It’s just about a month to go before the University of Surrey welcomes everyone to the new 2017/2018 academic year. If you’re joining as a “fresher”, you might find this post helpful to you in getting ready for your arrival. If you’re coming back after the summer off, I hope you’ve enjoyed yourselves because you’re in for another exciting year ahead again!
To all “freshers”, you’re all incredibly young, some of you might even be a full 10 years younger than I am! It’s very likely that this is the first time you’re living home away from home so there might be a host of things that you (and your family) are worried about. My job is to allay any fears you may have about studying abroad and give you advice on how to settle into university life better. There are bound to be differences in what you’ll encounter compared to what I’m about to share with you, not just because I’m a Postgraduate student but also because every individual will have a different experience based on how you’d like it to be and the decisions you make.
Because I’m in full dissertation research writing mode, I’ve structured this post into the following sections:
- Navigating to the University of Surrey
- Accommodation and Home-related
- Finances (Banking and Budgeting)
- Transportation (Local and Regional)
- Telco Providers
- Student Life and Community
- Singapore Society
This is going to be very very long one… so, let’s get started then!
- Navigating to the University of Surrey
The University is located in the town of Guildford, within the county of Surrey, that’s part of the South-East region of England, United Kingdom. That sure sounds a lot more complicated than telling a fellow Singaporean that you live in Hougang. Regardless, you’ll need to know Guildford because that’s the name of the train station that’s closest to the University. Guildford is more or less equidistant to London-Heathrow Airport (LHR) and London-Gatwick Airport (LGW). It is more convenient to get to Guildford from LGW because there is a direct train from LGW’s railway station, which would take at most an hour. Coming into Guildford from LHR is slightly trickier.
There are 2 options for you:
1st: via Paddington Station. Take the Heathrow Connect from LHR to Paddington railway station before transferring to the Bakerloo Line on the London Underground. Take the Underground to Waterloo station and head up to London Waterloo Railway Station where you’ll need to then transfer again to a train that goes to Guildford (it’s usually the one with its final destination being Portsmouth Harbour). You should arrive in Guildford in less than 45 minutes from boarding the train at London Waterloo.
Heathrow Connect to Paddington: 30 minutes
Paddington to Waterloo: 20 minutes
Waterloo to Guildford: 40 minutes
Total time: 1hour 30 minutes (excluding waiting times)
2nd: via Woking. Take a National Express bus from LHR’s bus station to Woking bus station before then going to Woking railway station to hop on the train that goes to Guildford (it’s the same one that started out from London Waterloo and ends at Portsmouth Harbour).
Heathrow Bus Station to Woking: 50 minutes
Woking to Guildford: 10 minutes
Total time: 1 hour(excluding waiting times)
Although the 1st option seems complicated, the frequency of the underground means your waiting time is usually cut short. If you take the 2nd option, you’ll have to deal with longer waiting times for the buses.
Train schedules can be found at: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/
National Express Bus schedules at:http://www.nationalexpress.com/home.aspx
The University campus is a 10-15 minute walk away from Guildford Railway Station so if you’re bringing with you bulky luggage, I strongly advise you to register for the Meet and Greet Scheme that the school has offered. If you’re arriving at the airports (both LHR and LGW) on Tuesday 19th, Wednesday 20th and Saturday 23rd September, the Meet and Greet scheme offers you a free pickup service and bring you to your campus accommodation (if you’ve been offered). Do note that the service is only available on those 3 days mentioned and from 7am to 9pm only. If you arrive after 9pm, you will have to make your own way to the University, so please make sure you have checked all these timings first as you won’t want to be left stranded at the airport not knowing where to go.
For more details, please go to this link: https://www.surrey.ac.uk/international-pre-departure-guide/meet-and-greet
The registration link can be found here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/meet-and-greet-201718-booking-form-tickets-36365126071
If you are unable to meet those times and are unsure about going by train or by national express (bus), you may want to consider taking a taxi. Guildford has 2 private hire taxi companies that should cost less than hailing a cab from the airport itself. They are GM Cars (http://gmcarstaxis.com/rates.html) and a3cars (http://www.a3cars.com/).
- Accommodation and Home-related
First-years are all guaranteed campus accommodation so if you’re living on campus, that saves you the trouble of having to find your own place.
That said, campus accommodation involves communal living i.e. living with people who may have different habits from you. Depending on the Band that you’re staying in, you may need to share toilets, bathrooms and kitchens. When settling into your new home for the rest of the year, try to get to know your housemates and work together to set some ground rules for the use of communal areas so that there is a hygiene standard that’s agreeable with everyone in the house. This will help avoid any unnecessary friction between the people you live with. At the end of the day, learning to handle small issues with your housemates is part of living together.
A good way to get to know them is by getting together for a lunch/dinner gathering to “break the ice” within the first week. It doesn’t have to involve cooking as some people may not have come to grips with cooking just yet. You can always order in and share the costs among yourselves.
In terms of other home-related matters such as electrical appliances, the UK uses the same plugs as we do in Singapore so there’s no need to worry that you’ll need a travel adaptor. What you might find useful is an extension cord because you’re likely to find that the wall plugs aren’t enough to satisfy your power hunger. The University has a rule that all cooking appliances must be left in the kitchen, so any kettles, rice cookers or toasters you may have must only be used in the kitchen. Do label them just in case you have a similar one to your neighbours’.
If you do not intend to bring any pots/pans/cookers with you, you may be able to buy them from here. Argos is a good place where you can find slightly cheaper appliances from their warehouse and they have an outlet located at the Woodbridge Retail Park. It’s not like your usual shop where you can see the physical items. At Argos, you can only browse the catalogues before choosing what you want to purchase. Another place where you can find home appliances is Robert Dyas at White Lion Walk shopping centre in Town Centre. They offer student discounts and you’ll just need to show your student card.
- Finances (Banking and Budgeting)
My advice for banking is to open a student account in the UK and then transfer money to it from a Singapore account in lump sums. Otherwise, you’ll have to incur transaction costs when you send money from Singapore each time.
Here’s what I did on the Singapore end:
I first set up a Multi-Currency Account (with DBS) back home in Singapore that allows me to remit Pounds directly without any transaction charges. You’ll first have to transfer money from your local account to the MCA at the bank’s listed exchange rate which for DBS can be found at:
Other banks in Singapore also offer this value-added service but you’ll have to check it out on your own. Essentially, your bank account will be split into 2, one in local currency and the other in Pounds. When you remit money to your newly set up account in the UK, you will be transferring Pounds from one bank to another bank so that’s why there are no transaction charges.
On the UK end:
You have as many as 10 banks to choose from; Barclays, Santander, Lloyds, HSBC, Nationwide, Halifax, RBS, Co-op Bank etc. Those I’ve listed here all have student accounts.
I’m a Barclays customer so I know for sure that they provide the following value-added services: Mobile Banking (including Mobile Payments) and Contactless payments. The Barclays Mobile Banking app allows you to use Contactless to withdraw cash from a Barclays machine without having your ATM card with you. Mobile payments are similar to the VISA “paywave” as well as Samsung Pay, Android Pay and Apple Pay. Contactless payments is a “tap and go” payment with your bank card so while it’s convenient, you should always be careful with it.
Santander has a branch on campus at the Library block so you may want to choose that if you don’t want to go to town to open a bank account.
It takes a couple of weeks before the account is fully set up and for your bank card to be activated here so you should bring some cash with you when you first arrive. So you should bring some cash with you to last you for the first 2 weeks or so.
If you’d like to set up an account with Barclays, there is one branch near the Guildford town centre along North Street, close to the Bus Station. There should not be any “setup cost” for opening a bank account. Make sure you bring all the necessary documents, including your passport, CAS, proof of residence and Bank Confirmation letter (which can be obtained from the Student Services Centre on campus).
Bank cards here are accepted at any ATM machine so you will be able to withdraw cash from anyone of them even if it isn’t your bank, as long as you see “Free Cash Withdrawals” on the machine.
Budgeting is something that I believe is of utmost importance. The earlier you start learning how to do budgeting, the more prepared you will be in future. My Accountancy background from my undergraduate days is one of a few reasons why I always advise people to cultivate a habit of budgeting. Knowing how your money flows is important to knowing how much you actually have. Even if you’re loaded with cash, you should know where your cash is flowing to so that you can tighten your budget when necessary. Living on your own means you’ll have to know where you’re spending your money!
A good figure to start with as budget per month is approximately £400, covering food, groceries, transport and entertainment. You’ll realise most of it would go into food and groceries which I generally budget around £250 (both together). The remaining £150 would go into maintenance, phone bill and you’re likely to have enough to spare to treat yourself to a nice meal at the end of the month. Since you’re living alone, you have to include expenses such as laundry. It costs around £2.50 for each wash and another £1.50 or so for drying. I personally don’t use the dryer because it destroys my delicate clothing and the UK is dry, so clothes dry quickly when I put them on a clothes line to dry.
Do note that I’m assuming that your accommodation costs and tuition fees are outside of the scope of your day-to-day expenses. So, the £400 doesn’t include your monthly rental (which would vary, depending on your accommodation band).
- Transportation (Local and Regional)
“Local” transport refers to travelling within Guildford. If you’re not a big fan of taking a bus in Singapore because you feel that they don’t come frequent enough, then you’re not going to be a big fan of Guildford buses either. My dissertation research is on improving this but you’re likely going to have to learn to take things easy and relax if you want to rely on the buses here. That said, the bus is a good way to get around if you don’t want to walk. If you purchase an annual bus pass from the University, your bus travel on Arriva buses is covered for the full year. So if you foresee yourself taking the bus frequently (especially if you live in Manor Park), then you should get the pass, which should be around £140 for a full year. Do the math and you’ll realise it’s worth the money. If the bus pass is not for you, you can still take the bus every once in a while and a single will cost you £1.10, while a return is £2, which you can buy from the driver on the bus.
Alternatively, you may wish to buy a bike! If neither of them suits you, you’ll have to rely on Bus 11… i.e. your legs to get around. It’s not too bad because most of the important things in Guildford are all within walking distance of each other.
“Regional” transport refers to travelling from Guildford to other places in the UK, including London. I recommend that you get a 16-25 Railcard that will allow you to purchase discounted rail tickets throughout the validity of the card. If you’re going to go into London often, the Railcard will save you a lot of money.
When you do go into London and intend to hop around many different stations and places, make sure you choose the Travelcard option because that allows you unlimited travel in London on top of your Guildford-London return train ticket.
I’ve fully maximised my Railcard over the last 11 months because I’ve gone to many of the nearby cities and towns by train. So I will tell you for sure that it’s worth it to get the Railcard. Make sure you carry it with you at all times because your rail ticket is only valid if you have your Railcard with you.
- Telco Providers
The UK has many telco providers, certainly more than Singapore. From EE, to O2 to vodafone to Three. There are plenty to choose from and you can visit their webpages to see if you’d like to sign up to contracts while here. For me, I’m using a “pay as you go” SIM that’s provided by giffgaff, which uses the O2 network. It’s 4G and it’s generally quite reliable. But don’t expect excellent connectivity everywhere you go, especially when you’re out for a walk in the woods. For £10 a month, you get unlimited SMSes (I get strange stares when I tell people I still send SMSes but yes, this service still exists), 2GB of data and 500 minutes of outgoing calls. It’s a pretty good deal!
Food definitely costs more than your usual in Singapore. Don’t expect to find a filling bowl of noodles for the S$4 equivalent in pounds. You’re not going to find it. If you’re looking for “budget” meals, £5 would get you some decent ones. A typical “meal deal” combo from the supermarkets cost about £5, while a meal at a restaurant would cost around £10 or more.
Monthly budget for eating out could go up to £200 or more. A good way to save on this is to cook your own food. Buy groceries from the supermarkets or the farmers and train up that chef in you! Learn some of your family favourites too. That way you won’t miss home-cooked food so much. There are obviously those ready-made packets of sauces you could use, but where’s the fun in that? 😜
Buying groceries leads me to the next point…
Tesco or Sainsbury’s are your equivalents of NTUC Fairprice. The Cold Storage equivalent here would be Waitrose, where you’ll find slightly more premium groceries.
I budget around £100 per month for groceries because that includes what I buy to cook for my meals. I like cooking and it’s not difficult to whip up a delicious and filling meal for under £2 if you know how to pick your ingredients. If you’re worried about food spoilage, you can consider buying frozen meat and vegetables. They’re almost the same price (sometimes taste better because they’re blast-frozen) and can last for a long time. Except you’ll have to defrost them before cooking.
The Tesco Superstore (located in between Stag Hill campus and Manor Park) is open 24 hours on most days except Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday it closes at 12am while on Sunday, it closes at 4pm.
Some of the things you’ll realise that is different are that you have to pay for plastic bags (£0.05) which is usually not charged in Singapore (unless they’ve changed that over the last year). So it really helps if you bring plenty of grocery bags to pack your own groceries, which you’ll have to do on your own because the cashiers aren’t going to do it for you unlike in NTUC Fairprice/Giant/Cold Storage.
If you’re looking for Asian grocery shops, there is one close to the Bus Station where you’ll be able to get those premix pastes when you miss them and will cost a little bit more than they would in Singapore. The Tesco Superstore also has an aisle with Asian groceries. The items in Tesco may sometimes be cheaper than the Asian grocery shop 😉
I mentioned about buying groceries from the farmers in Food… You’ll find that they set up shop along North Street (at Town Centre) on Fridays and Saturdays until around 4pm or so. The fruits and vegetables they sell are usually fresher and bigger than the ones you’ll find from Tesco. There’s also a stand that sells meat as well as a few florists. It makes North Street very lively and it’ll be fun for you to experience a “market street” like it for the first time when you’re here because the only place similar would be the wet markets in Singapore.
If going to Town Centre is a hassle, you’ll be happy to know that the University of Surrey Students’ Union has a similar market set up at the Students’ Union building/Rubix. You’ll get fruits and vegetables as well as pastries but no meat is sold here.
Every town in UK has a High Street, which is usually where most of the shops are. Guildford is pretty much the same and you’ll find a variety of shops along High Street as well as North Street. The Friary Shopping Centre also houses a good number of shops including Zara, SuperDry and Primark. Familiar brands along High Street are H&M, Body Shop, Ted Baker.
North Street has a very important shop called Poundland, where every single North Street has a very important shop called Poundland, where every single item in there cost £1, except for those specifically labelled with another price tag. You can get plenty of things from there, from toiletries to cutlery to snacks to lights. Because they’re all £1, they’re not always the best, but you’ll be surprised because there are plenty of £1 items that are very long-lasting.
If you’re looking for a Guardian/Watson’s type of shop, the UK equivalent is Boots which is along High Street. The Tesco Superstore also has a Pharmacy section right at the back too. You’ll be happy to know that there is still a hmv here. It’s located in the basement of Friary Shopping Centre and it’s where you can still buy CDs. Okay… maybe you’re not that interested in buying records anymore but hey, good to know eh?
A good time to shop for clothing apparel is during the Black Friday sales which you’ll come across in November so do look out for that.
Enough about shopping then, there are still 2 more pointers.
- Student Life and Community
Freshers get a Freshers’ Week to kickstart their University life before school life begins. Don’t miss this because it’s essential for you to get an orientation to the campus and to know your way around. Part of Freshers’ Week is Freshers’ Fayre which is the University’s equivalent of a CCA Open House day. It’s usually held at the PATS field in a marquee where you’ll get to see all the clubs and societies showcase themselves and inviting you to join them. If you’re big on sports, look out for the Surrey Sports Park staff who will also be there. You can sign up to the Sports Park membership for an annual fee of £235 (this is last year’s rate so it probably is different this year). You’ll get access to the gym, pool, sauna and discounted prices for the booking of courts or playing fields. Joining a sports team often requires you to join the membership, to begin with.
Aside from sports, there are plenty of other clubs and societies that cater to the interests of students, including fun ones like Harry Potter Society!
If you’re away from home for the first time, you might find staying away from family rather challenging. That’s where the clubs and societies come in. Aside from making new friends, you’ll find that these are the people who are likely to share the same interests as you and you’ll be able to settle in better when you’ve found a community where you feel a sense of belonging.
For me, I got connected and found a church community very early on at Family Church Guildford and Hillsong Church Guildford. That helped me settle into life in Guildford very quickly. As a Masters student, you’re not always as connected with the University non-academic related activities as the undergraduates so I’ve been very blessed to have built a good connection with my coursemates as well as my church community.
Find a community you’re comfortable with and you’ll build friendships here that will make your time in Guildford all the more enjoyable.
If you’re a bit hesitant to take in all of that straight away, then you should consider joining the Singapore Society which brings me to the last pointer.
- Singapore Society
Established in 2014, the Singapore Society is a community that’s made up of mainly Singaporeans as well as a few other students who are interested to know more about Singapore. You’ll be able to speak Singlish among your fellow Singaporeans when you join them for gatherings so that might help you feel a sense of home too. They have a Facebook Group which you can join to find out more: https://facebook.com/groups/surreysingapore
Don’t feel obligated to join the Singapore Society as a Singaporean though. Just know that there is a group of Singaporeans around on campus that you could look for if ever you need some help that’s Singapore-related.
Alternatively, you could write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask about anything and I’ll do my best to reply you as soon as possible. If you have any inquiries that are beyond the pointers mentioned above, don’t hesitate to write to me.
I hope this incredibly long post has been helpful to you!
As for me, I’m going to head back to my dissertation research writing again. Hoping to have the time to continue part 3 of my 5-part photo blog series on Ireland over the weekend.
Until the next post then (which will be very soon…), God bless you!