Keep calm and eat bacon!

Hey everyone it’s your gal Emma here and I’m third year law student who has just embarked on my year abroad in the beautiful Cape Town where I am settling into life at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Now I’ve been in Cape Town for a couple of weeks I can look back and laugh at all my pre departure disasters. However, to stop everyone else making the same mistakes I’m going to give you a few tips! Also for anyone looking to study abroad in the next few years I will give you a quick run-down of the application process.

Application Process

It is impossible to attend Glasgow uni and not hear about the opportunity to study abroad. As you will probably know there are two separate application processes one for international exchanges and another for European exchanges (Erasmus). You can apply for both international and Erasmus places, however I only applied for international places so that’s where my advice will be focussed.

Surprisingly enough the key to a successful application is to start researching early, and by that I don’t just mean a few weeks in advance I’m talking months. There are a whole range of different countries on offer all of which are very different. The internet is a wonderful thing so use it to your advantage!

When you research possible universities look at their teaching styles, UCT is very similar to Glasgow in the sense that most subjects consist of large lectures and smaller tutorial groups, however this varies dramatically across the globe. Also, look into the culture/lifestyle of places, try and not get too carried away be stereotypes. Really try and figure out the vibe of the place and people to see whether it is for you.

Cape Town is very chilled, everyone is laid back and generally less grumpy than most Scots. There are a wide range of people of every race/religion/nationality making it pretty easy for international students to fit in. Cape Town is pretty big, it includes a busy city centre which is close to the picturesque harbour area known as the waterfront and also covers lots of different smaller areas each with their own vibe then stretches out along the coast.

View of table mountain from the waterfront

View of table mountain from the waterfront

Muizenberg beach at the shore of the Cape Peninsula

Muizenberg beach at the shore of the Cape Peninsula

Cape Town at night

Cape Town at night

One important warning I would highlight is it’s very easy to scroll through pictures of different places and think WOW everything looks so cool, that’s where I want to go.  For example don’t just decide to come to Cape Town because it has really nice beaches (which for the record are great). It’s crucial to remember that you could possibly be living in that country for 6months/year therefore you need ensure it’s the lifestyle for you.

I am part of the first exchange to UCT therefore had no other previous students to ask which would have been a huge benefit. However I really put myself out there, I made several contacts with locals which in turn gave me a good idea of  what to expect. When applying I considered Cape Town, several places in Australia and New Zealand but through my research I realised how the lifestyle in these countries vary dramatically and that Cape Town was by far my first choice.

The application process itself consists of many sections, including a personal statement and budget plan.  Any extracurricular activities/volunteering always make for a good personal statement. However, my best advice would be to remember an exchange works two ways, not only does it involve going and embracing a new country, it’s equally about coming home and bringing back to Glasgow everything you have learned from your experience abroad. Therefore, while writing your application I would focus on both your abilities to cope abroad but also your ability to transfer all your experiences back to Glasgow.

With regard to subjects it’s more than likely that the first courses you pick are not the ones you will end up doing. Get approved for way more courses than you will actually take. Once you arrive at your new University timetabling will effect what subjects you can take and the content of some courses will probably differ from what you thought. The best idea is to get as many subjects approved as possible and be flexible to the idea that you will not get your ideal timetable!

My application was due in during the December exam period so I cannot stress enough the importance of starting early. If you leave it too late exam stress will set in, and naturally you won’t find time to apply.


Pre-departure joys

Once you get over the excitement of securing a place to study abroad, no matter how organised you think you are things won’t go smoothly. I am a prime example of this…

Glasgow’s exchange with UCT is unique in the sense it is organised through an American programme called Arcadia. This means that I make up a group of around 28 students the majority of which are from the states. The significance of being an Arcadia student means there is a lot less for me to organise, it’s almost like have having my own personal travel agent. Before you depart all information is processed through Arcadia’s website where you fill in forms like housing preference/course choices/health information etc.


There are two main accommodation options while studying at UCT, the majority of students will reside in a large house and smaller apartments. The other option would be to stay at the Woolsack residence located on campus. Woolsack is where I currently stay, it’s self-catered with single rooms and shared kitchen/bathrooms. There are benefits to both accommodations, I particularly like Woolsack because of its prime location on campus (especially for law students) and because its home to a range of people allowing easier integration with South African students. If anyone is thinking about applying to UCT feel free to email/facebook me for specifics on accommodation options.

Generally because my exchange is arranged through Arcadia it made the process very simple! Although, I must highlight that Arcadia do have several additional fees some of which I was not aware of, again for those considering UCT contact me and I can inform you of all the different costs. Also look out for my next blog where I will tell you all about Arcadia’s orientation which was nothing short of amazing!

Unfortunately having Arcadia on hand led me into a false sense of security that I had everything under control. I soon realised this was not the case as I attempted to secure my visa. If any students are specifically interested in applying to UCT/to those lucky ones who get a place for next year I have noted all the costs/methods of how to obtain a visa on time and without causing extremely high blood pressure. For now here are 5 crucial points,

  • Start collecting all the documentation as early as possible, you will have to go for x-rays/obtain certified letters from the court etc. it’s definitely not a one day job
  • You have to apply and collect your visa in person, for those applying from the UK this means travelling to London as this is where the SA embassy is located
  • Once you hand in your application it will take a month to process and they will not change the collection date.
  • Therefore don’t book flights before you are given your collection date. My biggest mistake was booking a flight for the 7th of July only to be told my visa would not be ready until the 8th and like I mentioned the collection date is not negotiable, ( I tried to argue this battle and lost miserably). My arrival date in Cape Town was the 9th so ended up having to collect my visa in London on the morning of the 8th then fly out from Heathrow that same evening to make it in time and as you can imagine that was not the most cost effective route.
  • Each individual part of your application will cost money, the total cost for my visa including travelling expenses was around £500.

One other key pre departure point specific to South Africa is the need for vaccinations. If like me you haven’t been lucky enough to travel much before then you will need vaccinations. I had to get Typhoid A, Hep A&B, Rabies and a MMR vaccination. I just assumed that because the yellow fever vaccination is not required in SA I would be good to go with my trusty tetanus that I received back in high school. But yeah I was wrong and spent the last three weeks of my time in Scotland as a human pin cushion which was not ideal! So yeah the best idea is probably to tell your doctor early that you’re going abroad so you can spread out any vaccinations that are required.

Despite all the above there really is no need to panic, things will get stressful but as long as you stock up on the one thing that keeps you calm (for me its bacon, I really do love bacon) then everything will fall into place and you will be on that flight out of Scotland before you know it.


Shout out to my good friend Kev Romero for one of my fav leaving presents. It really does sum up my approach to my application efforts!! Ps cheers for inspiring my first blog #top_pal_move

Keep an eye out for my next blog were I will fill you in on everything going on here in Cape Town #emkennxtakesonSA

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