Archive for November, 2008

practical matters: banking in the uk

November 30, 2008


Bank of Scotland Head Office, Edinburgh

By flickr user Anosmia

If you are studying in the UK for more than a semester, I highly recommend opening a bank account when you arrive. It will save you money on international transaction fees and is easier for paying bills. Also, if you decide to work while studying, you will need a UK account to receive direct deposit.

When you visit the bank, you will probably have to schedule an appointment to set up an account. You should get an appointment within the next couple of days. You will need to bring the following to your appointment:

  • your passport
  • your unconditional offer of admission letter from the university
  • evidence of your home address, such as a bank statement (preferably in English)
  • evidence of your Edinburgh address, such a utility bill or tenant’s agreement. At the University of Edinburgh, you can contact the International Office to request a letter verifying your address.

As an international student, your account options are limited and vary from bank to bank. If you can, I recommend setting up a current account because it gives you immediate access to your funds and offers the best services. For most accounts, you will receive an debit/ATM card. Depending on your bank, you may also qualify for a credit card.

I suggest doing a bit of research and visiting several different banks before you commit to one. I visited a few banks before deciding on Llyods TSB. I chose this bank because it offered the current account option to international students. The Lloyds current account includes mobile insurance, travel insurance, and card protection, which are free the first three months, and £15 a month thereafter. This account also includes a debit card which you may use anywhere in Edinburgh free of charge. Lloyds also allowed me to obtain a credit card with a £750 limit for free.

The account options and services of Lloyds TSB may be different in other parts of the UK and will certainly change over time, so I strongly recommend visiting other banks before you sign up for an account.


filmhouse: independent cinema in edinburgh

November 29, 2008

Man reading a Filmhouse programme

I recently watched the documentary Citizen Havel at the Filmhouse, a cultural cinema featuring independent films from all over the world. The Filmhouse is the home of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and hosts many other festivals all year round. The documentary I watched is a part of the Winter Festival of Central and Eastern European Film, which “showcases the enormous riches, in terms of language and culture, from this part of the world. This cultural and linguistic diversity is emphasised by the film programme, which includes works from Hungary, Poland, Serbia, and the Czech Republic.” This festival runs from November 10 – December 13.

The Filmhouse has three state-of-the-art cinemas, as well as a lovely cafe and bar, which is perfect for meeting with a date or friends. Highly recommended for cinephiles.

Photo by the Filmhouse

health care in edinburgh: part 2

November 26, 2008

About a week and a half ago, I had x-rays of my vertebral column taken. In order to get the x-rays, I had to get a referral from my GP in Scotland, whom I showed a referral from my surgeons in the States. I had to take the GP referral to the Radiology Department at Chalmer’s Hospital, about a ten-minute walk from the University Health Centre.

I was able to get x-rays taken the same day I dropped off the referral. I wanted to get a copy of the x-rays to send to my surgeons in the States, but the Radiology Department told me that they normally do not release x-rays to patients and that I would need written permission from my GP. They said that a radiologist would review my x-rays and send a textual report without the x-rays to the GP, with whom I would have to schedule an appointment. This process took about a week.

Photo courtesy of flickr user eskimo_jo

By flickr user eskimo_jo

I saw the GP a couple of days ago and he informed that the radiologist did not have enough information (i.e. my other x-rays taken in the States) to make an adequate assessment of my x-rays (obviously!). The GP gave me a hand-written note requesting that the Radiology Department release my x-rays to me. I walked back to Chalmers Hospital today, just a week after my visit, only to discover that the Radiology Department had closed down! It was completely shut down, and appeared to be under re-construction for another department. They had a note on the door written in black marker advising patients to go to other health centres to get x-rays.

When I called Chalmers Hospital to inquire about my records, they told me I would have to go to the Leith Community Treatment Centre with five pounds and a written permission of release from my GP to obtain my x-rays. I am planning to head the Leith Treatment Centre sometime this week.

I am very frustrated by the bureaucracy of obtaining x-rays and the unprofessionalism of closing down a department without informing their patients. However, I’m sure things will work out in the end.

With the exception of this x-ray fiasco, my experience with the health care system in Edinburgh has been positive.

health care in edinburgh: part 1

November 25, 2008

Photo Courtesy of Memekode

One of the great things about being an international student in the UK is that you qualify for free health care through the National Health Service (NHS). When you arrive in the UK, you will have to register with a local General Practitioner’s Surgery (which means clinic in British English). I registered with the Health Centre at the University of Edinburgh. Registering was fairly quick and easy, all I had to do was fill out a registration form, and bring my student id card and proof of address.

As many of you know, I fractured my vertebral column in a serious car accident in Seattle last August, so having access to good health care was a high priority. I’ve visited the Health Centre several times since I arrived in Edinburgh, and overall, I am satisfied with the quality of service, especially considering it’s free.

One of the best things about the University Health Centre is their drop-in hours, which take place from 9:00am to 10:00am from Monday through Friday. This means you can see a doctor almost every day of the week. But keep in mind, the waits are long and the doctors are usually rushed. If you’d like more time and personalized care, I’d suggest setting up an appointment outside of drop-in hours. The wait for an appointment is usually about a week long, depending on your doctor.

Because of my accident, I had to undergo physical therapy (they call it physiotherapy in the UK) and get x-rays. To see a physiotherapist, you can either fill out a self-referral form or get a GP referral. If you self-refer, it will take about six weeks to see a therapist, but if you get GP referral, the wait should be no more than a week. I have seen the University physiotherapist once, and the quality of care and methods seems to be the same as my therapist in the States. I plan to see the physiotherapist a couple more times once I have my x-rays analyzed.

Photo by flickr user memekode

you say ‘tomato’, i say ‘tomato’

November 23, 2008

There are many differences between American and British English, but don’t stress too much, just change your Microsoft Word to British spelling (some professors don’t care if you use American English as long as you keep it consistent) and get used to hearing words in unfamiliar contexts.

Below are some of the differences in semantics I’ve come across in Edinburgh:

course = course and class, but also program

mark =  mark, but also grade

college = high school

interval = interval, but also intermission

rubbish (bin) = garbage (can)

brilliant = awesome, cool, amazing, etc.

knackered = tired

cheers = cheers, but also thank you and goodbye

suss out = check out

curriculum vitae = curriculum, resume

no, you haven’t failed

November 21, 2008

I don’t know if this applies to all British universities, but grades (or should I say marks?) are considerably less inflated at the University of Edinburgh than American universities. Below is the University of Edinburgh’s Common Marking Scheme, which is based on 100-point scale. Most people don’t get higher than 70%, so don’t freak out if you don’t get above 90%.


70 and above

60 – 69

50 – 59

40 – 49

0 – 39


An excellent performance

A very good performance

A good performance

A satisfactory performance for the diploma, but inadequate for a masters degree

Fail for the diploma


November 20, 2008

Volunteering is a great way to help and get involved in the community. I hope to start volunteering this month for LINKnet, a mentoring project dedicated to serving ethnic minorities in Scotland and the Chess Academy, an organization that gets young people involved in chess through tournaments.

I found these opportunities through the Volunteer Centre Edinburgh, which allows you to search through their fantastic database of local volunteer opportunities based on your interests, location, and availability. The Volunteer Centre has offices all over Scotland, you can find the one closest to you by going here. If you’re located in England, you can search for other opportunities through Volunteering England.

Another great resource is the Student Volunteer Centre at the University of Edinburgh. Check to see if your university has a volunteer centre.

snapshots of edinburgh: wester hailes

November 19, 2008

I recently went to Wester Hailes, a suburb southwest of Edinburgh. With limited resources and services, Wester Hailes is one of the most deprived areas in Greater Edinburgh. Wester Hailes is in need of re-development, but unfortunately, lacks the community leadership and organization to appeal to the City Council to implement sustainable infrastructural changes.


Wester Hailes




Wester Hailes

first semester overview

November 17, 2008

I have far fewer classes and less required work than I had as an undergrad at the University of Washington. To give you an idea of what the workload and setup is like, I have laid out my academic semester schedule.

I only have two required classes once a week. I am taking Culture and Criticism I (one of the core Cultural Studies classes) and the Anthropology of Health and Healing (my optional course). Each class is two-hours long, combining both lecture and discussion. I have about three hours of reading a week for each class. Grades are based on two 4,000 word research papers due at the end of the semester.

I am also auditing Qualitative Approaches to the City and attending the Cultural Studies Salon, both which are about two-hours long and once a week.

The first week of the semester I took a mandatory Research Skills and Methods lecture-style seminar composed of over 200 students in the School of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures (LLC). This class was an introduction to the resources and materials available at the university and in the city. We had four classes the first week, which lasted for about two hours each.

In LLC, we are also required to take three topic-specific workshops, ranging from Methods and Materials in Medieval Studies to Researching Film in the Digital Era. These workshops are about two-hours long.

We also had to submit a bibliographic assignment at the end of the seminar and will have to submit a 10-page annotated bibliography at the end of this month.

Considering this is a full-time load, the number of classes and amount of assignments seems a bit light. Personally, I wish we had class and assignments more frequently. But, I guess it gives me more time to write this blog.

uk postgraduate degrees explained

November 16, 2008

The British Council offers a wealth of information on the various postgraduate degrees and courses (which  means both class and programme in British English) available in the United Kingdom. They explain the British postgraduate education system in a very clear, succinct manner and allow you to easily search for courses based on your interests.

Master’s Degrees

UK universities award two basic types of master’s degrees: the taught master’s and the research master’s.

The taught master’s consists of coursework and a dissertation. It typically takes one year to complete, unlike its US counterpart, which takes two years. Educators have determined the two systems to be roughly equivalent, as the UK system is more specialized and condensed than the US one.

Taught programs are usually divided into three terms. As a student, you will likely take courses for the first two terms and then spend the third (normally the summer months) researching and writing a dissertation of about 10,000 words. If you are on a technological or vocational program, a practical project may replace the dissertation.

In most cases, assessment in taught programs is made on the strength of the final project and other work submitted earlier in the year, though a number of programs also require a formal written examination.

The taught master’s degrees are usually Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (MSc.) -Melissa

The research master’s, as the name implies, is research-based. It contains much independent work and little – if any – taught coursework. This master’s normally takes two years to complete, but, again, is roughly equivalent to the US M.A.

While many research master’s students continue on to a doctoral program, the degree can stand alone and offers a compromise between the classroom emphasis of the taught master’s and research focus of the doctoral level.

To earn a research master’s, you will need to produce a thesis – usually between 30,000 and 40,000 words – under the supervision of a tutor.

If you want to pursue this degree, you should have a clear idea of the subject you want to study and the background knowledge to begin advanced research.

The research master’s degrees are typically Master of Philosophy (MPhil.) or MSc. by Research. -Melissa

Doctoral Degrees

Typically, students can complete a Ph.D. (called a DPhil at a few universities) in three or four years. It is fairly common for a student to start on a research master’s degree and then proceed to the university’s Ph.D. program, with time spent on the master’s degree counting towards Ph.D. requirements.

The traditional British Ph.D. has less coursework and more independent research than its US counterpart. Increasingly, though, Ph.D.s in the UK include a taught research training component in the first year.

To earn a Ph.D., you will need to produce a thesis – 70,000 and 100,000 words – under the supervision of a tutor. As with the research master’s, when applying for a Ph.D. you should have strong background knowledge in the subject you want to study and a clear idea of what you want to research.

UK academics have recently launched the New Route Ph.D., which is a four-year program. New Route students undertake advanced independent research, but have more opportunities to take taught courses and study across disciplines than do traditional doctoral students. The program, offered at 34 universities, aims to prepare students for careers not just in academia but also in other public and private sector fields.