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20 December 2018
What can I do over the Christmas holidays?

Christmas treeThis month’s blog post is from Andrew Davey, Project Manager for Prepare for Success and Products Manager for eLanguages, the University of Southampton team behind this website. It is in response to a student question, ‘What can I do in the holidays?’

The Christmas break can be a lonely time for international students who are spending time in the UK away from their families. However, this doesn’t have to be the case! There are often plenty of activities to get involved with, and here are some you might like to try:

Go to a Christmas market

The UK has hundreds (or possibly even thousands) of Christmas markets and fairs. These range from the larger city-based markets we featured on our blog in 2016 through to smaller town or village fairs. Some markets even continue into the new year!

Go to a carol concert or Christmas church service

Carol services are a traditional Christmas celebration in the UK where many people get together, often in a church or cathedral, to sing well-known Christmas songs, known as Christmas carols. These are a great way to enjoy music with plenty of other people – it’s a good idea to arrive early! You can also attend a church service on Christmas Day (times are usually on local websites or outside churches) to find out more about Christmas. If you’d like to stay with a British family or enjoy a traditional Christmas meal, you can also look on the Friends International website to find out more information about this.

Meet up with friends

If you have friends staying in the UK over Christmas, why not meet up with them? There are likely to be other students staying at University or college over the break and they are likely to want some company as well. You could even hold a Christmas party!

Work on your course

Many courses have exams and coursework deadlines in January – so the Christmas break can be a great time to get a head-start preparing for these. Do make sure you get enough rest as well!

However you choose to spend the break, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the Prepare for Success team!

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08 November 2018
5 Tips for Postgraduate Study

Studying at a deskThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Callum Dawson, a writer for Mears Student Life, a trusted provider of purpose-built student accommodation across the UK.

The jump from secondary school or high school to sixth-form? It’s a big one. How about going from sixth-form to university? Even bigger. There’s not much talk about the jump from university to postgraduate study, though, but there should be, because it’s monumental.

The change can be a big culture-shock if you’re not prepared. Postgraduate study requires far more independent learning than undergraduate study, not to mention a great deal of self-motivation. For this reason, we’ve collected five tips for you that will help you to succeed at postgraduate level. Here they are!

1. Pick a subject you love (but can still be objective about)

There’s a unique point to be made with this one. On the one hand, you want to study something that you’re passionate about, and something that you obviously enjoy. On the other hand, you need to be able to step back from the subject at hand and view it with impartiality. You need to be critical with the work. This is important if, for example, you’re studying English literature and you choose to write a dissertation on your favourite novel. Is that really the best choice – the one book you’ve held dearest all these years? Probably not. You could be too close to it – bias is the scourge of the academic community, remember!

2. Prepare for epic amounts of reading (epic in the actual sense of the word!)

At postgraduate level, there’s a lot more focus on reading around your subject. As an undergraduate, your reading list will consist of a limited number of texts, with the option of reading around the subject. You might not expect such an increase in workload when you move on to postgrad work, but the reality is that you have to make a big step up.

You need to show that you’re capable of extensive research and can go down avenues that you found on your own. It’s all about working independently and trying to do things a little differently.

When you’re planning your dissertation or thesis, pick a starting point (a core text, or maybe an overarching question that you intend to answer) and plot a few points which are mentioned to investigate. As you do this, you’ll land upon ideas that you may not have come across before. Basically, be prepared to read as much as possible! Postgraduate work is hard, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

3. Talk about your work with others – it helps!

Although independent learning is, as we’ve said, important at postgraduate level, you should still engage in group work (as much as you may hate it!). Discussing work with your peers, or even a few family members or friends, will give you some precious outside perspective.

It’s quite common for postgraduate students to get ‘tunnel vision’, which is having too much focus on a single specific point. When you’re so far into your research and you’re so close to the work at hand, it can be difficult to look at the bigger picture. It helps to get outside of your groove every now and then and talk to others! You might come across a few gaps or holes in your theory – ones that you’ve not noticed before.

4. Rethink your strategy

The old phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ doesn’t really apply at postgraduate level. Your revision strategies up to now may have been fine for your A-levels or your undergraduate work, but things are different now.

Your first few months of postgraduate study are perfect for trying new things, whether that’s revision methods that you’ve not tried before or learning-strategies that you’d like to try. Now is the time! The intensity has increased, and you need to be reactive to this.

We can say that what has worked well for you before may not work anywhere near as well for you at postgraduate level. You’re expected to up the ante, all in the name of academic progression.

5. Get a head-start on your reading

You’ll have been told this at undergraduate level, we’re sure, but it’s vital that you actually get a head-start on your reading list at postgraduate level. This is what your summer is for (although you’ll want to spend some time relaxing too!) Get out in the garden or head down to the park, and get yourself ahead of the game. If you are taking a pre-sessional English course before your postgraduate studies, this will help you to get used to the language and study skills you’ll need.

Every little bit helps. Get to grips with the concepts you’ll be tackling, as well as any bits of vocabulary or terminology that you might not be familiar with. You don’t want to start your postgraduate course unprepared, so it’s best if you do some preparation. You’ll thank yourself later!

It’s a big jump, but you can handle it.

With the above tips, we’re confident that you have postgraduate life planned out. With preparation, forward-thinking and plenty of reading, you’ll be in a great position to do your best!

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 October 2018
How to Write an Essay: Tips for ESL (English as a Second Language) Students

This month’s guest blogpost is provided by Grace Carter:

Essay writing can be challenging for ESL students. Essays can be hard enough in your native language, but trying to organise and argue ideas in an unfamiliar tongue is even more difficult. Essay writing can be made more approachable if students follow a few simple tips.

Thesis statements

The basis of your essay will be your thesis statement – this is the point you will be arguing in your essay. Put some careful thought and planning into your thesis statement; it is the most important part of your essay. Try brainstorming some ideas, write down everything that comes to mind when you think about your topic. You can also try mind-mapping. A mind map is a diagram that starts out as one idea, then you branch out into words that come to mind when you look at your idea. Write out some arguments and connect them together, making sure they are directly related to your main idea.

Your introduction

Here is where you will introduce your topic and thesis. You will also want to get the reader interested in reading more and orientating them on your topic. You should also briefly outline the points you will be arguing in your explanatory paragraphs. Short quotes can be a good way to engage your reader, so as you do your research keep your eyes peeled for a quote you might be able to use for this purpose, and make sure that you take down details of your sources so that you can reference any quotes you use.

Explanatory paragraphs

A basic essay structure is the five-paragraph essay, which includes three explanatory body paragraphs. Each one of these should argue one of your three supporting points. State your point, explain it and expand on it, and then back it up with evidence and references. Prioritise clarity by breaking down complicated ideas into short, simple sentences. Supporting with evidence is important. Use different kinds of sources such as book references, statistics and quotes.

Concluding paragraph

Your conclusion should contain a summary of your main points and a repeat of your thesis statement. This is your final opportunity to make your case and drive your points home. Be careful not to add any new information in your conclusion; you should just be summarising and restating.

Try out some online writing resources for help

Writing an essay can be challenging enough when it is in your native tongue, but it can be especially tricky when you are writing in a new language. There are plenty of resources available that can help make the process more accessible. Here are some good sites to get started with:

  • ViaWriting, AcademAdvisor and StateOfWriting – Grammar is a common topic for ESL students to struggle with. English has many grammar rules, and they can be confusing. These grammar resources can help you to improve your knowledge of grammar, so you can use this knowledge to improve your writing.
  • WritingPopulist and LetsGoandLearn – These are blogs devoted to proofreading. Proofreading is a critical step in any essay writing process, but it is one that is often rushed. Read some blog posts and see what other writers have done to improve their proofreading process. You learn a lot from other writers’ successes and failures.

When you come to the UK to study, you will be expected to use UK English spellings so it is important that you are familiar with these.

Conclusion

Essays can be tricky, but hopefully these tips will make essay writing a bit simpler and more approachable. A good thesis, some well-argued main points, and a conclusion that summarises and restates the thesis make for a well-rounded essay.

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 September 2018
Lecture Tips for International Students

NotebooksThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Daniel Sefton, a writer for The Student Housing Company:

The UK is home to outstanding academic institutions. As a result, students come from far and wide to get a taste of UK student life. There is a very particular culture around being a student in the UK, and for international students who are not used to the way that higher education works here, it can be a difficult task to settle into proper learning habits.

You might be a fluent English speaker or you might not be. Either way, lectures and seminars are fast-paced learning environments where you have to keep up with what the tutor is telling you, and you have to take your learning into your own hands.

Follow these tips to take control of your learning…

Ask Plenty of Questions

Your tutors are there to make sure that every student understands the concepts that they are learning about. Unless you are taking a specialist course, it is likely that the tutors will be teaching the content to many other students; because of this, the tutors will cover topics quickly and will expect you to absorb the information just as quickly.

Nonetheless, the tutors are still dedicated to helping you pass your degree, and are there to answer any questions you have. If there is something that you don’t understand, ask questions until you have a clear understanding of the topic. Tutors will often have set office hours where you can go and see them to discuss any issues or gaps in your knowledge – make use of this time.

Selecting a book from the Library

Read Ahead

Either before you start your course or on your first day, your tutors will give you a list of textbooks that you should go out and buy (and, of course, read). They recommend this reading because it will enrich your knowledge of the course content and it will help you gain a better understanding of the topics that you study. After your opening lectures, head to the library and borrow these textbooks, because they will become useful resources for you.

Reading the relevant sections ahead of lectures will give you an advanced understanding of the points being taught, and will therefore help you to follow what the tutor is saying more clearly than you would without prior knowledge.

Study Together

UK universities accept applications from thousands of international students each year, so when it comes to studying your course, you won’t be alone. There will be other students in the same situation as you, and you are in a great position to help each other out.

University libraries have group-study rooms that you can book at particular times of the day. If you and your friends allocate time once per week to get together and discuss the lectures from the week before, you will find that you can fill the gaps in each other’s knowledge.

Use Study Apps

Technology has changed the way that international students learn new information. Laptops and smartphones now have a lot of useful software and apps to help you understand what your lecturer is telling you. Here are our favourites:

  • Voice Notes: Sometimes lecturers can talk through topics quickly, making it a little bit difficult to keep up. Recording the lecture on your smartphone means that you can revisit the lecture at a later date and listen to it at your own pace. Available from Apple and Google Play.
  • Google Translate: If your lecturer uses a word that you don’t understand, you can write it (or speak it) into the Google Translate app and it will translate the word to a language that you understand. Available from Apple and Google Play.
  • Duolingo: When you’re tired of using Google Translate, you can use this app to teach yourself how to speak English as a second language. It breaks the language elements down into easy-to-follow steps so that it’s not too overwhelming. Available from the Duolingo website.

Enjoy!

During your time at university, you’ll be meeting new people, experiencing a new culture, and learning new things every day, so make sure that you take the time to appreciate it while it lasts. It’s hard work, but it will pay off in 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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27 July 2018
Things I wish I’d known before I came to the UK

This month’s guest blogpost is provided by Madalina Lupu, from international student account provider UniZest:

When asked about things they wish they’d known before coming to the UK, international students have a lot to say. Here are a few examples:

  • “I wish I’d known more about the cost of public transport – I’ve spent so much by now I should have just bought a good second-hand bike.”
  • “That getting accommodation as an international student with no UK guarantor is difficult.”
  • “The accents of people in the UK are a lot different than the ones that are on TV.”
  • “That using cash is very rare in the UK (most things happen by card).”

Heading off to a new country and a different culture requires a lot of planning and you might not even be aware of some of the things you need to sort out before or after you arrive. We have pulled together a ‘listicle’ which we think you might find useful.

1. Essential things

Here are some of the essentials you will need to bring:

  • UK plug adapter: It is advisable to bring one with you if you don’t want to pay outrageous prices to buy one at the airport.
  • Compression bags: Of course it is difficult to pack your whole life into two suitcases. Try using compression sacks. You put your clothes inside and then suck the air out of the bag, maximising the space in your luggage.
  • “>Spare passport photos and copies of your passport: You might need some extra passport photos when applying for Student Passes, IDs or public transport cards. It is also worth having a couple of extra photocopies of your passport and other important documents.
  • Umbrella: Remember that you are coming to the UK, so a folding umbrella that will fit into your hand luggage is a must-have.

2. Banking system

The UK banking system might be a bit different than the banking system in your home country. Even if you already have a bank account in your name, do you have any idea what are the differences between an account number, a card number and an IBAN? Even more, have you ever heard about sort-codes? These are all terms you will need to learn in order to become familiar with the UK banking system and be prepared to make international transfers from your home country to your UK account. Here is a brief explanation of the terms mentioned above:

  • Account number: 8-digit unique number which identifies the holder of a bank account. This is used for UK to UK bank transfers.
  • Card number: 16-digit number written on the front of your bank card. Used for online purchases.
  • IBAN: Stands for International Bank Account Number, and it is used when making or receiving international transfers.
  • Sort-code: It is a six-digit number which identifies the bank and the branch where your account is held (format: xx-yy-zz). Together with the account number, it can usually be found written on your bank card.

Opening a UK bank account should be one of your top priorities. You will need to book an appointment with a bank as soon as you get here and it can take weeks to get your account opened. Some bank names you might want to research in advance are Barclays, Santander and HSBC.

However, you can also open an online account offered by UniZest, which is designed specifically for international students. You can apply online and open it before you leave home, deposit funds and start making payments out. This means that you arrive in the UK with everything sorted and receive your card overnight.

3. Getting a job

The list with things you need to know before coming to the UK can be quite extensive but we had to choose a few to write about. The last one we decided on was finding and getting a part-time job.

One of the first and most important things you need to do is apply for a National Insurance Number (NINo). This is a unique personal number used to record National Insurance contributions (taxes). You do not need to have a NINo before starting work, but you must obtain one when you get a job.

Finding work can be challenging if you don’t know where to look. You can find advertisements for jobs in your local newspapers, in shops, on notice boards around your university or college, in the careers service or your Students’ Union. There are many job search websites and job agencies. Check out this UKCISA article which explains more about the process of getting a job and the things you need to look out for.

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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