Monday, July 28, 2014

How to...Finance and Budget Your Year Abroad

Image modified via

This how-to guide is the first in the series of Year Abroad Fortnight - a fortnight of articles focusing on all the different aspects of the study abroad experience.

Money makes the world go around, money doesn't grow on trees, money doesn't buy happiness but it helps, I could go on. We all know the drill - money runs the show, especially as a student when money is usually in short supply.

And as much as I advocate studying abroad, it does cost some mullah. 

But fear not, your year abroad will go smoothly - or at least for the financial part - if you implicate some forward-planning and budget wisely.

9 times out of 10 (not an official statistic, just one I'm throwing out for the hell of it) students miss out on funds, grants and bursaries available to them because they weren't aware of it. And I know for certain that my year abroad finance woes could have been eased a bit by enforcing a few budgeting rules.

So learn from my mistakes and check out how I funded my year abroad and my tips for budgeting your year abroad/study placement/whatever it may be:

(NB. As this advice is mostly from personal experience, it will have a British focus but some of the tips will be applicable regardless!)

How I funded the year abroad

Student Loan
The obvious resource but make sure to leave plenty of time to sort it out (it involves filling out even more forms for Student Finance England, joy.) But good news, you get an increased student loan to take into account the extra incurred costs.

Of course it's pretty difficult to fund yourself solely on your year abroad so I also had:

Erasmus Grant
If you're from the EU, studying in an EU institution or doing a student internship in EU but outside of your home country (that's a lot to take in one sentence) you are eligible for the Erasmus grant. It is non-repayable, non-means tested and quite possibly the easiest bit of paperwork you will ever have to fill in for free money. I got about €300 per month but the amount varies each year (usually €250 a month). Your university should be able to help you out so make sure you apply for it!

When interning in Paris, I got my intern's salary (€430 a month). It wasn't a huge amount - especially in Paris - but it contributed to my finances.

It took me years 8 months to receive what was owed to me but after jumping through every bureaucratic hoop French administration could throw at me, I got €720 worth of CAF benefit. For those who don't know what CAF is, it's the French equivalent of housing benefit and somehow foreign students are eligible for it. The moments when you want to scream in a infuriatingly indifferent civil servant's face are worth it when you finally get it. And again, it's free money, cannot complain about that.

Savings from summer job
The summer before I jetted off to France, I made sure to pay off my overdraft and get some savings stacked up. The savings were enough to pay off my debt, pay for my return flights to Colombia and dip into them every now and then when my bank accounts were low.

Student Overdraft
OK slightly controversial, I know, I shouldn't be advocating getting into debt. BUT, it is interest-free and I consider the year abroad to be an investment so I spent my overdraft allowance pretty much guilt-free; it allowed me to travel around South America at the end and I don't regret it for a second! I'm just paying it off now instead plus, I have all the memories when I (slightly) wince at my bank balance. You may even be able to extend your overdraft allowance, so butter up your bank manager and sweet-talk them into giving you more room to (financially) breath.

Finance and Budget Tips

Try and find as many sources of income as possible
You will have the obvious ones like student loan and your university may have various grants and bursaries on offer. But, try looking for trusts in your local area or contacting businesses. Are there benefits like CAF you can claim? Are you able to reimburse costs such as travel expenses?

Something I definitely didn't do and should've done. Spreadsheets are your friend in this case and tot up all your living expenses costs and income. Work out a daily/weekly/monthly whatever works for you budget accordingly, leaving a margin to have enough money spare for when unexpected costs are incurred.

Ask for student discount
As expensive as Paris was, it was a great place to be a student especially when doing a proper excursion as the majority of time, you could claim under 26 discount or even get in for free. Find out all the free and cheap things to do for when money gets tight.

Part time job
If time/visa obstacles allow, there are some part time jobs that are suited for foreign students. In Paris, there were loads of positions for au pairs and more and more need to learn English for professional reasons so an English language tutor is also a viable choice - you can also charge a good hourly rate too (€15-€20). The usual bar/waiting jobs also apply in this case too and it's a chance to meet more people as well as making a cheeky bit of pocket money too.

All that being said...

Don't be stingey
That doesn't mean let your budget go to pot but when certain opportunities arise ie. drinks with friends, a night out, a weekend trip, don't always hold back. The huge amount of opportunities to get out and see another part of the world are invaluable, unforgettable experiences so don't let your finances get in the way of your year abroad experience.

What are your top tips for budgeting a year abroad?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Introducing...Year Abroad Fortnight!

Image modified via Elizabeth M.

My year abroad was the most amazing year of my life (to date) and the driving force and motivation behind the blog when I started it up almost two years ago.

This time two years ago however, I was not feeling amazing about it at all.

 I was worried, anxious and at times, couldn't be arsed about it all.

And this, I get the feeling. is what's going through a lot of people's heads now before they themselves are about to embark on their very own year abroad.

So I've decided to dispell all the worries and concerns by launching Year Abroad Fortnight which should hopefully include plenty of articles that will cover all the need-to-know topics and rev you up on going on the incredible adventure that is the year abroad.

Anxiety is perfectly normal before such a huge change and I know that regardless of how much convincing and advice, it will still linger at the back of your mind. But what you can do before your year abroad is be prepared and have an idea of what you wish to achieve during your year abroad.

So, what will Year Abroad Fortnight entail?

It will start off tomorrow covering the finances of a year abroad and then will move onto more exciting topics such as making the most of your time to travel later on!

Do you have any particular doubts or worries about your year abroad? Have you been on a year abroad, what is your number one piece of advice?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Last Hurrah: The Notts Wishlist Reviewed

Last week marked a special occasion - I graduated.

I will answer only to Naomi Todd BA Hons now.

(If my fantastic wit is lost on you, this is a joke not me being massively pretentious.)

And four hard, challenging yet amazing years have flown by.

It also marked the end of my time in Nottingham which in turn means I need to see how I did with my last hurrah to-do list. My track record with to-do lists - don't ask me why, I don't like the phrase bucket list - is not great (Exhibit A Exhibit B) but whilst I did not complete a lot of my aims, I did actually get a fair few done (for once).

So what did I get done?

A refined boat ride on Highfields Lake FAIL 

Whilst I didn't ever boat ride, I don't feel I missed out too much. I enjoyed plenty of sunny runs and autumn walks there so I don't feel I missed out too much.

Nottingham Castle FAIL
Another fail, time and money issues.

Posh brunch at Browns FAIL

Annie's Burger Shack DONE

This, I made sure I did and I am so glad I did. Worth. Every. Calorie.

Picnic in Wollaton Park - where BATMAN'S house is DONE (sort of)

From afar

Na na na na na na na na na na BATMAN

There was no picnic, but I did finally make it inside the hall. It has a random taxidermy section but the best bit about Wollaton Park is Sunday morning and watching all the happy dogs lollop about. Bliss.

Nottingham Contemporary to get our culture vulture on FAIL
Obviously not that cultural.

Newstead Abbey, we are in Lord Byron's old stomping ground and it would be rude not to DONE

For just under a fiver, you can get there and back on the bus as well as entrance into the grounds (entrance is £1 for pedestrians). If you are ever in the area, it is definitely worth a visit, if only to see Byron's tribute to his dog.

Warsaw Diner to recover from the night before FAIL
Money problems yo.

Campus 14 / The Bar Crawl that shall not be named DONE

It actually turned out to be a sober off the rails Campus 7 which ended up with us calling it a night before the bars closed.

Boilermaker DONE

It's slightly pretentious, being a hidden bar with a strict door policy but the cocktail descriptions alone make it worth it. Great place for catching with friends over drinks or a date night.

Go on one of Nottingham's infamous trams FAIL
Trams are everywhere, no biggie.

Grad Ball DONE

Whilst I did complain incessantly about how expensive it was beforehand, I was so glad that I decided to fork out in the end. It was a fitting way to wave goodbye to my uni years.

Swimming in the Trent FAIL
This admittedly was ambitious especially considering the Great British Summer and our time never came.

Bluebell for old times' sake FAIL (thank god)
The years of £1 Jaegerbombs are well and truly behind me.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, which may or may not be the oldest pub in England DONE
If you're looking for the quintessential English experience head to Ye Olde Trip, reputedly the oldest pub in England and have a pint. G'wan.

Didn't get round to going before Trent's term ended.

Bad JuJu DONE (kind of)

Went to their sister bar The Rum House below with the parents for Caribbean tapas and cocktails. Yes, it's as good as it sounds.

Canal Crawl FAIL

Another victim of my financial woes but again like with the Highfields boating on the lake, I've had many an enjoyable run along the canal.

So there you have it; my time in Notts is up! I'm back home now, thinking constantly about the next step. But now is the time to think about the past four years - the ups, the downs and most importantly the lessons learnt. Whilst I may have inadvertently found out that I'm not particularly academic, university has still been a hugely valuable experience that has opened doors of opportunity to me, in particular that of my year abroad, which in itself is worth the blood, sweat and tears poured into the past four years. Of course, there are also the amazing friendships forged throughout some of which will hopefully (fingers crossed) last outside of the student bubble.

Nottingham in a nutshell

It has been (literally) a learning curve (I know I am such a hoot). But whilst my time in education is over - for now, at least - I am still at the beginning of my learning journey. There is still so much I want to see, do, learn and discover and I don't even know where to start.

Now for the next chapter!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Feliz 20 de Julio Colombia!

Image modified via Marca Colombia

Today is Independence Day in Colombia, a huge, patriotic occasion and bank holiday which therefore means RUMBA. As you may know by now, I love Colombia, I wish I was Colombian practically every day and most of all, I yearn and miss Colombia so, so much whilst planning my return. I do of course sugarcoat the country and may see it through rose-tinted glasses but despite its various imperfections and contradictions, I am truly and hopelessly in love with the place.

As I can't be there in person, I shall have to raise my figurative shot of aguardiente in honor of the country that feels like my second home and to coincide with the day, I've decided to share my favourite posts about Colombia/I may be doing some shameless self-promoting too.

Colombia is no doubt an up-and-coming destination, being a well-known secret as more and more people realise that its sordid past is no more and the country is once again safe for tourism.

And quite rightly so, as it is home to the most beautiful landscapes, places and people.

So come, find out more about the many facets of Colombia and discover for yourself the reasons why the Colombian tourism board coined the tagline, "Colombia - the only risk is wanting to stay."

True story.

Firstly, watch this.

Massively cheesy but it does the job.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What to Do in Hong Kong

I'm going to go out on a limb by starting off with a disclaimer: I'm probably the worst person to ask about what to do in Hong Kong as during my three stay, I barely ventured out of Jordan.

However, what I did do, as recommended by Caitlin, was great and grouping them all under the 'Things to Do' umbrella was the easiest way to do a blog post about the little things that made my trip to Hong Kong so without ado, here are my top tips for a few days in Hong Kong:

Drinks with a view

Head to Sugar or one of the many other rooftop bars in the city. The beauty of Sugar (and I'm sure many others) is that they offer a happy hour which make the drinks there an affordable luxury for us mere mortals as well as being able to get your fill of the free bar snacks. Then add on top the incredible view both in the bar as well as the toilets and the views pay for the drinks (almost).

See the skyline at night

Like I said before it's not monumental advice I'm giving here but the skyline at night is a sight to be seen. I ashamedly didn't nail any of my shots of the towering skyscrapers crammed into such a small space but the view is weirdly enchanting and one that has to witnessed during your stay in Hong Kong.

Wander about the markets

Sure a few of the night markets are tourist traps but they are good fun. Head to the Jade market in Yau Ma Tei to haggle yourself silly and maybe come away with some nice Jade pieces. Go to the night market at Temple Street in Jordan to peruse all the offerings under bright, neon lights. Or if you're looking for something a bit risqué, head to back end of the Temple street night market where you will the sex toy section. Believe me after seeing that, you will see sex toys in everyday items.

Park peoplewatching

Head to one of the city's parks early in the morning and it comes to life. Group classes of Tai Chi are taking place, gatherings of the elderly are meeting up, young professionals are going for their morning run. Maybe it's because I'm a nosey beggar and I like seeing how others go about their day-to-day lives but I found it fascinating to watch.

And now the two obvious tips that I've already banged on about:

Visit Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery

It is incredible, just go.


Try all the weird and wonderful offerings. For Dim Sum go to Dim Dim Sum and give into the temptation of the piggy custard buns. Risk having your head blown off with Szichuan. Eat as many Char Siu Bao as possible. But if you don't do any of that, do one thing and go eat Biang Biang noodles at Yau Yuan Xiao Jui. You won't regret it.

Have you been to Hong Kong? What are your tips for things to do in Hong Kong?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday We Meet Again #12

If you've been there, done that, got the Monday We Meet Again T shirt (try saying that several times over) then you'll know that's it's the usual mix of great reads, an awesome wake-up track and crackers to start your Monday off with a bang. If not, well that should have just about explained it in a nutshell!

Here we go...

Caffeine Hit 

Whilst reminiscing about one of the best summers, I was reminded of this mash up track which was the soundtrack of that summer. The song only brings back great memories and screams summer anthem.

Favourites this week

Let's start off with this motivational piece from Natalie

Perfectly timed for Bastille Day in France, Anne's Blogger's Guide to France is a comprehensive resource for all things French. (Anne along with Lindsey write two of my favourite blogs for all things Parisian.)

Did you know 13 million people in the UK live below the food poverty line? This is where food banks and your donations can help.

Of course I had to mention Colombia somehow and this blog sums up how much I miss the arepas, the football and the incredible street art amongst many other things (have I also mentioned the incredibly friendly people, their passion for dancing at every possible moment and the beautiful and varied landscapes?)

This week I've...

Been doing stuff that's not really exciting to report. Working, chilling, sunbathing (quite a monumental occasion for the North) and fitting in a few swims and runs. Blog-wise, as well as reminiscing one of my favourite summer memories, I've been talking about my favourite neighbourhood in Hong Kong - Jordan and coming to terms with my slightly melodramatic existential crisis.

What were your favourites this week? Have you got any exciting summer plans?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Caribbean Cruisin'

Today I've been getting nostalgic with thoughts to summer holidays past, with one particular holiday sticking out for me - Barbados.

Believe me, I know that unbelievably blessed and lucky I am.

Anyhoo, seven summers ago (how has it been that long?!) we left the grey and dull weather in Manchester in search of sunnier climes and arrived in Barbados to that infamous hair dryer treatment of heat and humidity that clings to you like a welcome back hug that never wants you to leave. All of this was done under the guise of a school sports tour.

Yep, you've read that right. My school organised a sports tour to Barbados. 

And whilst it may have been your average state comprehensive, I think Haydon Bridge (Haydon Bridge represent) was anything but. But anyhoo I digress, after many bag-packing fundraisers and trying to convince others and ourselves that our main motivation to go was to better ourselves at netball and competing against local teams, we were able to travel to Barbados. We may have got thrashed at netball (it's just not my sport) by teams 3 years our junior who were smirked at how small we were but we were able to stand that humiliation because we were in bleddy Barbados.

The chilled, laid-back vibe of the place along with the perpetual background soundtrack of reggae; the dreamy weather - even the blitzing of half-hour storms - and the constant feel-good attitude that everyone seemed to radiate made any embarrassing defeat bearable. Luckily we weren't just there for sports and outside of being hung out to dry at netball, there was all sorts of fun and games to be had.

Now I've probably said before and forgive me if I'm sounding like a broken record but I normally prefer not to do planned excursions. However, one of my favourite travel experiences ever that stands out for me is the Catamaran cruise we did during our time in Barbados.

First things first, the precedent was set as soon as we arrived when we were offered fruit punch and a choice of banana or coconut bread (or both). Give me good food and drink and I'm all yours.

Also, we were on a boat in the Caribbean sea. Clear blue skies and clear blue waters. Enough said.

For the duration of the excursion (and the whole trip) we ran on the infamous Caribbean time. When we wanted to lie and chill, we did. When we wanted to dive in and swim, we did just that. When we wanted to see turtles, somehow they just instinctively popped up. We had pretty much free roam to do what we wanted on the boat - we even sparked off a dance off - or in the sea - snorkelling, swimming, messing about, it was absolute bliss.

This, I think, highlights how school trips had an influence in contributing to my passion for travel as well as my parents. The fact is without participating in the sports tour, I wouldn't have had that experience. So although I'm not having a summer holiday this year at least I have the memories of summer holidays past to keep me going!

This post was an entry for Low Cost Holidays #DiveintoMalta Competition. For more information, check out their blog.

What's your favourite summer memory? Where's your favourite summer destination?