakers and card games to hilariously difficult Ceilidh dancing – a traditional Scottish dance. The orientation day also provided essential information about safely, culture differences and registering for your modules (courses).
Friday was registration day. While I was initially daunted by the unfamiliar procedure, my apprehension was unwarranted as the entire process took 20 minutes to complete. In comparison to Adelaide University’s online enrolment system, Sheffield requires students to attend a registration day where people from all departments gather in a room and you take a sheet with a list of your desired modules to each department to get signed off. There is a stage when you are initially applying to Sheffield to select modules you would like to undertake and get pre-approved for. This makes registration day easier. For me, I had two modules preapproved and so, only needed one module signed off on registration day (heads up, three modules equate to four courses at Adelaide uni). The departments were all gathered in the basement and for the next part of registration, I had to head upstairs to the 10th floor with my sheet and my passport. Here, I sat with a member of staff who added my modules to the system and scanned my passport. I then lined up to receive my student card and just like that, I was completely enrolled and ready to start university.
On Saturday, I thanked the owner and left Coniston Guest House for my student accommodation at Allen Court. The University of Sheffield guarantees all study abroad students university accommodation (with a few exceptions) provided they apply before the deadline. Their accommodation is highly rated, voted number 1 in the UK three years in a row and was one of the reasons why I chose this university. I share a flat in a six-storey building with five other international students (you can choose between unisex or single sex flats). The six of us have bonded well and we are already planning possible trips to Europe together. Another bonus is gas, electricity, water and internet are included in the rent so you don’t need to worry about monthly bills. There is a residence life program that you pay for which gives you access to numerous free sports sessions in the local gyms, ranging from yoga and pilates to football and rugby. Best of all, Allen Court is only five minutes away from the university.
The University’s most commendable feature is it’s Give it a Go program. You can attend a variety of sessions, from movie nights and sport clubs to language courses and cooking school, for very low prices and without the pressure to commit long-term. A feature of the Give it a Go program, one I have taken advantage of, is there weekend day trips to places around England. Last Saturday, the Give it a Go day trip was to the picturesque Harrogate where I had lunch at the famous Bettys Café Tea Room – one of the fanciest places I’ve been in. I then visited Cadbury World and Birmingham on the Sunday – a chocolate lover’s dream! The University of Sheffield does value its student’s wellbeing and need to socialise, and with over 300 clubs and societies as well as the Give it a Go program, I know I will enjoy my time here.