Latin Americans at Surrey

An insight into life at Surrey from two current Latin American students

Key Dates in the Academic Calendar Year

The academic calendar year in the UK is very different than the ones in different parts of the world, therefore I want to tell you about the university of Surrey’s academic year so you have an idea of what to expect when you start your courses. It is important to know key dates as an international student because  we have to plan trips back home, or trips to new places that we want to visit. We also have to plan our academic work accordingly.

 

These were some of the key dates in the year 2016-2017:

Arrive to Surrey around the 20 of September, but classes start the 3rd of October.

Semester 1 is from the 3 of October to the 3 of February.

Semester 2 is from the 6 of February to the 16 of June.

Winter vacation: From the 19 of December to the 6 of January.

Spring vacation: From the 3 of April to the 28 of April.

Summer vacation: From the 19 of June to the 22 of September.

Now, this is what it says in the university’s website, however you have to look in the calendar and ask your professors, because this year, (2017) the 6th of January was a Friday, so I actually started classes on the 9th of January. And the 28 of April is also a Friday, and the 1 of May is a national holiday, therefore I will start classes again on the 2 of May.
Post graduate students have to write their dissertations during the summer vacation, therefore their schedules may differ, some may choose to turn it in before or after the 22 of September. Your summer vacation and the date you turn in your dissertation may also depend on your accommodation, because students who live off campus may have to move out of their accommodation before September. My contract agreement with the university’s accommodation is only until the 9th of September, therefore I will have to plan my dissertation’s deadline accordingly.

 

During the first semester, my classmates and I were very curious to know specifically when we would have exams and essay deadlines. This information is reveled to us as a student after you start the semester. It may be different every year, but this is how it was for me:

  • Most of my essays were due in November and the first weeks of December.
    So I was done with those classes after that.
  • I had closed book examinations, where we had two hours to answer a specific number of questions during the examination period which for me was from the 16 of January to the 27 of January.
  • Reading week is a week where we do not have classes. It is supposed to be for us to start reading the material for the second semester, and to have a break in between the two semesters. Mine was from the 27 of January to the 3 of February.
  •  I was very lucky because I only had two exams and they were the 19 and the 20 of January, therefore I had the rest of the time to travel before the second semester started on the 6th of February.

All of this information was key for me in order to plan my trips to Europe and back home. Some of your essay deadlines or your exams may be different, the dates are according to your program and the academic year. You can find the key dates in the university’s website using this link: www.surrey.ac.uk/about/facts/dates. All of this information will help you organize yourself.

 

I hope this is helpful and useful.

Good luck with your classes and your planning! 🙂

 

Carla

 

 

 

 

 

My new experiences with student groups and associations!

Hola! Hello!

I want to share with you my experience trying out new student groups and associations on campus. The University of Surrey has a great variety that you can choose from. The first time you might hear about them is at Fresher’s fair, where all of the universities groups and societies show case what they have to offer, and they have a contact list where you can sign up in order to receive their emails and news. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram for latest news and events.

This past Saturday I went on a hiking trip organized by the Hiking Society. It started at 10:00am and it lasted until 2:00pm. We went to the hills that are behind the university and by the end we ended up in town. It was a beautiful day because the sun came out in the afternoon. It was a great experience because I was able to take a friend of mine that visited me on the same trail and he loved it! So now I know more about Guildford and I can share that experience. Here are some pictures from the February hiking trip!

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I also attended a movie night by the Disney society where we watched Monsters Inc, (which is my favourite Disney movie!) In the future I plan on trying to ice skate with the Ice Skating society, since I have never done it before. I think I should learn to do it now that I am in the UK, plus it is only 1 pound with the Ice Staking society.

Something wonderful about this university is that all the groups and societies make social events during the year. So I will be attending a Latin night! Which has been organised by the Salsa, Hispanic, Italian, French, and Portuguese student societies. You see, there is something for everyone here!

Have a great rest of the week! Until next time! 🙂

 

What are student reps for?

I might have mentioned student reps briefly in a previous post, but I think it is a topic worth covering more in depth as it is something I hadn’t seen anywhere else.

During the first couple of weeks of the first semester we got an email asking if anyone would like to be a student rep. All of the people who said yes were then given a few minutes at the begging of one of our lectures to give a speech about why they wanted to be course reps and then were asked to leave the room. Meanwhile voting took place and 3 people were selected to be the year 1 mathematics reps for the current academic year. My understanding is the number of reps varies based on program and number of students in the cohort, ours has 3 because it is a relatively large cohort. After being elected reps had to attend a training session ran by the student’s union regarding how to engage with their cohort, how to address common issues and who to direct people to when more serious or complex matters arise.

Student reps have a few key responsibilities, primarily, attending training, the SSLC meetings and board of studies meetings which happen at least once per semester.

SSLC stands for student staff liaison committee (the name of the meeting can vary per department). During the meeting the student representatives are asked to provide feedback from their cohort about all of the semester’s modules as well as other programme related matters, such as library resources, seminars, lecture rooms, exams and the information that is on the programme handbook. Student reps are responsible for collecting as much feedback as they can before the meeting so that they can provide an accurate representation of what the students like and dislike about modules as well as address potential issues or concerns.

Board of studies meetings seem to be where the different people in the department get together and provide a quick report about the areas they manage and where things such as changes to modules for future years and approval of new modules happen. Based on what was said during the first board of studies meeting it sounds like most changes are usually discussed during the board of studies meeting in the second semester so I might have more to say about it after the fact.

There are a few other things student reps can get involved in. For example, if during training you chose to be trained to be a validation rep you can sit as a validation panel member. Validation panels seem to be meetings where in depth new programme proposals are reviewed, the panel gets to decide whether or not to allow the programme to actually start accepting new students and they can also ask for changes to be made to the proposal before the programme is accepted (as well as reject the proposal entirely). Programmes that are already approved also have to have review panels periodically, in which the panel assess whether or not the programme should continue to exist and if any major changes should be made (should the panel decide the programme should cease to exist, the students already enrolled are supported through the end of it but new students can’t be admitted). I will be attending my first validation panel on Feb 28, so I’ll cover validation panels more in depth once that happens. There is also a rep assembly every semester which is a big event open to all course reps across campus (I think as of right now the entire university has roughly 300 course reps) in which student reps are able to voice their cohort’s concerns about matters that affect their studies beyond their department (such as growing student numbers and whether or not new infrastructure will be built in order to support them since the library seems to already be at capacity). Several people are present at rep assemblies, including the vice chancellor, the associate deans of every faculty and the director of student services.

The existence of student reps is something I really appreciate. I spent about a year at UC Berkeley feeling invisible and feeling like there was nothing I could do to make the things I had problems and negative experiences with any better. Even when I contacted staff I often didn’t get a response, or waited weeks to get a response saying that nothing could be done. While staff seems significantly more accessible here (probably at least partially due to there being less students), student reps still serve an important function. For example, before an SSLC meeting last semester I sent a survey in order to collect feedback about the modules. Someone said that they would like it if a specific lecturer included letter/number grades on the coursework. During lecture the lecturer had explained his reason for not providing letter/number grades and he said that he was open to considering it if students felt like it would be beneficial, however he wasn’t approached about it until the SSLC meeting. During a lecture shortly after the meeting he asked people to raise their hands if they would like to have a grade on their coursework and the majority of the students raised their hand. He proceeded to include letter grades in all following coursework.

While this might be a slightly biased view of course reps (I am one of the 3 course reps in my cohort) I hope it gives you a bit of an idea of what their role is and how to get feedbacks and concerns to be communicated to staff. Even though student reps also have their own opinions and concerns about the courses and they might be significantly different to those of the other people in the cohort, their role is to represent the opinions and concerns of as many people in their cohort as they can, and so far I think my fellow course reps have done a really good job at doing so. I would also like to add that even though this paragraphs makes it seem like course reps are just meant to communicate the majority’s opinion, this isn’t the case. They are meant to be a platform through which every student can have their voice heard. If a single student has complained about not being able to read writing at the edges of the board this is something that course reps should also bring up, and staff will, within reason, try to adjust their behavior to fulfill that individual’s needs.

Living in University Accommodation

Hey!

Sorry for the sporadic nature of my blog posts lately, hopefully next week I’ll be fully settled into my new schedule and start blogging at a consistent time again. This week I’ll talk about how living in university accommodation has been like so far.

I live in Twyford Court. It’s very close to the main campus entrance by the stag statue I’m sure you’ve seen in pictures by now. My building has 3 different floors, I live on the top floor. Each floor has several rooms and a shared kitchen, in my case the kitchen is shared by 12 people.

The kitchen is very spacious, we have a table with lots of chairs to sit and work, read, eat or just talk to each other. Each of us has both a large cupboard and a smaller cupboard that we can put a lock on, as well as a shelf in the fridge and freezer. There are two fridges, two freezers, two sets of hobs and an oven so several people are able to cook at once and the fridge/freezer space isn’t as crammed as I initially imagined it would be due to the amount of people sharing it.

My room is a band D room so I have a room of my own and a bathroom inside my room. I also have a desk, two shelves that I use for books and things like paper towels and black sacks. The desk has 3 drawers so I have plenty of space to store both paperwork and writing instruments, I have a bedside table with 2 other shelves which I primarily use for keeping medicines, three drawers and two closets which I use to store some food and cooking utensils that I decided to keep in my room instead of the kitchen (like a baking tray, which I don’t use very regularly) and clothing. There is also some storage space under the bed but I haven’t used it yet.

To enter the building we need to use an RFID reader and our student IDs, so only the people living here have access. Campus security is also available 24/7 and they arrive promptly every time they get a call. They can deal with anything ranging from noise complaints to more severe issues, like fires. We have fire sensors in every single room (except for the kitchen, as far as I know) and a fire blanket in the kitchen which residents can use to put out small fires if they feel confident enough to do so.

There’s also several different kinds of support available for students living on campus. During the first semester we had a student life mentor (a student who has been at the university longer and received training to deal with things arising in shared accommodation) visit us every week to check in on us and there’s a number that students could call if they needed any support on a day the student life mentor wasn’t dropping by. During the second semester they’ll be stopping by every two weeks instead but they’re still there if something comes up. The student life mentor team also organized several events for students living on campus, such as ice skating.

We also have a warden team. I haven’t really seen them since the first few weeks but my understanding is that they are the people who deal with any issues that might involve taking disciplinary action, and they also help when things like fire alarms happen. There’s an email that people can use to contact them and they seem to be very accessible, even though I haven’t needed their help so far. My understanding is that all wardens are people who have a day time job at the university and live on campus with their families year round.

In addition to all those things there’s also the court reception. I don’t go to mine much since it’s up the hill but I know every student living on campus can book rooms at the court reception for parties and the like and those facilities are also available for people to use as they please if the rooms aren’t booked by someone else. Post that is sent through the royal mail is also delivered at the court reception, in pigeonholes with the students’ initials. All post that isn’t sent through the royal mail is delivered to central distribution, which is just a few steps away from where I live (I can actually see it through my window).

Overall I’m really happy living in university accommodation and I hope I can live here during the next academic year, though that’s still something that’s up in the air (only first year/first time students and students in certain circumstances are guaranteed housing). I guess I’ll keep you updated on what happens!

Accessing healthcare in the UK

Hey!

Sorry I’ve been away from blogging so long, it’s been a hectic few weeks given that the final exam period was two weeks long and I happened to have exams starting from the first day at 9am all the way to 6pm on the last day.

During the Christmas break I was able to go to Guatemala and Mexico and visit my family members. Understandably, all of them had lots of questions about why I moved to the UK and how studying here compared to studying in the US. What I wasn’t expecting was being asked about how the health care system works by the majority of them so I thought that would be a good blog post topic given that other prospective students and their families might be wondering about it. I’ll keep this post based on my own experiences rather than trying to make it a comprehensive guide since the NHS appears to be a very large and complex system I still don’t know much about and I doubt it can be covered in detail in a single blog post.

I first arrived in the UK in the summer, after the end of the academic year at UC Berkeley. I had 3 months worth of the medicines I take every day (primarily anti-histamines and migraine preventative medication) upon arriving, however since the academic year in the US starts before the academic year in the UK I ran out of medicine before the academic year started. My only option at the time was seeing a doctor privately to try to get a private prescription so I decided to just wait it out (which wasn’t the best of ideas).

While doing my visa application I had to pay the IHS fee in order to be able to access NHS services while studying in the UK, which i believe is roughly £150 per year of your visa duration. My visa is 4 years long so my fee ended up being around $900 (it would probably be less if I were to apply right now thanks to the exchange rate being so variable lately). Upon arriving to the UK I dropped by student services to try to figure out if I could register for the NHS before classes started and I was told I couldn’t. I got in touch with the people at the center for wellbeing and they were able to get me to register for the NHS ahead of time. I was lucky to get an appointment a few hours after registering and walked out with a prescription. While the center for wellbeing isn’t part of the NHS (as far as I know) it seems like a very good resource available for all students on campus, as it provides access to people to talk to if you have stress problems, mental health issues, eating disorders, are trying to quit smoking and various other things (I don’t have any experience with them aside from them helping me register with the NHS). I was able to take the prescription to any pharmacy so I decided to go to the Tesco pharmacy since it is about a 15 min walk away from campus. Upon getting to Tesco I was asked to pay for the prescription (the current prescription cost is £8.40 per prescription but there are various vouchers you can get that cover several months of prescriptions so it ends up being cheaper if you need more than 3 prescriptions a month, which you can see here http://www.nhs.uk/nhsengland/Healthcosts/pages/Prescriptioncosts.aspx).

Pharmacies provide various services, such as flu shots and advice/prescriptions for simple problems such as colds, stomach bugs and viruses. Additionally there is also a phone service that provides advice. If you call 111 from inside the UK you’ll be asked about your symptoms with several follow up questions to try to figure out how severe your symptoms are and who to send you to. They are able to book last minute appointments with your own GP practice (apparently GPs have a specific number of appointments a week that they don’t book to be able to deal with emergencies), have another GP call you and send a prescription to a pharmacy for you to pick up, as well as tell you if you should go to a walk in center or A&E (Accidents and Emergencies, which is the equivalent of an ER in the US).

While I haven’t dealt with walk in centers (my understanding is they operate similarly to an ER but are smaller and handle less severe cases as well as things a GP would normally deal with when practices are closed and things can’t wait for the next morning for one reason or another) or A&E, my experiences with my GP practice as well as 111 have been pretty good so far. All GP appointments are free and 111 is free as well, the main things that you have to pay for out of pocket once you’ve paid the IHS fee are prescriptions and certain procedures (for example, things that are considered cosmetic rather than medically necessary), as well as non NHS GPs and specialists if you chose to see them for some reason.

The wait times for GPs aren’t too bad, the most I’ve had to wait for a routine appointment has been a week or two, and that’s because I generally prefer to be seen by the same GP always rather than with the GP that’s first available. However, wait times for things that require referrals (usually things that are handled by specialists) tend to be longer. So far I’ve only ever been referred to dermatology which was about a 6 week wait. While I accidentally missed the appointment (the appointment letter was sent to the maths department instead of me for some reason still unknown to me) the letter I received said that it was a photography clinic so high definition pictures would be taken of my affected tissue and within two days either my GP would get a diagnosis or I would get a referral to see an actual dermatologist. My understanding is that it is set up that way to cut the overall wait times from 3 months to roughly 3 weeks if you have a minor issue (the holidays happened in between me being referred and hearing back so that might have factored into my waiting time). I’m also aware of several endocrinologists and mental health services that have over a year wait.

I hope this overview of my experiences with the NHS is helpful! Feel free to reach out if you have any specific questions.

Beautiful Sunny Winter Days!

Hello everyone! Hola a todos!!

Happy new year!!

I wanted to share with you a few pictures I took of the university campus today because it is such a beautiful winter day at the University of Surrey.

You see I love blue skies and coming form South America, I grew up hearing how the weather in the UK is terrible because it rains a lot and it is always cold and grey. When I decided to come to the UK to do my Masters I bought a lot of winter clothes and I was ready to embrace the grey, sad, rainy weather. But let me tell you that since September, when I arrived to Surrey, I only used my umbrella three times, and it only snowed once this far.

I do come from a cold city, La Paz, Bolivia. A high city in the Andes so I am used to the cold. But it does not mean I like grey and rainy, so Guildford surprised me with its wonderful weather. I did not have to worry about rainy too much or grey or sad at all! If you are coming from a valley or a tropical city then do not worry, the winter is not as terrible here as in other places in the the north of the UK or Europe.

 

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 This is the view from my own room! It is a beautiful view and even better with the blue sky.

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This is the view from the Admissions and Recruitment’s office. It overlooks the lake.

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This is the view of the lake in a beautiful winter day.

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 In this picture you can see the library!

It is cold but beautiful when it is sunny and here at Surrey it has been mostly sunny! So coming from south America  you do not have to be afraid of the weather or the snow of the UK, you can be sure that by being at Surrey you will have a wonderful time even in the winter!

Until next time!

Carla 🙂

 

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