From Exchange Student to Resident

After about a week of living in Brighton during my year abroad, I knew I wanted to move back. There’s no place like it in the world and since the day I left, I’ve dreamed of going back to stay. Now that I’m heading back this afternoon, it’s been quite a journey and not always an easy one. For anyone who wants to move out of the country, particularly from the United States to the United Kingdom, you have to really want it; it’s a lot of work, time, money and energy.

In this post, I will walk about the processes I went through for my move:

Entering the country: First, I had to figure out a way to enter the country legally upon graduation. My options were either to get a work sponsorship visa or a student visa and go on to my Master’s degree. For obvious reasons, my first choice was to try for a job.

I started looking at a job board for companies with vacancies that offer visa sponsorships in Brighton. On average, I applied for about a job a week, taking my time to write cover letters well for positions I was really interested in. In early December, I had a Skype interview with Frontier (a conservation non-government organization) for an unpaid internship. The good news is I got the position, but they could not supply me with a visa. So, back to square one…

Realizing that companies would probably only supply a visa for exceptional workers, I changed directions and started applying for a few graduate programs. The student visa will allow me to obtain a Master’s degree from a British institute, making me more fit for a job there upon graduation and allow me to work up to twenty hours a week during my degree. I applied for several different programs, but chose to accept my offer to study at the University of Sussex under a Master of Research in Conservation Biology program.

Applying for a Master’s program: The application process is really straight-forward. I applied (or at least started applications to) several universities. I didn’t need to take any standardized tests like the G.R.E. when applying to the institutions I did. I more or less just needed to choose my university and program, fill out the application, send my transcript and an example of my work and wait to hear a response. If I am made a conditional offer, I have to keep my marks up to meet the requirements and send in my diploma once I graduated. Pretty simple.

Visa: Having applied for a visa for my year abroad, I was somewhat familiar with the process. You can apply up to three months before your program start date and I wanted to get it done as soon as possible to avoid any close calls.

The time came for CAS number (confirmation for acceptance of studies) (basically the official information you need from the university to confirm your place and move forward with the visa application process) and I hadn’t heard anything. When I queried, they told me I needed to do some preliminary ATAS paperwork before getting my CAS number that would take about 20 working days… ugh. So, that alone put me about a month behind on the application process. With my passport gone longer than I expected, I was also forced to re-plan my graduation trip with my dad: we were hoping to go to Cancun, Mexico, but we had to settle for something in the United States (first world problems).

Once my ATAS went through, I got my CAS number within a few hours and applied for a visa that day at work. The application is straightforward, but of course, I screwed the pooch and misspelled my first name (“Rachelchel” Wuest), forcing me to restart and lose a few hours of work. This was a mild inconvenience, but nothing serious as I hadn’t paid anything yet. I went through my second application (and checked, double checked and re-checked everything), attended my biometrics appointment (the last step before you post your passport to get your visa stamp: where they take your fingerprints and photograph) and paid my fees ($200 health surcharge, $450 for the visa, $50 for round trip shipping, and $250 for the expedited service). I paid for the expedited service because I didn’t want to have any close calls again and this whole rigmarole causes me enough anxiety as it is.  Also, there was an option to pay for only return shipping and make your own way for outgoing shipping (this service was $35), but I didn’t want to take any chances.

Finances: Another big question: how am I going to afford it all? Thankfully, I saved up quite a bit from working during the school year and over summer while I lived at home and from graduation gifts. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t enough to cover tuition, so I had to navigate taking out a student loan.

Even though I will be an international student, I’m still funded by the United States government, so I applied through F.A.F.S.A. and went through the motions that many other students are used to and got granted a loan to cover most my tuition. Some of you may not know this, but Master’s degrees in the United Kingdom are only one year long, so even as an international student, tuition would turn out to be about the same as if I did a Master’s degree in Arizona. For example:

  • International student tuition at Sussex University (for one year): $24,000
  • In-state tuition at University of Arizona (for two years): $28,000

Additionally, I created a budget for the school year that I hope to stick to. I’ve never been financially independent so it’s hard to gauge exactly how much I spend, but I’m hoping for modest expenses. Here’s what I budgeted for each month:

  • Rent: £520
  • Groceries and health and hygiene products: £100
  • Meals and nights out: £50
  • Transport: £40
  • Phone: £20
  • Miscellaneous: £50

I hope to work to cover most of these expenses, but I’m restricted to working 20 hours a week as per my visa, and even on a bit more than minimum wage, I’m still short. I have plenty of gigs planned for the next few months, so I won’t factor any more into my budget for the first few months. I will perhaps make a more up-to-date post down the road about budgeting!

Housing: While I studied abroad, I observed the differences between housing in the United States and in the United Kingdom: basically, in the U.S., there are typically plenty of apartment complexes within a few miles of the university and the cost of living in Arizona is pretty decent. However, in Brighton, there are no such complexes and students live in houses together where we’re probably paying more than the house is worth. I was planning on living with my (now ex) boyfriend Dan once I moved over and when that ended, I was afraid I wouldn’t be left with many options. Thankfully, my friend Diego and his friend Alex were looking for a house and additional roommates. The three of us found two other people: Joe, who happens to be my friend’s old roommate, and Anthony, who I also happen to share a few mutual friends with. Yes, I’m living with all guys but honestly, at this point, I’ve seen it all (quite literally: my last roommate had sex with someone who wasn’t her fiance with her door wide open).

However, as if my tuition costs and the already extraordinary cost of living in Brighton wasn’t bad enough, any student without a British homeowner guarantor have to go through a scheme where the company (Housing Hand) acts as your guarantor… for an easy one-time payment of $500. I was able to pay my entire year’s rent in advance so I berated our letting agent until she let me go around Housing Hand. In the end, Alex kindly offered up his dad as a guarantor for both myself and Anthony (who is from Jersey), so I went with that instead.

The five of us are living in a lovely five bedroom house about a five minute bike ride to the university and 20 minute bus ride into town with a stop quite literally right outside our door. I’m really happy with the location, as happy as I can be with the value and just satisfied with my room (I definitely got the smallest one with a single bed), but I’m glad it’s all taken care of as it was quite possibly the most stressful part of this whole rigmarole.

Packing: When I studied abroad, I took way too many things with me. I was anxious that the United Kingdom wouldn’t have everything I needed but, of course, they have everything I could get in the United States and then some.

With that, I made a point to only pack a few of my favorite items of clothing and personal items, leaving everything else behind, either selling it or donating it. At first, it was hard to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t take everything with me, but in the end, they’re just things. Telling myself that over and over again made it really easy to prioritize what to take and what to get rid of.

Shipping is quite expensive, so I bought a cheap suitcase and brought some things with me when I visited Brighton in June such as my favorite CDs, books, decorative items and a few other miscellaneous items that stayed with my friend Kieran in Brighton for the summer.

This time around was different because I’m planning on staying in England (hopefully) indefinitely, so instead of packing for a year, I basically had to pack for the rest of my life. No pressure, right? I still tried my best to pack what remained of my stuff minimally, donating whatever I didn’t pack. I will do a room tour once I’m all settled in!

I’m excited to see what the next year holds for me in Brighton!

One thought on “From Exchange Student to Resident

  1. I am truly happy that you made your dream come true. We will miss you but look forward to your blogs about your new life in London. Love, AC

    Like

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