Saturday, June 27, 2015

UK Guide - International Student Edition

Hi all! Today's post will be focusing on what to expect when coming to the UK to study, and what to bring and what not to bring.

First of all, this country is not really all that hyped up to be. Please get that into your head. Britain is a fine country no doubt, but it rains 80% of the time, or looks like it'll rain and don't let the sunny day fool you. Rain will always be lurking around the next cloud that passes by.

Right! Now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business *cue Captain Shang singing to his recruits in all his topless glory*

Packing

Depending on where you will be staying (halls or house) you will need to plan accordingly how much you'll bring with you across the ocean. 

Living in halls or student accommodation usually means  moving in and out at least 3 times per academic year; Christmas break, Easter break, Summer break. So do plan ahead.

Living in a house or flat with others means that you'll get to keep your stuff in one place for a whole year, or for the duration of your contract. 

*Important advice*
Please be reminded to ask your landlord about EVERYTHING. Everything meaning, your tenancy duration, rent agreements, bills (water, electricity, gas - paid every 3 months), internet. Get your own copy of your tenancy agreement, and ask for a receipt or some form of proof of payment for your rent to save yourselves from miscommunication.
Also when you leave, you'd need to settle all this (internet & bills) at least one month before to save yourselves being charged extra. Especially internet - let your broadband provider know when you plan to cancel your subscription ONE MONTH before. As for the bills, even if you don't use them, there WILL BE a minimal charge, so remember to cancel it off your debit account.

Indoor Clothes

  • Honestly, you don't really need to pack half your wardrobe into two suitcases. Chances are you won't wear half of what you've packed with you. Take it from me, because that's what I did in my first year here and ended up bringing most of them back home again during the Summer.
  • Instead, pack what you need such as underwear, socks, some t-shirts, a couple pairs of jeans, a hoodie or two. You could bring a jumper/sweater or two as they are pretty much the staple clothing article here, but don't over pack. Seriously. And if you'll be staying in halls, bring some formal wear. There will be formal dinners hosted by your hall a few times in a semester. Ladies, that means dresses (or pants if you're feeling like it) and guys, at least proper slacks and a dinner jacket. Oh, and a tie or bow tie. 
  • My advice on packing clothes is, if you think you'll only PROBABLY wear them, or packing them in JUST IN CASE OF EMERGENCIES, don't bring it. You won't wear it.  
  • One other thing: thermals. I'd suggest not getting those with fleece on the underside as you could probably develop a heat rash when it gets too warm indoors- especially when you wear them under your jeans. Instead, invest in Uniqlo's heattech wear. My aunt got me a heat tech top during winter and it is amazing. It's thin, but the material stays so close to your skin that it traps the heat there. Plus it's odorless and absorbs your sweat. Besides, what are you gonna do with thick thermals when you return to your home country? (Assuming that it's only one season all year round, like Malaysia, Singapore, etc.
  • You will also learn that tights are the most comfortable thing to wear here. And everyone here (everyone meaning female) wears them. 
  • Everything else you can buy them here. Primark will be your number 1 go to for cheap but decent clothes, followed by the ever popular HnM, and New Look and whatnot (oh and ASOS but that's online). Charity shops are also in abundance, for those of you who love thrift shopping. Unless if you're really the kind that does not shop at all, you WILL end up shopping. So throw the thought of 'bringing more so I won't have to buy any' out your mind palace window because that's not gonna happen.

Outdoor Clothes

  • Winter jackets, coats, trench coats, etc. can be bought here. I honestly do recommend doing that because unless you've experienced UK weather, you'll probably buy those that are too thick or too thin. 
  • Don't worry too much about buying a trendy trench coat to be one with the Britons. (Actually trench coats will be too thin for winter and will only be suitable for Autumn and Spring, unless if you've got a really warm body and possess the cold-resistant trait- oh wait, that's the Sims.) 

Shoes

  • Hah. Shoes. Seriously, if you can, bring what you'll be wearing 80% of the time (sneakers/trainers), FLIP FLOPS for the toilet because it's so difficult to find any here unless it's Summer, a pair of proper shoes such as heels or dress shoes. THAT'S IT. You'd want to leave as much space as possible for other things you might need. 
  • If you want to fulfill your dream of wearing boots during the Winter months, buy them here. And if possible buy them during the Boxing Day sale or some other major National holiday which usually involves shopping.
  • For muslims, please be aware of the type of leather used for leather boots as some may use pig skin. Ask the shop assistant if possible to clarify. 
  • I'd recommend investing your money on ONE good pair of high quality boots from brands such as Clarks. I bought mine during Boxing Day and I have never been more satisfied in my life (even though it was £70 and my heart was partially crushed). 
  • Alternatively, you can look around the various shoe shops in the city that you're studying and living in and browse. Do take note of the prices and compare. You'd want the best bargain because as a student, you will always be broke. 
  • Additionally, shoe sizes may be slightly different from where you're from. For example, my shoe size is 5-5 1/2 in Malaysia but I'm a size 3-4 here in the UK. 

Food + Other Stuff

  • For those of us who love our home food too much, you may be tempted to pack a whole suitcase of it (like me). I guess you could do that.. but seriously, don't pack stuff like garlic and ginger. Don't laugh, I know some who have done that. Unless if it's something that you definitely cannot find here or is extremely rare, then by all means bring it with you. For me, I packed packs of instant Milo and my favourite brand of instant noodles, in several different flavours. (Because British instant noodles suck. Get the Nissin ones. They're delicious and filling) 
  • If you'll be staying in a house, feel free to bring packs of roux from your home country, even though chances are you may be able to find them in oriental shops here. Or maybe your grandma's special sauce or something. 
  • You could bring utensils to use for yourself, personally I don't really like sharing mine. 
  • You could also bring with you (or buy one here) an induction cooker and a metal bowl for those desperate nights in need of some instant noodles in your hall. Hall pantries are usually not equipped with stoves because they already provide you food.
  • For contact lens wearers, I was advised to bring lens solution from home, which I did. I can't remember how much it costs here, maybe £10 or less? You do the math. 
  • Also remember to bring some medication with you and traditional ointments (because they are awesome!) because going to see a doctor here when you're sick is a major pain in the butt. You'd most likely not get past the nurse before she prescribes antibiotics and shoos you away like a fly. Unless of course if you're seriously ill and on the verge of death. I'm kidding. But things like fever packs are a life saver.
  • If you're feeling pensive about buying stuff, especially stationary, then bring some from home, such as pens and paper. They're more expensive if you compare converted prices. But you'll learn to ignore it over time. 
  • Try to get your grubby hands on free pens from your freshers' fair, or any fair. They work really well and you won't have to buy any!
  • Try to get a really good umbrella, the kind with extra fastenings(?) That make sure your spikes don't bend out of shape. I got mine from home and has lasted through all types of rain and wind that I've encountered so far. You could get one here, but I find them rather expenisive (£10 for one?!) And they usually don't last through 2 storms or so. Be warned.

What to expect

Weather Upon Arrival

Honestly, it won't really be that cold. It will be windy (but that's all the time) but it won't be freezing. When you're travelling over, just wear a jumper and a hoodie and you'll be fine. I'm more afraid of the cold in planes to be honest.

Weather during Winter

Now this one is a bit tricky. Temperatures don't really drop to double digit negative until January to February? It will be chilly during late Autumn but nothing a good coat can't handle. Winter will also mean that the air will be very cold (duh) and you may suffer from the occasional nose bleed (like me). 

During Winter, the nights will be longer and the days will be shorter. That means, the sun will set at 4pm. Yes. 4pm. And that includes daylight savings (- 1 hour) That usually starts in November? Or sometime around there. The sun will rise at about the usual time I suppose. Perhaps 6am? I can't really remember.

Fun fact: In Summer (aka now), the sun sets at approx. 10pm and rises at 4.30am, including daylight savings (+ 1 hour)

Weather in General

NEVER underestimate the weather. As I've mentioned before, rain is always lurking around the corner. Either that, or ridiculously strong winds that feel like Autumn when it's June. Always carry an umbrella with you, or wear a jacket or coat with a big enough hood to shield you from the sudden rain. Weather may also vary depending on which part of Britain you're in. For example, Nottingham is right smack in the midlands and it gets colder during Winter, and Spring, and nearing Summer (someone needs to stop playing with the weather controls!) than, I assume, other cities like London.

The weather forecast may be your best friend, but I wouldn't trust it 100%. Do remember to check what the weather is like generally before you fly so you're able to gauge what to expect.i

People

Hmm what can I say? They sure love to party and drink. It can't be helped, it's the culture here. Most Britons will go out for nights at the many clubs littered around the city and go for things called 'bar crawls'. I didn't know what it was until I came here. Basically it's a group going from bar to bar, drinking of course and ending it at the club, where they'll get absolutely hammered and miss next morning's lecture. 
Also depending on where you are, locals may or may not be racist towards you (if you're not Caucasian). Just be mindful of the people around you. 
And another thing, I've noticed that many Britons are rather shy or awkward in approaching internationals, and for some reason, especially Asians. Most of the time you'd have to take the initiative to talk to them. If not, they'd most probably stick with their own. 

Transportation

Buses are most of the time reliable and run on time. They're usually clean and safe so you don't have anything to worry about when taking the bus at 3am in the morning after a night out. Just be sure to travel in a group at that time, or at least in pairs. Student fares are usually £1 per trip, but do double check with the bus companies to make sure.

Taxis are run by various companies and it's up to you to determine which one is the cheapest. In Nottingham I'd recommend DG Taxis or Lenton Cabs. They even give out £1 off coupons, so hoard those for your nights out. But be mindful about taking them late at night alone, regardless if you're a man or woman (more towards women but hey, gender equality amirite?)

Also, if possible, invest in a Railcard. You'll get discounts when travelling by train, or if you're a bus person, there should be a National Express card, but if I'm right, most students get the railcard. That is of course, you do not intend to travel around at all when in the UK. It's not really that expensive to get one, and it would be a good investment.

IMPORTANT
BEFORE leaving for the UK, do take note to buy either a train or bus ticket to your city of study (if it's in another city away from the airport) at least a few weeks in advance because buying a ticket on the spot is hella expensive (from my own experience). Make sure that you have some time between immigration and customs processing and the time of departure because you wouldn't want to burn your ticket on your first day in the UK. Unless of course, you've booked a spot on your university airport pickup, then you're good to go.

Safety

Britain is generally pretty safe. Despite the various thefts, drunk violence and property damage, you've pretty much got nothing to severely worry about. Just remember to be alert when walking alone and keep your bags close. You can never be too careful. 

Student Life

Your average student life here will be filled with drink parties, clubbing, nights out, binge watching, binge eating, morning lectures, being utterly confused with the weather, cramming last minute in the sweltering library, fighting for a table with a socket in the library and pulling all-nighters. Specific experiences may vary by University. 

Others

Money

Please be mindful that majority of the shops and vendors (and taxis) only accept notes from £5 up to £10. £20 is rare and £50 is most often only used in banks. So if your money vendor hands you a thick wad of £50s, once you get to the UK, go to a bank and get them changed. You'd also want coins, especially £1 as they're very useful for buses and laundromats. 1p and 2p coins (copper coins) are useless and I don't know why we're still using them. 
Invest in a cardholder for your debit or credit card, bus pass, student card, national ID, Boots Card, Tesco Card, etc. You won't have to carry lots of money with you, maybe except coins.

Shopping

Shopping here is a wonderful experience, especially with their brilliant return policies. Of course, you should be considerate enough not to abuse that policy. I have faith in you. You also don't have to constantly carry tons of cash with you because majority of the shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs accept card transactions. 

Shops here usually open from 9am to 6pm on weekdays, while bars will close much later. On weekends, they close earlier at 4pm, so make sure to plan ahead before you head out to do some shopping!

Grocery shopping can also be done online at Tesco, Sainsbury's, etc. 
I can't tell you exactly which is the best, but I usually shop at Tesco and avoid M&S. Morrisons, Aldi and ASDA are cheaper than Tesco (I think). Sainsburry's is above Tesco, but below M&S. I'm not exactly sure about Waitrose as I've never shopped there before. These are the more popular grocery markets available in the UK. You can compare and contrast prices yourself.


Well, I guess that's about all the advice I can think off the top of my head. If there's any more to add, I will do so.
Congratulations on being able to study in this country and I hope you make the best out of your experience living here as a foreigner. All the best!

Cheers.

2 comments:

  1. Judith this is really good! Really well thought out, practical advice. Have you considered sending this to the international student blog? I heard they pay 25 pounds per published post.

    This is the link for the blog: http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/internationalstudentlife/
    If you do decide to submit some of your writing, the lady to get in touch with is Hayley Sleigh and her email is: Hayley.Sleigh@nottingham.ac.uk

    Would be a shame for such helpful advice to not reach the right people!

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    1. Can't believe I just saw this! (then again, I was already in Japan xD) I'll go have a look. Thanks for the tip! See you back in October!!

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