Studying in United Kingdom

Welcome to the UK - it sounds like it's one country but actually it's made up of four separate ones - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So if you meet a Scot, don't call him an Englishman - he will be very upset. Each of these countries' natives speak with differing English accents, and it may take some time to get used to it. The capital city is London as you probably know, and the city has about three hundred thousand people of Indian origin.




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Travel

The country has a pretty decent public transport network consisting of trains, buses (called coaches) and of course airplanes. You are not as reliant on the car as you would be in the US. Having said that, in smaller towns and cities, a car is usually necessary as bus stops and train stations are not always conveniently located, and services may not be very frequent.

The inter-city trains are pretty expensive and make sure you book well in advance to avoid paying huge fares. The cheapest way to travel inter-city is by bus, although this is more time consuming than travelling by train or by air.



The trains are fairly comfortable, and have pantry cars that serve snacks and tea/coffee.

London requires a special mention because of its underground rail system, rather obviously called the "Underground" or more commonly, the Tube. As far as public transport goes, London is divided into six zones, zone one being the inner-most zone, and zone six the outermost.

The cheapest way to get around London is to travel either after 9.30am (after the morning rush-hour), or on weekends. You can buy a "Travelcard" - which is essentially a ticket that covers you for unlimited use on the Tube network, London's buses and commuter (surface) trains. The price of the Travelcard varies depending on the zones you want it for. A one-day 6-zone travelcard, which covers the whole of London, costs £4.50. You can also get a weekend travel card that covers you for a weekend or of course, a weekday, monthly or yearly travel card which will cover you for peak-hour usage as well.

If you are a student, you will need your student ID card to get discounts on public transport. Ask for a "Railcard" which gives you around 33% off on rail travel.

Overall, the system is easy to use and fairly efficient, although there are almost always problems of one kind or another - signal problems, defective trains and so on, which result in cancellations. But you will almost always be able to make it to your destination. When travelling on the Tube network, leave at least 5-10 minutes at interchanges as some of the stations are big and changing from one line to another takes time. Peak time crowds can significantly add to the time taken.

Shopping

The main shopping areas are typically referred to as the "High Street" in any city or town. If you live in big city like London, each of its residential areas will have its own "High Street" where you can shop, eat and generally hang out.

The main supermarkets are Tesco, Sainsbury's, Somerfield and ASDA - you will find them in all towns and cities, and probably within 15-20 minutes drive of where you live. Virtually all these stores sell Indian food of some sort - either pickles, frozen snacks (samosas, "onion bhajis", palau and so on). In fact, the "curry" has overtaken fish and chips as the most "take-away" (called parcels in Indian restaurants) food in the UK.


If you are vegetarian, look out for a "V" sign and a note that says, "suitable for vegetarians". Supermarkets have a range of vegetarian ready-made foods, and further, you can always read the list of ingredients on the package. If in doubt, don't hesitate to ask a shop assistant, as they are quite used to these requests.

Most stores shut at 9 or 10pm on weekdays and very few are open 24 hours. On Sundays, most shops close at around 4pm. However, if you run out of food during non-working hours, you will usually find a "corner shop" - though not usually at corners - selling essentials such as milk and bread, apart from newspapers and magazines. Most of these shops are run by Indians who work long hours!

For clothes and general shopping, some brand names are Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and C&A. You will find these either on the High Street or within a big shopping complex.

Eating out

There are "Indian" restaurants all over the country - the word "Indian" has to be qualified because unofficial estimates say that over 80% of Indian restaurants are actually Pakistani or Bangladeshi-run restaurants. In any case, they serve good enough food to satisfy those cravings for spicy foods, though south Indians will probably not be impressed with the spiciness of food on offer.

Apart from Indian restaurants, the main fast-food outlets are the ubiquitous McDonald's and Burger King. For pizza, the main ones are Pizza Hut, Domino's and Pizza Express.

Worship

All the major cities which have big Indian populations - London, Birmingham, and Leicester -have temples, mosques, gurudwaras. Just head for your local Indian-run "corner shop" and ask the owner who will be happy to tell you where you can find a temple or mosque.

The most famous temple in the country is the Swami Narayan Hindu Mandir in London, and it's definitely worth a visit even if you aren't Hindu.

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