What to do when you’re not studying

Since the spring holidays just ended last week, this is usually the time of the year when everyone (or at least me) realizes how many activities and fun things they still wanted to do before summer and how little time they have left thanks to upcoming exams in May.

While I have resigned myself to hoping for dry weather and lots of barbecues this year, there are actually many more things to do, not least many events offered by the university and the student union (most of which run throughout the whole year, so you don’t have to wait until Easter to get involved).  The student union (for everyone who is as lost as I was in the beginning) is an association of students who represent Strathclyde’s student body when dealing with university or more general education issues and organize events, clubs and societies (for more detail: http://www.strathstudents.com/). Furthermore, the building where the student union has their offices is called student union as well and at least for Strathclyde University it also includes several bars, cafés and multi-purpose rooms distributed over 8 floors.

So, anyway, the student union – besides offering cheap drinks – organizes and subsidises a lot of sports clubs and societies. The latter are almost free, as far as I know, and there are nearly a hundred different societies, ranging from charity and fundraising clubs to politically engaged groups and societies for students of certain subjects (such as the physics society). There are also societies for people from certain countries to meet fellow countrymen and –women which might be especially helpful in learning to find one’s way around after arriving in a new uni environment.

As for the sports clubs, they are a bit more expensive, as you have to become a member of the sports union (about £22 per year, I think) and usually pay for facilities or any extra equipment, depending on the sport. But again the range is pretty wide. While I’m not a big sports fan and have only tried one or two of the sports offered, you can basically find clubs for any common sport as well as martial arts and several outdoor activities, such as sailing, mountaineering and skydiving (see http://www.sportsunion.co.uk/).

The fun thing is that you can try as many clubs as you want in Freshers’ Week (first week before start of lectures in September) and even if it turns out you’re not a total sports enthusiast, most clubs include a lot of social events and nights out.

Finally, there are many events organized for international students, especially by the International Society (surprisingly) (also see http://www.strathstudents.com/international). They run trips to other places in Scotland, movie nights, pub crawls, etc. One weekly highlight is the international pub night where tens to hundreds (depending on the season) of international students meet at a different pub every week. The pubs are chosen by the organisers and usually include pretty nice places in the city centre, so there’s a good chance you’re going to find your new favourite pub on one of these nights. But, of course, it’s also a great opportunity to get to know new people and a few of my “non-international” friends liked it so much, they also started going there regularly.

Another great place to meet international students is the international café organised by the Christian Union (CU) which is actually where I met many friends from my first year.  Every Thursday evening you can get a warm meal for £2 at the chaplaincy centre (on campus) together with other internationals and members of the CU. As the name suggests, it is mainly an event for international students and everybody is welcome to join, no matter which religious views you might or might not have.

Finally, the chaplaincy centre itself, together with an organisation called Glasgow Internationals (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Glasgow-Internationals/55844921694), is quite active as well when it comes to events for international students. In my first two years here, I participated in several of their hiking daytrips and Scottish cooking lessons.

While all of these international events are great to get to know people at the beginning of the year as well as to get opportunities for travelling around in Scotland, unfortunately, most “non-international” students (those considered as home students by the university, e.g. Scottish, English, Northern Irish) don’t know about them and so you’ll really just meet other foreign students there.

As a small addition, I found the following quite interesting website, while roaming the internet for some useful links: http://www.friendsinternational.org.uk/. The tips and pieces of advice it gives on living and studying in the UK might be especially helpful for anyone from a non-European country.

Summer Project in China

Having shown my desire to have an international experience, I was offered the opportunity to do a summer project at Capital Normal University in Beijing, China. This has the benefit for the University of increasing its international awareness and of course means I get the unique experience of performing a physics project in an intriguing country.

This has been set -up by a few members of staff in the physics department, in that they found a Chinese university to host me and the department will partly fund the experience. Fortunately I have been told living expenses are not much in China compared to Glasgow! The exact details are still to be confirmed but it looks like I shall be performing experiments with microwaves with a member of staff who has previously spent a year living in Glasgow (which should help with any communication problems due to my accent!)

In preparation so far I have had to fill out an application for Capital Normal University, attaching copies of my passport, official transcript and the signature of the head of the physics department who will act as my financial guarantor for the trip in the unlikely event of something going wrong. CNU will provide student accommodation and help applying for a VISA should I need one.

As I am sure is understandable I am very excited but also a little nervous as I don’t know what differences to expect in day to day life in China such as the food there, the attitudes to western culture and the fact that I currently do not speak a word of Chinese! On the other hand, I am very excited about all the new people I will meet and places I will see and look forward to being out of my comfort zone for a while. The experience will give me the chance to find out if I might enjoy performing international research as a future career and will enhance my job prospects no matter what position I am applying for.