31 Mar 2022

The First Semester at UK & HK University: Experiences of the Class of 2021

The Class of 2021 recently finished their first semester at university and very generously they have shared their experiences with us.  Read here to find out how the Class of 2021 navigated their first semester at UK and HK based universities.  

Hoi Lam Ng – Chemistry


Time has truly flown by since I started my major in Chemistry at the University of Manchester.  I’ve completed the first semester of my course and it has undoubtedly been both a challenge and a joy. I was, unsurprisingly, initially apprehensive about moving alone to an unfamiliar city. Saying goodbye to my friends and family at the airport and realizing I likely wouldn’t see my parents until the next year.. Despite meeting hundreds of students within the first few weeks of the semester, I felt isolated and homesick; a sentiment, I am sure, many first-year students share. 

Since then, however, I’ve started to feel at home in Manchester. I’ve formed amazing friendships, and I’ve quickly fallen in love with the city and my studies at the university. To begin with, I was upset I’d been placed in a catered hall, but I’ve come to the realization that it’s a blessing in disguise. Although the food at the dining hall leaves quite a bit to be desired, I’ve been able to make many friends by simply sitting at different tables, spending two hours winding down with my friends during dinner is unequivocally the highlight of each day. I will also begrudgingly admit the food has grown on me and there’s something comforting about having a hot meal after spending a long day in the chemistry laboratory.

To all the students who are starting to look into their university courses, I would emphasize considering the university location in your research, whether it be in a bustling metropolis or a close-knit town. When I did my research, I didn’t consider the location of each university, but upon reflection, I’ve realized there’s far more to university life than simply attending lectures and studying for exams. I’ve been able to enjoy the rich music scene, the vast range of sports and the diverse restaurants here; participating in activities beyond my studies with my friends is the sole reason I’ve been able to settle into the city and feel happy, secure and at home in Manchester. 

Whatever you may be considering for your higher education plans, it is unquestionably going to be challenging transitioning away from the comfort of high school. Whilst I’ve learned far more about chemistry than I thought was possible, I’ve also learned skills beyond my studies. I’ve quickly adapted to a more independent lifestyle, become far more sociable and conquered my fear of taking the initiative. Moving away from high school is a terrifying concept to be sure, but it’s an invaluable opportunity to grow as an individual and I promise it’s going to be easier than it looks. 

Yoki Chan

Hello everyone, my name is Yoki Chan.  I am at the University of Manchester.  One of the challenges of transitioning from high school to university was understanding the gist of each assignment and its requirements. Lessons are also quite different in terms of structure, however surprisingly there are some similarities to the teaching in STC! 

I’ve had a lot of great experiences during my first year, but my favourite is volunteering with ReachOut, which is mentoring students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I mentor Year 5 students and it has helped me understand a lot more about the practical aspect of my degree, whilst continuing to spark my passion for my major. 

The biggest challenge I’ve encountered is working with other people from my course during the hybrid of online learning and in person teaching. There were a few ups and downs when coordinating and organising what everyone had to do, however constantly communicating in a group chat helped.  

One tip/advice is to apply for a subject or course that you will thoroughly enjoy learning. Even though university rankings and requirements are important to most people when applying to a particular course, I think it is equally as important to choose a program that piques your interest! Make sure to familiarise yourself with course structure, because even if the courses are the same in name, each university differs in how they conduct them, so it is important to find one that suits your learning style.  

Kate Parry – Interior Design

Hello!  I’m Kate. I studied the IBCP programme at STC and then went on to study Interior Design at the University of Salford.

I think the biggest challenge I faced was starting at university in general. I don’t know many people who would describe their first week at university as easy. I missed the comfort of my room at home, knowing how everything worked and hadn’t truly had to meet and make so many new friends since practically Year 7. Culture-shock had a lot to deal with as well – if you are going to study overseas, do not underestimate the intensity of culture-shock. People are going to have massively different backgrounds to you : experiences, opinions, languages and attitudes, and at times it can be a little isolating when everyone else seems to know what is going on but you don’t. 

In saying that, once the scary part of meeting new people is over, the chances are you’re going to meet people that you would want in your life for a long time to come. I think the thing I am most grateful for is the people I’ve met and the person I have been able to become around them, since coming to University. University is a place where there is an opportunity to take more control over what sort of person you want to be, and a chance at a clean slate to take on an identity you might not have felt able to before. 

If you’re starting to apply for university, read wide on your course and interests. Even if the course you pick isn’t that commonly known, or the university is brand new to you, you should pick the right course because it is the one that makes you excited to continue studying. Of course be aware of the quality of the course and how it is ranked but do not make those your deciding factors. I would never have come to Salford if I had based my decision on rankings and name and now I would never dream of studying anywhere else. 

Jasmine Tam – Veterinary Medicine & Surgery

My name is Jasmine Tam and I’m currently a first-year student doing a Veterinary Medicine and Surgery degree at the University of Edinburgh. I’m now one semester in and am very much enjoying my studies here in Scotland, with no regrets (yet) about my decision to enroll in this course.

However, the transition from high school to university has not been without its challenges. One of the things I had to manage my expectations about was realizing that I couldn’t possibly know and understand and remember everything due to the sheer amount of content that was being taught. At university, there is much more independent work and not as much personal guidance; having lectures and bigger classes also makes asking questions in class quite daunting. The pace of content being delivered is much quicker and there’s less time in between and during classes to digest information, which can make it difficult to keep up at times. I also had to constantly change and adapt my methods of revision, as the methods I’d used throughout high school weren’t as effective at university. Time management was another challenge I faced; taking care of ‘life things’ on top of school like buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, etc. without a parent nagging or reminding me to do so was harder than expected. Fortunately, I soon learned to use these tasks as an excuse to procrastinate or take breaks from studying.

I think one of the biggest challenges I faced upon arrival was not having a solid support system to rely on in this unfamiliar place. I found starting afresh on my own to be quite lonely and difficult at times, but everyone was generally quite kind, so they were very willing to help if I needed it. Probably one of the worst parts about not having my parents around in the first couple of weeks was that when I was sick every other week from freshers’ flu, I had to keep myself alive whilst staying on top of work no matter how tired I was. In order to establish a support system here, I met loads of new people during the first couple of weeks, but when people are enrolled in different courses or campuses with the majority of classes being delivered online, it can be hard at first to find a sense of belonging at university. That being said, meeting all these people from all over the world and learning about their cultures, mindsets and being able to see the world from their perspective has also been one of the coolest experiences I’ve had here. It’s one of the big reasons why I wanted to study overseas. I’ve since had many eye-opening and thought-provoking conversations with people from all sorts of backgrounds and introducing my own culture to others is always an interesting experience.

In terms of advice for applications and making HE plans, I would say to definitely keep an open mind. It can be good to be absolutely set on a career path, but it can also be beneficial to speak to people from different fields to see if there might be anything you may unexpectedly be interested in. If not, then it’ll just make you feel more confident about the decisions you’re about to make. If you’re stuck thinking about what courses to enroll in, figuring out what you enjoy / don’t absolutely hate studying is one way to narrow down your choices. A degree takes a good couple of years to complete and it’s easy to lose motivation and interest in the subject if the work (or style of work) isn’t something you think you’d enjoy. Looking into how different universities work can also help with your planning; some allow you to be more flexible so you can always continue exploring different subjects even during uni. Try not to compare yourself to other students in terms of what stage they’re at in their applications. Taking a bit longer than your peers to decide what you should do or where you should go for the next couple of years is not a problem, just don’t miss your deadlines! Make sure there’s time to edit personal statement drafts and to get help if you need it – things can easily go wrong, which just leads to a lot of panic and stress. When preparing for interviews, practise with friends and teachers and read around the subject as well as about the specific university. Having a casual chat with other people about why you want to study a particular subject and what your interests are can also help you feel more at ease during interviews. If the interview seems to be going horrifically, smile at the interviewer(s) and pray they don’t notice you panicking. Buy some time to think and refocus by politely asking them to repeat or clarify the question. It helps a lot to end with a good impression, so all is not lost even if the interview starts off badly. Also, you’re usually doing better than you think, so don’t be too put off by the one or two questions you think you may not have answered well enough. Things usually work out somehow in the end so just take it one step at a time; if your application gets rejected then look for other options or paths to get where you need to be (try to have a back-up plan in mind). Anyways, I’m sure you’ll all be fine so all the best for HE planning, applications and exams, don’t forget to ask if you have any questions!

Rachel Yu – Baking & Pastry Art

I am Rachel Yu from the Class of 2021. I’m currently studying for a Higher Diploma of Baking and Pastry Art at the International Culinary Institute (ICI) in Hong Kong. The biggest challenge for me in the transition from high school to ICI is adapting to the new environment and meeting new teachers or friends.   However, I really like the kitchen lessons where I could learn how to make and bake all kinds of cakes, cookies, and pastry with people who have the same interest in pursuing this as their future career, and that is the greatest experience in my first year of Higher Education studies. The biggest difficulty that I have encountered so far in my first year of study is the different learning timetable and having nine different modules in one semester.  It is a very packed schedule that could be very difficult to handle. However, I do quite enjoy my studies at ICI since I’m studying what I am passionate about.

One small tip that I would like to give on HE planning is to really find what you enjoy doing.  It is important to study a subject that you are interested in and that prepares you for your future career, because you’ll persist to strive forward no matter how difficult the journey is. Lastly, the most important thing is to follow your dreams and remember that university is not really the end, it’s the beginning of a new chapter.