Middle Eastern students at Surrey

Insight into life at Surrey from two current Middle Eastern students

Eventful Times

Hello guys, it’s been a while. I’ve been really busy with my final-year project (which I won’t tell you about because you definitely don’t need to start worrying about it before even coming to university) and with various social activities. March is usually a really busy month for activities at Surrey. It’s also the last month before Easter so a lot of stuff happens. Speaking of Easter, this week is the last week before the holiday, which will be 4 weeks (pretty much all of April). I’ll be going back home but I’ll try to blog once or twice while I’m there.

So a little about what’s been happening this month. Two weeks ago, Surrey had its One World Week. This is basically a week full of activities and events showcasing different cultures. The whole thing is organised by the Student’s Union and many societies take part. The flagship event of the week was the One World Gala, where different societies showcased song, dance and other arts from their countries/regions. The Arabic society participated, we did a short Dabkeh dance (I assume most of you know what this is). I took part in that even though I had absolutely zero prior knowledge of dancing. We practiced really hard for a couple of weeks then went out and performed on stage on the day. It was definitely some of the best fun I’d ever had. Sadly I haven’t got any good pictures of it.

The week right after One World Week was Climate Week. This is another week full of events and its main focus is climate change and what we can do about it. Both the university itself and societies (mainly the People & Planet society) contribute to that. I went to a few talks and participated in the NUS Blackout event on the Friday of that week. The NUS is the National Union of Students (sort of a student’s union for the whole country). The Blackout is a yearly event that takes place at a number of universities. What happens is lots of students and a few members of staff volunteer, and we go around university after hours and turn off all electrical equipment that has been left on unnecessarily (computers, lights etc.). After we do that someone takes this data and calculates how much electricity and emissions were saved by turning off all this stuff. It is a relatively small scale event but it’s fun and you feel you’re doing something good, especially if you’re a bit of an environmentalist like me. You also get a free hoodie and free pizza and ice cream after, which is more than enough reason to sign up :p One thing to know about the UK (and the West in general as far as I know) is that unlike us in the Middle East, they really don’t tend to turn things off when they leave. Even if it’s the middle of night and everything’s closed, you’ll still find many places with their lights on (that seriously confused me when I first arrived here in the middle of the night and tried to find someone to ask where the university was).

The last big event in March was Varsity, which happened yesterday. This is an event where another university comes to Surrey with all its sports teams and we compete in a huge number of sports (I think it’s about 40). This year it was Royal Holloway that came to compete with us. It’s really fun to go to the Sports Park to watch some of the games and support our players, especially if the weather is good, which isn’t that unlikely at the end of March. I only watched one game, which was the last game of the day: the men’s basketball. Because Surrey has one of the best sports facilities in the UK – Surrey Sports Park – watching a big game like that almost feels like watching a real professional game. The stands were completely full and the atmosphere was brilliant. It was a very evenly matched game and it went to the very end, but we won by 5 points. If you like sports by the way but have never been to a live event, I definitely recommend doing that when you get here. It’s a completely different experience compared to watching on TV. And of course England is one of the best places to watch live sports, especially football, since they have one of the best leagues in the world.

The last thing I want to tell you is how beautiful spring in Guildford is. The weather becomes mostly great, flowers start blooming all over and taking long walks becomes a very nice thing to do. I’ve always spent the Easter break here, this is the first time I’m going home. Most people do go home usually but if you stay, the nice weather combined with no lectures or deadlines for 4 weeks makes for a really relaxing holiday. So I’ll leave you with a few pictures of Guildford in spring.

One final note: once they push the clocks forward here (which they did last Sunday), the days start getting really long. This will definitely be a new experience for all of you, coming from the Middle East. Even now, in early spring, it’s getting dark at nearly 8pm. In the middle of summer, it almost stays bright till 10pm!

This one is on campus, which definitely becomes a beautiful place in spring

This is a view of Guildford and the Cathedral (the large building in the background) from one of the hills surrounding the town

This is a view of Guildford High Street from the top end. The greenery and trees in the background are a great place for a walk at this time of year

This is one of the many parks around Guildford

This one just shows you some daffodils (the yellow flowers) which really blossom in spring. They’re more or less the most abundant ones, at least in Guildford

And lastly, this is just a nice blooming tree, the second most common colour you see after the yellow daffodils

Things to do in Guildford – Part II

Well I was right to be excited about the Oscars, that was quite the night. I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about, but in case you don’t, you should really google it, it’s unmissable.

Anyway, I’m gonna tell you about some more things you can do in Guildford today. Let’s start with music. The University itself has a music department and their students do recitals in the university every week, and they’re free to attend. It’s not only classical music either. They also do a number of proper concerts every year, with the venue usually being one of the churches in town or the Cathedral. Attending a concert in the cathedral is really special, the place is just so majestic. Guildford itself also organises many concerts each year, and you can get info on these from the tourist information centre in the high street or online. Lots of the time, student tickets are really cheap or even completely free. Again, the concerts are usually performed in some of the churches around town. The cream of the crop, however, is a place called G Live. This is a new venue (opened only about 5 years ago) that has a really big concert hall. They get famous orchestras and musicians to perform concerts all year round. They also do ballet, opera, stand-up comedy, all sorts of musical shows like bands and stuff, and more. It’s definitely one of my favourite places in Guildford. There is another similar place called The Electric Theatre, right in the middle of town. It’s a bit similar to G Live, just smaller. They’re having a movie festival currently, showing Oscar winning movies from every decade. So far, I’ve seen All About Eve and Annie Hall, both of which were very good. Lastly, there is a place called the Boileroom, which is basically a live music venue. I’ve never been there so I don’t really know much about it.

Now for pubs and clubs. There are a handful of clubs in town, but for some reason students only seem to go to a couple. The student union’s night club, on campus, called Rubix, is of course very popular. It’s getting a major refurbishment next year so it should get even better. As for pubs and bars, there are too many to count, from sports bars to old fashioned pubs. Many of them have regular quiz nights and Open Mic nights (where anyone can come up and sing). These can be really fun. Pubs in generals are nice places to go if you don’t like the noise and crowds of clubs.

What I forgot to mention is theatre. We have one major one in Guildford, called the Yvonne Arnaud. Not many students know about it because it’s not exactly in the middle of town but they do plays and stuff. I don’t know much about theatre so I can’t say more.

We also have a small castle, with beautiful grounds and gardens around it, perfect for a walk in spring, and also a small museum right next to it.

Lastly, there’s food. As you’d expect, we’ve got all the regular fast food joints. We’ve got countless other restaurants from all around the world, including Indian, Spanish, Italian, American, Greek, Turkish and much more. Basically, if you’re a foody and like trying new things, it’ll take you a really long time to run out of restaurants to try. There are many ways of getting cheap malls at many of those restaurants. One of those is called a Tastecard and it’s a real bargain if you eat out a lot. Of course, being university students, lots of us are lazy and like to order food. Luckily, there are lots of delivery services around. The most famous one is called Deliveroo. They deliver food from a whole host of restaurants (I actually do some work for them on my bike, part-time). So really, whether you like eating out or getting food delivered, there is a lot to choose from.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that Guildford isn’t a boring place. If you’re still not buying it though, London is always 35 minutes away by train, and the opportunities there are endless.

Here are the pictures I promised you last week.

castle

This is our castle

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These 3 are pictures of the nature surrounding Guildford. Each one is at a different location so you know there’s lots to explore.

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This one shows Guildford in the distance, with the cathedral in the middle (this is barely a 20-minute walk from the town centre so don’t think it’s a hike or anything)

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These are pictures of the town

 

 

Things to Do in Guildford – Part I

Lots of people say that Guildford is a small town so life here is really boring and there’s nothing to do, but today I will convince you otherwise. Of course, this depends on what you personally like to do. I’ll just tell you about some of the things Guildford offers and then you can decide for yourself.

Guildford is rather famous for its shopping and we have a really packed High Street (that’s what the main shopping street in a town is called in England). With all the shops on the High Street plus the medium-sized shopping centre (called the Friary Centre) that we have, not to mention all the shops in the side alleys and small streets, you’d have to be an extremely avid shopper to run out of places to go. The only unfortunate thing is that our high street is a kind of a steep climb, rather than a flat straight road like it is almost everywhere else, but it’ll keep you fit so there is an upside.

While we only have one cinema in town, it is very close to the university and there many ways to get cheap tickets. I for one love movies and I’ve already seen La La Land, Arrival and Jackie this year (I’m very excited about the Oscars on Sunday). New movies are constantly being released of course, so going for a film every few days is another fun activity.

Another great thing Guildford has is a leisure centre, called Spectrum. It’s not exactly close to the university or the town centre, but it’s not too far either, and you can get a bus from town. There you will find lots of things that can be found in Surrey Sports Park, such as a gym and a swimming pool, but there is also an ice-skating rink and bowling. I’ve only tried ice-skating once but I really enjoyed it and I’m hoping to go again soon. Another plus is that it’s not too expensive, about the same price as a movie ticket. What’s great about this is the fact that you won’t find ice-skating just about anywhere in the UK; even some big cities don’t have it, so Guildford is somewhat privileged in that regard. We also have a place called AirHop, which is basically a big space full of trampolines. Going there with a large group of friends is one of the most fun things you can do. It’ll really make you feel like a kid again.

If you’re a nature lover, like me, Guildford will be like heaven for you. The town is surrounded by beautiful, untouched hills and nature trails. While getting to them is a bit exhausting, the views are definitely worth it. Sadly, because of the UK weather, you can’t go any day. It needs to be sunny, dry (not just on the day but for a few days before as well so any mud would have dried up) and not too cold if you really want to enjoy it. Frankly, you don’t get these conditions too often in the UK so when you do, it’s good to take advantage.

I still have lots to tell you about but I don’t want to make this post too long, so I’ll leave the rest till next week. That should give you something to look forward to. I’ll be talking about music and theatre, pubs and clubs, and food.

P. S. I was going to have some pictures, but there were some technical issues, so you’ll get those next week as well.

جامعة سري

مرحبا، أنا علاء، طالب سنه رابعة بجامعة سري، بدرس هندسة طيران. الدراسة هون 3 سنين بل عاده بس أنا عم كمل ماسترز ف هي رابع سنه إلي. أنا سوري، من دمشق. الجامعة هون قررت تعمل بلوغ ل الطلاب يلي عم يفكرو يجو يدرسو بسري ف أنا وطالب ثاني منكتب كل إسبوع تقريباً، مرات بل عربي ومرات بل إنجليزي. الهدف من هاد البلوغ إنو نعطيكن معلومات عن الجامعة و الحياة بإنجلترا و بغيلدفورد.

جامعة سري موجوده بجنوب إنجلترا، قريب كتير من لندن. نص ساعة بل قطار بس من هون للندن. الجامعة موجوده ببلد صغيره اسمها غيلدفورد، بمقاطعة سري.

عادةً كل سنه بتكون فصلين وكل فصل 15 إسبوع، منن 11 تدريس. بكل فصل في 4 مواد. في مواد بكون باخرها فحص وفي مواد بتكون بدون فحص. بدل الفحص في شيء اسمو كورسوورك، مثلاً كتابة مواضيع أو عمل مشروع.

جامعة سري من أحسن الجامعات بإنجلترا والدراسة فيها ممتازة. الحياة كمان كثير جيدة. في كثير عرب بالجامعة من كل البلاد. الغرف كمان ممتازة و في أنواع عده حسب الطلب.

في أيضاً نوادي رياضة لكل شيء بيخطر على البال: كرة قدم، كرة سله، تنس، سباحة وغيرهم. في أيضاً نوادي اجتماعيه مثل نادي الشطرنج ونادي ألعاب الفيديو. يوجد أيضاً نادي إسلامي يقيم صلاة الجمعة في الجامعة كل إسبوع ويوفر غرفة للصلاة في جميع ال أوقات. يقومون أيضاً بتوفير فطور مجاني كل يوم خلال شهر رمضان. هذا جيد جداً لأن غيلدفورد لا يوجد بها جامع.

غرف الجامعة موجودين بقلب الجامعة أو بمكان قريب اسمو مانر بارك، 20 دقيقة مشي من الجامعة، بس في باصات دائماً وممكن شراء بطاقة باص لمدة سنه عن طريق الجامعة. في أيضاً بين الجامعة ومانر بارك سوبرماركت كبير في كل شي، اسمو تسكو.

مركز مدينه غيلدفورد قريب من الجامعة، 15 دقيقة مشي أو أقل بل باص. غيلدفورد مشهورة بمحلاتها وفيها كل شي، مطاعم كثير ومركز تسوق وسينما ومحلات ألبسه.

المحاضرات بلجامعة بتكون بين ال-9 وال-5 بس يوم الأربعاء بين ال-9 و ال-12.

في شي بجامعة سري اسمو ترينينغ يير أو سنة تدريب. بيسمحلك تشتغل مع شركه بعد السنه الثانية وتكسب خبرة. هاد شيء كثير منيح وبساعد بتأمين شغل بعد التخرج. بسري 95% من الطلاب بكونو بشغل أو دراسات عليا خلال 6 أشهر من التخرج. سنة الخبرة بتساعد كثير بهاد الشي.

الجامعة وغيلدفورد بشكل عام امنين جداً، أحسن من مدن أخرى بدرجات. صراحة، أنا انصح بها. خلال ال-4 سنين التي قضيتها لم أمر بأي مشكله كبيره وتعلمت كثير.

Exams

Disclaimer: the following info is true for the Aerospace Engineering programme. Some of it could be slightly different for other programmes.

At Surrey, undergraduate studying is split into two 15-week semesters. Of the 15 weeks, the first 11 are teaching weeks and week 12 is revision week. The last 3 weeks depend on the semester. In semester 1, weeks 13-14 are exam weeks and week 15 is a reading week; in semester 2, weeks 13-15 are exam weeks. The 3-week Christmas break takes place after week 11 of semester 1 i.e. after all the teaching is done. The 4-week Easter break takes place after either week 7 or week 8 in semester 2.

Each semester, you usually take a total of 60 credits, and one module is normally 15 credits so you take 4 modules per semester. There are 30- and 45-credit modules but these are less common. For every module you take, you are assessed by a combination of class-tests, coursework and exams. You could have only one of these or all 3 in a module. For example, a module could have a class test worth 20% and an exam worth 80%, whereas another module could have two pieces of coursework worth 50% each and no exam. In Aerospace engineering, the number of exams you get per year decreases as you go from first year to final year. In first year I had 7 exams, whereas now, in my fourth and final year, I have only 3 exams. This is mainly because you start doing group projects from 2nd year; these are worth 30 credits. And in your final year you get an individual project which is worth 30 credits if it’s a BEng (third year) project or 45 credits if it’s an MEng (fourth year) project.

Now, since I just finished exams a week ago, I thought I would tell you a little about them. Exams can be worth anywhere between 50% and 100% and for engineering. The vast majority of them are two hours long. In this semester, I had two exams, both worth 70%. They were Fracture Mechanics & Finite Element Analysis, and Turbulence. The first was on a Monday and the second on a Friday.

Every person has unique study techniques so unfortunately I can’t tell you the one thing you can do to always do well. I can just tell you what I do and give you some tips. For engineering, most modules will have some ‘maths’ so it is very important to practice solving problems. For this, your best friend is past exam papers. These will show you what level of difficulty to expect. Tutorials (which are problem sets you get during the course of the semester) can be useful as well but their difficulty can vary a lot from that of exam problems. For me, I have always found that it is best to first go through the lectures (or read one of the recommended books if the lectures aren’t enough for you) to understand the topic, then practice, first using the tutorials, then past exam papers. Basically what you want to do is solve as much as you can but of course, if there’s not much time and you have to choose one thing to practice, always go for past exam papers.

During exam time, the library can get very busy – and noisy – so studying there could become tricky. Having all your friends there as well can create more distractions. So if you’re the type of person who’s distracted easily, it might be best to stay away from the library during exam time. The university opens lots of spaces for studying during the exam period to make sure you can always find a spot if the library’s too busy or if you just want to go somewhere else. Personally, I like it to be quiet when I study, so for my difficult exam, I stopped going to the library and went to a quiet building with computers where I could concentrate. I ended up doing very well so it worked for me.

If I can leave you with one piece of advice only, it is this: make a plan. Try to come up with a study plan really early to cover everything, but make it flexible at first, so that you can adjust it if you miss a day for example. But do your best to stick to it. If you do that, you can make sure you cover everything and get enough time to practice, so you will end up doing really well.

My HostUK Visit – Part II

I’ll pick up right where I left off. My 3rd day, Christmas Day, was very interesting. In the early morning, we went to a nearby town called Pagham for a walk on the beach. Now, UK beaches are definitely not the same as Middle East beaches. We have sand, they have pebbles and gravel. They definitely don’t remind you of tropical summers or swimming. But they do have one advantage: because you have pebbles and stones, you can skip rocks on the water (that’s when you throw a stone into the water and it bounces). I tried it for the first time and I have to say it’s really fun. It reminded me of  that scene from one of the Harry Potter movies where Hagrid skips boulders on the lake.

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Paul and Catherine knew a lot about the area’s history so they told me all about the conservation efforts being made there to try and protect the houses on the shore (because the sea is eroding the land and creeping in) and showed me some houses which were actually built from old train carriages because they used to be cheaper. Catherine also knew a lot about wildlife; she told me about all the types of birds there, some of which were incredibly big. There were these really tiny ones that were always in groups and they would stand right next to the sea, then every time a wave comes in, they would run away together. It was the funniest thing. It’s a pity I couldn’t get a proper video of it.

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After the beach, we went back home where we had a delicious Christmas dinner and pudding. And at night, we watched an opera on TV which was pretty nice.

On Boxing Day (day after Christmas) Paul took me to this open-air museum which had reconstructed old buildings. We saw all types of buildings from all over the country and we got to go inside some of them too. Some of them had fires inside which was great conisdering the cold. There were also some animals around. The scenery was awesome.

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When we returned, we had a little rest then we all went to a historical small church called Church Norton, and after that we walked along the beach from there all the way to a small town called Selsey. When we returned home, we again had a lovely chicken dinnerand then at night we watched an old movie about Michelangelo. It was called “The Agony and the Ecstasy” and it was pretty good.

On my last day, we went on a boat trip, which was the best part of the whole visit for me. Paul and Catherine’s neighbour had a small boat so Paul and I went to the Marina and he took us on a short tour. He even let me steer for most of the journey which was really something else. Made me wish I had my own boat. That boat in the picture is not the one we went on by the way, it’s just a nice one in the Marina I took a photo of. Would have been nice to go on it too though.

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The last thing we did was have our final lunch together, then Paul and Catherine dropped me off at the station. They didn’t let me go empty-handed though. They sent a whole bag of goodies with me, full of cheese and cakes and all sorts. I ate nothing but cheese for a whole week after coming back!

Another thing about the visit is that I was given my first ever Christmas presents. Paul and Catherine were so kind they got me 3 presents. It definitely got me in the spirit of Christmas.

Well, that was my HostUK visit. It was definitely an unforgettable experience. Just a couple of footnotes: if you read this and thought ‘wow these activities all seem so boring, I certainly wouldn’t want to do that’ then fear not. HostUK pairs you with a family that has interests matching yours. I just happened to put museums and walks as my interests so I got a perfect match. If you put something completely different, you’ll probably get a family that likes the same stuff you do. Also, Paul and Catherine always asked me if I was okay with everything we did. They tried really hard to only do things that I wanted to do. They definitely never said ‘this is what we’ll be doing, so come on, doesn’t matter if you’re interested in it or not’.

Considering all that, I would 100% recommend going on a HostUK visit, and do it in your first year if you can. You’re likely to make friends with the family and they could invite you over again. Paul and Catherine told me to come back for a visit whenever I wanted. It’s a pity I only have 6 months left until I graduate so I may only be able to visit them once more.

I’ve got exams next week so unfortunately my next post will be 2 weeks from now. But I’m gonna try to write that one in Arabic so you have a first Arabic post to look forward to reading. Stay tuned to see how that turns out.

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