Study Abroad Preparation Timeline

I am the kind of person that ALWAYS have the feeling that I have forgotten something. Before leaving the house, I re-check that I have indeed switched off the stove for the seventh time. Before leaving for the holiday, I re-check that my passport is indeed in my luggage for the seventeenth time. I’m not kidding. Hence, it’s not surprising that before I head off to Maryland to start my study abroad, I kept thinking… did I forgot to do something? What do I have to do now? Did I miss a step? Am I going to be stranded because I forgot to do something?

If you are like me, have no fear, because I went to Maryland happily, spent a beautiful semester and came back as a normal exchange student. I was not stranded, I was not going hungry and I was not deported. The feeling is normal.

So in this post, I want to outline the steps that I took and the things that I sort out before I went to Maryland. Of course, your situation will be different. Not everyone is a chemical engineering student going to the University of Maryland, College Park. So I am not telling you directly that these are the steps you definitely have to do. I’m going to outline the general steps and tell you the approximate timeline, but you have to personalise this timeline for your own situation. If at this point you are screaming “but I don’t know what needs to be changed!!” Fear not, friends, the lovely Study Abroad staff in the Atrium have not disappeared and always ready to help. After all, I am posting this in mid-December, so for students who are going in the first semester or for a full year, you have PLENTY of time to prepare. For students who are going in the second semester, you should have these prepared by now. Anyhow, let’s just continue and worry about the minutiae details later.

Checklist of Basic Things to Sort Out Before Going Abroad

  1. Application
  2. Accommodation (Temporary/Permanent)
  3. Class Registration
  4. Visa (and other documents you might need)

Yes, just four. Does that calm you down? Some lucky people can even cut the list down – some people don’t need a visa (but PLEASE CHECK properly!) Basically, once you got these 4, you can enter the country legally, you have a place to sleep and you can study at your host university. There are other important items too, like immunization, health insurance, but those would be specific to your situation/country/university – and let’s classify those as documents for now. Okay, let’s make a proper timeline.

Timeline

(Please note that this is based on my experience and you would need to modify this to your own specific situation. Nevertheless, it contains useful information.)

Step 1: Application (June – March)

This includes both applications to the University of Manchester and University of Maryland. So I applied and finish all my Manchester paperwork in December. I was told that I am chosen to attend the University of Maryland, College Park in mid-March through MyPlacement system, and immediately had to pull myself together and finish another application to be sent to Maryland by April 1st. Yes. Thankfully the application to Maryland was almost identical to Manchester one, so it was not as time-consuming as the first one.

Step 2: Class Registration and Visa Application (and other Documents) (April – June)

Maryland officially admitted me on April 12th. Starting from April 14th, I started enrolling for classes. Note that when and how you enrol will be different for different courses/university or maybe even different students. My friends only needed to send an email to enrol in their classes and they got automatically enrolled. Did not happen to me. I could not finish enrolling for classes until I finally got to Maryland and met straight up with the Head of Undergraduate Admission for reasons that are still a mystery to me.

Visa application. Oh, the headache of visa applications. It’s just another thing to do. Thankfully both Manchester and Maryland are very helpful in giving advice on what to do and what not to do. I attended my US visa application mid-June, which you can read more on my blog here (yes, visit my blog! http://www.agondosari.com).

At this point, I also suggest that you start having immunizations if your university/country require one. Yes, the jab takes like 1 minute, but the waiting line can be quite long and to organise one last minute will just give you an unnecessary headache.

Step 3: Accommodation! (April – August?)

Congratulations! Well at this point my friends have completed their class registrations, unlike me, but I’d say that I had a special case and most students don’t have any complication regarding their class registration. So the last thing you need to do is to sort out where you are going to stay! Yippie! (Seriously, at this point you will feel the burden is finally lifted)

Depending on your university, you could probably start sorting out the accommodation straight after you got admitted. Honestly, I was being very late and completely forgotten that I have to apply for housing haha. Thankfully Maryland guarantees accommodation for exchange students, so I still got one haha.

You should also begin buying your flights, sorting health insurance and other things.

Congratulations! You made it! 😀

Cycling: UMD College Park (Overview)

I made a decision to rent a bike on my first day of class in Maryland because I can’t stand walking 30 minutes to class in the middle of Maryland heat – and never looked back since. In this post, I’ll cover general information for people who are interested at cycling at UMD College Park. Continue reading “Cycling: UMD College Park (Overview)”

Initial Thoughts: Maryland

I noticed that I have the habit to compare new places with the place I am familiar with. This includes Manchester where I have been living for 3 years.

Maryland is so strikingly different from Manchester.

Continue reading “Initial Thoughts: Maryland”

Pre departure thoughts for UMD

By Gavin Dunn (University of Maryland, College Park, USA)

Well, it’s a few days before I start my trip to the University of Maryland, College Park, and to be honest, it hasn’t hit me yet. I’m definitely nervous, but being back in Manchester to finish work has really got me thinking I’m going to be starting my second semester here. Generally, most of my ‘to-dos’ on my to-do list have been crossed off, but I still feel so under prepared. With alternative assessments taking up the majority of my time over Christmas, there hasn’t been much time for anything else!

Overall, this exchange has been around a year of organising. Applying to the International Programmes Office in Manchester, being accepted. Applying to the University of Maryland, being accepted. Applying for an American visa, being accepted. A lot of paperwork, a lot of time, but finally I am now preparing to go. My thoughts are now on how I’m going to cope with America East Coast winters. With temperatures going into the minuses I think I’m going to need some boots, a big jacket and obviously the trusty Manchester University bobble hat we’ve been given.

I guess I’m nervous about a few things. Being away from my friends and family for the longest time in my life. Moving to a country that I’ve only visited once before. Sharing a room with someone I haven’t met. However, this is an opportunity that I won’t ever get again. I am excited to actually visit the country I am doing my degree on, but I think there will be a culture shock. I’m definitely going to have to get used to their slang like pants being trousers, biscuits being something completely different, even the spelling. But these things will come in time, I’m just going to have to go out there and do it!

The next time you hear from me I’ll be in the big U.S of A!

Final Reflections on Maryland

By Maddy Taylor (University of Maryland, USA)

Leaving The University of Maryland was really hard. I knew it would be difficult to leave new friends behind and to let go of the travelling bug I’d caught during my time abroad. But what I didn’t expect was to find it so difficult to understand leaving. It felt almost as if I had started over and built a new university experience because everything was so different and exciting. So when it came to the end it was hard to comprehend the fleeting nature of my time abroad, and to let go of everything I had enjoyed so much. I’m the type of person that loves change – I moved around a lot as a child, was constantly switching schools, joining new clubs and fitting into now spaces. I took on Maryland just as I took on any new change, but this was one of the hardest places to leave behind. You feel special when you’re abroad; everything is exciting and everyone is excited with you. You learn to act within and relish in a new framework. I loved all of my classes, I loved the campus, I loved the friendships I made, I loved the atmosphere. So leaving was a hard pill to swallow.

The main difference I think I appreciated the most between Manchester and Maryland was the exuberance of the Maryland students and the amount of school spirit every student had woven through them. It was so fun to be in an environment so excited about the school and so passionate about its success. It was great to watch sports games that would end up on television and wear fun Terp merchandise around campus. The school spirit made everyone seem part of one big community and it was cool to feel a part of something so vast.

The classes were great, my teachers were engaging and interested in my success. The teaching style was very different from the UK, and I found that the lecturers were mostly focused on student progression and seeing them grow throughout the course – and they were allowed to do so within the system of constant assessment. Yes, I resented this at first. Yes, I was disheartened by lower grades at the beginning of the semester. But by the end of the semester I really came to appreciate how much it helped me academically.

I think I’ve gushed about my friends enough in my previous blogs, but of course they were integral to my time in Maryland and they are all very special to me. So thanks guys.

All in all I cannot imagine having a better experience abroad. I wouldn’t change a thing about it and I would encourage everyone to take the opportunity to study abroad and run with it, because it’s an experience you’re unlikely to be offered again. I had an incredible time abroad that I won’t ever want to forget.

Maryland, I’ll be back!

American Academics

By Madeleine Taylor (University of Maryland, USA).

So, I really haven’t been keeping up with this blog very well lately and I am about to explain part of the reason why.

The academics here in America could not be more different than back in England. I’ll lay out the differences simply:

  • Method of assessment: Here in Maryland I have at least 4 methods of assessment for each of my classes, with participation (attendance, talking in class and sometimes bi-weekly response papers) usually counts for around 20% of your final grade. For me, a massively keen student, participation grades have been great – but if you’re not used to showing up for class then this’ll be a harsh change!
  • Volume of work: Obviously with a minimum four assessments instead of the usual two in Manchester there is a lot more to get done here. In Maryland they call it busy work – work that isn’t particularly difficult but that takes a lot of time. This is what has been the most difficult adjustment for me. I have at a minimum seven or eight hours of work for each of my four subjects a week and then on top of that any work I have to do for assessment deadlines. This may not seem like a lot, but compared to the amount of work I did back in Manchester I would say in Maryland I do triple.
  • Mid-terms: Almost every class will have some sort of assessment halfway through the semester, and this is usually in the form of an exam. So be prepared to revise more. However sometimes this is an advantage as teachers may choose to only put material learned after the midterm on the final exam, which means less information to cram in when it comes to the last week of the semester!
  • Grading: Here is where the sun shines on this so far bleak account. I have been in Maryland for a little over two months now and I have yet to receive any grade below a 92% or an A-. Considering the volume of assessments I’ve had I think this is pretty impressive. And no, this is not me bragging about my intelligence – this is me saying that if you come here and do the work, you will get a good grade. Say goodbye to 65s and 68s.
  • Teachers: The teachers here are pretty different. I’ve found that they are much more willing to help you improve if you get a bad grade or even if you just feel a little flustered with the task at hand. They’ll give you extra credit (which is awesome: you can come out of a class with over 100%), or check your drafts, or discuss the lecture topics with you etc. Its not that my lecturers in Manchester won’t do this, its just the my lecturers in Maryland are much more accessible and approachable in these matters – they put the help out there for you to grab, rather than making you seek for it. Maybe this is babying, maybe this isn’t in the university spirit, but I sure appreciate it. They also have no qualms with knowing who you are, how engaged you appear in class and which piece of work you did and applying this to your grade. No anonymous marking here.
  • Getting to class: This may just be for me, but Maryland is a campus university and so I live a four minutes walk away from all of my academic buildings (yes, specifics help me sleep longer).
  • Breaks: Spring break (a week) is the only break you will get in your semester in America, so don’t expect the same amount of time off we get in the UK.

I hope this has been a comprehensive (and not boring) list for anyone interested in American university academics. Some things may vary institution to institution, but I hope this gives you a good idea of what to expect if you fly out here on an adventure of your own. Do not be put off, things may be different and things may seem harder or more strenuous, but I’ve found the work here to be enjoyable and engaging; anything different is exciting! It is definitely worth it! And now that my mid-terms are over I hope to update more frequently.

Until next time,

Maddy

Maryland Bound

By Madeleine Taylor (University of Maryland, USA)

The prospect of flying nine hours across ‘the pond’ for eight months is pretty daunting. There will be so much to adjust to and appreciate, and so little time to do so. Not seeing my family for that long is going to be difficult, but I am excited to strike out on my own and throw myself into life at the University of Maryland. After all, my well known motto is: You are a strong, independent woman. And I plan to fully realise this alter-ego on my trip (we’ll see how that goes).

Packing was a struggle; how could I possibly fit eight months worth of stuff into two measly (when I say measly I mean behemoth duffle bags, but still) suitcases? Well I tried and I failed. Unfortunately I had to resign myself to the fact that I could not bring thirty books and a dozen nicnacks and my two dogs. Oh the struggle.

Once my packing was finished the real nerves set in. This was actually happening. I would be out of touch with Manchester life for over half a year and eventually something completely new would be my norm. I am, however, very lucky to have an amazing family living only four hours (a very short distance by American standards) from the University of Maryland, who will no doubt treat me too well and help me get settled. So shout out to my amazing family!

I have been assigned a roommate, which I am very apprehensive about, but hopefully everything will work out, and I know my move-in date. I’ve filled out all of my paperwork, checked my passport is in date and contacted my advisor in Maryland. I think everything is covered, and now all there is left to do is vegetate for nine hours whilst watching terrible movies and eating questionable food (yes, this is how I see flying) before my adventure begins. Wish me luck!

**

So I have been in the USA now for just over a week and I am stressed! I’ve sorted out a bank account and my mobile phone. I’ve studied for and taken my Virginia driving test (I passed, yay!), and re-registered my cousin’s car in my name (which I bought from her – thanks Ariel for the sweet ride!).

Car
My cousin and I posing with my new car! (Car’s name pending…) Update – car is called Delilah.

I’ve registered for classes and bought a parking space at Maryland. I’ve checked and rechecked my train tickets from Virginia Beach (where I am staying with my family) to Maryland and checked the weather schedules. Lets halt there at the last one – there has been a polar vortex this past week, with temperatures in the US dropping to record lows. So I’ve had to constantly check the weather schedules. Fingers crossed for a week clear of snow!

**

And lo and behold, on move-in day a blizzard comes to town and the school is closed. Thankfully I was staying with my Mum’s best friend Kate in Maryland at the time, so didn’t have to worry about extending a hotel stay. We also had an awesome day shovelling snow, drinking hot chocolate and making homemade pizzas, so I’m not really complaining.

My very attractive friend Annabel and I shovelling snow!
My very attractive friend Annabel and I shovelling snow! Just as a side note, my friend Annabel has come over from the UK with me, so expect to see her in many of my posts!

I am equally nervous and excited for move in, but can’t wait to officially start my semester abroad!