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.

Latest Questions and Answers


20 October 2017

Photo competition – International students: changing lives

International students: changing livesTo celebrate UKCISA‘s 50th year of supporting international students, they’re inviting you to enter a photo competition to show some of the excitement, achievements and surprises you’ve faced and how studying in the UK can change lives. They’re welcoming photographs that illustrate any aspect of studying in the UK. Themes include excitement, challenges, hopes for the future and surprises. A full list and further details are available at https://ukcisa.org.uk/competition

How do I enter?

Submit a photo and accompanying statement about what the image represents and how it demonstrates life in the UK as an international student. The photo must be the original file (to ensure printable quality) and in landscape format. Send us your entry by 5pm on 30th October 2017. Those judged to be the best 12 will be featured in a 2018 printed calendar to be sent to all of UKCISA’s university and college members.

The 12 winners will also receive:

  • a £50 Amazon voucher
  • a copy of the calendar
  • a ‘UKCISA Certificate of Commendation’
  • an invitation to our anniversary reception event in 2018 (date TBC)

The best 50 photos and stories will be featured on ukcisa.org.uk throughout 2018. Read the full details and enter!

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16 October 2017

A student’s guide to bills in the UK

Infographic on student billsThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Emma Croke from comparison website GoCompare:

Moving away from home can be daunting, especially when you have never had to deal with paying bills in the UK before. This can be even more so if you are moving to Britain as an international student and everything is unfamiliar. Luckily, GoCompare has put together a handy guide to the bills you will need to pay as a student in the UK. If you are living in student accommodation, you will likely be given a total cost for the annual rent, and some of your bills, such as water and energy, may be covered. However, if you are moving to private accommodation, you will have to organise and pay your bills yourself. This infographic contains a handy list of essential and not-so-essential bills that you will need to consider, and we have some further tips about key areas to look at:

Bank accounts

If you are staying in the UK for longer than a term, then you should set up a UK bank account to allow you to pay bills, transfer money and keep track of spending. There are a variety of student bank accounts available which may offer benefits over a standard current account, and some are specifically aimed at international students.

Mobile phones

Research whether your phone will work in the UK, and if so, how much it will cost to use. If you are not sure the you can look at what mobile phone deals are available.

Budgeting

It is important that you do not fall into debt while at university, so ensure that your incomings cover your outgoings. Also, if you are living in shared accommodation, try to talk to your flatmates or housemates about bills fairly early on. Decide who is going to be responsible for ensuring the bills are all paid on time, and how much each person owes. It is also worth setting a deadline for transferring your contribution several days before the date the bills have to be paid, in case of any payment delays.

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 August 2017

Getting Ready for Results Day

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

So you’ve sent off your UCAS application to study in the UK and now you’re waiting on your exam results! With over 400,000 students starting their new lives as undergraduates in Britain every year, there’s never been a more exciting time to apply.

But what about when it comes to results day? How do you keep track of your application and make sure you’ve got the grades you need to start your chosen course? Read our article to find out and to help you get ready for the big day!

Results Day

You can log into UCAS Track to see if you’ve got onto your chosen course. If you’ve achieved the grades you need, your ‘conditional’ offers will show up as ‘unconditional’ and you can celebrate! At this point, your first-choice university will get in touch to let you know what you should do next.

But remember that your exact marks won’t show up on Track. You will need to visit your school to see how you performed in each exam.

If you don’t get the results you want, try not to worry. When you’re just a few marks shy of getting into your chosen university, you can always call them up to see if they will nonetheless accept you.

Clearing

If you don’t get the grades you need, you can still go through Clearing. This is a service that allows you to choose a different course and it’s completely free for international students. Just book a consultation (you can do this via Skype), and your consultant will contact other universities on your behalf.

Once they’ve found a few courses that are suitable for you, just pick the one you like the most and add it as your ‘clearing choice’ on your UCAS account. If you want to find out some extra info about Clearing, read The Student Housing Company’s Uni Application Checklist and you’ll stay one step ahead.

Studying in the UK

As excited as you may be, travelling to Britain can seem daunting. The culture in the UK will probably be different from your own, and if you’re leaving home for the first time, being in a new country might feel scary.

But don’t worry, help is at hand. Most universities have student-support officers available to assist you. There are also plenty of social groups you can join. Whatever you enjoy doing in your spare time, there will be a university society dedicated to it. There are loads of clubs set up just for international undergraduates too, so you can make lots of friends!

Finally, if you’re feeling homesick or overwhelmed by being in a different place, mental health support staff are usually available to talk you through your problems. Make use of them so that you can enjoy your time in Britain!

Whatever you study in the UK, make sure you have fun. Remember that you will be working hard, but you will also develop as an individual. So put yourself out there, make new friends, and enjoy your time as a student.

Get Your Accommodation Sorted

Finding sound accommodation is just as important as getting onto the right course. You need to live in a relaxed and comfortable environment where you can make friends. Find out more about the Student Housing Company’s student accommodation options so you can quickly settle into your new life.

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 June 2017

Aim Higher for UK Education

A course was run earlier this year to assist refugees and asylum-seekers to apply for Higher Education courses in the UK.

The course contains approximately 9 hours of materials and activities, and aims to support refugees and asylum-seekers who wish to apply to study in a UK university. The course is also relevant to those aiming to support students who are currently studying. You can visit the course on the FutureLearn platform at Aim Higher: Access to Higher Education for Refugees and Asylum-Seekers.

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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18 May 2017

7 Alternative Study Break Activities for Students

A teapot and teacupsOur latest guest blog post describes seven alternative study break activities for students, and is provided by Jessica Wagstaff from outdoor extreme-weather clothing and equipment specialist DLX:

You’re coming to the end of the semester, your coursework is all submitted and now you’ve got exams to pass – it’s study time. Whether reading up from home or at the library, studying can be intense; there’s a lot of information to learn and you don’t want to skip what could potentially be in your exam. It can be a stressful period, therefore having a break from studying can be just as important as the studying itself. Whilst an energy drink or an extra-large dose of coffee might seem like a fast and easy way to rebuild your energy, these methods can often leave you feeling burnt out. So why not try one of the activities listed to focus your mind.

Cup of Tea

A “cuppa” (cup of tea) is a well-known cure for all woes and ills in the UK – this includes helping you to de-stress from studying. If the classic milk and two sugars tea combination feels a bit strange then you could opt for a green, fruit or herbal tea which will still have a similar soothing effect. Make sure you take the time to completely break away from your work though and enjoy the hot beverage, don’t rush back into working; you could even pop your tea in a flask and go out for a walk.

Colouring books

One of the keys to a proper study break is to switch off from what you’ve been reading to give your mind a rest. Being creative is a great way to do this, but being creative can feel stressful for people who like to have structure. Hence the rise in popularity of colouring books for adults, where you’re given a task to do. These enable you to really put your studying to the back of your mind for a while.

Listen to a podcast

Listening to music is a method of stress release for a lot of people, but Podcasts are a different way to chill out with a number of options available. You can have a book read to you and get lost in a story for a while, or maybe listen to a comedy show and laugh out loud (maybe at home rather than at the library…) You could even listen to something subject related to your studies to step back from your reading for a while and gain a fresh perspective.

Quiet time/meditate

Meditation has been scientifically proven to help people de-stress and is a great study-break choice. It may feel like a chore or even silly at first, but once you allow yourself to be completely transported away by it you’ll soon see the positive effects meditation can have. Focusing on your breathing and the present moment is called mindfulness. It is a process that you can adopt when going back to studying as it helps stop distractions and means you have better quality study periods. Meditation allows you to take your mind off studying so that when you go back to studying your brain is refreshed and ready for the task at hand.

Exercise

It is well known that Exercise releases endorphins, which make you feel happy, and therefore can be a fantastic study break activity. If you’re at home you could do yoga or go out for a short run. At the library, then getting outside for a 20-30 minute walk is a good choice and you could explore a part of the city you’ve not been to before. Swimming is also great for switching off for a bit as well as a great all over body exercise, see if your local campus has one.

Crafts – knit, make jewellery, cross-stitch

A great way to relax yet be productive at the same time is to pick up a crafty talent. Making jewellery, knitting, or cross-stitching all create lovely little pieces of craftwork that you can use in the future. All the while enabling you to concentrate on something completely different for a while. Just don’t get carried away making the entirety of your extended family a new jumper…

Have a bath

Don’t take your phone, tablet or any other electronic device with you, just sink into the bubbles and relax in a nice hot bath. Our bodies release endorphins as our temperature rises and toxins are released through sweat. Afterwards your muscles will be relaxed and you’ll feel clean and fresh – ready for the next round of studying.

It’s worth mentioning that these breaks work well if you’ve planned your studying in advance and aren’t cramming it in at the last minute – that is a sure way to become stressed! So don’t get bogged down by over-studying this exam period, make sure you reward yourself with proactive study breaks to look after your mental health and increase productivity.

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 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 backpacks 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?

Students using mobile broadband

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?

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