Welcome to the Prepare for Success blog!

This blog is part of the Prepare for Success website. Through it, we will answer your questions about living and studying in the UK. As well as writing about topics of interest, we answer questions from international students about living and studying in the UK on our blog.

If you have a question, please post it on the Question Wall. One of our team will then answer it through a blog post.

Guest bloggers: from time to time we include posts written by guest bloggers. If you are interested in contributing a blog post on a topic of interest to international students, please contact elang1@soton.ac.uk.

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10 April 2017

Mental Health and Wellbeing at University

A student studyingThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Amy Hirst, a writer for The Student Housing Company:

University is a very exciting time for most students but it can also be challenging in many ways, especially as an international student. Adapting to a new country and way of life can be tough if you’re a long way from home.

The Student Housing Company’s recent survey into student mental health found that 96% of students have experienced stress at some point at university, that 56% feel stressed constantly, and that 71% have suffered from some form of mental illness. It is important to overcome stress, so that your life as a student isn’t taken over by mental health problems.

Feeling Homesick

Homesickness is completely natural and very common amongst students. If you’re feeling homesick, make sure that you develop a strong friendship network at university, so that you feel more at home. There are hundreds of societies and groups you will be able to join during freshers’ week. Sign up for your favourite ones – you’re bound to make lots of friends this way!

Get chatting to your neighbours in your accommodation complex too. You’ll meet lots of friendly people this way, and just remember that everyone else wants to make new friends too. Don’t forget your family and friends back home either. Even if you’re just skyping or calling them, it will make you feel a lot better about being away from home.

Exams and Revision

Getting used to a new university can be very challenging. To stay on top of your studies and avoid stress, download your lecture timetable as soon as possible. This way, you will be able to plan your studies and your life around your lectures. It is also a good idea to download your exam timetable as soon as you can, so that you will be able to plan ahead, revise for your exams, and fit in plenty of breaks too.

Saving Money

Budgeting and getting your finances in order can be stressful at university, but there are plenty of ways to save money as a student. Here are some top tips:

  • Cook sensibly. By avoiding takeaways and buying ingredients for healthy recipes, you will feel better for eating healthy food and you will save a lot of money too.
  • Take advantage of student offers. There are plenty of offers available to students, like discounted student bars, offers on public transport, and money off in certain shops.
  • Use the library. This might seem obvious, but there are plenty of electronic and physical books available at your university library, so it’s unlikely that you will need to buy many books to complete your studies. Just try to reserve them in advance.

Finding the Help You Need

Today, there is less stigma attached to mental health issues in the UK, so do not be ashamed of getting help if you need it. Sometimes, just talking about your problems with a friend will make you feel better. But if you need further support, most universities have staff on hand to assist you – whether that’s counsellors or wider support staff. To find out more about The Student Housing Company’s latest research into mental health problems, read their mental health infographic.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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15 February 2017

The Benefits of Joining Your University’s Outdoor Activity Clubs

Our latest guest blog post describes the benefits of joining your university’s outdoor activity clubs, and is provided by Maria Mangion from outdoor clothing and equipment specialist Trespass:

After you’ve successfully converted your dream of studying abroad in the UK to a tangible reality, it’s time to think of what’s next. While your studies will be enough to keep you on your toes with a new culture, systems of learning and knowledge to digest, you’ll soon settle into the gentle uphill curve of university life. And what better way to glide over the hurdles with flying colours than supplementing this intellectual journey with a parallel, physically active one?

As you integrate into the British tertiary education lifestyle, you’ll notice that extracurricular activities play an important role in the university establishment. Most universities have clubs or societies dedicated to outdoor activities. In spite of the gloomy weather testing our limitlessness all year round, we have a healthy outdoors culture reflected on campuses nationwide. Students, alumni and sometimes even staff form clusters of enthusiasts who organise events throughout the year, from outdoor expeditions and weekend getaways to social gatherings at the pub.

A little research will help you discover whether your institution currently has one of these clubs, or you can speak to student advisors if you’d like to dig deeper. Don’t let the calendar pages turn until you register; utilise your new university’s resources and inform yourself as early as possible as most clubs have introductory meetings towards the beginning of the academic year.

From the fun, ‘Munro-bagging’ spirit of the Dundee University Rucksack Club to the nurturing, socially eventful environment of the Sheffield Hallam University Climbing Club, there are plenty of benefits to joining such a club, and we’re going to delve into each.

Stay Fit and Active

The most obvious of these benefits – and the effects of which you’ll start feeling immediately – is staying fit and active throughout your studies. Physical activity not only elevates your fitness levels and keeps you energised, healthy and strong, it also boosts brain function and regulates your mood so you’re able to perform better in class – a win-win decision.

Climbing in the outdoors

The advantage here is that you don’t need to plan or schedule your workouts, or train alone. Motivation is included in the mix as you’re given dates and times to stick to on a regular basis, and being a part of the club will encourage you to participate more conscientiously than if you were to attempt to take up an outdoor activity by yourself.

In addition to the excellent short-term benefits, you’ll be whipping yourself into shape in a collectively supportive atmosphere and setting a great precedent for keeping fit throughout your adult life.

Gain Bonus Credit on your Degree

Joining a club can pay back dividends in terms of your final graduating certificate. Some institutions formally recognise involvement in their clubs or societies by adding bonus ‘points’ or ‘credits’ to your degree at the end of your studies, which feature on your transcript.

Even if your university does not maintain this practice, your commitment to outdoor activities will be regarded favourably by prospective employers. You’ll be delighted to include this extracurricular leap of action in your CV as proof of your achievements at university. Having that extra edge over the sea of post-graduation jobseekers will help you to stand out and ultimately be rewarded for not simply doing the bare minimum to get by, as most do. Think of it as an extra accomplishment badge for your future!

Socialise and Make New Friends

This new era can be daunting; with loads to learn and a big move to a foreign country to top it off, the first phase of university life might prove socially challenging. As a student, you’ll find that there is a focus on individual learning and development and solitary research, meaning socialising and making new friends can become a struggle – especially if you’re not a natural extrovert.

Sports is an endeavour that has brought people together since the dawn of history, and it’s easier to meet new people and bond over a common interest in the organised setting of a club. Spending a day climbing cliffs or trekking in the hills gives you ample time to get to know the club members organically. The exciting backdrops will be a stimulant to your interactions and are the perfect grounds for the forging of long friendships.

Get Outdoors and Explore the Area

A fabulous way to familiarise yourself with the area where your university is and explore the city or town’s environs is through a club. You’ll be diving into exploits featuring your immediate surroundings and learning about the place you’ll be calling home.

Most clubs organise activities within their location and peruse the land closest to campus, so you can embark on enjoyable outdoor adventures while absorbing everything about your new base. Being outdoors is healthy for mind, body and spirit, and is the most beneficial way of kicking study stress to the curb. The wonders of the wilderness are the cherry on the cake.

Exploring the outdoors

Learn New Skills

Of course, every outdoor activity is in itself a specialised sport, and especially if you’re a beginner, you’ll be acquiring many useful and interesting skills to serve you for a lifetime. Most clubs will have highly experienced members who can give you training and first-hand advice for free while you improve at your own pace.

Whether it’s mountaineering using crampons and ice axes or hiking across long distances with rucksacks and walking boots on to tackle diverse terrain, you’ll be gaining unique transferable skills that can be adopted for a variety of applications.

Make Lifetime Memories

Finally, it’s important to remember that your time at university is a very special period in your life that will come to pass too quickly in most cases, so it’s wise to make the most out of it. The memories you will form through pursuing outdoor activities through a university club will stay with you for life, and with so many landscapes and challenges conquered, you’ll be a richer student and human being at the end.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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08 February 2017

6 ways to improve your conversational English

Students practising spoken EnglishOur latest guest blog post describes several ways you can improve your conversational English, and is provided by Ruth Bushi from student money website Save the Student:

If the thought of talking to native UK speakers leaves you tongue-tied, don’t panic! Save the Student reveals the free resources that can boost your confidence as well as your ability.

1. Get involved

Taking part in local clubs and groups doesn’t just increase your language skills: it can also help you feel less isolated and more rooted in your new community. So, don’t just stick with what you know – get out there and mingle!

  • Volunteer for a local charity. It’s a great way to get cosy with your community, plus you’ll meet people who value your input. Visit charity shops to find vacancies, or take a look at do-it.org.uk for all kinds of other opportunities. Not sure what’s involved? This ultimate guide to volunteering explains it all!
  • Join a student society. It doesn’t matter if it’s about walking, reading, or playing a sport – just pick something you’re passionate about and you’ll already have something in common to talk about.

2. Swap your skills

A language swap – where you teach the language you know to someone who speaks the language you’re learning – is a neat way to practice English without the pressure. It can be as simple as having a conversation in each language for a few minutes, or taking turns to explain common vocabulary or trickier slang words.

Your university may be able to put you in contact with other students keen to swap, but you could also keep an eye on department noticeboards and course forums. If you’re not yet in the UK you can still take part in a language swap by email, or using free video messaging apps such as Facebook and Skype.

3. Don’t sweat over slang

Understanding slang (informal words and phrases) and accents can be the most challenging thing about learning a language. The good news is that, whether you want to learn Cockney or understand a Scottish accent, someone on YouTube can show you how!

Try searching for British slang, UK dialects or How to pronounce British words. You’ll also find tons of tutorials on how to master British accents: don’t be shy about repeating what you hear and having a go yourself (unless you’re out in public – that can get you some curious looks).

4. Catch-up with films and TV

Watching films in English is a great way to immerse yourself in the language (well, it’s a good excuse, anyway!)

Unfortunately, movies don’t really reflect real life or useful phrases: the Brits don’t spend that much time fighting aliens. We don’t all wear bonnets and live in mansions, either!

That said, some viewing can be a valuable for cultural insights, as well as for hearing real-life English. Try these on for size:

  • Anything by director Mike Leigh: not always the cheeriest of films, but great for hearing everyday speech and regional accents.
  • BBC Three or BBC II!, as it likes to call itself, is an online-only BBC TV channel with more diverse, regional content, plus a window into British humour. There’s also Channel 4, though note that access to programmes on either depends on where you are in the world.
  • Star Wars Episode IV: if someone’s talking to you about droids, it’s quite likely they’re referencing this film rather than a phone operating system!

5. Read regional news

You won’t run short of news on TV or online, although much of it can have you thinking nothing interesting happens outside London. Reading the regional news can give you some history and context about your new home, and means you’ll always have something to talk about with taxi drivers (note: they do most of the talking…)

  • Try www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk and follow the menu to navigate to your region in the UK.
  • You can find links to almost every regional and local UK newspaper on this Wikipedia page.
  • Don’t just read the news! If you want to see more fluid language in action, check out magazine content or look for student blogs: they’re perfect for picking up slang, jokes and hot topics.

6. Ask questions

If something has you stumped (i.e., utterly confused), don’t panic. Just make a note to ask about it later, whether it’s someone on your course, someone on Reddit or some guy in the supermarket. Most folk love explaining what makes their language, town or country quirky, brilliant or bizarre – so don’t hold back about asking for an explanation.

For language-specific queries, the forum over at Duolingo can be a mine of information (plus you can brush up your grammar skills in 20-odd languages while you’re there).

Getting by in a new language isn’t just about mastering grammar rules and perfect pronunciation. A lot of what you need to feel at home will happen naturally as you immerse yourself in local life. Be patient, stay curious, and it’ll happen!

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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19 January 2017

How can I connect to the Internet in the UK?

This month’s guest blog post describes the different internet connection options available to students in the UK, and is provided by Broadband Genie:

Broadband is an essential utility for today’s students, but finding a broadband service that’s affordable and flexible enough to suit student life can be a challenge. So what do you need to know, and what are your options?

Broadband contracts and student living

A common problem faced by students is that the majority of broadband packages require you to sign a lengthy contract of 12, 18 or 24 months. This is problematic if you’re only living in a place for a short period of time or aren’t certain about your immediate future. Ending a contract early incurs a cancellation fee and that’s an additional expense that most students would prefer to avoid.

One alternative is a short-term contract. While not commonplace, there are several ISPs (Internet Service Providers) – such as NOWTV, TenTel and DST – that offer broadband on 1-month, 3-month and 6-month agreements. This provides more flexibility as you can cancel at short notice without facing extra charges.

However, there are some disadvantages. These short-term packages tend to be more expensive than the long-term deals, both in terms of the running costs and the upfront fees. You will most likely need to pay a setup charge (often included for other packages) and may have to pay for the Wi-Fi router too. There’s far less choice as well, with just a handful of ISPs offering short-term deals.

Another option is a student broadband deal. These are packages offered by a few ISPs (notably Sky, Virgin Media and BT) which are explicitly aimed at student users. The key difference with these deals is they come on a 9-month contract to fit with term times. They are only available at certain times of the year, but are worth considering if you see them as they can be good value and may help to avoid a cancellation charge.

If you do have to go with a regular 12, 18 or 24 month contract, make sure you’re aware of the ISP’s cancellation policy and what it might cost to end it early before signing up.

Which type of broadband is best for students?

There are various types of broadband available around the UK. What are the differences, and which is best for your student home?

ADSL

ADSL broadband using the BT telephone network is the most widespread and cheapest fixed-line service. It’s available to the vast majority of premises and can be available for under £20 per month.

ADSL has a maximum download speed of 17Mb and an upload speed of just 1Mb, which is significantly worse than the alternatives. It’s sufficient for one person or a small group of budget-conscious users, but sharing ADSL in a busy student home can be tedious as it can quickly slow to a crawl.

Pros:  • Cheap   • Available to almost every home   • Wide choice of ISPs
Cons:  • Slow by modern standards   • Needs a phone line

BT fibre

Fibre optic broadband from the BT network is a vast improvement on ADSL. Download speeds reach 38Mb, 52Mb or 76Mb, and upload up to 20Mb is available. That makes it more suitable for handling multiple users.

It is, however, slightly more expensive, and is not as widely available. Just over 80% of properties do now have access to these services. While the service does run on the BT Openreach network, it is available from a wide range of ISPs just like ADSL, so there is plenty of choice when it comes to finding a package at the right price.

Pros:  • Fast   • Good choice of ISPs and deals
Cons:  • Availability is still limited compared to ADSL   • Needs a phone line

Virgin Media

Virgin Media operates its own fibre optic network and has the fastest speed of any nationwide ISP, with a maximum download rate up to 200Mb. That’s very helpful if you have lots of housemates and are concerned about performance.

Pros:  • Very fast   • Doesn’t need a phone line
Cons:  • Must be in a Virgin network area   • Virgin is the only ISP

Fibre To The Home (FTTH)

Some lucky students may have access to next generation ‘FTTH’ services. This is a full-fibre connection which can deliver incredible speeds of up to 1Gb, and does not require a phone line. This is only currently available in a few areas, but it’s something that will likely become more widespread in the not-too-distant future.

Pros:  • Incredibly fast   • No phone line required   • Surprisingly affordable
Cons:  • Very limited availability

Mobile broadband

Getting your broadband from a mobile network is an alternative to fixed-line services because it is very flexible in comparison. Contract lengths are less critical as the connection is not for a specific location – if you move home the broadband comes with you and there are no fees to worry about. There is also the choice of long-term contracts, rolling monthly contracts, SIM-only deals and pay-as-you-go.

Provided you can get 4G, mobile broadband performance is now very good. Speeds can outclass ADSL and even approach entry-level fibre optic home broadband. The connection is less impressive on 3G, but still capable of handling most of what the average user will need.

The biggest drawback is the limited data cap. No provider currently offers unlimited mobile broadband, so you’ll need to be very careful about usage to avoid extra charges or service limitations.

Pros:  • Flexible and portable   • Variety of contracts   • 4G speed can be excellent
Cons:  • Performance relies on a strong signal (You can check coverage using the Ofcom app)   • Low data usage limits

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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05 December 2016

Christmas markets in the UK

This month’s guest blog post introduces some of the UK’s Christmas markets, and is provided by Gemma Burns:

Christmas markets are traditionally thought to be a European construct, however in recent years their popularity has grown considerably in the UK, and now almost all major cities will have some form of Christmas market during December, no matter how big or small. Popular with the whole family, and visitors of all ages, many students choose to visit their local Christmas market with their friends during November and December.

If you want to get in the festive spirit and soak up some Christmas atmosphere then there is no better place to do this than at a Christmas market. Here is a list of three of the UK’s largest and most popular.

Bath Christmas Market, Bath

Every year the centre of the historical city of Bath is transformed into a winter wonderland, with over 170 Christmas market chalets lining the streets of the city. These chalets sell a range of food, drink and craft options aimed to appeal to as wide a range of visitors as possible. The city of Bath is breathtakingly beautiful and provides an iconic back drop to this famous Christmas market, which winds its way around the famous Roman baths and Bath Abbey.

What makes this Christmas market particularly inspiring is the wide range of other festive attractions that the city hosts in conjunction with its market. The market is lit up by an animated Christmas light display, and when you get tired of eating and shopping you can visit/try out the ice rink and glow-in-the-dark crazy golf course at nearby Royal Victoria Park: ideal for burning off the calories in all of those extra mince pies! With carol singers providing music and a Christmas pantomime playing at the local Theatre Royal, every aspect of a visit to Bath in December will ooze with festive joy.

Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London

One of the most famous UK Christmas markets is the Winter Wonderland market in Hyde Park, London. Offering over 200 Bavarian-style stalls lit by fairy lights, a circus, funfair, large wooden beer hall and various other attractions, there really is something for everyone when you choose to visit this iconic location. As the largest Christmas market and specialist event in the UK, the Winter Wonderland can get very crowded, but with so much to see and do, there’s always something to appeal to everyone.

It is worth noting that Christmas markets in the UK can be expensive, particularly when compared to their native European counterparts, and this is especially true of the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. Debt is a normal part of university life for the vast majority of students studying in the UK, so some students avoid places such as these in order to save money. We don’t recommend that you or your friends/fellow students visit our Christmas markets in order to do all of your Christmas shopping. However they are well worth exploring if you wish to eat some traditional European foods, enjoy a drink or two, and soak up the festive atmosphere.

Frankfurt Christmas Market, Victoria Square, Birmingham

The Frankfurt Christmas Market is held in Birmingham from the beginning of December every year, and it is the largest traditional German Christmas market in the UK, having been held in the city for 15 years. This market offers visitors the chance to enjoy a huge array of German and Austrian foods and drinks, including mulled wine, steins of beer, meats, sweets, and pastries. Visitors can also visit the Birmingham Christmas craft market, which is a part of the overall Christmas market experience, to browse and purchase an incredibly wide range of arts and handicrafts, all produced and offered for sale by local artists. Birmingham is an incredibly diverse and multicultural city, providing a wonderful snap shot into the ways in which individuals from a wide range of different cultures live and work together in the UK: if you are thinking of travelling in the country in order to enjoy a Christmas market then this is one of the best markets to pick.

If you are living in the UK this winter and looking for something to help get you into the Christmas spirit then there really is no better activity than wrapping up warm and heading to your local Christmas market. Why not go around a meal time, so that you can enjoy sampling the local festive cuisine as part of your explorations?

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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23 September 2016

Accommodation Choices for International Students in the UK

This month’s guest blogpost is provided by Amy Hirst, a writer for The Student Housing Company:

Once you have secured your place at university in the UK, it is time to start thinking about your accommodation options. It may seem like a daunting task, but if you follow our advice, you will find the accommodation you need.

The Property

When you are thinking about the type of accommodation you want to rent, consider the following points: does the accommodation provider offer property management or security? Is there an en-suite bathroom or will the bathroom facilities be shared? Is there a good communal space? Will there be a good mix of students to socialise with?

The Location

Location is a very important thing to consider when choosing your accommodation. Use a map to check that you are within easy walking distance of your lecture rooms. Does Google Maps show that you are within walking distance of your lectures? If this is not the case, it is important to look into methods and cost of transport to the campus. Try to find out about the average cost of a bus fare to the campus. Many transport companies offer seasonal ticket deals for university students.

Rent and Other Costs

It is very important to consider your budget when you study abroad. There are costs that you may not think about initially. For example, if you are not a full-time student you may have to pay some Council Tax. You should also consider the cost of insuring your items abroad, whether your bills are included in your rent, and if you will need to pay for any new furniture.

Your Contract

When you enter into a contract it is legally binding so take care to read it in full. For example, if you sign a joint contract and one tenant drops out, the remaining tenants will often be liable for the rent due. It is important to be aware of these details.

Contact Your Accommodation Provider

Once you have chosen your accommodation, get in touch with your university if you have decided to go into halls of residence. If you have chosen to rent private accommodation, contact your future landlord or letting agent to secure your new place. If you are an international student looking for accommodation in the UK and are unsure about the next step to take, you can browse the nationwide accommodation options from The Student Housing Company.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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10 August 2016

How do UK universities fare on the world stage?

This month’s guest blogpost is provided by Adam Maidment, a writer for Pure Student Living, which provides luxurious student accommodation for students across London:

In May, the annual Times Higher Education (THE) University World Reputation Rankings list was revealed. It aims to highlight the world’s most prestigious universities and highlight those that are doing the best in terms of providing successful candidates ready for the workplace.

The UK was well-represented with ten placements in the hundred-long list. The UK was the second most-represented nation, after the US, which had forty-three placements. Two UK universities – the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford – appeared in fourth and fifth place respectively. With the UK taking up one tenth of the THE list, just how well do the UK’s universities compare to other countries?

Individual treatment

Comparing the top two nations on the list – the US and the UK – it seems that if you want a more individual and one-on-one learning experience, then the UK is the better option.

In most UK universities, students will be assigned into smaller class groups after regular lectures. These seminar classes enable students to discuss and debate ideas and key points from the lectures in depth with dedicated members of staff and other students in their class. The knowledge gained from these sessions is then useful throughout the rest of their studies.

It seems that such discussion groups or seminars do not really figure in most US universities until the very last year of the degree programme. This means that for most of the course, students studying in the US will have to depend on lectures as the main source for the majority of their knowledge. Nor will they have the same number of opportunities to have designated one-on-one discussions. In some cases, postgraduate students are assigned to run discussion groups but as they are not members of staff, their knowledge can be somewhat limited.

Specialist subjects

It’s not uncommon for students in Australia to take double or combined degrees, whilst many university students in the US will be asked to take on a broad range of subjects in their first year: these are one they wish to major in, and another, which can be totally unrelated, that they want to minor in. Some US universities won’t even require students to decide on their major subject until the second year.

If there is a particular subject that you know you really want to focus on, studying in the UK might be your best option as there is there is much more scope for specialisation. In most UK institutions, there is the option to take on such a degree.

If you’re still wanting to take on a combined honours course, these are also available in the UK, but they usually involve subjects that relate to each other in some way.

One of the best places to study

In December, the UK HE International Unit found that student satisfaction amongst international students in UK universities was at 91 percent, which was massively higher than any other major English-speaking destination.

With internationally recognised qualifications and ten places within the THE list, the UK really is one of the best places to study. UCAS reports that as many as 430,000 students from over 180 different countries choose to study in the UK.

As a multicultural country, studying in the UK opens up opportunities to experience new cultures and backgrounds. With English being one of the most-recognised languages around the world, being fully immersed in the language will only help international students develop their careers even further after their studies.

What you get out of your university experience depends on what you put into it. Wherever you choose to study, if you don’t work hard then you’re not going to reach your full potential. Choose a degree programme that suits your interests, career prospects, and optimises your own learning.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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27 July 2016

How To Avoid Colds And Flu In The Autumn

This month’s guest blog post offers guidance to students about applying to study in the UK and is provided by Gemma Burns:

The UK has many things going for it, but its climate is not always one of them. The island of Great Britain has one of the most unpredictable weather profiles in the world, prone to lightning, fast changes and baffling about turns. You can indeed have four seasons in a single day – sometimes in a single hour. However, while it’s really lovely while the sun shines, cold, damp weather is something you’re definitely going to experience a lot of. And you’ll get more than average during the autumn. With everything perpetually soaking wet and the climate turning colder, viruses like the common cold and flu find it easier to take hold. Autumn can be a test of your staying powers in Britain – and you can pass this test with far greater ease if you protect yourself from colds and flu! Here are a few tips which might help:

Hygiene
In a study environment, viruses can spread with lightning speed. Lecture theatres and classrooms become giant petri dishes, ideal locations for colds and flu viruses to incubate, gather strength, and infect multiple people. This effect is exacerbated if you’re living in communal dwellings or engaging in communal activities. It tends to be the case that if one person goes down with a virus in these situations, they take a good chunk of their friends, neighbours, and classmates down with them. There is no sure-fire way in which to protect yourself from germs – they move quickly, and pass easily from person to person. In order to completely preserve yourself from colds you’d have to seal yourself off from your fellow students (which wouldn’t be particularly friendly). However, you can minimize your risks of succumbing to infection by practising good personal hygiene – disinfecting your hands regularly, always using clean utensils and so on. Always be careful when touching your face in cold season, as it’s through your airways that the viruses take hold. If you really want to avoid colds, you could try wearing a surgical mask – but be warned, many British people will consider this at best strange and at worst rude.

Vitamin C
There are lots of ways in which to improve your immune system – some better than others. Eating healthily and keeping fit will give you a far greater chance of staying virus-free as autumn advances than leading an unhealthy, couch-potato lifestyle. However, if you really want to fire up your immune system, eat plenty of foods containing Vitamin C. Contrary to popular belief, this will not help to cure you if you do come down with a cold. But it can make your immune system a lot stronger, meaning that you’re more able to stop colds in their tracks. Don’t leave it until you start feeling sniffly to chug the orange juice – up your Vitamin C intake as soon as you can in order to prevent colds from getting a hold on you.

Stay Warm And Dry
One of the reasons why people get colds in colder weather is because the human immune system is weaker when we’re colder. Another is that the common cold and flu viruses prefer cold noses in which to gather their strength. Staying warm will boost your immune system, and discourage cold viruses from using your nose as an incubation chamber. And staying dry will help you to stay warm. Now, typically, Britain in autumn is not a warm, dry place and, while you can hopefully keep your accommodation pretty warm and dry, you have to step out into the chilly damp sometimes. What are you to do on these occasions? Well, it’s all about clothing. Umbrellas and waterproof outerwear can help to keep you dry. To stay warm, wear multiple layers – these trap warm air and help you to maintain a comfortable body heat. Wearing a waterproof hat or hood is also advisable, as wet hair does not dry as quickly as wet skin, and will insinuate cold and damp throughout your body. Curiously, it’s also very important to keep your feet warm and dry, as your body takes a surprising amount of temperature cues from your feet. So invest in a good pair of waterproof boots, and learn the fine art of layering socks!

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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10 June 2016

Student questions on the Prepare for Success Question Wall

The Prepare for Success Question WallThis month’s blogpost addresses three questions posted recently by international students on the Prepare for Success Questions Wall:

The first is from Mehmush. Mehmush is an Iranian student, who is currently living and working as a nurse in Italy and who wants to apply for a Masters degree programme in the UK.

The first step in applying for any postgraduate degree programme is to inform yourself about what is available in the area you are interested in. There are some online search portals that can be a useful starting point such as the Masters Portal or Masters Compare. However, you should always follow this step by searching for more detailed information on the university websites of the Masters programmes you are interested in and/or by contacting their Admissions office to request a brochure about the courses you are interested in. Once you are in contact with the university’s admissions office you can also ask about costs, possible scholarships and the exact procedure to apply for the course you choose.

The second question is from a student planning to study in Glasgow and who is wondering where the best place to live is – in halls of residence or in the city?

This is a dilemma that many international students have as there are pros and cons for both living in a university hall of residence or sharing a house or flat with others in the local community. Many universities will offer international students a guaranteed place in a hall of residence to save you the trouble of searching for private accommodation. Others will have an accommodation office, which can help in the search for private accommodation. The situation will be different from one city to another but here are some points to help you consider which is best for you.

In a hall of residence:
• You have the opportunity to meet other students, including those studying on different courses.
• You may pay less rent than in private accommodation of a similar size and location.
• Halls of residence are generally situated close to main campuses.
• Utility bills (e.g. for gas, electricity etc) are generally included in your rent.
• Staying in a hall of residence can help you to feel part of the university community.

In private accommodation:
• You have the opportunity to live and share with friends.
• You may feel more independent and more in touch with the local community.
• You will have to pay utility bills (e.g. for gas, electricity etc), which are generally not included in your rent.
• You can choose an area of the city that you would like to live in and look for private accommodation there.
• You won’t need to leave your accommodation during vacation time.
• You will be able to search for a more competitive rate for rent.

Lastly, there is a question from Peter from Nigeria. He is concerned about certain kinds of advertising (‘Come Along With A UK Study Abroad Programme With Free Visa’). Is it genuine or is it a fraudulent attempt to obtain money? Should he require proof even if it sounds real?

This is a very important question as every year there are numerous scams involving false promises, to extort money from students. You should always be very suspicious of anything that sounds too good to be true as it probably is, and NEVER send money or bank details in such cases. Reliable Information about how to obtain a study visa is available from the UKCISA website or from the student admissions section at the University you are applying to.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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19 April 2016

BYOD – Bringing your own device when studying in the UK and getting connected

A student using their own deviceThis month’s guest blog post is by Andrew Davey, Technology Specialist in eLearning from the University of Southampton. In it he looks at some of the steps international students may need to take when bringing their own devices, such as personal laptops or tablets (iPads or Android), to use at a college or university in the UK.

Facilities

Most UK institutions have on-site computing facilities. These provide support to students and staff across campus in getting networked and using the institution’s online services and licensed software. Some of the instructions for getting your own device networked will often be online, so once you have an institutional username and password (usually the same as your email login details), you will be able to log in and follow instructions to access services. Students often bring their own devices to classes or lectures in the UK to support their studies and use them to work online also when not being taught. For these reasons, it is important to get your device connected as soon as you can after you arrive.

Accessing University resources off-campus

You may wish to access resources such as a personal filestore when you are away from your institution. It is important to have access to this and other services such as the library while off-campus and studying at home. This will usually be possible through a ‘Virtual Private Network’ or VPN, which allows you access to systems as if you were using an institutional device. Your institution may provide an app for ease of connecting to the VPN, or a set of instructions may be available.

Email

In the UK, email underpins much of the communication between tutors and students on their courses. You will need to check your institutional email account on a daily basis in case there are any important messages from your teachers, department or the university in general. Spam emails can be a problem in most institutions so when using email accounts, avoid opening attachments from unknown sources. Some emails may contain a virus or spyware, which can help give hackers access to your accounts. Always make sure you have an up-to-date virus scanner installed on your device. You may be able to obtain one for free as part of an institutional licence, or you may have to purchase one separately.

The institutional VLE

Your institutional VLE (virtual learning environment) will be an important place to locate module and course information. Find out which VLE our institution uses and familiarise yourself with as soon as you have your institutional login. Blackboard and Moodle are both popular VLEs used in the UK. To find out more about how VLEs are used by course teachers, look at this learning resource: Preparing for Online Study.

Social Media

If you have any social media accounts, you may also wish to connect with these to your department or University by ‘following’ them on Twitter or ‘liking’ them on Facebook. For study tips and academic guidance you can follow @PfS_website on Twitter or Prepare for Success on Facebook. For general advice about life and study in the UK you can also follow @UKCISA.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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