14 March 2007

From National Insurance Over Indonesia To Cold War Politics

After three weeks of waiting my interview for national insurance has finally arrived. The UK version of the Austrian AMS, is called Job Centre Plus. Three weeks ago I rang them to ask how to do this and they immediately asked me a couple of questions which were probably recorded. Today I had an appointment at 10am and was surprised that I actually did not have to wait at all but was directly sent to an employee's desk (in Austria you can usually expect to wait a looooong time before your number is drawn, here they didn't have any numbers). The guy asked me a couple of questions about the nature of my stay ("Are you here to study or to work?" - As if studying in the UK or in London is possible without the latter) etc., wanted my former address (I needed a few seconds to remember my last one in Vienna, this is the first time in five months anyone asked me about that) and had the authenticity of passport checked.

What happens next? I will get a National Insurance Number (or NINO, as it is called over here) in four to eight weeks but it may take up to six months (!) until the card is issued. This country is amazing. Interesting is also the design of the office. It is an open office with islands of desks all over the room and generally looks quite welcoming. In Austria, you at least know what you get when you enter the office: The barrier of bureaucracy is represented by a barrier of desks and anything beyong that desk is taboo. I now have to wait for HM Revenues & Customs (the UK Ministry of Finance) to check my records (as of course, I have not received a payslip in my post as I was told by Serrula).

After I came out and had some lunch in Camden Market not far away from this branch (Indonesian Satay Chicken! Mmmmmh!), I wondered what kind of benefits I am actually eligible for (probably none until I have stayed here for three years or so). The leaflets at Job Centre Plus were not helpful (disabilities, people who need constant attendance and convicts in mental hospitals), I roamed the internet a bit when I got home to find out if there is a site like www.help.gv.at which I had overlooked despite earlier tries. Turns out, instead of a joint online platform provided by the state, the distribution of information is left to independent Citizen Advice Bureaus (CABs) all over the country which are usually based on volunteers. This matches Adrian's statement back in Vienna that in his home country, access to benefit was not as easy as in Austria (I had asked him why he had left the UK and he replied, life quality is much better. After five months, I now understand what he meant by that). I guess this intransparency from the government's side is what also makes it difficult for international students to find the relevant information they need. They definitely try their best to make it as complicated as possible and whoever does not believe, should make an attempt at getting an overview over visa regulations via the UK Visas website.

Anyway, in the evening I finally proceeded to my third, last and probably most important hypothesis in my SEA GP essay for which it was and is quite difficult to find literature. Also I realised that something in my post-WW II history lessons went wrong. Maybe it was due to the curriculum but the teacher I had presented different events in history isolated from each other. After I brushed up my knowledge on the Cold War, I know have a general idea why the Chinese and the Soviets were not friends (I didn't even know that before), why China supported the Cambodian regime, why the Soviets suddenly worked together with the Americans and why China's "Great Leap Forward" was a huge influence for Pol Pot. I had great help from Nancy who I asked out of the blue at the dead of the night what the ideological difference between Leninism and Stalinism was and also learned cool words like obduracy and found out that a Versorgungsbrücke is not a supply bridge but a supply lift. You learn something new every day!

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