Packing for student life abroad

Overseas-education | Crystal Wu 16 Mar 2021

As she had never visited Exeter before, Samantha Lau had no idea what to expect during her stint at the University of Exeter.

"My perception of places outside of London were farmlands, sheep, cows and birds. Basically the countryside," she recalled.

Thinking it was better to be safe than sorry, she ended up hauling seven suitcases to the UK and had to rent a van to move everything from Heathrow Airport to her accommodation.

She was even stopped during the airport security check for bringing too many packs of pocket tissues - the sheer number of tissues she brought was enough to fill up one whole drawer.

Nonetheless, Lau maintained that it was a useful thing to bring to the UK as she found it was not as readily available in the country. "But you don't need to bring that many, a box or two of 18 packets is probably enough," she said. "Don't do what I did!"

In part two of her Student Globetrotters video, Lau debunked the fantasy of living abroad and got into the practical aspect of studying in the UK.

The country is most notable for its rainy weather, so it is not surprising that she offered some drizzle-related advice: "Nice kicks aren't for the UK, they will get ruined." She also suggested bringing a windbreaker, but interestingly, not an umbrella.

"A friend who lived in the UK once told me if you see a person holding an umbrella on the street, he's probably Asian," she said. "If you don't want to stick out, maybe don't bring it."

On the other hand, one of the most surprising things on Lau's to-bring list was a knife set, as it is illegal to sell a knife to anyone under 18 in the UK.

She recalled that her parents were not able to buy a knife set from Ikea upon explaining to the cashier that it was for her and they ended up having to go to another store to purchase the knives when Lau herself was not around. She joked: "Get an adult to buy a knife for you and hide when they are buying it."

Another cooking utensil Lau recommended bringing was a rice cooker - a very Asian thing to do. But as she said: "Pasta is probably the first thing you'll cook in the UK, but you can't possibly be eating pasta every day and not get bored of it!"

Although rice cookers are available in the UK at Chinese supermarkets and online, Lau, like most of her Hong Kong friends there, recommends bringing one with you as it also serves other purposes such as cooking soup or congee.

However, she advised against bringing electric kettles as they are readily available and very cheap. The perception that things are much more expensive in the UK appears outdated - one of Lau's classmates managed to buy a kettle for 6 (HK$65).

Back when host Alan Ng was studying abroad, he had to buy furniture by himself, he recalled.

But in student accommodations nowadays, especially university-owned ones, basic furniture like beds and desks are already provided.

However, university student accommodations can get full quite quickly as they are usually located on or near campus, making them popular especially among international students.

This is why signing up for accommodation was among the two most important things Lau suggested doing as soon as you accept an offer.

The other is sorting out your visa.

"Getting a visa is already expensive and getting an express one is even more expensive because around summertime, every student is going to be visiting the visa office," she said. "I have heard so many stories where people had to line up through the whole night to get their visa appointment.

"So to avoid doing that, just apply as soon as possible!"

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