April 2007

My wife recently got a job here, so we’ve figured out some of the steps and issues that go along with working. As with most things international, UKCOSA has a good summary of information about international students and family working in the UK.

Based on the UK student visa rules, the student can work up to 20 hours per week during term and full-time during the breaks. Some schools also limit the hours you can work further. However, I wouldn’t recommend coming expecting to do much because with a 3 year program, there’s not much extra time to do other things. Also, in one’s second and third year tutoring and lecturing options are usually available to students, which bring in extra income (though probably not much). The spouse of a student can work full-time without any restrictions. The UK is much more flexible than the US because the student and spouse are not limited to just working at the university. Most spouses that we know who have found a job, started with a temp agency and then found a permanent position through there. Others found positions related to their experience and training through various means. My wife just applied directly at a local retail store.

Once one finds a job, you have to apply for a National Insurance Number (NINO), similar to the SSN in the US, through the Department for Work and Pensions. You have to make an appointment the DWP’s Jobcentre Plus to give them your documents for them to give you a number. For Durham, the interview will take place in Newcastle. The office is about a 5 min walk from the train station. While they note a large list of items needed to verify your eligibility to work in the UK, all they asked of my wife (and others we talked to) at the meeting was her passport and a letter from her employer explaining the terms of employment. Until you get the NINO, they just take out an ’emergency’ rate of tax. Once you get the number, they’ll true up the taxes withheld. (However, the UK system is not like the IRS because you don’t true up taxes at the end of the year on April 15. What they take out is what you pay.)

Also, there is relatively recent news regarding working in the UK once you graduate. From 2006 all international students graduating from postgraduate courses taught in the UK will be able to apply to work in the UK for up to a year after graduation. These new provisions apply to students who have started their courses on or after 1 May 2006. Rather confusingly, this scheme is sometimes referred to as the “Science and Engineering Graduates Scheme” but the provision now extends to graduates of ALL postgraduate courses whether related to science and engineering or not.
For further information: Post-grads Working in the UK, Full details…

Mark Goodacre at the NT Blog posted about this topic, and it was a little more substantial than my last post about the issue.

One thing I commented on his blog was that UK students do have the opportunity to get more breadth here in than I expected. First, you are expected (though not required) to sit in on modules, though you don’t do any writing. Secondly, you also are expected to attend your department’s (NT, OT, etc.) weekly seminar that always has a broad range of presenters and topics. Plus you have the option to attend other departments’ seminars as well. While these don’t push you as much as actual course work, you do get something out of them.  In addition, most presenters are other scholars from around the country, so you are not just hearing other phd students but (often) well-known scholars present substantive, new ideas.

But it is good to know your program’s potential weaknesses so you can work on them before you get out. Time to publish is also one of those problems with a UK program, so you just start thinking about it early.

Though church attendance in the UK is less than 10% of the population per week, there are plenty of church options. Most churches run around 40-70 per week (I think), but those near the city centre are larger. We’ve found the believing community here, especially in the smaller churches, very friendly and inviting. Since most international students are limited to walking, they tend to go to one’s in the city centre or one in their part of town. Most of the larger churches seem to have some type of small groups program as well, but with no (or very limited) child care options.

Here’s a quick run down of Protestant churches that we know about. (I’ve marked with an *astericks* those churches that I’ve actually attended.)

St. Nic’s.* It has an evangelical feel, and is middle of the road with the Anglican liturgy. It’s the traditional looking church in the market square of the city centre. I believe they only have kids stuff during the early service.
Christ Church.*  Among the N. Americans this is one of the more popular churches and is currently meeting out towards the University Library.  It’s probably the most like a standard evangelical church in North America with regard to quasi-expository preaching, (roughly) contemporary music, and lots of college students.  It’s also known for being (really?) conservative and vocal about differences with other groups.  There is some contention over its Anglican status (see comments below):  From what I hear, it’s under a different bishop than NT Wright, but they are clearly self-defined as Anglican per their website.
St. John’s. I believe it’s a fairly standard Anglican church, though maybe a little larger than others. A few lecturers attend there.
Many other churches are spread through out the city. Also, the Bishop of Durham (aka Tom Wright) also preaches from time to time at the Cathedral. He doesn’t preach there as often as I expected that he might, but I don’t keep up with his schedule either.

Here are the so-called ‘non-conformist’ churches, since they don’t follow the official state church…

Methodist churches (or ‘chapels’ as they are sometimes called) are also spread throughout the area. They have a historical connection with coal mining, which was prevalent in this area. One interesting note is that ordained and lay preachers rotate around the circuit to preach each week. Such that, even the pastor for a church may only preach at his or her church twice a month.

Side note: We go to Carrville Methodist, which is just past Gilesgate Moor and Belmont (in Carrville). We intentionally chose a church that was not a college church so we could interact with regular English people outside the academic setting. Another plus for us is that the walk to Carrville is all flat, so it’s easier to get to with kids.

Kings Church. ‘A lively, charismatic, evangelical congregation in the heart of Durham.’ per its website.  Two of its main staff are quality biblical scholars that teach in Cranmer Hall and are regularly involved in the theology department.  I’ve have several friends that attend here.
Emmanuel* Contemporary worship. Lots of young families and college students.
Durham Vinyard

Durham* Meets in the Gilesgate area. We found it very similar to baptist churches back in the States, and the pastor is very friendly–even had us over for lunch.

Durham Presbyterian

Others? Also feel free to comment on your church if you have more details.

Every church we’ve been to is very relaxed about the way kids are handled. In fact, with most you’ll have to ask what to do because they tend to be very informal about it (at least from a N. American perspective where the churches and the kids operations are much larger). That is, they don’t tell you right when you walk in the door what to do with your kids. Most churches have the kids begin in ‘big church’ and then part-way through they go to creche (under 3 or so) or Sunday School. (There is no SS for adults.) There are typically no facilities for infants, so I would expect to keep them with you.

Most churches seem to pool resources on this, since few have the critical mass to do something alone. The main evangelical community youth group is LOL: Living Out Love, which just happens to be led by a US friend of ours here. I know the Methodists have something roughly equivalent as well called YPF: Young People’s Fellowship.  I also here there’s a great new children’s and youth ministry at Carrville Methodist…run by my wife.

I’m thinking seriously of doing one this summer, and before I laid down the cash, I thought I’d get some opinions. I know of someone who did Goethe in Berlin last summer, so that’s what I’m planning on doing now–their 4 week Intensiv course. I need to go during June because of childcare scheduling, so summer programs at universities (such as Tübingen) won’t work because they run in August. Does anyone recommend any other programs in Germany besides Goethe?

Our pastor and her husband graciously surprised us by offering to loan us their car while they were out of town on vacation after Easter. We definitely didn’t turn them down, and so we got to see a some more local stuff. Now that I’ve hit the road a few times, I had a few additional thoughts from my previous post on this subject.

Roads: There seem to be 3 main types of roads (M, A, and B) that are all numbered, such as M6, A690, B6314, etc. M (Motorway): These are equivalent to interstate highways in the US, with at least 4 lanes and off/on ramps. There aren’t many of them in this part of the country. Most are down south, though the M6 runs North-South in the west part of the country. However, the A1 is motorway for a stretch south of Newcastle down past Durham, hence it is labeled A1(M) for that stretch. A: These are equivalent to US Highways (~Route 66, or something). These often switch between 2 and 4 lanes, and they are the often the main routes to get anywhere around here. But they take you through towns and all their roundabouts so progress is not often that speedy. B: These are just regular country roads (~F.M.–Farm to Market roads in Texas). They are often wind around quite a bit and aren’t that wide. By the way, the roads are very good here. I can’t think of one that needed repairs.

Road Signs. Here are a few road signs that aren’t that obvious:
No Stopping No Stopping or Parking (I presume on the side of the road).
National Speed Limit The end of a speed zone, and now the National Speed Limit Applies
One Way One Way
End of Motorway End of the Motorway
Here’s an index of all major road signs.

Speed Limits: I wasn’t sure about the speed limits for regular roads that weren’t a major pathway. But it seems the national speed limit is 30 MPH in town, 60 MPH on 2 lane (single carriageways), and 70 MPH on 4 lane+ (dual carriageways/motorways).

Drivers License: Here’s a UKCOSA link that has handy information for internationals driving in the UK that talks about the 12 month rule for getting a license.

I was just beginning to wonder how large the difference between customer service expectations are between the UK and the US. For instance, you generally don’t get near the attention from servers in a restaurant here as in the US.

But beyond that I had quite a time with Virgin’s internet service, and the problems with British Gas are still not resolved. Supposedly they resolved the 2 accounts problem, but now I’ve recieved two separate bills for closing out my account with them one for £236 (by paper) and the other £86 (by email). I saw on the news the other night that they put in a new billing system, and they have had a huge number of issues. Customer complaints have tripled for them in the past year. I just wish they would be upfront with you about it on the phone. At least now I know it’s not just me.

I had an office chair that I purchased a few months ago from Argos that broke. Of course I couldn’t find a receipt, so I expected that I’d get stone-walled like with Virgin and BG. That was no issue to them because they just looked up the transaction through my debit card, and gave me all the details I needed. It was quick and friendly. This interchange restored my confidence in the British.

I’m not a huge NBA fan, but I got more into it about the time I moved to Dallas and the Mavs started to pull out of the dolldrums. They’ve finished atop the western division with the best record of 67-15. They look good to go all the way, but you never know how things will turn out after last year’s mess. Now I just have to find the cheapest way to catch some of the games. Plus, they typically run in the wee hours of the morning, since they are night games in the US.

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