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United Kingdom: Kingston Student Experience

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THE HOST UNIVERSITY

Kingston University is located in Kingston Upon Thames, which is a suburb in Greater London. The location is ideal: theatres, night life, museums and the London Heathrow Airport are easily accessible. The surrounding area itself has sites worth seeing; Richmond Park, Hampton Court, and Kew Gardens all close by.

The weather has been rather mild with some days of very cold temperatures. Traditionally London weather is cloudy and gray, however that’s not entirely true as the weather will surprise even the Londoners with gorgeous blue sky and sun. In such conditions locals will walk along the Thames River, or shop the outdoor Market Place to name a few. The average temperature is in the mid 40’s (Fahrenheit) but generally it’s warmer when raining and colder with dry weather.

ACADEMIC LIFE (Top)

There are a few major differences between the UK and CSU educational system. The academic year is broken up into three terms although most courses are on semesters. Grades are determined typically by only one or two exams or papers, but it’s not uncommon to have 100% of your grade based on one assessment. Because of the individual nature of study, students must be disciplined enough to study and read the assigned material on their own. Most of the lectures and tutor leaders are accessible and willing to help. Laboratory work requires formal reports which are strictly graded.

All courses (engineering, music, economics, etc.) take one week in each semester off for a reading week (this is your chance to catch up). Classes and lectures do not completely revolve around textbooks. The lecturer will normally hand out a reading list with accompanying tutorials. You may be able to get away without brig any textbooks by just checking them out of the library. You can get books on four-week loans. The only problem with the library is that books that are supposed to be in are not on the shelf. Main texts are difficult to find so it may be a good idea to purchase you main reference materials.

Kingston University offers the British Life & Culture course to study abroad students only.  While it is comprised of primarily American students you also meet students from Australia, New Zealand and Asia.  The class is comprised of lectures that give great insight into the British way of life.  Along with the lectures, the class takes 5 field trips to various locations around England including Brighton, Oxford, Bath & Stonehenge, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre & Parliament and a visit to the National Theatre.  There is an extra fee for the course to support the field trips, but it is well worth it!  To visit these places on your own, it would cost nearly 3 times the class fee!

There are four campuses within Kingston University located throughout Kingston: Penrhyn Road, Knights Park, Kingston Hill, and Roehampton Vale. The campuses are connected through a free inter-site bus service; however it’s not very efficient. The facilities on each campus, though not state of the art, are being updated and some have been rebuilt. Possibly the newest addition to Kingston University is the “Florence Nightingale Centre” that is the Learning Resource Centre/Library with new computers, a café on the ground floor, and more computers on the first floor. All libraries on each campus have wi-fi internet access.  

It is important that you get access to the computer facilities. You will find it invaluable! E-mail is the quickest and cheapest way to keep in touch with friends from home. Sometimes it is difficult to find an open terminal, especially at the end of the term, so start papers early or bring a laptop with you.

For extracurricular activities there is an excellent sports ground with many very well kept pitches for rugby, football and field hockey. There are clubs and societies that meet during the week often with a social pint at a local pub (often the Spring Grove). There is a small charge for these clubs established and enforced by the Kingston University Student’s Union, “KUSU,” (most club officers and members don’t like to collect this fee, but KUSU demands that they do). Also check out Timeout magazine for sports teams within London. It may be a pain to get into Central London for practice, but it’s a good way to interact with Britons.

Do not expect anything until you have received your timetable for your modules (classes). Nothing can be really said about how many hours of lectures you’ll have a day or what days in the week you’ll have them. This will all be sorted out upon arrival as the Study Abroad Office, in Millennium House, will provide you with the timetable. Lectures are about two hours long, but do vary from time to time. Extra work must be done on your own to compensate for the gray areas in a subject; lectures rarely fully explain a topic. No one book is required for a class, but instead a “reading list” is provided. Students are expected to read up on a subject from several sources.

Classroom sizes can vary from 30 to 100 students. There are only a handful of teachers and like anywhere else some are excellent and others are questionable. Please try to attend every lecture, as they are a key component to your achieving at least a “pass” mark. Some lecturers do take roll, though attendance is not stressed.

Engineering – The classes run on the semester system only. All students of the same year take the same classes, at the same time, in the same classroom. During the third year students work in industry and return for the fourth year which starts at the spring term. Therefore, mixing and matching classes may be difficult but they are very accommodating. Make time to take other classes as needed. The faculty members are very friendly and will try to accommodate your needs.

If you are taking all second year classes you can expect to be in school from 9-4 with the amount of homework varying with your academic background. The classes meet 4 hours per week with the pace being slower than CSU, but expect to take an endless amount of notes, and the material on average is about the same as CSU. Most of the work is done in the labs, which are not as organized as those at CSU. There are fewer labs and usually you do the lab before the subjects covered in class.

Civil Engineering – The Civil Engineering Department runs a modular system which means mixing and matching between all three years is possible. The only problem is, they offer modules only once per year. Conflicts in the courses you choose is highly possible. Even if courses conflict, the instructors are very helpful and will try to accommodate your needs. If you choose to take Surveying or Geotechnics, a field trop will accompany the course. You’ll be going to the Isle of Wight, Lake District, or Richmond park depending on which year you chose. This is a great chance to ravel and stuffy at the same time. Field trips last three to seven days. Most modules have labs, so be prepared to write many lab reports. The lab facilities are fantastic and the lecturers display a keen sense of humour. They know how to teach and are very approachable. Expect to take lots of notes and to be in lecture in the same room with the same people from 9-4 three days a week with the exception of some labs. Students quickly learn how to work as a team. You can make the course as hard as you wish by doing coursework night and day as it never ceases. You will be learning every day even if it does not transfer exactly to the CSU system.

Manufacturing Engineering – Expect much the same situations as described above for the other engineering sections. Lab instructions have to handle several different groups at once so except to do a lot of the work with little guidance. The labs are not that intensive-demanding but not unreasonable. Kingston offers one of the few Manufacturing Engineering departments in the U.K. It is a unique and well run program, many instructors having had several years of industry experience. Student graduates of this degree have a better job placement rate than other engineering department.

Music - There are about 40 students per class with as much out-of-class tutorial as you need. The course is intense on written theory and puts much less stress on practical performance. The Music School is very accommodating and will work with you to get the classes you desire, even a mixture of Syllabus A and Syllabus B. Take advantage of Syllabus B courses if they are not offered at your university at home. Often you will be taking courses in different study years (music degrees are a 3 year course, students take only classes given in their year of study, i.e. 1st year, 2nd year or 3rd year).

You should take exams your first week to place you, so keep up on your theory and ear training over the summer. Unfortunately the department failed to test all the study abroad students and asked us to just go to lectures we thought were challenging and take those. Music classes require quite a bit more student interaction than music classes at home, so don't be shy! And you’ll be surprised to find out that very little emphasis is put on the classical genre. Jazz and Pop music is widely lectured. Even though the department is more theory based, you’ll still find yourself knowing more about music theory than the second years and sometimes the third years. You’ll write more papers than be tested on theory.

*Notes are called breve (double whole note), semi-breve (whole note), minim (half note), crotchet (quarter note) quaver (eighth), semi-quaver (sixteenth), demi-semi quaver (thirty-second), and hemi-demi- semi quaver (sixty-fourth).

Coombehurst, the music building, is a beautiful building set at the top of a grassy green hill at the Kingston Hill site. Once belonging to a relative of Florence Nightingale's, it is a three story stately structure, with numerous practice rooms and studios. The practice rooms are not at all soundproof. You must book practice rooms in advance, or be prepared to risk not finding one. The electric piano room is usually available.

The Gateway recording school/studio is also located here and is a well respected organization. There are two divisions in the program, syllabus A and B; A is your general music/performance degree, while B focuses specifically on technology and recording. If you are interested in Music technology, syllabus B is an excellent choice. Be prepared to spend about two hours plus of studying a night and lots of time in the student pub “Hannafords” at Kingston Hill or the common room because all the music students are a big family and love to sit, chat, and drink. Like every music department, the Coombehurst is its own little world. As a music student, you know what that means.

There is a lot of student initiative; there are many student founded/run ensembles and projects happening all the time. There is the University Orchestra, Chamber Choir (the only auditioned group), “VoX” (gospel choir), and other various pop/jazz ensembles-mostly all instrumental. Altogether it is a very sociable and supportive environment, not to mention challenging and frustrating at times! Every Thursday night many music students gather at the Cricketer’s pub near Fairfield park. You'll have to take the bus to get there from the Kingston Hill campus, so ask a fellow student for directions.

Literature – The English Departmentat Kingston has a good reputation and most of the teachers have had books published. Classes are broken down into 3 one hour slots. The first hour is dedicated to a lecture, the second hour is a seminar, and the third is for a workshop. The lecture and seminar are usually back to back, while the workshop group is a different time and sometimes a different day. The program emphasizes collaborative learning/group work and presentations, and peer assessmentsm where you are often reading and criticizing other students work. The workshop classes are very small compared to the lectures because the class is split into 4 or 5 groups. This hour is given to group discussion an since the classes are so small, you are required to participate. The course requires a lot of reading. Reading lists are handed out during the summer for the classes, so do what you can to get them. You will find yourself pressed for time if you don’t do some reading before hand. About 90% of the students are doing the second read once the class starts and some of the tects can be treacherous to get through, so do yourself a favour and get the lists! This cannot be stressed enough. You will also find that you will probably save money by purchasing them before hand in the States. You are graded on only two assessments, usually, hihch here you chances are much slmmer. If you do poorly on an essay, it is harder to pick youself back ip. Also, the first assessment is usually sometime towards the idle of the term, so you will not have any written work – just reading until then. It is easy to slack off, so t is very important to keep up with you reading.

Physics (and other sciences) – It’s much more applied here as compared CSU. Descriptions are generally as those for the Engineering Student. The classes are all on a semester basis.

Economics - The classes are challenging, especially in the third year. The third year classes only require one essay in either the first or second term. Final exams are in the middle of June and are comprehensive. During the third term there is not too much new material, it is mostly review for the exams. Reading is essential. There may be one main text, but it is a good idea to read at least two other sources from the reading list for specific lecture/tutorial topics. The tutorial topics will be the topics for your essays, but if you want to write on a different topic you MUST clear it with your lecturer. CSU students may find that the university approaches economics from a more mathematical orientation compared to CSU with its emphasis on graphs and geometry. The lecturers, while not having as regular office hours as CSU professors, tend to be more friendly and willing to help you through any difficulties. It is very important to attend your lectures and seminars faithfully. The instructors have a strange ability to remember who is there and who is not. While participation/attendance is not technically required, it has a strong influence on your grade.

For keeping up on financial and economic events, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and the Financial Times are excellent papers. You will find the system more flexible than at home, which means you must be disciplined to keep up on your work. When you arrive and scheduling of classes seems disorganized and you don't know what is going on, don't get discouraged-no one else knows what is going on either.

History - Whilst suitably demanding, the study of history at Kingston University is a rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable experience. The quality of instruction is quite high. The lecturers and tutors are first rate, and most of them are more than enthusiastic about accommodating the participation of a visiting American student in the course. Moreover, Kingston's location allows for easy access to central London where there is a wealth of interesting places for the historically minded student; a 15 minute train ride from Kingston or Surbiton stations puts one amidst several of the world's greatest museums and blocks of old and famous buildings. The course structure at Kingston is something of a departure from that at CSU.

Courses run for the whole academic year, and there is a neat division between the lecture and seminar components of each course. CSU students will discover that they will spend much less time in the classroom per week than at their home campus in California. Each class meets once a week for an hour long lecture, and once a fortnight (every two weeks) for a one hour seminar. Furthermore, class sizes vary with lectures usually given to groups of 40 or more students, and seminars involving around 15 students. Classes have just been switched to 50 minutes. Some instructors follow and some don't.

Kingston has a Historical Society that organizes events all through the year. By its very nature, the British university system fosters much more personal initiative and independent study than the American system. Whereas at CSU, one would likely be given a short list of required textbooks for a course, at Kingston, history students are presented with long comprehensive bibliographies, providing a wide selection of pertinent books from which the student may choose. In addition, no single textbook is assiduously followed, nor necessarily required to prepare for the coursework. Whilst professors will offer recommendations for certain books, the student has a great degree of choice when it comes to study material. Fortunately, the library's selection caters to the students' needs sufficiently, and one can usually find something useful to prepare for the next seminar discussion if one can't find a recommended book.

HOUSING (Top)

Accommodation Services will offer hall places to students who are studying in Kingston for one complete academic year.  Full details are available on www.kingston.ac.uk/accommodation where you can view the types of halls and prices.

Living in halls gives you a certain amount of independence, although it can be noisy sometimes.  You will always have your own single study bedroom and many of the rooms have their own private facilities (shower, WC and sink).  You will most likely live with students from several different countries which is great fun.  Halls are all self catering which means you will have to cook for yourself and take part in chores, which are shared equally within the flat.  The refrigerators in the halls are half-size and shared between 3-8 people depending on the size of the flat. Be prepared to have less refrigerated or frozen foods because of storage space – however there are plenty of shops locally. Linen, bedding and crockery are not provided but can be purchased locally quite cheaply.  Head to Woolworths in town or you might want to try Argos, Wilkinsons  or Asda where things are quite cheap.  Hall reception will advise you on nearest places to shop.

If you decide to stay in a hall, don't expect to get much studying done when you are there-it's a very social place. Be sure and study during the day at the library and leave the evenings to relax. As a female, I found it very beneficial living in a hall, in the sense that I had my flat-mates to walk home with on the nights that we went out as opposed to taking a taxi.

There are other lodging options available, such as off-campus private accommodations but the Study Abroad Office advises strongly against it. Should you opt-out of university accommodations, and decide to find your own private accommodation, you should book a guest house for a couple of days to give you the opportunity to look for something suitable.  However you should be aware that rents are expensive and there is a housing shortage.

MONEY AND BANKING (Top)

There are two ways of taking care of your money, either you bring it all over at one time or you leave it in your home account. If you bring it over all at once do it in pound sterling traveler's checks. The rate paid for traveler's checks is better than on cash dollars. If you leave your money in California you may be able to get it through an ATM (a cash machine or “hole in the wall”) here, but you pay a variable service charge (usually around $1.50-$2.00); or better yet use American Express. If you have an American Express card you can go to the office in London and cash a check on your bank account at home. Do NOT attempt to cash a dollar check at a local bank, unless you can wait six weeks for your money. The banks here will not credit your account until they have actually collected the money from your bank; it is not worth the hassle. Depositing money from a branch other than your own will take three to four working days to be posted to your account, so don't expect to be able to get access to your funds right away.

If you want to watch the exchange and try to beat the market for changing your money go ahead, but it can be difficult as the rates do fluctuate quite a bit. There are many banks in Kingston, the most popular are National Westminster (NatWest), Barclay's, Lloyd's and HSBC. NatWest and Barclays do not charge student account holders commission on exchanging currency of different countries. The best time to open an account is during the first couple weeks or at the "Fresher's Fayre," which is an open house for first year students. ATM machines are not a problem and very useful as banks close at 5:00 in the afternoon.

If you do decide to leave your money in California, you have a couple of options. If there is an HSBC branch in your local area, open an account with them before you leave as HSBC truly is the world’s bank. There are many branches around areas you’d travel with no fee to withdraw money from an ATM. Or the same can be done with Bank of America and you may use the Barclay’s “Hole in the Wall” ATM machine as Barclay’s and BofA are partners. I wouldn’t suggest opening an account overseas unless you decide to work while studying. 

Allow $100 a week as the bare minimum for a budget, this is simply a survival level and does not include your rent (rent is between £50-60 a week). Sightseeing and any trips/holidays you take will, of course, be beyond this amount.

WHAT TO BRING (Top)

It is not recommended that you bring electrical appliances, even with converters and adapters they just don't work as well. Hair dryers and curling irons can be bought at Boot's or Superdrug for approximately £12-£17 (if you look hard enough). Electric clocks, digital or otherwise from the states, will not keep the correct time; bring a wind up or battery operated travel clock or you can get a very cheap digital alarm clock here at Argos. Hiking boots are a good idea; there is a caving and hiking club at the University. Bring along useful texts if you can, they can come in handy. Make sure you bring warm clothing, a good jacket and long coat are useful. If you have a backpack to carry your books make sure it is waterproof, wet books are just a bit difficult to read. Paper is a different size-don't bring notebooks, paper, etc. Bring old term papers. You can get basically any kind of toiletries that you need here (American brands) so don't bring a years supply with you. This makes luggage very heavy. Don't forget to bring pictures of your family and friends from home. Making your room “homey” assists with the few first days of homesick-ness.

Don't bring adapters for electric razors since the bathroom outlet is already equipped with an American 110v plug.

TRANSPORTATION (Top)

In Kingston most people get around by walking, cycling, or bus. By far the cheapest is, you guessed it, walking-it takes longer but it is a good source of budget trimming. The buses are good; they usually run every 15-20 minutes and at night more like every 30 minutes depending on the line. Transport for London would have you believe that it is actually 10 and 20 minutes respectively, but don't believe them. Regardless if you ride the bus regularly look into getting a Student Oyster card, or normal “pre-pay” Oyster card. The Oyster Pre-Pay Card may be bought at the Tourist Info Centre for an initial fee of £3 plus the credit to be topped up. When travelling by bus, the price is £.90 (single journey) compared with £2 without the card. The card may also be used on the tube; however prices vary depending on the number of zones travelled.

Probably the most economical means of transportation throughout London is by means of a Student Oyster Card. Similar to a regular Oyster Pre-Pay Card, the Student Oyster Card has the pre-pay function as well as 30% off travelcards (7 Day, 1 Month, Annual). Monthly passes for bus only are £35 with the Student Oyster Card compared to an average £60 monthly with an Oyster Pre-Pay Card and £50 with a Period Travelcard.

The rail service is good. If you get a schedule at one of the stations keep it with you, it’s good to know the timetables. A “Young Person’s Rail Card” is a good investment if you’re going to be a frequent rail traveller. The card costs £18 and it gets you discounts up to 33% on your tickets. It's a great deal. Cabs exist as well but they are a rip-off unless you are in a hurry, and be sure that they’re licensed cab drivers.

Kingston is a main shopping hub, so traffic (and auto exhaust fumes) can be heavy during rush hours. The university has free bus service for students between all of the Halls, the University, and both Kingston and Surbiton town centres. This is very valuable, especially during the winter when it is very cold to walk. Anytime you go into London, get a Travel Card for £6.50 (£6 if you have the Young Person's Rail Card) by train. This gets you on all buses, tubes and trains all day long.

SERVICES (Top)

Anything you need for everyday living you can get in Kingston. As far as fast food goes McDonalds and The Colonel are here within travelling distance, along with a few others. There are pub lunches which are quite good and probably a better deal than any of the other places-cheapest place the Kings Tun. They offer a range of dishes and most meals are good, fish or sausages with chips are the basic choices.

Mail service is good with delivery in the morning. An airmail letter takes about 3 working days to get to the States (may be less for the East Coast). Post offices are not difficult to find, with the big main post office located in Twickenham. The main Kingston post office is not far from the Penrhyn Road or Knight's park sites, only a 5-7 minute walk, near “The Works.”

Kingston has one of the largest shopping areas outside of central London (probably the largest actually) and is only a ten minute walk from the Penhryn Road site. You may want to stay away from the town centre on Saturdays unless you enjoy large mobs (everyone flocks there). Besides the Bentall and John Lewis, which are large department stores similar to Macy's, there are a host of smaller shops in the town centre. Bentall Centre is a shopping mall containing numerous shops, including Bentall's. Along with the shops there are two grocery stores, a Sainsbury's which is not too big (located in Eden Walk), and Waitrose below the John Lewis. Waitrose may be a bit more expensive but there is a better choice. Tesco is also a good choice for American products, although it’s in New Malden. If there is something you can't live without, something not very common, bring it with you because there is a good chance they may not have it. The college has a health centre, and you must register with them upon arrival. You’ll need your vaccination records for this. If you go through the health centre you won't be charged for a doctor's visit. All prescriptions are £6.85 at any pharmacy by law (they are called chemists, not pharmacies).

The cheapest way to communicated with home is via internet i.e. email, instant messaging or free Skype to Skype calls. Otherwise to call a landline or cell phone, Skype offers extremely cheap rates to call from your computer with a microphone and an internet connection. If you want to be more mobile then consider investing in a mobile phone. Mobile World, from Carphone Warehouse, will give you a mobile phone for £15 that includes a sim card with £10 credit. This is a “pay as you go” phone. Calls to the states are $.10 a minute. Your parents may also call you whenever they want and send as many text messages they want because in the UK all incoming phone calls/texts are free. You only pay for what you use.

EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES (Top)

There is a variety of extracurricular activities available at Kingston. Join one or more of these clubs, you will not regret it. Bear in mind that while the competitive clubs (rugby, basketball, fencing, etc.) do want to win games they are good socializing events, with many pints after a rigorous practice. The Student Union puts on films, dances, pubs, etc. Definitely get an NUS card through KUSU which gets you into many events for free and a discount on others.

There is a local movie theatre called “The Odeon.” You’ll be able to watch movies from the States and other British films for £6 with your Kingston Uni ID card otherwise it’s £10 without it. Going to the movies is quite an experience as they have assigned seating within the theatre. If you are running late for a movie, it’s alright because there’s about 15 – 20 minutes of previews.

Pubs close at 11:00 p.m. Sunday thru Thursday and later on the weekend, but there are nightclubs that you can stay out until 2p.m. or later in Kingston. London has nightclubs that are open until dawn. Everything else closes at around 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. Tipping is usually not expected, but service is not the same as you are used to in the states. You only tip if a waitress or waiter if they come to your table and take your order. There are no cocktail waitresses and smoking is not allowed indoors anywhere within the UK.

Places to go in Kingston:
The King’s Ton: 2 for 1 Meals, burger and beer £4.49
O'Neill's: Great Irish pub, best Guinness in town and live music on Wednesday nights.
Nando's: Delicious food, can be spicy, and a funky atmosphere; killer chicken & veggie burger.
Pizza Express - a bit more expensive, but very good pizza.
Kingston Mill - good music and atmosphere.
Amigos restaurant – Licensed Mexican restaurant (bit expensive).
Bella pasta - Excellent Italian food and 20% discount with Student ID.
Harvester - Like a CoCo's restaurant
TOPSHOP - Clothes
The Bentall Centre – This is a shopping mall like the ones we are accustomed to. Within the Bentall’s department store anything you could possibly need as well as select American imports are available.

*If you smoke expect to pay twice as much in London and you are only allowed to bring in one carton of cigarettes duty free.