The following are questions I had (or hypothetical questions I thought up in response to observations) during my process of studying abroad at the University of Birmingham, UK in the spring of 2011, and my own subjective answers to them. My hope is that future students studying abroad in the UK, Europe, or elsewhere may find them useful.

If you have a comment or question to add, feel free to email me at brumfaq at g mail dot com.

Questions

Answers

Before leaving Iowa

Is there a place where I can connect with alumni Brum and ISU and other students who want to go there?

Yes, join this Facebook group.

Is there anything you wish you had brought, but didn’t?

Yes: Blank CDs, which I needed for more than one project. Ink pens Speakers Shower sandals Dish towels. I have never found a towel in this country that actually absorbs water.

Are sports as big of a deal at Brum as at American colleges?

Not even remotely. Nobody cares about university sports except perhaps those who play them. I went to see a football match once. There were maybe three people there to watch. The reason is that if you’re 18 and you haven’t been picked up by a pro team, you never will be. In the US, college sports are the training ground for pro sports so it’s still competive and people care about it.

What should I know about the UK before getting there?

It’s really handy to know some basic comparisons before getting there. When you talk to people they’ll be asking you about your town, Iowa, and the US. Here are some facts that may be useful to you.

ISU: % engineers, pop of jack trice/hilton Iowa:size, pop, location, R or D, high & low temps, pop of DM, corn USA: Obama, best places to visit, http://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/single.htm?ipg=6385

ISUBrum
Students28,000 (22,000 undergrads)25,000 (16,500 undergrads)
StuOrgs800200
Countries represented110+150
Internation students30004500
Rankingtop 25% of public in UStop ten
Sports18 varisty teams40 teams
CampusIn 25 most beautiful in the US
City Population50,0001 million
RegionIA is 4th most livable state
Year founded18581900
Tuition cost
Housing cost
Campus size1794 acres1900 acres
% in Greek10%
LandmassIowa: 56,272 sq miUK: 94,060 sq mi
PopulationIowa: 3 million US: 300 millionUK: 60 million
LeadersPM: David Cameron

Also, the USA has a landmass of 3.7 million square miles and is 2500 miles across.

I would also recommend reading up a bit on the governmental system there.

Should I register with the US embassy there?

It’s a good idea to–this way the department of state knows where you are and will contact you in the event of an emergency. Register here.

What should I do about mail forwarding?

On AccessPlus you can register your forwarding address. I used my parents’ address. My mom scanned a few things to send on to me and forwarded some important mail once.

Who else is studying abroad near me?

Stop by the International Students and Scholars office in the MU to get names of students from the country (and perhaps the school) where you’ll be studying

I have these things I need. What should I do?

You could order stuff to be shipped to your UK address before you go, if you have to buy it anyway. Amazon.co.uk is nice.

Do I need a visa?

Only if you’re planning on working or staying for over 6 months.

Money

What’s the best method of spending money?

I took both a credit card and a debit card. Make sure you have 4 digit PINs set on both accounts. Some European banks/etc don’t allow more than 4 digits on a PIN, and some places require a PIN, even on credit cards. Make sure both of your cards are signed. They will often ask for ID when you use your card. Cards here are chip-and-pin cards, as opposed to swipe. Some places (like Aldi) can’t accept swipe cards, but most can. The cashier will often be confused and you’ll usually have to hand it to them and say “it needs to be swiped.” Some people have a real problem understanding it.

Should I use traveler’s checks?

No. Nobody will accept them.

What is sales tax like in the UK?

There is a ~17% VAT (value added tax) on every purchase, but all tax is included on purchases in the UK. So if the sign says 99p, it’s 99p. If you buy any big ticket items, save your receipt. When you leave the country you can get the VAT back if you have both the item and the receipt.

Call your bank a week before you leave and let them know which cards will be used abroad.

What should I expect in the way of international fees?

My bank (Wells Fargo) charges 3% on all currency conversion transactions, and $5 on every foreign ATM withdrawal. This 3% will be charge on the lot of it if you put it into a foreign account, so I don’t see any reason to open a foreign checking account. Just get lots of cash when you do use an ATM. I tried getting cash back at stores to avoid the fee, but it doesn’t work. I’ve spent $70 in fees this semester. It’s annoying, but it could be worse.

Can I open a bank account there?

It’s quite hard to do. Even after talking to the lady at the bank and being told that it would be simple, the process would have been more of a pain than it was worth, with very little gain.

How much can I expect to spend on X or Y?

Here’s my complete spending breakdown for the semester: ##

Should I take any foreign currency with me?

I intended to, but didn’t. I survived, but I would get 150 pounds from your bank at least a month before you go. Call your local branch and see if they keep foreign currency in the store, because if they don’t they’ll have to order it from the city, which takes a while.

How can I avoid having my card denied or charge contested by my bank?

Make sure you call your bank a week before leaving and let them know your travel details. They often still block charges/ATM withdrawals anyway. When this happens they’ll call your home number, ask for you, and refuse to leave a message or let your parents deal with the message. I often had issues calling them from here, so if you’re comfortable doing it, just add one of your parents to your checking/credit card account so they can deal with the bank and monitor your account.

Is there anything I should do to protect my cards and passport?

Scan both the front and back of the entire contents of your wallet. (Debit, credit, insurance, ISIC, passport, etc.) Leave a copy either in your email or in something like Dropbox so it’s accessible online. It’s best to have a copy accessible by your parents or a trusted friend. Store a copy somewhere in your luggage. You can supposedly replace one passport at the embassy easily if you have a copy of it. A second replacement, however, is apparently a different story. If you’re in an area where you’re worried about losing your passport, consider taking the copy with you. If an official needs to see it, I’ve read that they will be willing to go back to your flat with you to see the original, provided that you have a copy.

What do I need to make my electronics work?

The adapter for computer should work with UK/Europe voltages and wattages, but most other appliances require a converter that you can buy anywhere. I recommend getting a universal adapter and a converter. I have no devices that actually require a converter, because I charge everything (batteries, iPod) via USB on my computer or netbook. This one is a champ. This just allows you to plug things in, it does not convert the voltage. For that you need need adapter like this. Note that this is a UK adapter and will not fit other European plugs.

Would research be a possibility while I’m there?

Undergraduate research really isn’t a thing in the UK.

How many days in advance should I arrive?

Three to four should be plenty. You want time to be able to buy what things you couldn’t pack and get acquainted with the university. If your registration situation is anything like mine, you’ll want the time to talk to professors. You probably won’t have flatmates for the first couple of days, as they’ll be on holiday still.

How did you cancel your housing at ISU?

Turn in forms at Friley–DOR website, http://housing.iastate.edu/forms/. There is no fee for cancelling housing if you’re studying abroad.

How do I register for classes for the next semester at ISU?

Email your advisor to get your RAN, then go through the normal registration process. I set out my shedule as per my for year plan, set up an appointment with my advisor by calling the office, and just called her during my appointment time to discuss it. I had my schedule in a Google Spreadsheet so we could both view and edit it at the same time.

Packing

How much can I pack?

Most airlines allow one checked bag (more for a fee) of up to 50 pounds and 60 linear inches (length+width+height) and one or two carry-ons.

Should I bring a heavy coat?

Wear two jackets instead of one coat to travel here. It’s really warm here, comparatively. Generally it’s above freezing, and up to 50 F through February. When it reaches June, though, it will top 80 F only rarely.

How can I take my musical instrument?

Most airlines allow it as a second carry-on as a “fragile item.”

How will I ever find my bag?

Label it brightly with a ribbon or colored duct tape. It’s really useful.

What can’t I bring on the plane?

Check the TSA’s list before leaving.

Should I bring a small bag in my luggage?

Yes. I recommend bringing a drawstring bag/day pack and a backpack. You’ll use those while backpacking/traveling.

How can I save space?

Unless you have specialty products regarding toiletries, you can just pack travel sized versions in your carry-on and buy some when you get here. Most of that stuff has seemed pretty comparably priced so far. Shampoo comes in smaller bottles though. Try to arrive early in the day so you can go shopping for things like bedding, towels, utensils, etc. Email ahead to see what’s provided and what’s available for purchase at the front desk. At Pritchatt’s house they have bedding and kitchen packs available for purchase. I bought the bedding pack out of necessity, but in hindsight I could have saved money by buying at Harbourne. Instead of wandering aimlessly after food and shops, ask somebody where to find the nearest shopping center. You can end up wandering for quite a while and only find expensive things. Lots of shops close early here, by the way.

Computer Stuff

What security precautions can I take before traveling with my laptop?

I never had an issue, but I did set up a theft prevention recovery software called Prey, set the boot order to hard drive only, and set a password on the BIOS. Do use a service like Dropbox to keep your most important files in case you lose your laptop. That way you can still access them via the internet.

Will my laptop’s charger need a converter?

I’ve never seen one that does, but check the brick to make sure it can take 110-120 volts at 50-60 watts. You can buy an adapter for your laptop that goes from the brick to the three prong UK outlet. This way you have one less adapter occupied at all times. If you go to mainland Europe, you’ll need an adapter to plug it into their sockets (two prongs).

Flight

Should I buy a one-way or return ticket?

Return tickets are always cheaper. If you know what day you’ll be returning, do it. Most airlines charge a fee to change your return flight (Continental charges $250, for instance) so make sure you’re aware of those rules before buying anything.

What’s a good price for a return ticket?

Mine was $800 after all the fees. Buy as early as possible for a cheaper price. Check flight aggregators like skyscanner.net.

Into which airport should I fly?

Birmingham has its own airport: Birmingham International (BHX). You could also fly into London and get a bus or train to Birmingham. BHX is probably your best option. From there you can get a train straight to University rail station, which is right on campus.

Do I need anything to get through customs?

The UK is stringent about checking immigrants at customs. Make sure you have a copy of your Birmingham acceptance letter with you (in your carry-on) and be ready to answer a few random questions about your stay like how long you’ll be here, what you’re studying, how much money you have available to you, and if your coursework will transfer back to the US. This will happen each time you re-enter the UK after traveling, so always take the letter with you.

What do I do once I land?

Make sure you know exactly how you’re getting to your accomodation. If you know you’ll be arriving very late or early then email ahead to let them know when you’ll be there so you can get in. Know exactly which forms of public transportation you’ll need to get from the airport to where you are as well as a map or directions from your final stop to your flat. A cab may be your easiest option. It’s 20 pounds from the airport to the university, but if you’re with someone else it’s worth it.

Can I choose my seat on the airplane?

On most airlines, you can go online and select your seats. It’s nice to sit by someone you know on the plane. Go for it.

What immunizations do I need to get?

Advice from ISU Abroad: To help determine the initial risk, visit the CDC’s website (http://www.cdc.gov/travel) and view the fact sheets for ALL the countries that you might visit in addition to your host country. If you will be visiting a country noted as level 2 or 3, a phone call to your local clinic or the ISU Travel Clinic is advised. If you visit the Thielen Student Health Center, you will need to submit an intake form via e-mail or fax prior to your visit. You can find this form on their website at www.health.iastate.edu under Traveler’s Health. When you leave for your study abroad experience, please make sure to put your yellow International Certificate of Vaccination in your passport and carry it with you at all times. If you have gotten a yellow fever vaccination, the yellow certificate of vaccination becomes a legal document, and you must have it with you to enter or cross borders of some countries. If you do not have this certificate of vaccination, you should take a general copy of your vaccination records along for the trip. You can schedule an appointment with the travel nurse at Thielen to discuss any immunizations or concerns.

What should I do for a cell phone while there?

For communicating with other people in the UK, the best thing I’ve found is to buy a prepaid cell phone. The base model is usually 0-10 pounds. If you buy at Carphone Warehouse (several of which are located in the Bull Ring Market), the phones should be unlocked, so you can put a SIM in from any carrier. Vodaphone’s rates are 21p/minute calling and 10p/text. When you get your phone, they will ask for your local address to register you, so take that with you. You’ll also get a discount if you can pay by card instead of cash. Make sure you get an unlocked phone, or when you travel and run out of credit you’ll have to buy a new phone instead of just a new SIM. In the age of smart phones, if you can get a smart phone that takes SIM cards (like my Droid 3) then you can just buy a prepaid SIM in any country and you’re good to go and have a great wifi device for Skyping as well.

Will my pre-paid phone still work elsewhere in Europe?

Yes, but it will be more expensive. Make sure you buy an unlocked phone, because if you run out of credit in another country you won’t be able to top up and you’ll have to buy another SIM. If you’re phone is locked, that also requires getting a new phone.

What’s the best way to call the US?

For calling home, Skype is the best. You can also call/text any US number for free from your computer if you do this, however. It’s worked wonderfully for me so far. Get a Google Voice nuber. There’s an iPhone app, as well as Android apps for it from which you can text over wifi/3G. It may even be cheaper to use Google Voice that way to contact people in Europe, but a simple prepaid is less hassle for that purpose. Set up this to use SIP to call landlines from your Google Voice number over VoIP for free. Skype credit is relatively cheap and easy, and you can call from an Android phone over wifi or 3G if you want to get an Android prepaid.

Check out this article/infographic for some handy information and a flowchart.

How should I get an ISIC?

DO NOT get your ISIC from myisic.com. Go to the MU study abroad office. They’ll take your picture and everything.

Why do I need an ISIC?

It can be used as a photo ID anywhere and gets you student discounts. You can use it as a US student ID, as some places (few, but they exist) give discounts to American students but not EU students.

Will my financial aid transfer?

Talk to the folks at Bearshear to make sure that all your scholarships and loans transfer. Ask if housing is through the university. It’s handled individually for most programs. Class registration is through the UBill for exchanges.

Birmingham: The University

What’s up with the grading system at Brum? Do we get As and Bs?

Nope, you can get the following:

First Class Honours (1st) (first) Upper Second Class Honours (2i) (two-one) Lower Second Class Honours (2ii) (two-two) Third Class Honours (3rd) (third) Fail

Wikipedia has an equivalency guide. Yes, it’s correct. You only need a 70% to get a first (A).

What’s awesome about the EECE department?

You get 24/7 card access to the building and free printing. There’s a student lounge called The Link that is very well designed, comfortable, and has lots of outlets, tables, and couches. There’s also a public competition of path-tracking racing robots among second year students every summer as a final project. It’s a lot of fun.

What’s the campus like?

It technically is larger than ISU, but that’s far from evident. The “central campus” region is nice, but quite small. There are plenty of cafes at which to grab a sandwich. It’s relatively compact, so you never have a huge walk from one class to another.

What is POETS day?

Well, it stands for “piss off early, tomorrow’s Saturday.” Things tend to close early here on Friday, including university offices.

What does RON mean in the context of officer elections?

Re-open nominations, or “none of the above.”

My professor wrote “NB” followed by a statement on my paper. What does it mean?

NB stands for “nota bene” which is Italian for “note well.” So “take note.”

Is there a running club?

Cool Runnings is the social running group. They meet three times a week, doing long runs and track and tempo sessions. Many of them also participate in Parkrun on Saturdays. The event is a 5k held at 9 am at Cannon Hill park every Saturday. It’s free, but they ask that you register and take your barcode with you (which they use for timing and record purposes). Afterwards they go to Selly Sausage for breakfast.

Can I join the cross country team?

Yes. You just have to pay the membership fee and you can start training with them. They’re the Birmingham University Athletics Club by name.

How many classes is too many?

I took six classes, 70 credits. Normally a class here is 10 credits, which translates to 3 or 4 at ISU in most cases. Six was about right, given the amount of traveling that I did.

What are exams like?

The way university works here for most modules is that you take one exam, and that’s 100% of your grade for the semester or even year. Most exams are four questions in two hours, of which you get to pick three to answer. They’re rarely multiple choice and are definitely comprehensive.

Are their lecture halls the same as ours?

Lecture halls here are neat. They have long tables all the way across with auditorium style seats. It’s a pain to move past anyone in the aisles, but they’re nicer than the fold out desks.

How can I learn more about British culture?

The English for International Students has a weekly class about British culture and politics. It’s free and optional. Check here for times.

Are there any day trips to places in the UK through the university?

Yes. The English for International Students Unit has several throughout the semester. They usually cost about 15 pounds each, which is cheaper than your train ticket, in most cases, and often covers two locations.

Are there botanical gardens on campus?

Why, yes, I’m glad you ased. The botanical gardens on campus (at Winterbourne House) are free for students, and very nice in the spring. Make sure you go. Makes a nice place to study when it’s warm.

Are there any photography contests around?

Yes. There’s an Image of the Month competition by the IT department on campus. Log into my.bham and click on “My Campus” for information. The Telegraph also has a weekly one.

Is there wifi on campus?

They have extensive wifi on campus. In Pritchatts House, you can have free 8 MB wired internet, and uni wifi is available in some places. Take an ethernet cable with you. 5’ minimum, 15’ maximum. To connect to campus wifi, see this.

Is printing free?

I got 4 pounds of free printing withing Gisbert-Kapp, the ECE building. I found out that if you run out you just have to ask for more. You can add credit to your account for printing elsewhere at the library, but I never did it. Check with ITS for details.

Where can I get help with a technical issue?

Submit service reports at Brum here.

Where can I live when I’m studying there?

You have four options, basically: Tennis Court, the Vale, Pritchatts Park, Selly Oak, Five Ways, and the private sector.

The first four are all university housing and will be your main options. Selly Oak is where everyone that’s not a first year student lives, basically. There are exceptions, but relatively few. For Google Maps of all these places, check here. I lived in Pritchatts Park, which is the closest one to campus except maybe the halls in Selly Oak (but not by a lot) and definitely the closest to the university rail station. I lived in a flat with 12 other guys. I had my own bedroom and shared a kitchen and bathroom with them. I’ve heard that it’s cheaper there, but I don’t know that for sure. I’m sure you can find out via the forms they send you. If you want to get a meal plan, you’ll have to live in the Vale, as every other place is self-catered. If I was going back to Brum, I would live in one of the Selly Oak halls because it’s nearer non-freshmen (most of my friends), places to shop, places to eat, and still close to campus.

Here’s some more information about all of them (for even more information, check out Wikipedia’s article):

Pritchatts Park

This is the almalgamation of Ashcroft, The Spinney, Oakley Court, Pritchatts House, and the Pritchatts Road Houses. As far as I know, there’s no advantage to any particular complex and another within Pritchatts. 700 students live here. There’s a social centre that includes a bar, study area, vending machines, and laundry facilities. Pritchatts host Pritchattsbury, a music festival, in the summer. It’s a 10-15 minute walk to most parts of campus from here.

The Vale

Vale includes Chamberlain, Shackleton, Maple Bank, Elgar Court, Aitken, Chelwood, and Mason. 1900 student live here. The Vale has much more in the way of nice things outside, for lack of a better term. There’s a canal entrance there, as well as a nice pond, walking paths, and lots of trees and open, grassy areas. The Vale Festival, the “largest student run event at the university, and indeed possibly in the UK” is hosted here. It has over 40 bands playing along with other events and activities. It’s a 15-20 minute walk to most parts of campus from here.

Tennis Court

This is basically the same as the Vale but is across the road and 50 meters closer to campus. The only reason I make a distinction is because of the municipal separation. 15-20 minute walk from campus. Slightly shorter than the Vale.

Selly Oak*

I’m mainly familiar with the private sector at Selly Oak, but there are three halls there: Jarrat, Douper, and Victoria. 637 student live in the halls, but hundreds more live in the private sector. 10 minute walk to campus.

Five Ways*

I know nothing personally about Five Ways, except that you’ll have to take a train to get to campus. I wouldn’t live there. Halls here include The Beeches, Hunter Court, and Queens Hospital Close. Train ride to campus.

*Note that the halls at Selly Oak and Five Ways may now be owned privately. If they don’t appear in your housing options when you’re applying for a space, that would be the reason.

How much will housing cost?

My housing cost me $4200 when the currency conversion and everything was all said and done. That’s not including any food. That’s twice as much as ISU, and I’m told this was the cheapest option.

How’s the campus library?

You can check out 12 items at once, and renew them online until someone else requests the item. The library is all self-serve. You scan your ID card and then the books. It’s super neato.

Is there a mealplan here?

Note that refrectory = cafeteria, but I’ve never heard either term used here, but that’s what I was told. The meal plan at Birmingham is generally not used by students. They don’t have a dining center, so it’s basically just a dining dollar system, from what I’ve been told by students here. So far it seems better to just get groceries at a local market. Ask other students for the cheapest place to get certain things. In the US we tend to do all our shopping at a supermarket (like Walmart) whereas Brits will go to Iceland for frozen goods, the farm shop for fruit/vegetables, and Sainsbury’s for dried/nonperishable goods. Iceland is fantastic. I suggest buying everything there, then going to Sainsbury’s for whatever you can’t find at Iceland. You’ll save lots of money.

Where can I find more information about the university?

The Student Room has lots of information, from general questions like “How do I make a toasty?” to specific things like a section on Pritchatts Park.

What clubs are there?

Note that clubs are called societies. This is the list of their student groups (They have 190 societies). There are actually more than what’s listed there, and I’m not sure why. If there a group you’re interested in but can’t find on that site, use your Google-fu (or search Facebook) and see what you can find. I recommend looking up their Facebook pages, joining the groups, and adding their events/meetings to your calendar.

Is there a map of campus I can print?

THIS is the campus map you want to use. It’s the most exhaustive one I’ve found.

Is there anyplace I can get more detailed information produced by the university?

Check out these, the guides in particular. Includes information on opening a bank account.

Is there a Google Calendar for the uni?

Yes, but it’s not exhaustive like ISU’s. Uni calendar: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/events/calendar.aspx. You can add this to your Google Calendar and everything. Just copy the link from “add to my calendar” and pop it into gCal. Ask if you don’t understand. I’m vague today.

Can I store my instrument anywhere in the music building?

You can check out a key from the main music price for an instrument storage room. Put down a ten dollar deposit that you get back at the end of the semester. Note that they’re moving into a new building in summer 2012, so if it’s after that date this may have changed.

Is there a circus convention?

Of course. Check out the Ballring Circus Convention’s performances (hosted by the Purple Mermaid Circus Society. Find them on Facebook); there’s no reason not to.

How late are buildings open on campus?

Buildings lock on campus really early, but you can check out keys to some places (like music practice rooms) 24/7 at security, which is behind the Aston Webb Building. Interestingly, the one door to aston webb right by security is left unlocked all the time, so you can get in, wander around in the dark, and bump into a confused security guard.

Since I’m based in the EECE department, I have 24/7 card access to all parts of the building, including computer labs. This is fantastic, and I wish ISU did it.

If I want to play in a band can I rent an instrument from the university?

No. They don’t have any instruments for students, so you have to bring you own. It may be possible to rent one from a music shop in the city, but I didn’t explore that option.

Can I do band at Brum?

Yes! There are a variety of ensembles at Brum. The auditioned ensembles require a September audition and year commitment, but the student-directed ensembles meet weekly, are informal, and hold one concert per term. Check out all of them here. If you’re looking for a gen ed to take, I seriously recommend Studio Composition 112 if you have any experience with music. It’s the first year electroacoustic composition module. It really changes how you think about music and sound. It’s a great educational opportunity that you can’t get at ISU. Plus you’ll get a neat result and it’s not really hard. BEAST is the Birmingham Electroacoustic Sound Theatre. It is a multi-channel speaker system (up to 24 channels (I believe) with a full system at over 100 speakers. This is used for diffusion of electroacoustic music. It’s a really cool experience that I highly recommend trying. You’ll probably never get the chance again. Concerts:
University ensembles’ concerts Town Hall/Symphony Hall (city centre) Lunchtime concerts at the Barber Institute (on campus) Barber evening concert series BEAST. Watch for BEAST weekend, probably in early March. There are several concerts. If you want recommendations on which to attend, just comment here or email me. Mini-BEAST: Every Wednesday at 11:30 in the Elgar Room, Arts Building (note that a new music building is being built, scheduled fro completion in February 2012. This will likely cause a change in venue for Mini-BEAST). The HMV Institute: So far this is the only place I’ve been for popular music concerts (Ben Folds and the Decemberists). It’s a short walk from New Street Station. 7ish pound cab ride from Pritchatts Park, also. Birmingham City University Conservetoire

Classes at Birmingham: Some Useful Notes

Online registration. Go to my.bham.ac.uk to register. I don’t remember ever being given my login credentials for this, so you’ll probably have to call IT (0121 41 4 7171 ) and get it reset (or set, really). You’ll need to know your student ID for this. This should be on your admissions letter. Your login for this should be your initials followed by a number which corresponds to your bham email. (Mine was ccu096@bham.ac.uk.) Three hours after you’ve registered, you’ll be able to go to the Enquiries Counter in Aston Webb, C Block to pick up your student ID card on campus. You can get to your email through my.bham. Please, for the love of God, set up email forwarding. You have to use Internet Explorer to even use their webmail (including setting up forwarding). I would just install ietab in chrome to log in once and set up forwarding. Look here to do it. You can access WebCT through the my.learning tab. This is where you’ll find their online class handbook. Also, http://www.as.bham.ac.uk/cdu/students/index.shtml. There is a search there also. All or part of this may be out of date. Check. Classes there are called modules. Degree programs are called courses. Email Helen Booth to ask if the handbook is up to date online, because it may not be. If you’re having trouble finding classes, one good way to search is to specify the correct semester, and then pick a department to see all available modules for that department for the semester (if the handbook is current). It may be helpful to copy the table including the description to a separate document and include the ideal ISU course number transfer. You’ll be referencing these a lot. Note that they don’t go freshman, sophomore, junior, senior at Brum–it’s certificate, intermediate, honors, masters. (Note that normal degree courses are three years, and the fourth year is actually for undergraduate masters work.) Once you’ve found classes that may work, email the current ISU professor with Brum’s complete handbook entry and ask if they would accept this as a transfer substitute for the class in question. Once you have that, fill out this form and take it to the professor for a signature, then take the lot of them to your advisor. Then, you’ll need to get timetables from the colleges at Brum and line up your own schedule. They don’t have a registration process online like we do. Each course (remember, that’s a degree program) has a set module list for each semester, and all the students go to all those classes for that semester. So you follow your peers around to the same classes all day, with the exception of MOMDs, which are Modules Outside the Main Discipline (similar to our gen eds/electives). You’ll likely be taking many classes outside your home course (as designated for you by Brum) and year, so you have to coordinate your modules with all the timetables. Some schools, like com sci and math have them online. ECE’s are available through WebCT. If you don’t have access, email Mietek Brdys (m.brdys@bham.ac.uk) about getting enrolled in the college to get access to the timetables via WebCT (if you’re housed in that department). If not, explain your situation and ask for the timetables. For the rest of them, find an administrative head for the department in question and request the timetables for the appropriate semester. If this doesn’t work, ask Helen Booth, Melanie Humphreys, or Liam Grover. They are all helpful and will find you the right person with whom to speak. After you’ve got them all lined up, you need to get a form from Helen Booth that lets you list all of your requested modules, and get it back to her. If you can’t find enough class on your own to fill your schedule, then the best thing I’ve found to do is copy the ISU course descriptions for all the classes you could potentially take, and email the transfer coordinator for the appropriate department to ask if he or she can think of any potential modules that might be equivalent. Here is my table of known exchange contacts by department:

NameSchoolEmailExtensionPosition
Rachel KingStudy Abroad and Exchanges, International Officer.m.h.king@bham.ac.uk47166Head of Study Abroad and Exchanges
Melanie HumphreysStudy Abroad and Exchanges, International Officem.humphreys@bham.ac.uk47696Exchanges Assistant
Dr. Liam GroverChem El.m.grover@bham.ac.uk43887Director of Exchange Program
Helen BoothME and CEh.r.booth@bham.ac.uk44160Exchange Programme Administrator
Dr. Kyle JiangMEk.c.jiang@bham.ac.uk46800School Exchange Tutor
Dr. Mietek Brdys (pronounced me-eh-tech brid-iss)ECEm.brdys@bham.ac.uk44354School Exchange Tutor
Mr. Harry EvdoridesCEh.evdorides@bham.ac.uk43071School Exchange Tutor
Dr. Martin StrangwoodMat Em.strangwood@bham.ac.uk45169School Exchange Tutor
Dr. Peter TinoCom Scip.tino@cs.bham.ac.ukSchool Exchange TutorDr. David Smith
Mathsd.j.smith.2@bham.ac.ukSchool Exchange TutorDr. Jonty HarrisonMusic Technology
jonty.harrison@blueyonder.co.ukStudio Music CoordinatorDr. Paul RodmellMusicp.j.rodmell.mus@bham.ac.uk
School Exchange Tutor

Ask Dr. Grover for contacts in any other departments. Keep in mind that you need to satisfy gen eds and technical electives. This may turn into a semester of just taking electives (which isn’t all bad), but hopefully you can sort everything out using the above strategy. After you’ve arrived, go see Helen Booth in the postgraduates office of the Mechanical Engineering building (building Y3). She’ll have a welcome packet for you, as well as tell you everything I wrote above. If your adviser happens to be out of the country, talk to Liam Grover. Get his phone number from Helen and call him. Don’t wait on email, even though he’s pretty quick to respond. If he’s not available, ask Helen who could advise you in the meantime.

How do I know if my classes are handled correctly for my semester abroad on AccessPlus?

You should be registered for “Expro” on AccessPlus, a 12 credit course.

My emails are getting lost in my advisor’s inbox. What should I do?

Call the department advising office to schedule an appointment and call him or her during your scheduled time.

Birmingham: The City

Is there wifi in the city?

I haven’t found much for public wifi in the city. If you’re in a bind, McDonald’s usually has it for free, but you often have to make an order first. There’s this, though: http://wifi-in-birmingham.co.uk/.

How safe is running in Birmingham?

I’ve never had any issues. The canals are great, and used by many pedestrians, so they’re well-traveled and safe.

Which taxi companies are safe?

In places like Italy, make sure the meter is on. Brum recommends Castle Cars (0121 472 2222). I’ve never had an issue. Rates all seem to be pretty standard. It’s smart to ask someone (like staff at a hostel) what the standard rate is to wherever you’re going so you don’t get ripped off. This is especially true with airport.

Where can I bike in Birmingham?

Check the cycle routes map or request one by post.

Where’s the best place to eat near campus?

It’s your obligation as a student here to feast at both Rooster House and Selly Sausage in Selly Oak.

Where can I hear some tasty electronic or acousmatic music?

Go see Sound Kitchen and attend the MiniBEAST session every Wednesday at 11:30 in the Elgar room of the Arts Building. You really should do this at least once. It’s quite the experience. Also watch for BEAST Weekend in early March.

Is there a safari park nearby?

Why, yes, yes there is.

Where’s the nearest aquarium?

City centre, along the canals. It’s suppose to be quite good.

Are there any theme parks nearby?

Yes, try Alton Towers.

Where’s a nice place to eat?

Handmade Burger Co is a nice restaurant along the canal in Birmingham city centre. Pretty much anything at the Mailbox is nice. Watch for Yates elsewhere in the UK. It’s pretty cheap and has nice food.

How many canals does Birmingham have?

Brum (purportedly) has more canals than Venice (this fact was invented by a PR rep for the city, but may actually be true. It is inverified). Here’s a far-from-complete map of Brum’s canals. They all seem to have paths for walking/running/biking that run parallel to them. The nearest entrance to campus is at the uni train station (which is actually on campus).

What is there to do in Birmingham?

  • HMV institute

    • concerts
    • club nights
  • Bull Ring Market

    • indoor market and rag market
    • try curry
  • Fab n Fresh club night on campus

  • Canals * Run it. Take pictures later if you like.

  • Symphony Hall/Town Hall

  • City Centre

    • Go at least once after dark. It looks amazing with all the lights,
    • City museum in Victoria Square (free)
    • The Mailbox
    • Gas Street Basin (canals)
    • Just wander around. It’s fun.
    • the Yardbird
  • Shopping

    • Primark
    • Big Cow (next to HMV)
    • sportsdirect.co.uk(across from the indoor market)
    • Selfridges (this place is amazing to see, inside and outside)
  • National Sea Life Center

  • Midlands Art Centre (MAC) at Cannon Hill Park

  • Aston Villa Football Club

  • Barber Institute Art Gallery (free) on campus

Where can I go running?

The canals are great for starters. If you take the canal back under Pritchatts road you’ll get to the city centre in about 20 minutes. Going the other way has some nice views and lets you go quite a bit further before you’re forced into an urban area. It’s a lot more open on the Selly Oak side of campus, so there are more places to run. It’s also easier to get lost if you go too far. I accidentally ran 16 miles one today because I went a bit too far away.

Are there any good races around?

There are popular half marathons in Bath, Liverpool, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Birmingham (but that’s in the fall). Register early. Sign up with runnersworld.co.uk and you can use their excellent race finder, and enter most races online. There’s also this: http://www.marathonguide.com/races/races.cfm?place=intl.

Traveling in Europe

What is flying with budget airlines like?

It can be quite annoying. Watch out for extra fees. You have to make sure you check in online before you leave and print your boarding passes. For this you need the passport number of all travelers, which is one of the reasons I recommend keeping a copy of your passport online. Do make sure you can conform to the baggage restrictions, because most of them will check that your bag fits in a test compartment and possibly weigh it before allowing you to board.

Where should I stay?

The way I see it, you have two options: Hostels or couch surfing. I have done both. I prefer couch surfing, assuming there’s a compatible person nearby. Check out couchsurfing.org to find out more. Hostels usually cost about 15 euro a night (if you book early enough) and have things like wifi, free breakfast, lockers, and showers.

What do I do with my bags when visiting Pompeii?

Pompeii ruins have free bag check that you can access before getting your ticket stamped (so you can go explore elsewhere if you like), but the train station does not.

How can I eat cheaply while traveling?

Supermarkets are always the cheapest option.

What if I end up with more stuff than will fit in my bag?

It’s nice to have some type of bag stuffed way tha tyou can pull out if you have groceries/souvenirs/laundry to carry. Reusable grocery bags are great for this.

How will I find my way to my hostels?

Hostelworld has directions from every major arrival point to the city. Have directions to all of your hostels printed or saved somewhere accessible. iPods are great for this.

How should I get around within a city?

Tourist passes for the metro are awesome. You can get them at self service machines or the ticket office.

How will I know what to do in a city?

Have a plan of attack before arriving in a city. That’s what train rides are for. Bring information about the city and figure out your priorities so you see everything you want to. Frommer’s is great for trip planning/finding out about a city/country. When you get to your hostel, get a map. They always have them, and they’re the best ones you can find. If you’re couchsurfing, talk to your host and possibly stop by a tourist office, at least for a map.

Should I try and wash clothes while traveling?

First of all, pack plenty of socks/underwear, because those are the clothes you want to rewear the least and will dictate necessary washings, not jeans or shirts. I brought a small bottle of powdered detergent. Aside from getting some weird looks at airport security it was good to have. Many hostels have washing machines, usually for a fee.

Are shower hostels nasty?

Sometimes. Take shower sandals.

But the lights are so bright. How will I sleep?

Sleeping masks are great.

How can I keep from waking up my roommates at hostels?

Plastic bags are LOUD and packing in the dark is not fun. Pack everything up the night before if you’re sharing the room with other people.

How can I find cheap flights?

A good aggregator is skyscanner.net. Also try cheapflights.co.uk. Skyscanner has always found the cheapest option for me. It checks all the airlines, including Ryanair, BMI Baby, and Easyjet, which are the “budget airlines.” Try different airports nearby your location. There are several airport in London (like Gatwick and Stansted, not just Heathrow). Keep in mind that these flights are cheap for a reason. They’re generally at the worst time possible, so you may have to spend the night at the airport. Flights tend to land on days with big events, like the royal wedding, a local marathon that makes it hard to get to the airport, or a big football match.

What if I’m lost in a city?

If you’re lost in a city, check a bus stop map for a “you are here” marker. Metro maps can also be helpful. Asking somebody which way to head is usually a safe bet as well.

Should I bring wheeled luggage while backpacking?

No. It’s called backpacking for a reason. Wheeled luggage sucks in lots of Europe, because they have tons of cobblestone streets.

What’s your prefered method of public transport?

I like trains. They’re fast and very explicit about where you are and what the next stop is. I usually go by coach because it’s cheaper, though. Within Europe, note that train stations are closer to the city center than airports, usually by a lot, and you will generally have to pay 10 euro or so just to get to the airport from the city.

Where can I get bus and train tickets for the rest of Europe?

Eurolines for busses, raileurope for trains. You can order them online and Eurolines let you print your tickets (though you have to check in and get a boarding card at the station) but Raileurope tickets generally have to be bought at an international ticket office on mainland Europe (because the UK is silly and has its own system) unless you’re buying far enough in advance that they can be shipped.

Should I get a Eurail pass?

If you plan ahead and do it right, Eurail passes can be great, but if you’re not careful you can waste your money. Note that in Spain, Italy, and France (and probably elsewhere) you have to reserve all your tickets and can’t just hop on the train. This always entails a fee of some sort. You can buy a Eurail pass while you’re in the UK, but do it at least three weeks before you start traveling to make sure it gets to you.

Here are some helpful links. Booking reservations for Eurail: http://www.eurail.com/planning/train-seat-reservations/how-to-make http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RAogCByidg&feature=related General information: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFaEap0SFSE&feature=related http://www.ricksteves.com/rail/usepass.htm

This webpage is in another language! How do I buy my tickets?!

Use Google Chrome for automatic translation of webpages.

What’s Eurostar rail security like?

Eurostar security is basically like an airport. When you leave the country any time, have your passport and preferably your letter of acceptance from Brum. Be ready to answer unexpected questions about your course and visit.

How can I get to mainland Europe?

  1. Rail through London St. Pancras via Eurostar. If you’re leaving from Brussels Midi in Belgium you can only pick up your ticket from that station, not another in the city.
  2. Eurolines coach from Birmingham or London
  3. Flight from Brum or London

What comments do you have on the Netherlands?

Food to try: stroopwafels, licorice, frites Movie theaters have assigned seats and inverted row numbers. In Amsterdam you can walk everywhere, or get a tram pass for 24 or 48 hours Buy train tickets from the desk in Netherlands, self service stations only take chip and pin cards or <20 in coins Buy an online ticket to Anne Frankhuis in Amsterdam maybe–it was a 30 minute wait when I got there at 10:30 on a Friday. It can get lots worse than that. You can get a museumkaart for cheaper admission to the museums in Amsterdam.

Tell me about Belgium.

Belgian waffels are amazing. Brussels is neat, but public urination is a big thing there, so don’t go puddle jumping! Make sure you check out the main square near Mannequin Pis. Bruges/Brugge is quite neat. Make sure you watch In Bruges before you go there.

What was your favorite place you traveled?

Dingle, Ireland is the best place in the world. You should really stay with a local who can take you to the best hiking spots, though.

The UK itself: What it’s like and what to do.

What movies/books/music can I watch/read/hear by UK directors/authors/artists?

Lots. Movies: Books: Music: Two Door Cinema Club, Muse, Radiohead,

Is taking an evening trip to London from Brum feasible?

No. You can do it in a day though. You could also go Friday and stay through Saturday, for instance. Once in London, get on the tube. If you’re going to London a lot, get an oyster card (you’ll probably have to get it in London). Put money on it and use it for the subway, bus, etc. After you’ve spent the daily rate of 8 pounds, for instance, all trips are free.

Can you get free water at restaurants?

You have to pay for water at most restaurants, sometimes if you ask for tap water you can get it for free.

Is there a way I can stay with a UK family for a weekend?

Look at this!

Where should I eat in Oxford?

Go to turf tavern: Get there by 2, find table before ordering. It has great food, and it’s the oldest pub in England (I think). It was founded in the 12th century.

Am I supposed to tip at restaurants?

It’s usually already included. Students aren’t expected to tip anyway, anywhere in Europe.

Is it considered inappropriate to approach strangers in the UK?

No. Everyone is really friendly.

Is smiling at strangers not common or a bad idea?

So far it’s been fine. I avoid certain people on the street, obviously.

What’s the British equivalent of 911?

112 or 999 is preferred across Europe, though 911 may still work http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_telephone_number

Where are some awesome places to take pictures?

Here’s a map. And another one.

What else can I see in England?

There’s a website for that. Also see the top 10 natural wonders in the UK.

Where’s the best place to go stargazing?

Certainly not in Birmingham. You’ll be luck to see five stars on a clear night. Try Galloway Forest Park or Sark.

How do I dial an international number?

You need the country code, preceeded by two zeroes. So it’s 00 [country code] [phone number]. Phone numbers in the UK are listed any number of ways, including one long string of numbers. They’re not even always the same length. It’s really annoying. The UK’s country code is 44.

Which floor is up the first flight of stairs in a building?

What we call the first floor is the ground floor. below that is often Lower Ground. Ground and Lower Ground will have rooms labeled as G40 or LG13 for instance. Going up one flight of stairs puts you on the 1st floor, then 2nd, etc.

Do windows have screens?

I haven’t noticed any windows to have screens on them.

Does the UK have insects?

I’ve seen very few.

What do the British think of the second amendment?

From the people that have mentioned it (my flatmates), they can’t imagine a civilized country allowing its citizens to own guns. They think it’s just crazy.

What do British people think of our healthcare system?

My flatmates also can’t imagine privatized healthcare, though they say that if you need an operation the NHS (National Health Service) urges you to “go private” to get it done in a reasonable time and take some of the strain off of the NHS.

What’s the primary social activity?

Drinking/clubbing/pub crawls.

What should I do on weekends?

Opinion: don’t spend more weekends lazing about than you can help. Get stuff figured out on campus, then start traveling. Keep the day trips in mind and know that you’re going to have some things keeping you on campus otherwise (like concerts and whatnot).

Should I bring any engineering paper or a binder with me?

Paper here is punched with four holes instead of three, so our binders/notebooks/paper are not compatible. Just buy a notebook when you get here. Save the packing weight. Your info packet that you get from Helen will come in a portfolio thing, so use that for your class notes/papers. Most classes print all notes/handouts for you, so you don’t even need paper on which to take notes.

What does a backwards peace sign mean?

A backwards peace sign means “f* off, I’ve got mine” (meaning two fingers capable of drawing a longbow, origins in one of many french-english wars).

What’s up with the faucets?

Taps are all separated, and it’s really annoying.

What shoes do I need to party it up?

You have to wear brown or black shoes to get into the big clubs. The HMV Institute is fine with anything though, as are most of the Brum ones, I believe.

How do you keep drafts out of your room?

I saw a weird thing called a draft excluder at the store. You put it under a door to keep out the draft.

What do students there think of studying abroad?

Studying abroad here doesn’t transfer home, and people study for a year or more abroad. They call it a sandwich year, and take whatever they want, because it doesn’t matter. People studying foreign cultures or languages have to take time abroad as part of their course, but very few other people study abroad.

How do I start making friends??

Your flatmates are your first source. Most of my friends came from clubs, Cool Runnings in particular. I recommend getting involved early. Make sure you talk to classmates at your lectures. You’re going to want study buddies when exams roll around.

Phrasebook

This is not intended to be exhaustive, just a sample.

BritishAmerican
knobdunce
chavgangsta (only less good)
biscuitcookie (though drier)
cookiecookie (made with butter and sugar)
queueline
wankerdisagreeable person
ponceidiot
Yaright?Sup?
cheersthanks
matesfriends
see you in a bit!bye!
knackeredtired
CVresume
indicatorturning signal
pantsunderwear
trouserspants
tickcheck
chequecheck
tutorialrecitation
revisionstudying
lecture theatrelecture hall
cinemamovie theater
filmmovie
waistcoatvest
vesttank top
tathanks
xxmeaningless. Ends a message.
sozsorry (I’ve heard this spoken, even.)

What food should I try when I’m there?

  • Fanta fruit splash
  • beef pasties with beans
  • crumpets
  • scones
  • crepes
  • croissants
  • ginger nuts (a type of biscuit)
  • caramel digestives (a biscuit)
  • Toad in the hole
  • Curry
  • Bangers and mash
  • digestives
  • celero exotics
  • magnum bars
  • ginger beer

How different is the British dialect?

They use some aspects of English more precisely: For instance, hyphens, referring to groups with plural verbs

What’s Pancake Day?

The day before Lent begins is Pancake Day, so everybody makes tons of pancakes and eats them all day. If you don’t want to make your own you can go to Selly Sausage in Selly Oak.

Are there any topics I should avoid?

Watch out for discussions about American politics or America’s foreign policy. Have a way ready to end the conversation. Common things to say could be “I don’t think about it much,” or “Oh, I don’t know, I keep pretty busy with classes.” You know. That kind of thing. I’ve been here for four days and already been asked my stance on the US military occupation of Afghanistan and what I thought of how we treated US troops in the Vietnam War.

Public Transportation in the UK

What are the local public transportation ins and outs?

On campus you have University Station. From there it’s 1.90, two stops, and ten minutes new New Street Station, right in the middle of City Centre. A cab to city centre costs about 7 pounds. Buses will also take you there, I just haven’t used them much. The rate is basically the same as rail.

How can I save money on coaches and trains?

Get a 16-25/student rail card to save money on trains. It costs 26 pounds at the moment. Order it online before you go. It saves you 1/3 on all rail travel in the UK. If you end up in London it could save you 20 pounds to get to Birmingham. You’ll need your address and a passport acceptable photo, which you can get at machines in the bigger train stations or on campus at University Centre by Spar. Get a coach card to save 1/3 on coach travel, similar to the railcard (but not the same item) Check megarail and megabus for advance tickets on intercity travel. They’re basically the Ryanair of land transportation.

How much is gas there?

Petrol (gas) cost 130 pence/liter at the time of writing. So most people don’t drive.

How do I get my train tickets?

Buy train tickets through nationalrail.co.uk, you can pick them up at the self-service machines at train stations. If a train station doesn’t have a ticket machine or office open, just get on the train you need and you should be able to pay on the train. If not, good luck getting home.

How do I get coach tickets?

Try http://www.nationalexpress.com/home.aspx for coach tickets.

How can I find the best way to get from A to B?

You can use a travel planner like this or traveline. For simple journeys, check either the coach or train websites.

Takeaways, bringing your adventure home, and wrapping things up.

What have you gained from your trip?

In a sentence or two, I’ve gained a lot of perspetive. I’ve really learned what’s important to me. I’m a much better traveller and am confident in a larger variety of situations.

How can I share my experience with others?

Make sure you take lots of pictures, and consider journaling. Your family will love it. Join Friendships International at ISU and be paired with an international student.