Importance of healthy food and financeOverseas-education | Crystal Wu 18 May 2021
Like many hongkongers, studying abroad at Imperial College London was final-year student Rosemary Ng's first time away from home for an extended period of time.
"When I began in September to October, a lot of time was spent getting used to life here and setting up my study environment for the next three or four years. That part was the most challenging - adjusting to living on your own," she recalled.
But the challenges extend much further than just adjusting to college life and the academic side of things.
For the first time, Ng had to take care of herself and do daily chores such as cooking and laundry, as well as miscellaneous tasks like buying a phone card and opening a bank account.
Based on her freshman experience, Ng advises students who are studying abroad to learn some practical day-to-day skills before going to a new country.
"Of course, you can learn everything on the go and maybe just search how to do this on Google, but learning beforehand really does give you a head start and a sense of comfort and security, especially when you are adjusting to a new environment," she said.
Some of the practical skills she advises picking up include laundry and preparing food, which may sound mundane but are actually big responsibilities.
"You need to put nutritious food in your body now that you have the freedom to choose what to eat for every meal and you can eat whatever you want," Ng said.
"I remember in my first year, I ate a lot of ice cream and pizza, as I was never able to do that when I was eating healthily with my family. As a result, I gained a lot of weight and was deficient in vitamin D. My immunity declined and I was ill for a long time, unable to recover."
While Asian food like shiitake mushrooms may be harder to get, most groceries can be easily picked up at local supermarkets while online grocery deliveries are quite common in Britain.
Perhaps the main cause of headaches for new international students is finance. "You can open a basic student debit account at no cost. It would be a good idea to do it as soon as possible, as you can obtain a proof of address from that and you can use the debit account to apply for other things, such as a mobile plan," she said.
While applying for a bank account in traditional banks may require more documentation, virtual banks are a great option, as they require minimal information.
"The only verification documents needed are your address and your biometric residence permit or passport for identification. You can even start using them before you receive the actual card, as they allow you to add the virtual card to a virtual wallet, such as Apple Pay."
Contactless payments are popular and convenient in Britain, and debit cards can also be used to pay for public transport, much like the Oyster card. "So I don't really carry a physical wallet around anymore. I just do all transactions on my phone, especially when theft is quite common in London, so it's one less thing to worry about."
While starting a new stage of your life abroad may be scary, with a new curriculum, as well as a new country, climate, amenities and lifestyle to adapt to, Ng believes that the most important thing is to be prepared.
"Be mentally prepared for the new chapter of your life. You're going to be on your own and there's going to be drastic changes in your life," she said.
"Once you get there, really try to embrace the changes. They might be extremely different and overwhelming, but that's what makes the journey interesting, right?"