28 Jan 2017

Edinburgh Airbnb: Feline Lovin'

If you have been following my blog since the early days, you would know that I almost rarely do blog about the airbnbs that I reside in during my travels. However, I feel the need to share about my experience with Judith when Sheri and I visited Edinburgh in September! Because good things must share.

Sheri orientating herself with cats

I remember us planning a super last minute final pre-trip leg to Scotland right before school in Hertfordshire started. Making full use of our time here ain't it? All the hostels in Edinburgh didn't look like our kind of accomodation, so we decided to look to Airbnb. 

Since forever, I've been wanting to stay in an airbnb with pets roaming around freely. I mean, how cool is that?! Especially when I've always wanted pets since young. So when I chanced upon Judith's listing, I squealed out loud in office and immediately told Sheri, "Omg this place. We. Must. Get. It. Two cats, one for you, one for me."

Booked it, and two months later, we found ourselves in Edinburgh after a half-day train ride from Hatfield (where my exchange host university is). 

Monty loves his morning strolls by the kitchen sink

Check-in was fuss-free as Judith was so easy to reach via a call! We were ushered into a lovely bedroom with many maps and information of Edinburgh compiled neatly into a pocket file. Before we even realized, the two ragdoll cats secretly came into our room while we were unpacking and climbed onto our bed to greet us. They are named Duke and Monty (never asked why they are named that way but okay) (we kept calling Duke "Monty" and Monty "Duke" for the first day and it got a little confusing)

Aaaaahhhhhhhh omg they are so fluffy and fat I can dieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee~

We absolutely love this Airbnb because of its location! The apartment is literally a 5 minutes stroll to Calton Hill, for a good birds eye view of Edinburgh City and Arthur's Seat! You could take a bus to the city centre. But the weather was good so we chose to walk everywhere. 

Not sure where Judith shops at, but we absolutely love her taste for everything: From the tea cups to the shower gels....... We just love how feminine the apartment looks. The entire house is so sweet-smelling and lovely. This is the first Airbnb that I've stayed in where I always couldn't wait to get back home at night (because I wanted more time to play with my temporary flatmates/fluffballs/flatfluffs (?)) (lol wot) 

Do note that I did not take many photos of the apartment itself as the apartment photos on Judith's apartment listing page are very accurate depictions of how the place looks like! If you're interested, you can click here to view the listing! I would say it is slightly higher than the average price of an airbnb, but for the company of two lovely cats and a safe abode for three nights, its really worth it!

I'll definitely be back one day to visit the two lovely kitties again :3

Stay Outruigeous!
Ming Rui

All You Want To Know About Exchange (Part II): Life in UK

If you are already on this post, welcome to life in the UK and congratulations for making it thus far... As you know, "Preparing for exchange is a 3AU mod" - Gabriel Tan, 2014

I did my exchange in University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, United Kingdom. If you do not know where on earth Hatfield is, here you go:

I divided this post up into 7 aspects of life in the UK, hopefully they will be of help to you!

***This post is entirely my opinion and my views on exchange. So if you disagree or what, please don't take it too personally or get batshitcraybutthurt offended kthxbai (even if you do, I don't really care either lel.)***

There is no need to apply for a visa in the UK if you are only going to be there for a semester. Student Visa only applies to those who are staying for a duration of more than 4 months. Anything 4 or less does not require a Visa. Upon reaching the airport border security, please have your University Offer Letter on hand (on the phone is fine too, just make sure that the resolution is good). The officer will give you a stamp on the passport that says "Student Visa". Everytime you exit the UK to travel, please remember to have either your Host University's matriculation card or best, your offer letter with you.

I always have it with me in my phone's email inbox, so that was very helpful!

Bank Accounts
I did not apply for any bank accounts while I was there as I was travelling for a month before I settled into my host university and I did not want to risk bringing around too much money. The best bet of bank that you could go for if you did not want to create a UK bank account would be HSBC, as it is most commonly seen around besides the usual Santanders, Lloyd Bank and Barclays.

In my host university, there is a Santanders outlet. Feel free to approach them if you want to create a bank account. If I'm not wrong, after creating your account, you'll have to wait a week or two till your card comes, and it comes separately with the activation letter. So there's just a lot of waiting involved.

Pros of creating a bank account: There are companies who do not accept non-UK registered cards, such as Tesco Online. Also, you can avoid fees that Singapore banks charges you for withdrawing cash or using your card overseas!

Cons of creating a bank account: Since it is a bank account created overseas, it would be a slight hassle to close it at the end of exchange. (Trust me, you'll be so busily packing up your things you would not have any time to head to the bank) Also, if you want to remit money overseas using UK bank account, the bank charges a hefty amount of fees for that.

Personally, I opened an account with HSBC before I left and enabled my card for overseas usage. Straightforward and simple! But please note that you need to keep a minimum of SGD 2000 in your account!

Backpacked through Italy, Germany and Cornwall without changing to another SIM card!

The three bigger telcos in UK are namely Three, giffgaff and vodafone. Most of my friends studying in the UK uses giffgaff, but while I was there I used Three.

If you do not intend to travel much, giffgaff would be a better option for you. Do check out their SIM-only deals here. They have a £20 plan for unlimited data, calls and texts per month. Three only offers 12GB data, 300 minutes and 3000 texts for a month for £20.

However, I opted for Three as I travelled out of the UK a lot and Three has this amazing function called "Feel At Home" where they have free roaming in many other countries outside UK! Do check out the various destinations here. Back in Singapore, I have a 12GB plan, so I would not mind giving up unlimited data for the ease of not needing to switch SIM cards everytime I fly out. There was never a time where I had to get another SIM card as Three was supported in Italy, Germany, Iceland, Croatia, Belgium, Slovenia, Netherlands, Ireland and Spain!

I stayed on campus throughout the duration of my exchange at Telford Court! For exchange students only there for a semester, only three types of accommodation are offered to you: Telford Court (£120++) per week, Bellingham Court (£150++) and De Havilland (£130++). Telford Court is kinda like our NTU halls with a shared kitchen and shared toilet. Bellingham Court has either an ensuite toilet, or a toilet shared between two rooms, and a shared kitchen. De Havilland has an ensuite toilet and shared kitchen. Telford Court and Bellingham Court are on the College Lane campus where most of the faculties are situated at. De Havilland is where the Humanities, Business and Law faculties are situated at.

Then again, this is only for my own university town. Some of my friends who went on exchange chose to rent an apartment or multiple rooms via Airbnb! My mum who came over for 3 months to do a short course in Oxford also rented an Airbnb room. The family was so pleasant and invited her to celebrate festivals like Halloween with them! Her photos of her trick-o-treating with her host family were so adorable.

Not National Rail, but I guess a photo onboard a Trenitalia train will do!

National Rail and National Express FTW! If you think you're gonna take the train a lot (Especially for those who are heading to University of Hertfordshire), GET A 16-25 RAILCARD!!!!! (only for those who are 16 to 25 years old) I had my best friend studying in London to get my railcard for me, so thanks Mao if you're reading this!! It's £30, but occasionally you would have discounts. (I got my ADM friends' railcards at £20!) Don't worry about the £30... If you decide to take the train every week, you would recoup the £30 in NO TIME! The train saves you 1/3 of the fare everytime you take the train so.... :)

Get a coach card if you decide to travel around on the National Express often! I did not really use my coach card a lot while on exchange. Only occasionally do I use it to take the coach to Oxford to visit my mum, or to Luton to catch a plane. However, if you are exchanging in bigger cities like Bristol, they coach everywhere! (just like my boyfriend who has never taken a train until he had to come to Hatfield to visit me) It's £10 a year and it also saves you 1/3 of your coaching fares!

Let's not talk about the bus system in Hatfield as it is horrendous. I once waited for a bus to the station for 40 mins, and the board kept saying the bus would arrive in 5 mins. This made me appreciate the bus system in Singapore so much more.

Since the bus is always unreliable, I would always prefer to take a cab to the station if I'm in a rush (I'm always in a rush because #badtimemanagement). It costs £3.50 within Hatfield, but the fare may be switched to metered fare if its on a public holiday or a sunday after certain timing. Contact this amazing £3.50 cab company called AAA Taxis at 888 888 (wow so fatt/many appropriates for CNY/much auspicioux)

If I am going out of Hatfield, I would prefer to take an Uber as it is SO MUCH CHEAPER and saves you an arm and leg. Compared to AAA Taxis (£13-20), a trip to St Albans on Uber will cost you around £6-9 on a good day!

Useful Applications
1. Trainline
It is my favourite application, and it wins any transportation app out there, hands down. Check, reserve, refund train tickets all on this app! But do note that refunds are only for certain journeys and it must be done within 24 hours! The UX design for this app is 100/100, definitely recommending it to anyone visiting the UK.

2. Citymapper
I absolutely love this app as it is much better than Google Maps. Citymapper gives you LIVE updated transport information in London as tube cancellations are so frequent there! Google Maps may not be that updated, so that may cost you a huge, expensive detour if the tubes fail as tube trips are £2++ per trip!

3. GoEuro
I used this app to check bus/train/flight timings and prices when I want to travel around Europe and out of UK. It is like Skyscanner, but with the train and bus timings, together with the flight, all in one! It gives you bus timings when you want to say, check if traveling from Barcelona to Madrid is cheaper by bus or Renfe. It also gives you National Express timings! Love this app so much!

Last thing about transportation in the UK: Do you know that the amount you pay for trips on the oyster card are capped at £7 per day! On my final full day in the UK, I was at London and I spent just nicely £7 with 50p left in my card. Gosh, I was so lucky!

Remember to also deactivate your tube card to get the £5 deposit back before you leave the UK!

Standard homecooked dinners at Hertfordshire

The major supermarkets in UK are namely: Tesco, Sainsburys, Co-Op. ASDA, ALDI and Waitrose. In Hatfield, the most convenient two supermarkets are ASDA and ALDI, with ASDA being the largest. There is also a small Co-Op but we rarely bought our food there. ASDA sells almost everything, from food to bedding to clothes to toiletries!

If you are on exchange with a group of friends, pull your grocery lists together and order them online via Tesco! Pro-tip: Take turns to create an account every month to get free delivery once you hit a total order amount above £40! Tesco is so convenient as they deliver right to your doorstep a day after you submit your orders!

There aren't many dining options in our university, and the nearest dining options are at least a 1.5-2km walk out in the cold/calling delivery. So we end up cooking our own meals most of the time. All the girls who didn't know how to cook at the start of exchange turned into domestic goddesses and confident cooks who can whip up a good lunch for themselves by the end of exchange. That's how much practice we had in cooking.

WEW /wipes sweat off forehead/ and with that, I'm more or less done with what I have to say about my guide to life in the UK! If you've any questions, please direct it to my ask.fm! And hope you'll have a gr888888 time at exchange. Make full use of it and travel whenever you can! Chill, because all the modules are pass/fail hehe.

Stay Outruigeous!
Ming Rui

27 Jan 2017

All You Want To Know About Exchange (Part I): Applying for Feepay

One of the rare few pictures I took of my host university

Hola Amigoes! This is the post that I promised to do over the CNY break and hopefully I'll be diligent enough to complete the entire series. As many of you would know, I just returned two weeks ago from my semester-long exchange programme to University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, United Kingdom. Before you ask me "er where is that", hold your reigns buddy, as I'll come back to that in another post!

Before I begin, I'm sorry to those who are from NUS or SMU reading this post (if there is anyone who will read this) as I am from NTU and I understand that all three school's exchange-application systems are different. If you're from NTU and you want to go on exchange, there are two options for you: To go via GEM Explorer, or Feepaying. 

And also, this post is entirely my opinion and my views on the application process. So if you disagree or what, please don't take it too personally or get batshitcraybutthurt offended kthxbai (even if you do, I don't really care either lel.)

GEM Explorer
This is a system put in place by the school which I had a major sob story with the system (and I will not repeat that sob story here). But TLDR, I applied with GEM and got a place at Leeds. Got too excited and did not check whether all my modules could be cleared there before accepting my offer. To all my juniors, please do check whether your modules could be cleared before accepting, as I had to pay $300 (or was it $500) to withdraw my acceptance. (wtf) (fml) (ya sobs) 

I am pretty sure the school will have its own sessions to get the students to know more about what GEM Ex has to offer so I shall not touch on that system much in this post.

This term was foreign af to me when I found out I had to give up my place at Leeds. In other terms, feepaying is a self-funded exchange where instead of paying the original NTU school fees of around $4k++ per semester while on exchange, you pay the school fees of the host university. In my case, my school fees came up to be about $9k++ (initially $11k++ but THANKS BREXIT!), I am thankful to have parents who support my every decision throughout this whole turmoil of getting a host university to do my exchange programme at, so yes... $9k++ it is.

Also, Feepaying means that you have to create your contact with the host university yourself. GEM has nothing to do with Feepaying, so you're all on your own if you decide to feepay. it's a lonely process~

Steps to Feepaying:
1. Once bitten twice shy... Firstly, I made sure that the host university I applied to, could 100% clear my modules, as students from my major had two compulsory core modules to clear in Y3S1 (if not you have to take an extra year to clear it... that's how bad it is)

2. Next step, contact your host university's person-in-charge of exchange. In my case for University of Hertfordshire, it was Mr Jack Pettifer. Mr Pettifer was REALLY nice and prompt in replying my 24543853 questions regarding the application process and that helped me so much! Thanks so much if you're reading this, Mr Pettifer. Basically, if the university website has not enough information on the modules offered, feel free to ask the person-in-charge for information on the course description, module list for each faculty, e.t.c. 

3. Get the application form to apply to the host university either from the website, or from the person-in-charge and fill it up. Usually the application form would require one or two recommendation letters from your professors/lecturers, so be sure to get them ready! And also, a copy of your transcript from the school is required. For transcripts, be sure to get them in advance. I'm kiasu like mad, so I ordered mine immediately once I decided to feepay. (no harm keeping a copy for future purposes) Check, double-check, triple-check that your modules can be cleared, with your faculty's exchange coordinator, before you even apply. (Especially for host universities who ask for an application fee) Hertfordshire has no application fee but still, the hassle of emailing them to cancel your application...

4. Submit your application on time, and then wait patiently. Usually they will accept your application (I heard from someone that it's because they are making more money from feepaying students than normal GEM Ex students, so the university would not miss out on any money-making opportunities) (then again, this is hearsay, not what I said ok!)

5. If you get it, YAY! If you don't, it's not the end of the world~ 

6. If you do get it, please remember to submit your LOA application, and the modules that you'll be clearing to the online system via StudentLink!

Part 2 about this series will be on my guide to life in UK (something like Xiaxue's Guide to Life but with less sass and more empty wallets). Stay tuned!

Stay Outruigeous,

DISCLAIMER: Application processes may differ from faculty to faculty, so please do check with your course coordinator for clear steps to feepay!