Archive for the ‘Doing an Overseas Degree’ Category

Uh, so it’s been a stupid busy few months. See, I turned my PhD in yesterday. (Cue parade) Now I am just waiting to sit my viva and then I’ll be The Doctor!

In celebration of finishing that and of my new inability to brain (seriously–I barely left the house or had any days off the past couple of months, and the final dissertation was 142,000 words, not including about 20K more in works cited and appendices. So, I’m tired, eh?)… so in celebration of that, here are pics from, oh, a year ago!

Great Yarmouth is a tourist destination on the seaside. It is full of ‘amusements’: put-put golf, some rides, an aquarium, and arcade/casinos that are FULL of machines that cost 2p. It’s *hella* tacky and fun and I loved it! Also, it reminded me of where I grew up. Exhibits A through….well, take a look:

Because Yarmouth puts the 'Fun' in Caesar's?

Because Yarmouth puts the ‘Fun’ in Caesar’s?

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Uh, the one at home didn’t have grabby machines out front!

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Nope. No buffet!

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At this point I just couldn’t help but laugh.

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I’m a bit exhausted from doing too many 800 things. The weeks are whizzing by, and I barely realize one is nearly done when another is upon me.

I teach Monday and Tuesday (3 classes between the two days), and so those two days are mostly given over to that. By 6 pm Tuesday, I’m toast. Wednesday is for going to the gym and catching up with things (like grocery shopping, which I desperately need to do. I think I have half an onion, some old carrots, 2 wrinkled limes, and some frozen chicken breasts to my name). Thursdays and Fridays are for going gung-ho on my own work (you know, like that PhD I’m doing!). And then, I tend to work most of the weekend (with time to go to the gym Fridays and Sundays).

In addition to the PhD work, I’m also applying for jobs, and each application can take several hours (I have 4 on deck to do this week–that’s a couple of days of my attention span, right there). I’m also filling out some paperwork for a teaching award/certificate sort of thing, which is sucking up time.

Oh, plus there is prep time for the teaching. A couple of weekends ago, I did the majority of the prep for the next couple of months, but each week, when Sunday night rolls around, I realize I’ve forgotten what it is I am teaching the next morning! So there’s revision time, too. But teaching is still so much fun. This week we started on stage writing. Somehow, we ended up discussing how you could stage the zombie apocalypse (as opposed to writing the story for tv or film, or even radio!).

PLUS reading a dozen books and sitting in on an MA Genre class once a week.

PLUS writing two papers to present at academic conferences in June.

PLUS helping to organize a SF/F convention, and building an exhibit for another, and hopefully being on panels at a third.

PLUS writing short fiction and sending it off to (hopefully) be bought and pubbed.

PLUS PLUS PLUS. And in between all of this is cooking and eating and shopping for food and laundry and apartment upkeep and emails and bills and sleeping. Oh, sweet, sweet sleeping. (Do you see why I have no time to date? Not as if that were an option…I don’t exactly have much of a social life! BUT at the end of all of this, I will be a Dr.    So there!)

The fun stuff: I try to go to the movies every Tuesday night. I bailed tonight, however, because nothing started soon enough after finishing teaching and I just wanted to come home and put on jammies and watch tv. Last night was a games & drink nights with friends at a pub (I LOVE pubs here: lots of them have piles of games you can play, like Jenga and Scrabble). Tomorrow I am off to the local art museum to write up some ‘games’ for my students. I am organizing a field trip of a sort (not on a class day, alas) where they will join me at the museum and I will send them off with directions to find certain pieces of art with instructions to inspire them to do some free writing. And in April I am taking a short holiday during the Easter break. I just hope I can get enough work done first so that I can ‘relax’ while away. I’d like to leave my lappie behind if at all possible!

Interesting observation: This morning, as I crossed the bridge, I watched a rower below nearly hit a swan. It was the ‘nearly’ part that was amazing: it was as if the swan knew, and scooted out of the way just in time. Amazing, too, considering the rower never looked behind her and saw the bird. And, related to swans, last night on my walk home, I passed a pub called the White Swan, and inside a traditional Irish band was playing. It was lovely, to stand outside in the dark, on rainy streets, and watch fiddlers and drummers playing inside a dimly lit pub.

I’m busy. I’m tired. But life is okay. And here is an obligatory flower close-up: a hellebore.


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It’s time for some catch-uppery:

1. Transfer to new uni complete. Old uni still thought I went to school there and sent a letter for overdue tuition. Nice!

2. First term of teaching at new uni complete (except for grading, which will happen the beginning of January). It went…okay. I got good evaluations, but there was a LOT I would do differently. Teaching next term is nearly set up: different course, but similar to what I taught at old uni. So it shouldn’t be as steep of a learning curve. And now I know the new uni’s system.

3. Part of transferring to new uni is catching up with all things PhD that old uni didn’t do, such as a whole LOT of training (everything from research funding to project management to ethics). I’ve been exempted form some of it, but others are required, meaning more time spent in transit from home to uni and more time spent NOT doing my own work.

4. I’m on deadline with the PhD novel. Originally it was ‘supposed’ to be done a year ago. And then this past June. Then this October. And then by Christmas. Right now I’m working on finishing the first draft by mid-January. It WILL get done because I have to start writing up a draft of the analysis for my Confirmation of Candidature in June. Gulp!

BUT don’t let this sound like I’m not enjoying myself! New uni is FAB! I’m glad I transferred. I’m part of a way better department with a lot of amazing people. There are things happening al the time: panel talks, paper presentations, and even today a colloquium (which I was supposed to attend, but the trains went FUBAR again, so I couldn’t make it).

That brings me to the fun stuff:

The view out my front door a couple of weeks ago. Note the three garbage bins: one for trash, one for metal/glass/plastic recycling, the other for brown cardboard and food. Near my feet is the paper recycling bin. No one can say England isn't 'Green'!

The view out my front door a couple of weeks ago. Note the three garbage bins: one for trash, one for metal/glass/plastic recycling, the other for brown cardboard and food. Near my feet is the paper recycling bin. No one can say England isn’t ‘Green’!


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About two weeks ago, we had a visitor, which meant going to the City. For two Christmases I wanted to go ice skating, and this year I finally DID something about it! We skated at Somerset House. I didn’t fall!

Skating is its own ‘thing’ here at the holidays. Half a dozen rinks pop up and you have to book ahead of time to get an hour of skating. And, like everything in London. it’s spendy (the later in the day, the more expensive it gets–it’s the ambience you’re paying for!). The rinks are small, they cram about 1/3 too many people on the ice, and everyone is so busy taking pictures that it’s hard to get going. But barely anyone can really skate. And you’ve never seen so many HAPPY people in one place in London. Ever. It was too much fun!

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At the Savoy: London is all decked out for the holiday!


Had turkey dinner for Thanksgiving. For my American peeps: a turkey here costs somewhere around £30. That’s like $45.



It’s not LOBSTER for chrissake!

This is why Turkey is sort of ‘special’ here. And why bacon is a food group.

Things I’m looking forward to this Christmas:
1. Going out of town and seeing people I don’t get to see very often.
2. Baking!
3. Eating all of the holiday food!
4. Chilling out and having movie marathons, playing countless games of Scrabble, and sleeping in.

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When one gets a student visa to study in a foreign country, one is sponsored by the institution that one has been accepted by.

Oh hell, enough of the ‘one’ business. I am not the Queen. I don’t carry an empty purse or get to ride in a bad-ass gold carriage. (Seriously, THAT would be the best part of being Queen!)

OK, so my PhD supervisor has become head of the department (of English, media, etc., etc.) at a different university than the one that sponsored me. I came here to study with her. Her new uni is awesome. Hence, I am transferring to new uni.



This means that I have had to go through anew round of paperwork hell. I’ve had to re-apply for a place at new uni. It was a bit easy, though, since my PhD sup is a known entity there, so I didn’t completely start from scratch. BUT they now have to send me a new CAS letter (remember those? That’s the letter you need to send to the government when applying for a student visa; it tells the visa peeps that the uni has accepted you, how long your degree will take, how much it will cost, blahblahblah).

Once I get said CAS letter, I have to fill out ALL of the visa forms AGAIN, pay more fees, and send it all in to the government here to be issued a new student visa. Which has been nerve-wracking because of changes in the immigration rules here over the past few months. (Tier 1 post-grad study visas are now ka-put, among other things.)

We were unsure whether I’d get my visa for the same duration. (It looks like I will. Whew!)
We were unsure whether I’d have to leave the country and wait for the new visa. (I don’t. Whew!)

But there has been a big glitch in the computer system here with visas, and there is a chance that they may have to hold onto it FOR SIX MONTHS. Uh, this is a problem as I have travel plans that require said visa sooner than six months from now. Cross your fingers for me that things clear up and that I can get my visa in and done, pay my tuition, and start at the new uni with very few hiccups.

Who am I kidding? HA! SOMETHING is going to go pear-shaped.

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So too many months ago, I wrote a post about Getting a Student Visa and Other Paperwork, and said I’d continue it later. I suppose I should keep my promise.

To apply for a Student Visa, you need a few things:

  • An acceptance letter from a university that details the length of the program and the  tuition fees
  • A CAS letter from the university that has a special code on it for the Visa department
  • A passport that is new enough that it will have at least 6 months time left on it at the end of your schooling
  • Enough money to get through at least one year of school–including tuition and living expenses


And did I mention, you need money?

The UK doesn’t want to let you in if you can’t pay, so you have to prove–with a letter or recent bank statement–that you have enough money to cover your life here. The Visa form comes up with an equation for you to figure out how much money you need. And then, of course, you have to calculate how much it is in dollars. 5000 GBP? Figure $7500+. And then, to be safe, add more onto that. It is expensive here. Really.

So, you gather all of this stuff and you fill out the Visa forms. Yes, forms. There are more than one: one for personal stuff, and another for school, money, etc. And then you pay a bunch of money to send it in. And THEN you get a response and an appointment to go get your fingerprints taken.

It’s all very official. You go downtown to a federal building, show your passport and act cool about everything. no sudden movements. And they take your prints on a digital machine. And your photo.

The fingerprint people give you a form and you send that along with part of the Visa paperwork and your passport and another passport photo (and while you’re at it, get about 10 copies of the damn photo: you’re going to need them for every blessed ID you get at school or in London) and the letter or bank statement proving you have enough money to do this crazy thing in the mail to the passport office to get the Visa.

And then you wait.

And then you go on a road trip up north to visit friends and realize that you can’t go to Canada because your *&%$& passport is at the *^%$% passport office.

And then you come home and your passport is returned with a colorful, embossed, fancy Student Visa inside. It is good for many years (mine is for 5 because of the length of the program, and because I’m special), and you suddenly start to envision your life for the immediate future. And it is almost impossible to imagine.

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…and here is where I fall into the bunny hole.

Christmas was a break from the first three months of, well, getting used to London and school and things. NOW the real work begins. And I am barely able to remember what day it is.

There have been no real adventures to speak of. I’ve not been anywhere new in London in weeks. So, no pics 😦  But it will be spring soon, and I’ll be out looking at gardens.

Since our last installment, I went to the British Museum to see The Book of the Dead exhibit with a friend, and it was pretty amazing. Saw Heart Scarbs (!!!), which always make me happy.

Have bought boots and a short skirt and black tights, so I blend in with every. other. woman. in. London. (no, I’m not kidding! It’s the “uniform.)

Paid the balance of my tuition and housing for the year (eep!). My housing here is up in July, and I am pretty sure I am going to find a room to rent and get out of student housing. Now that I am starting to know parts of London, I can more easily find somewhere decent to live.

I also sent in an abstract of a paper to an academic conference that’s at the end of March. And I found out that my paper was accepted; so, I’ll be presenting a paper! My first one! And in York! I’m planning on staying an extra day to do some garden visits. There will be pics, I promise.

Have lost a library book for the first time in my life. It’s from the public ‘brary, so it shouldn’t be too expensive. But I can’t understand how I lost it in this TINY room!

Got my hair cut by the same guy for the 2nd time, so I think he’s my new hair guy. (I told you I had little to report!)

Found out that I am very likely going to start teaching as soon as next week. Not a “regular” class but one that meets every few weeks and is mainly one-on-one tutorials with Independent Study students. But it’s teaching, which means money.

And have started my Registration Documents. These are VERY IMPORTANT! Six months after enrolling, research PhD students have to turn in Reg Docs, which are the research proposal but on steroids. I have to explain what the novel will be about (am still working on that), as well as write a several-page essay about the analytical part of the project. Right now we have a list of about 10-12 bullet points–things like “gardening history, “gardens and gender,” “gardens in art”–and for each I have to write about 200 words AND have a  list of at least 10 books that relate. This is due at the end of March. Yes, when I am due to present the paper! So this is why, on a weekend, I am holed up in my room working and have been all day, and will be all day tomorrow. I have a rather busy week ahead of me, and the plan is to get as much work as possible done so that I can run away/take a day off next Friday night. And when I take a day off, I *disappear*. It’s the best way to ensure I don’t just end up working more b/c I have nothing else to do!

And, finally, good news from home: Your good wishes worked and it looks like the family member I mentioned before is going to be okay!

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As of tomorrow, I have been in the UK for 6 weeks. I finally, as of today, have money in my UK bank account.

So, things to learn from this:

1. If possible, get some sort of “universal” account before leaving the states–not necessarily something you can use from here, but an account that you can easily transfer/wire funds from into a UK account. I tried to do this and couldn’t find one, but one has to exist. I was also busy and stressed and figured I’d do the banking thing when I got here. ha!

2. On the very first day here/on campus: REQUEST THE REQUIRED LETTER FOR BANKING FROM YOUR UNIVERSITY! It takes 7-10 days just to get the letter. Ask for it asap. You will need this letter–which proves your address–to do all sorts of other things, so just ask for it right away.

3. If possible, do some UK bank research before leaving the states to see which banks are near your university, what they charge, their benefits, etc. Be prepared. I wasn’t and ended up with the first bank to cross my path.

4. When you sign up with a UK bank, get the IBAN and SWIFT CODE asap. You will need them. Don’t rely on Google to help you out.

5. If your new UK account allows you free deposits of US bank checks, just write one that first day your account is active. It takes 7-10 days for the money to go in. Had I done that rather than deal with the US bank to wire funds, I would’ve had money weeks ago.

6. Learn patience.

7. Don’t freak out when your US bank and the UK bank charge ridiculous fees to wire money. Going to school overseas means you will hemorrhage money for a while. But once you pay tuition, housing and whatever else up-front costs you need to pay, you will be left with few bills (I’ll have a phone bill and an Oyster card–Tube bill, of a sort, aside from food and misc.).

Save yourself the stress and learn from my mistakes.

One cool fact: You know how in the States, if you don’t use an ATM that’s connected to your bank you get service fees? Well, that doesn’t happen here. From what I’ve been told, I can use any ATM I like.

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