Alumna Davephine Tholley shares her top tips for this year's Chevening Scholars on making the most of their year in the UK.

You’ve been chosen for Chevening! Excited, right? I know I was. I was so grateful and fought hard to contain my excitement.

This experience is what you make of it. You’re in for an exciting, interesting but challenging journey. Are you ready for it? To be honest, you can’t fully be prepared for your experiences; you’ll learn a lot of lessons as you go.

My first tip is to pay attention to your pre-departure checklist, checklist for travelling to the UK and post-arrival checklist. Print them out, make a to-do list and ensure you’ve ticked off every box.

Travelling to your final destination

Your flight to the UK will be booked to the nearest airport, and it’s your responsibility to organise travel from the airport to the town or city you’ll be living in.

The UK is fast becoming a cashless society, so before you leave your home country, inform your bank that you’ll be travelling abroad. I made sure to have a small amount of cash with me too, just in case.

Organising your accommodation

If you can, it’s best to sort out your accommodation before you arrive in the UK. Your university will probably provide you with lists of on-campus and off-campus accommodation options that you can refer to. Another tip is to join your university’s accommodation Facebook groups.

If you’re living off-campus, note how far it is from your university, and make sure you budget enough for transportation to and from campus. Student accommodation usually lasts for the academic year, and you normally can’t renew it after your course end, since you’ll no longer be a student. So if you plan on staying in the UK until your VISA expires, start looking for alternative accommodation before your contract runs out.

Transportation in the UK

In my country Sierra Leone, cars are left-hand drive and people drive on the right-hand side of the road. In the UK, it is the opposite. Crossing the road, I had to keep looking at both sides because I could never get used to it. I might or might not have taken the bus with the right number going the wrong way a few times.

Google Maps was my go-to solution during those times and will be very helpful with planning any trips you might take. Installing a train ticket app (like Trainline), the Uber app and the city’s bus app is important. Most bus apps have discounts for students, so make the most of it.

Using university resources

Your university will provide all the information you need about your course, extracurricular opportunities, social events, campus life and the city.

I recommend that you contribute to your university as much as you can. I joined the hiking and walking society and the art society. I also was elected as the Postgraduate Taught (PGT) Engineering Business Management Rep. As a student rep, I volunteered as part of the School Education Committee (School of Engineering and Informatics).

We collaborated with the art society and organised a fun paint-and-sip social for student reps and art society committee members. Participating in socials is a relaxed way to get to know new people.

Build relationships and have fun

Keep in touch with family and friends, as you will you be grateful for their support.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with studying; however, the friendships you make are essential too – Anas Aleassa, Chevening Alumnus 2021

Some of my friends in the UK became family. Having smart, dedicated and supportive friends in your course cohort is very important. I was grateful for mine.

Go to as many Chevening-organised events as you can. Explore the UK, the culture, the arts, and the diverse blend of food options, solo or with friends. Enjoy fun experiences including movie nights, football games, go-kart racing, concerts, travelling, shopping, bowling, lunch or dinner dates, gym, painting, swimming, picnics at the beach or parks, sightseeing, and hikes. There are so many things to do.

Get in touch with your alumni network

Maybe some of you have done this already. If you haven’t; please do. In-country alumni support doesn’t end with the application process.

I wish I had got in touch with my alumni network earlier – Sa’ed, Chevening Alumnus 2021

One of the most powerful aspects of Chevening is its extensive alumni network. Don’t be afraid to tap into it.

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