29 September 2006

Fastbackward - A Short History of Fresher's Week

After a sleepless night and some indecisiveness concerning my packing (but really helpful and supportive Natascha - *virtual hug and squeeze*), my mother, my aunt and I managed (after a brief detour to Schwechat) to get to Bratislava. I will make this part brief and just want to say what a beautiful sunny day it was, the perfect weather for a journey like this!

Another city, another chapter in life: The orientation for the international (EU & elsewhere) students took place on Sunday. I think we were perhaps 500 students who were catered for. There were all kinds of talks (student welfare advisors, disability - that includes learning disabilites - , safety in London, managing your money, just to name a few) and it was the perfect opportunity to get to know other students like me. It turned out that a lot of students come from Asia, Europe (lots of Germans) and the USA.

You have to imagine a catered event for a large amount of optimistic students who all express the spirit of being part of something special (SOAS sets high requirements but more on this another time), that's the picture!

Enrolment started right on Monday. Until then, I haven't visited the main building* and until now, I am so awed at how organised the events are, how well signed the building is, how extensive the library (THE LIBRARY!!!) is (it houses more than 1.2 million volumes spread on five floors and equipped with RFID). Obviously, they have more money at their disposal.

You cannot enter the school buildings without your student ID card which is a swipe card and opens the barrier (!) next to the reception (!) and security (!). There are WLAN routers (I think they call it WIFI in english) everywhere in the building and high speed internet in the IT rooms (flatscreens!) as well as in the halls of residence. I counted at least four public lifts and every part of every building as well as the student union's events are all accessible with wheelchairs.

When you enrol with the school, they will take a picture of you with a webcam to issue your student ID card within 30 seconds! It's the same with your key card for Dinwiddy. Wow.

And everywhere you go, be it on the street or at university or at Dinwiddy, it is much easier to socialise than anywhere in Austria!

I already went to Oxford Street and local markets and super markets. London really is more expensive (I haven't tried the Tube yet because an adult single fare costs £3 !) but like in every city there are secret places and tricks where you can save money (i.e. buses cost only £1,50). On Monday, I will have my english CV checked from the Career Center where I will probably also get some help with finding a part-time job.

Pleurer et Rentrer
But concerning public transport, I am so proud of me! Today was the first time that I hailed a bus myself! *beam* In London, ever since the old hop-on, hop-off buses are substituted by new ones, you have to hail buses like you do a cab, otherwise it just rushes past you (they are driving like mad with these doubledecker buses). I only use the bus when walking would take too long (I went to a student union event which was 40 minutes away from me by foot and it was raining cats and dogs - I looked like I had a dive into the Thames).

I think you will be challenged enough with this second post, so I'll end here to give you some time to breathe!

*SOAS consists of two campi: Vernon Square (5 minutes walk from Dinwiddy House) and Russell Square (the main building, more central, 20 minutes walk).

28 September 2006

Hello from London! Welcome on my platform!

Amazingly, I finally managed to retrieve my username. It was actually very simple...
However, I don't have internet access at home yet, so I have to go to one of our two campii to use the IT rooms!

I intended to start with a quote from Bronislaw Malinowski, the grandfather of Social Anthropology, who said that when you do fieldwork in a different society, you should write down all the new experiences at once, as they will lose their novelty once you stay there for a while!

So this is what I am going to do. I missed out on that during my first few days (the most important!) so I will make up for that during this week (at least I will try).

Just a few experiences I'd like to drop now (I've got a departmental induction meeting coming up in 15 minutes):

  • Austrian universities, or at least the University of Vienna, are (as my niece Romana who now does her PhD in the US) are "third world" compared to universities in the US or in my case the UK (or at least SOAS). Everything is high tech, well-organized and the university offers services that are astonishing to an Austrian student (to me, that is).

  • It is much easier to socialise here (also off-campus) than in Austria. Back home, you usually don't get into conversation with your fellow students.

  • The student to teacher ratio is, I believe 8:1, on average - heaven compared to 400:1 in Vienna!

I'll leave it here for the moment. Perhaps there's time later in the evening to elaborate on this!