27 February 2007

Human Rights Forum & General Frustration

Human Rights Forum:
Yesterday was the Human Rights Forum, an event by our Careers Service. Six people from the field gave short presentations, their own way into the sector and advice about what they believe are good strategies for anyone who considers working in human rights.
The guest speakers were from BID (Bail for International Detainees), Peace Brigades International, the Refugee Council (this guy started working for an MP two days after he had graduated), there were also a solicitor, an anthropologist who worked as an education officer for Survival International and someone who worked at the Home Office and the Foreign Office.
Afterwards, we had a buffet and an "hour of networking", as the careers guy put it.
Tips included innovation, unusual entries into the sector, starting at a small organisation (as you can change positions quite quickly within it, that is, promotion), being active in university life etc.

General Frustration:
At the moment I am sick of everything. After a week of chasing down companies and institutions and getting all upset for things that are difficult to change, my energy is down to zero. Studying here is such a struggle already and it does not help when there is hardly anyone who shows appreciation for it!
I am particularly referring to the Austrian "welfare state" where welfare does not apply to my case. I never ever received a bloody grant or benefit from them, be it while I was graduating or while I was at university. I am probably studying more seriously than someone who studies in Vienna on a benefit and just collects the necessary minimum credits to continue being eligible for it. I wrote to the ÖH, Österreichische Hochschülerschaft, which is the Austrian's national union of students, to the City of Vienna, the Ministry of Social Security and Generations and the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. It cannot be that the conditions of eligibility never apply and that students are forced to study at an overcrowded university.

Another thing is, I had to chase down f***ing Endsleigh Insurance, the employee I called six days ago, promised to phone me back "as soon as she can" and has not managed to do that. I let my anger out on whoever unlucky person that was on the phone - I was really beyond caring but I believe I have a right to feel mistreated.

On Sunday I tried to transfer money from my HSBC account to my BA-CA one but failed utterly. First it seemed as if it was only possible to transfer money between my HSBC current account and my HSBC saver's account (I got the two of them together, even if I didn't want the latter). The layout and the Internet Banking structure is so bad, that it took me 30 minutes to figure out how to get the bloody money back to my bloody HSBC current account. Another 20 minutes later, I figured out how to "make a payment" to a non-HSBC account (apparently "to transfer" and "to make a payment" are not the same thing). Since there didn't seem to be an extra option for international payments, I tried to enter my BIC but there is only a limited number of digits! I wrote them an e-mail and received the following response:

1) International Banker's Draft: A guaranteed cheque which the beneficiary needs to pay into their bank account for clearance
Drafts under GBP 100 - GBP 15
Drafts over GBP 100 - GBP 20

2) Priority Payments service - all currencies:
Payments in favour of an HSBC account - GBP 10
Payments in favour of accounts outside HSBC - GBP 21

3) Worldpay:
A cost effective way to send a payment within six working days and ensures that the beneficiary account overseas is credited with the full amount (!!!) you send. Up to approximately GBP 2,000 in the local currency can be sent to 20 countries for GBP 9.

Such a rip-off!!! This is the European Union! I am not transferring money to Vanuatu! BA-CA doesn't charge anything! I wonder if this is actually possible according to the guideline of free capital flows within the EU. I figured out that the cheapest way to transfer money is to withdraw the money from the HSBC account, exchange it for Euros at the post office (no commission fees), put it into an envelope and send it to Austria for someone to pay it into my account. Old style, then. On Monday, since I didn't have much time to go to a HSBC branch, I called them, I had something like 4,50 GBP left on my mobile which should suffice for at least 15 minutes of landline calls. Once I finally successfully got through the input tape ("If you want A, please press 1" etc.) - and speaking to a customer service representative is of course the last thing which is on the list - I told the officer that I referred to case number XYZ (the e-mail), by the time I had answered all her security check questions (at least five), my mobile had only one minute remaining. Of course I never spoke to anyone about the matter after that. Now I cannot even listen to my Voice Mail without topping up first.

All I ever do is studying, working, chasing down these shitty companies, writing essays, reading. I seriously need a break. I want to do sth just for recreation for a change!

24 February 2007

Follow me... to the City!

Ever since I am in the City on a regular basis due to work, I had the intention to blog about this amazing and busy place! Shiny office buildings and prestiguous headquarters of the national and international most important companies mark the CBD of the capital.
The City of London (or short the City or the Square Mile) refers to the historic core of Greater London. The perimeter was secured by the erection of a city wall by the Romans and this was basically the spot which has expanded to 600 % its original size. Another important thing to know is that the City of London is an autonomous city (with the second-to-smallest population in the UK) and has its own mayor. The City of London grew together with the City of Westminster and they formed the basis of Central London as it is today.

Pictures from top to bottom:
_ 1 City skyline (this is the only pic which I did not take myself, it is from wikipedia)
_ 2 View on the Gherkin or, more colloquially, Cucumber Building, from next to busy Liverpool Street Station. It is the most elegant skyscraper I have ever set my eyes on! The construction caused some controversy. I personally find the contrast of old buildings and modern construction stunning! A documentary has been made on Building the Gherkin. Images from the inside as well as more information can be found on its own webpage. The main tenant of the building is Swiss Re, a re-insurance company (is there a better way of advertising?).
_ 3 HQ of ABN AMRO, one of the largest banks in the Netherlands, and opposite of it on my side of the street the European Bank of Reconstruction is located. Taken from the same spot but other direction.
_ 4 These buildings actually remind me of Vienna, especially the Inner City, the effect is supported by the expensive designer clothes shops!
_ 5 Moorhouse, another cool office building.
_ 6 A traditional barber shop right opposite of it and next to London Met(ropolotian University)!
_ 7 HSBC Headquarters (actually, I am unsure if it technically is within the City because a headstone marking the perimeter of the City was at the crossing).

23 February 2007

War on Terror Week

This week we had the War on Terror Week at SOAS, an event hosted by the SOAS SU, Respect and the SOAS Islamic Society.

We had the following events:

Monday 19th February:
Screening of The Road to Guantanamo
With guest speakers Shafiq Rasul, Ruhal Ahmed (two of the Tipton Three, see also this other link) and actor Arfan Usman.

Tuesday 20th February: Enemy Combatant:
With guest speakers Moazzam Begg (ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee) and Maajid Nawaz (ex-political prisoner in Egypt).

Thursday 22nd February: WOT exposed:
A panel discussion with Clive Stafford Smith (British lawyer specialising on human rights and the death penalty in the US), Ashfaq Ahmed (father of Babar Ahmed), George Galloway (MP) and more.

Friday 23rd February: World Chechnya Day
Screening of Chechen Lullaby
Guest speakers Tony Wood ("The Chechen Deportations: Antecedents and Aftershocks), Satanay Darken (Chechnya: The Humanitarian Crisis).

22 February 2007

Law and International Students Officer

Went to work today - to quit. While I was in the bus, I thought, I can't continue like this, working 24 hours a week => a 50 hours week including uni and had the spontaneous idea that I am going to quit today. When I arrived at Liverpool Station, there was some strange incident, all the platforms were closed down, hundreds of people in front of them and police everywhere. I wonder what that was all about.

I had a chat with the people from the London office (where I workEd, the HQ is somewhere outside) and they were really supportive and provided me with all the things I needed for my NI number. Turns out that in the UK, there automatically is a contract between employer and employee, once the latter starts working for the former. I was not aware of how far common law (based on precedence law cases) goes. I explained to them that in Austria, we only have statutory law (means what is in the law texts) and that it is considered dubious if you are not given a contract. They tried to get me to negotiate and we ran down a couple of options, since I am the only German speaking person.
The reason why no-one has received any payment was due to a system crash.
I will pop up on Saturday for my last shift for now (this was my own proposal) because they surely have some deadlines to meet and I am not going to let them hang in mid-air.

Then I went to my dev studies lecture where I was trying to write the essay which I have to send to my 121-tutor Prabhat for correction before we meet to discuss it. After it, some random guy chatted me up. He obviously wanted something for me, he was really ominous, either he wanted to marry me or move in with me or break into Dinwiddy or sell me something. I don't know. He knew me 15 minutes, told me that he likes me because I am "so assertive" and God knows what else, batted his lashes - and really believed that I would fall for that! Crazy guy *shakes head*

Then I went to SOAS (Russell Square) to send my essay and maybe try to find Gopika, since I got a mail from her yesterday that there are now ULU elections for next year. First though, I wanted to have a little snack in the JCR. While I am sitting there, sipping my tea, the girl on the same table as me finishes her newspaper and asks me if I want to have it. The headline was about British banks who ripped of their customers for mistakes on their part. How fitting, I thought.

Tried to use Wifi for my essay, doesn't work. I went to the departmental library to use their PC. When I popped in my head into the tiny office that makes up the library, there are four people between 40 and 50, one reading, the other three whispering about something. I asked them if it was a meeting. The only woman (who I knew was an anthro prof) found it quite funny that I (and two other students my age before me) should find it weird when four elderly people are in that library. Another student came in ten minutes later, asked the same question and upon being welcomed laughingly by all four entered the room. He came up to me and asked me if I was the volunteer (the Kanitkar library is run entirely by volunteers), I said no and wondered which the volunteer had left the library unattended. Suddenly, one of the professor-ish men twinkled with his eye and announced, "I am." Everyone started laughing!

Anyway, so it was not possible to install a USB stick there, I went to IT helpdesk, the expert sends me away with a leaflet, a cable and the prescription to download a software so I can use the Wifi. I go to the main library, the lift doesn't work. I finally get to a socket, can access the internet via cable but cannot download software from SOAS server. Want to go back to IT helpdesk and run into Gopika, the International Students Officer. I had just looked up her number on the net to contact her if she knows if and who is running for International Student Officer next year. She hasn't heard anything. I said, I considered doing it (but have not had the time to really think about it). She, being very enthusiastic mobilised me and got me going (I met her at 4pm, the deadline for nomination is 5pm). She says, "Go! Go and get your nomination pack, Heidi! You've got one hour to write a manifesto". - "A WHAT?" So I ran and got one of those nomination packs (basically a form and regulations), ran back to the IT helpdesk to complain about the Wifi, took 15 minutes while he was simultaneouly handling three people and in the end, he told me to get back tomorrow. *grrr* A waste of time.

So 4.15, I run back to the library, get briefed by Gopika. 4.30 I rush to the IT room to print my manifesto. 4.45 I am finished. Of course, three people were printing books before me and I needed only one. single. page. 4.50 I finally get the damn paper out of the machine, turn in the form and the manifesto, 4.55 I run to the Prontophot in the JCR because I need two passport-sized pictures. I run back to the office, get a pair of scissors and told that I have 30 seconds to complete my application. I finish, right on time. 5 seconds past 5pm, two people come into the office to hand in their nomination forms for one of the sabbatical posts (means you work full-time for the SU for one year). Peter, the General Manager sends them off and says it is too late.

Since there is no-one competing against me, the post as International Students Officer is more or less secured. I still don't realise what had happened. The whole day had passed in such a rush! If no-one had run for ISO, the campaigns and initiatives of the committee would have died. Also, there would be no-one to mentor the next ISO (Gopika graduates this year) in two years.

21 February 2007

Complaints about Work, Bank & Insurance

*sigh* There are a few things I am juggling with at the moment:

_ I will consult the SOAS Student Welfare Office concerning my employer and dubious incidents and practices which have added up and peaked in me not having received my payment (due on the 20th of each month) and difficulties in providing me with a contract (which apart from offering security is needed in order to apply for a UK National Insurance Number). If they don't pay me by Friday, they will not see me on Saturday and until the money is on my account!

_ A propos bank account, I called HSBC yesterday and found out how to contact the complaints hotline (the contact numbers on their webpage is very complicated and provides insufficient information about the responsibilites of each department => whichever number you call, they are not responsible or you might not find a likely number at all)! I filed an official complaint about everything that went wrong with HSBC, starting with the application and ending with the fact that I have been charged fees even though, after five months, I still haven't received my debit card! I actually read it off my blog, since it was so long ago (November!) that I didn't remember all the details. The guy on the phone found it quite funny that I blogged about this but in an OK way! Turns out, the debit card had been sent to the branch in Oxford Street but since I didn't pick it up in time, was destroyed. I have never been notified that it was ready for pick-up! The complaints guy took notes and gave me a reference number, saying that they will get back to me about this (means, I will never hear from them again).

_ Insurance: Since I found out that Dinwiddy provides possessions insurance for residents, I quit my private student possessions insurance from Endsleigh, so I can at least get a fraction of the fee back. The woman who I spoke to on the phone asked me for my policy number and said, "I will check that for you, OK?". I expected to be put on hold but suddenly was disconnected instead. I thought it was due to the internet where I was calling from, so I called again. A colleague of hers answered, asked her and told me that the issue is being dealt with (means, she hung up the phone intentionally). I asked him about the refund and he said it will be in my post (in the UK, cheques are used everyday). I received a letter today, confirming my cancellation of the policy but no cheque, called the lady again around lunchtime and was told that she will call me back as soon as she can. Haven't heard from her today! *sigh*

The UK is known for its strong service sector, maybe this is just London but everything is so much more complicated, or as we say in Austria "zach". You have to run after everyone and REMIND everyone that you are a customer! Banks are not user-friendly, don't have an efficient structure and trying to get an answer to any enquiry is a pain in the arse. EVERYTIME, I have to deal with HSBC, something goes wrong, sometimes even in multiple ways. I have heard about other banks where it is the same. If I give my employer my Austrian bank account number... I don't even know if they are allowed to transfer the money abroad even if they were inclined to do so. After all, any accounts outside the UK could be used for terrorism! *sigh* Either they are bloody paranoid or UK banks have free reign to maintain their monopoly on capital flows in the country or both.

Also I believe that being a student and an international one at that makes you a second-class customer, you are of no value until you graduate because studying in the UK is so costly. And because they believe you don't know about your rights. When I went to Endsleigh in September to buy the insurance, the woman didn't treat my like a serious and adult customer, instead she tried to convince me that getting an insurance probably for the first time in your life is so uncomplicated and that Endsleigh is not one of those iffy insurance companies that are oh so uninviting to students (she said "cool" all the time and tried to act like "a student"). Frankly, when I came out of the office, I had second thoughts about going to this company because the whole experience seemed so unsatisfying (detailed questions regarding the policy were not answered sufficiently) and the employee so unprofessional.

20 February 2007


Another uni update, this time about the expensiveness of studypacks and the political action following from that.

A couple of weeks ago, at the beginning of the new term and the publication of the new studypack issue for term 2, our student reps for Theory & Evidence in Contemporary Development announced that some people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the cost of the TECD studypacks (~ 26,50 £ x 2 per year). Students who also take the Global Forced Migration Studies lecture have to buy three studypacks (à 30 £) for that course alone in addition! Makes it around 150 £ for these two courses. If you are unlucky enough to attend another course where you have to buy studypacks, well...

So the student reps addressed this issue with the Development department which said that the prices are the copy costs only and that they don't make any profit from it but that they agree to provide a few copies as reference books in the library (reference means, they stay in there).

With this in mind, and since I didn't buy a studypack for TECD term 2, I tried to chase down these studypacks last Monday. I was writing applications, reading for my coursework and working under pressure to pay my rent during Reading Week, so - no holiday for me or time to do any reading(s)! I had four essential titles on my reading list.

#1 was quite a long paper which answered some but didn't really address the key question for the tutorial.

#2 was a case study, means, complementary to the theoretical articles but not addressing any questions either.

#3 was from a journal called The Lancet which is available online but only with "on-site access", means that SOAS has a subscription but only for SOAS computers. Same goes for

#4 which is actually on JSTOR but Human Rights Quarterly is not included in my subscription. However, again, via a SOAS PC, I could read the article. So, on Sunday I had to wait until Monday, then went to the library. But the PCs in there are set by default to a) not display an adressbar in IE, b) not install any USB devices including memory sticks and c) they are not connected to a printer. I did not want to read 35 pages on a screen without the possibility to underline passages or make notes. *frustration* The Electronic Resources Librarian said, I didn't have to use the library computers, I can also access the journals in the IT rooms. I go to the IT rooms. The first has a queue of six people in front of me while in the second, the printer was broken and being repaired.

OK, I thought, there are still the study packs for the people who cannot afford to buy them. So I went to the Faculty Office, they only keep reading lists. I asked for my tutor's room number, so I can ask him, she gives it to me but it turns out to be a study room for part-time and occasional staff. I decided to approach the course convenor, Jonathan Di John, but he is not in his office. The lecturer who covers the three refugee-related lectures in TECD (what the readings for this tutorial is about) is not even on the room list of Development Studies teachers. I went down the corridor, reading the name signs on the doors and wondering who else might now about this and stopped at the Head of Department who had held a few lectures in TECD. He says, if the student reps had been successful, he doesn't know anything about this. I said I will try to find the student rep and ask him about this and Alfredo said I should get back to him when I find out.

I went back to the Faculty Office for the e-mail adress of my student reps, they didn't have them, so I went to the Student Union Officer for Welfare & Education, Lauren, who was not in her office. By chance, the very student rep I was looking for was sitting not far away, in the flesh! He was surprised that they still haven't done that. So we went to Lauren who had just returned and this is where I found out about the Forced Migration study packs. We all agreed that these were exorbitant sums and Lauren promised to ask her library liaison about this (Will and I both received a copy of the e-mail exchange). I am not sure but I think she also wanted to contact someone who is responsible for print issues. I suggested that if everyone in the TECD class would donate 1 £, we could raise the money to buy one copy ourselves if the department has problems with the treasury. Will meant, there are around 50 people in that class, so even 50p would suffice to buy the pack. I found it quite ironic, that we from Development Studies discuss poverty alleviation etc. but are not able to meet the demands of our own students concerning resources.

Frustrated and a bit edgy, I went to my tutorial in the afternoon. Jeff, my tutor, asked his typical "How did you find the readings?" and I answered, "I didn't." I raised the issue in the tutorial, so other people could add their opinions. An irritating thing is actually, that Jeff seemed to find it quite funny that I didn't own a copy, he obviously thought, I haven't bought one because I didn't want to spend my money on it. He asked me, "How will you do your course if you don't have the readings?" and I said, I access them myself if they are online and print them or I copy them if they are in a book, to copy once a week is not as immediately expensive as to buy the whole chunk of a study pack at once. Jeff argued that it costs the same if not more (in economic theory maybe but not in reality, that's what I say) and I replied, that's the same with a house. You can buy a house and pay the whole sum at once or you can decide to pay for it in instalments. If it is so much cheaper, why doesn't everyone just pay for their houses at once? He laughed and looked at the cover of his study pack to check the price. "But this is just 26,5o £." - "That is a lot of money." - "This is London!" (as if that was something which supports his argument!). We had to procceed with the tutorial. After it, I addressed the issue again and got the same response, in general: Not expensive, not an issue, not my problem! *rolling eyes*

I am working three days a week just to have some-tiny-where to sleep, it keeps me from studying and doesn't even cover my food and he has the cheek to laugh at me and tell me, that after all the studypack is not expensive since this is London?!?

16 February 2007

Work, Work, Work & the SOAS Development Society

During the last week I spent a lot of time at the Careers Service where I mowed through their folders upon folders of past and present vacancies, voluntary work, part-time work and graduate work, vacancy descriptions and charity directories to get an overview over opportunites in development and skills required.

If you apply for a job in the UK, you always need at least (!) two referees, usually one academic (such as your tutor or teacher) and one former employer with full contact details. In addition, transferable ("soft") skills (including those gained during your studies at university) are considered highly important and in the UK version you are expected to elaborate on the responsibilities and skills which you have gained, even if you just worked at McDonald's (it took me some time to reflect upon what I learned in that job...).

In Austria I believe it is more about work experience than about who you are as a person, at least in part-time work or the usual summer internships. And as everywhere in the world, nepotism or as it is called today, networking.

So transferable skills and enthusiasm (especially voluntary work which is more organised and wide-spread in the UK than in Austria) might even have prevalence over your work experience. So if you are applying for a job in fundraising but you have never worked for a charity or in marketing etc. before but can prove that you have the skills required for the job, it might balance it out.

Today I went to an event by the SOAS Development Society which is run by PG students. It started off with a careers talk by several professionals who had been in the field after they had graduated and are now pursuing their Masters. We had the following panel speakers:

_ A Norwegian who has a background in Anthropology, did fieldwork in Russia and then went to work as a Eastern Europe specialist on site during conflict situations and she also observed elections. She basically said that she got her first job by chance (being at the right place at the right time) but also because she spoke Russian (the Belgian said, "If you speak any weird languages you definitely get a job in development" which gives hope to SOAS students) and the perceptional context of the region during the 19990s (so obviously, political trends affect the job situation as well). She also mentioned that it can be mentally and emotionally quite strenuous to go to remote places basically on your own, sometimes you are in the middle of nowhere alone or maybe with two other people you might like or not for whatever reason and have to sleep in a tent outside for two weeks. Also your bosses back home exert pressure on you because they of course expect you to produce results. I talked to her later to ask her if and how the Anthropology background proved useful for her and she said that it sort of helps to overcome the stress of feeling displaced in a strange environment because you have a gist of the structures of society etc. and also the experience of fieldwork and listening to people was quite important in preparing her for her future work.

_ A Belgian who has a background in Politics and History, I believe, who worked for the ICRC for around 10 years or so and who has worked in Rwanda and Darfur (the first right after the genocide). I am quite interested in the ICRC so I hope to have an opportunity to ask her some questions at the next event. She mentioned that as opposed to jobs at the UN maybe, the Red Cross has a high rotation when it comes to employees - quite promising.

_ A Greek-American who comes from an entirely different direction than the other two ladies. She did a Fine/Performing Arts and Cultural Management kind of thing. Then she went to visit her brother who was doing monitoring of the legal situation or sth like that in Sierra Leone (I hope I don't get that entirely wrong now) who was there with a delegation of other colleagues. She met a lot of people there and they discussed policies and their work and she returned to New York City. Some time later she returned from the US to introduce different kinds of art as a way to express ideas about what they want the future to be like which is quite an interesting approach, in my opinion but also quite original since it also enables illiterate people to manifest their visions.

_ An energetic Italian who has worked for the WFP and had knocked out 900 other applicants. The application was announced and processed by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and she was sent to work as a Communications Officer in Madagascar. The way the post was described she thought she would be an assistant but the moment she got there she found out that she was the Officer proper and that it was her who had an assistant! Anyway, so on her first days she got calls from BBC, Reuters etc who asked her questions. And she didn't know any of this! She said for her, it was a learning-by-doing thing.

_ Another American who worked for Amnesty International in a regional division of AI US. He said, you cannot underestimate the importance of networks in this kind of work. Great. I have to work on that.

If you are interested, just check out the SOAS Development Society group at facebook. At the moment it is entirely run by PGs (all the few UGs evaporated after the event, I was the only UG at the social in the ULU bar which followed the career talk) and since they obviously won't hang around for too long, it is necessary for UG students to get involved in it. After all, I believe, talks like these are especially important if you consider gaining work experience before you do a Masters! So definitely worth going to the events!

10 February 2007

Career Considerations

Have been thinking a lot lately about part-time work, volunteering, internships and my career as a graduate.

I have found a term-time job as a telephone interviewer for market research at Serrula Ltd, a company located in the City, right in the heart of London's CBD and not far away from the characteristic cucumber building (more about that in my next post). They require me to work for at least 3 x 8 hours per week which sounds quite challenging considering my schedule and coursework and stuff. At least, there is not so much stress from the work itself like at CCC and it therefore doesn't drain all my energy.

That settled (and hopefully my last Dinwiddy instalment), my next obstacle is The Summer. As a student in her penultimate year I should definitely gain some relevant work experience in a related field, such as human rights or a development NGO or something like that. And since this is what I want to do not only now but also once I graduate, there is a bit of an urgency for me to get my foot in the door. So what is the problem? My financial constraints don't allow me to work three months for free even if gaining invaluable skills and insights into really interesting fields. I mean, if I wanted to get rich I would not study Anthro or Dev but Economics or something the like but some of the requirements in the job descriptions are just ridiculous!

Take WorldVision for example, they are offering traineeships (that is, for graduates but still I find it illustrates the job situation quite well) to applicants who have spent at least (!) six months (!) in a country of the south or working with a related NGO (!).
Or the summer internship at CARE Austria, where they only consider potential interns who would be willing to work for at least 30 hours per week for at least two months. Of course entirely voluntary, only travel expenses are paid.

So this got me thinking and it seems that it is always the same class of people who work in these areas. As Kostas said, voluntary work is a luxury! Of course preconceptions of class thinking won't stop me trying (à la, I will try to live forever or die in the attempt) what do is within my reach of power but it still is quite frustrating to start from a disadvantaged situation.

And finally, I would like to mention some things from my career chat with Kostas who is currently acting UG tutor for anthro (means he is sth like a FAQ resource and a contact person for academically related problems and references) this term. I pointed out to him that part of my panic might be traced back to a misconception of the british job market system and graduate opportunities and strategies. His opinion is that since there is a low graduate rate in the UK (and I believe the workload of study supports this view), a good degree is what is important (meaning 65% +). Also, not a lot of people pursue a Masters, so if you do that, you are even more distinguished. And since this is SOAS, you probably end up being the elite of the elite of the elite. Or you don't.

So, how does one get a good degree? Let me put it into a simple formula:
Final grade = 2nd year grade + 3rd year grade
2nd year grade = 20 % essays + 80 % end of year exams
3rd year grade = probably same as 2nd year but I don't know how the dissertation is going to be weighed (in English, a dissertation is not limited to a PhD, it is a piece of work in order to obtain a degree). Of course, deductions for late submissions apply in any case.

What does this leave me with? I am writing a couple of applications for paid work in the summer but also my preferred internships in relevant organisations just in case a miracle happens. What I really wanted to do was to Volunteer for the Visayans in the Phil's or walk the Great Wall of China for charity. Let's see. Also I have to think about cheap accomodation for next year. AAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!

06 February 2007

Follow me... to Loch Ness!

So does Nessie exist or does she not? On Sunday, a group of five curious Austrians (two studying in Ed, two visiting from Austria and me) embarked on an expedition that would take them through the Highlands, to Fort William, past Ben Nevis to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (under which Nessie is rumoured to live) and on the way back, through Inverness, Pit and past Blair Castle and after a short dinner at Pitlochry back to Ed.

But let's recount the 620 km journey step by step!

(© Scotline Tours)
On our first stop we had the opportunity to meat a celebrity: Hamish, the Hieland Coo (pronounced Highland Kuh) who lives in Kilmahog (I know there are thousands of others all over the place but he is special). Amazingly, people back then used to make spoons out of heated and then pressed pieces of cow horn.

(© Kat)

The Highlands were absolutely beautiful! Glencoe has tragic famousness for the 1692 massacre . Most of the people from the massacre actually died of hypothermia while trying to escape (it was deep winter).
But the hills around are also well-known as the set for the movies Braveheart and Rob Roy (the Liam Neeson version). Rob Roy, if anyone should not know him, is the legendary Scottish Robin Hood. Sir Walter Scott wrote a novel on him (by the way, Scott was also the one who rediscovered the Scottish Crown Jewels), if anyone is interested.

Fort William is at the Northern "end" of the Highlands. We had a Whisky Try Out :) and some lunch before we went to imagine Ben Nevis, the UKs highest mountain (1344 m), because he was completely surrounded by clouds. The weather/visibility conditions can actually change quite quickly on Ben Nevis, the Mountain Rescue Team has reported one fatality every week since October.

Urquhart Castle is one of Scotland's oldest castles. Unfortunately, it was partially destroyed by troops of William of Orange in 1692 to ensure it would not become a Jacobite stronghold.
Being right at the shore of Loch Ness, it offers a wonderful view over Loch Ness! Some people took a boat trip and even saw Nessie! Actually, I didn't join them but saw her too, hehe, and saved 8 £! (There are in fact five different Nessies all over Scotland)

(Nessie Pic © Kat)

On our way back we drove through Inverness which is quite an industrial town (the primary sector in Edinburgh is services, especially banking and call centres). It will probably see an increase in population in the near future. Property prices are very low, so a lot of companies relocate their HQs to the North but also families. Also, something which I haven't been really aware of is that Scotland has several oil rigs in the sea which explains the dominance of the industry sector in Inverness.

Pitlochry is a major tourist resort after Queen Victoria had visited the place. It has a theatre which boasts to have the largest ensemble company in Scotland and JK Rowling as a patron.

Some random information:
In the UK, it is the law to wear seatbelts in coaches.
Edinburgh has been built on seven volcanoes, the Castle hill being one of them.
Every Scottish bank issues its own version of them with fax machines (!).
Every swan in the UK belongs to the Queen, this goes back to a parliamentary edict in the 14th (?) century. They were royal food. The law has not been abolished. So if you harm a swan today, you can get fined up to 200 £!

About the tour:
We all agreed that the tour was very well done! I found it had a perfect balance between historical and current fact and also it was amazing how much the hostess knew about a lot of details but also how she could say something relevant and interesting even if we were on a highway! We definitely want to recommend Scotline Tours, it is a family business and 28 £ for such a well-done 620 km tour (entrance to Urquhart Castle included) really is a bargain!

After one and a half hour at Kat's place, I had to catch my coach back to London => I did 620 km + 530 km = 11 500 km from Sunday 8 am to Monday 7 am! I went directly to my 9-5 uni Monday, got home at 6 pm, slept almost 15 hours and then popped into my 9 am class today. Wow!

Useful words & phrases in Scots:
Ben - Mountain
Munro - any mountain in Scotland which is higher than 3000 ft (914 m), named after Sir Hugh Munro who counted 284 of them.
Munro Bagging - the sport to do all of the Munros
Glen - Valley
Loch - Lake
Inver - Mouth of a River
Oreo Cookies - colloquial for black belted cows
Scotch Mist or Whisky Inspired Breath - translucent mini clouds which form over Lochs sometimes. To say "That is all Scotch Mist" means "This is a lot of rubbish" or "This is much ado about nothing".

03 February 2007

Islam Awareness Week

Do you know about the miracles of the Qur'an (site really worth reading, with illustrations)? Which are the five pillars of Islam? Who was Mohammad? How does Islam see Jesus? What are the different confessions of Islam? What is the relation between Islam and modernity? Is Allah really a masculine deity? Why do islamic countries "still" practice Sharia even if they are highly industrialised (i.e. Malaysia where both Sharia and what I will call the "Western" law system co-exist alongside each other)? How do Islam and democracy go together?

These are some of the questions which were addressed during this week. The SOAS Islamic Society has organised several highly interesting events such as the following

_ 21st Century Muslim Woman
Sarah Joseph did not only provided us with a critical and scholarly view of Muslims in British Society, Muslim women, Muslim communities and the role of the British state but also explained some aspects of Hijab.

Also with Cambridge Professor Tim Winter (aka Sheikh Abdul Hukim Murad - NOT to be confused with the same named terrorist!). A highly interesting interview with Tim Winter which is not related to this event can be found here.

Unfortunately, Fareena Alam did not come.

_ Colours of Islam: songs, poetry & comedy
Didn't go to this event but it sounds like a sociable evening!

_ Shariah for Dummies
Arrived a bit late but the talk was recorded by Channel 4. As soon as I find out if the event has been up, I will post it in the comments section!

Also, I had a very illuminating talk to Pete, someone who should have been studying at SOAS long ago and is now trying to realise himself (he was not involved in the events mentioned above). From midnight to 3am on a Friday night I had a lecture which covered everything from the creation of the world, what was before that, the expulsion of Adam & Eve, the Hajj, Sodom & Gomorrha, Babel, the Thora & Talmud, Jesus, up to the Day of Judgement, why graduates wear these funny hats that come with their academic dress (it originally was a Qur'an with a bookbind on top of the head of the scholars of Timbuktu). Also, I had an introduction to Arabic in order to understand why, if translated insuffiently (and Arabic is an extremely complex and expressive language which doesn't make it easy), a lot of people believe that Allah is a man. Allah is not. In short, it has to do with the female / male distinction in Arabic and the use of derivated words which differs depending on whether what we talk about is animate or inanimate and how an object is categorised!

To conclude, I want to express my amazement at the features and logics of many things about Islam which I haven't known before. Somehow, when you start looking into the subject matter, you will find that a lot of things suddenly make sense. I don't want to relativise this statement to particular aspects which would make it necessary to elaborate very extensively. Of course, I am still a lay person concerning this religion and my surprise at many things which I have heard during this week can partly be accounted for by the fact that I simply didn't know much about it in the first place. However, I still believe that there is more to Islam than the (mis-)conceptions most people in the West, I will dare to say, have. The past week also made me think about islamophobia in Austria, where a great deal of the "threat" of Muslims within the country but also outside the country (ie accession of Turkey to the EU) is due to the average age of the population (a lot of right-winged islam opposers are born prior to the 1960s/70s) but maybe also due to lack of political action to raise awareness about this religion. I will stop at this point. This blog welcomes an open discussion and promotes freedom of speech, therefore please feel free to post any comments or questions that you might have!

02 February 2007

Good Girls go to Heaven, Taschi goes to London! - Part 1/5

Ladies & Gentlemen, I am honoured to present you with a mini series by guest blogger Taschi who will give us an A-Z account of her insights into the city during her stay in London! Enjoy! - (:Heidi:)

Do you have a favourite bus line? I do. My favourite bus line is the 13A in Vienna. Most of the time it's crowded, and most times it’s not on time, but still I like it. When I came to London I had an instant sympathy for the bus line 214. Of course the double-decker-busses are supposed to be more special to me, because we don’t have them where I live, but still I like the 214 best.

Yes, they do obviously drink a lot. And yes, pubs close before midnight. And they do dink lukewarm beer.
So much about British and alcohol.

America (North)
Ok, why the hell do I write about North America when I write about London? First, I met some really nice people from over there. Stacia, who is from California. Anne, George and Georgia who are from… surprise… Georgia (yes, it is ok if you laugh), whom I had a really great time with at the Slimelight. And then Crystal form Canada, who has the most beautiful (in sense of really fitting her body, her type, her attitude and everything) ink I’ve ever seen. Ok, might be all this isn’t really interesting to you.
Second: everyone took me for an American! Why? I don’t know! People kept telling me I sound like I was from the US. Most would guess I live north-east. I took it as a compliment, because it means my English is not that utterly bad, but they actually don’t mean it as a compliment. Oh well, might be I’ll learn to live with that.

Do you like Off-Theatre? Then you should defiantly pay Arcola Theatre a visit! They do great work, with good actors on brand new multicultural dramatic projects as well as modern and older classics. It’s located in (surprise!) Arcola Street. It’s defiantly worth the journey to Hackney. I recommend being here a little earlier and having a cup of tea in their stylish (I think it is) foyer.

I’m from Austria. No, Austria. It’s in Europe, really. No, that’s the one without kangaroos.

Best of comments:
“Oh, I would have sworn you come from the US. Don’t you Aussies normally have an even more weird kind of dialect? Hey, I mean, I don’t want to offend you or something. If I lived on an island, practically cut off from the rest of the world… I’d sound like that too.” (I DID tell her that I live in a country that is the opposite of an island… whereas she… well. British, obviously.)
“Man, Austria, I really thought you live East coast. You really don’t sound like West coast.”
“The one without kangaroos?! I could never have guessed that! I live in Sydney, too!”
“Oh that little county… yeah, Vienna? Mhm, nice place. Boring. Don’t like the people there. Nor the climate. Well, actually it’s a shitty place. I come from there too.”

Ben + Jerry
Have you ever had Haegen Dasz “Cookies and Cream”? If not I really hope you are working on a cure to all forms of cancer or waste away your life wit lots of sex, drugs and Johann Sebastian Bach. Otherwise: don’t you consider your life completely senseless, sometimes??
Well, bit of an exaggeration, maybe.
What I wanted to say is that Ben and Jerry’s chocolate chip stuff is the next best thing to Cookies and Cream. A really chocolaty ice cream, with pieces of chocolate cookies. But it’s not tooth hurting sweet, no! There’s yoghurt in it. I don’t believe that myself, but the package says so, and hell, I don’t care where the great taste comes from.

Big Ben
Ok, this is something really londonesque to talk about (apart from the shitty weather and… well). Believe it or not: I heard Big Ben. You might imagine I wasn’t being very touristy there, so that’s something remarkable. I was looking for … ahm, forgot what for. I was listening to the Einstürzenden Neubauten, and there was that noise… kind of in the background. If you know the Einstürzende Neubauten you might ask yourself how I knew it wasn’t part of the song… but that’s because I know the song pretty much by heart. So I took the earplugs out and looked around. Everyone was listening carefully, and I thought “Hey, you have heard that noise before” and stuck the earplugs in again. Like 15 minutes later a tourist (an other tourist) that obviously thought I was from there asked me how to get to Big Ben. “Who is it you want to meet? Ben? … Oh, Big Ben!” (That was when I realized what those funny bells were.) “Oh, I heard him around here just a couple of minutes ago.” Earned another funny look with that.

Guess whose birthday was during my stay in London? Right, Heidi’s! Guess what we did on her birthday? I had a nice day in Heidi’s flat, cooked something, and later had a nice evening with some guys I shared the hostel room with. Guess what she did meanwhile…

It’s not a rumor that people in London don’t eat rye bread. Actually they don’t eat bread anyway but toast. All kinds of toasts. You can one sort of prepacked dark bread at Sainsbury’s (only the big ones), and of course in good bakeries.

Boxing Day
Everything is closed on Boxing Day. Holiday, unlike late evenings and Sundays, are “executed” in London.

Busses are basically the cheapest way to get around. Using Oyster (more about that later on) you pay 1 Pound per ride, or 2 Pounds cash. Considering that London has a very dense and good bus system you often don’t even have to change the line (if you are willing to walk a little). Whenever you change the bus line you need to pay the fare on entering.
For someone from a much smaller city I had serious troubles finding my way at the beginning, but as soon as you get the idea of lettering the bigger part of the bus stops in an area, it’s surprisingly easy to figure out how to get where you want (if you know where that is).