Big Screens in the Rain

Now I’m in China doing my fieldwork, I miss London so much. It is a city always with surprises.

During the summer, I went to the Big Screens at the Trafalgar Square with my friends. People gathered from different parts of London to watch operas shown on the big screen. There were seats in the middle of the audience area, for which I was not sure whether tickets were needed—it was definitely free if you chose to stand and enjoy the show as we did.

It was typical London weather, featured with light rains and winds. But that didn’t extinguish people’s enthusiasm. The voices of the actors and actresses were so passionate that the audiences were absorbed into the story. I was not paying full attention to the subtitles so it was somewhat difficult to understand what was happening, but the scenes alone were interesting and exciting. As in all love stories, they were filled with smiles and tears, sorrows and hopes.

光影魔术手拼图

I didn’t wait until the end because the rain was getting heavier and the wind stronger. When I left, I saw among the audiences a sweet couple holding each other, leaning on a pillar in front of the National Gallery. See, there was love within and outside the big screens.

Discovering King’s Campus

As a King’s student ambassador, I’ve guided two campus tours. First tour was at Strand, with a group of Chinese high school students months ago. The recent one was with summer school participants from the European continent, from Waterloo to Strand, calling at Maughan library and back to Strand.

Tours were fun, as I learned more about King’s history and anecdotes during the preparation. It was also exciting to meet interesting young people and work hard to “sell” King’s to them. It was often tricky, especially as we were trained not to compare King’s with other universities nearby (and not to tell the truth that they were not as good as King’s in many aspects). What’s more, it was a pity that Maughan library does not allow “sightseeing” inside.

Prospective students asked various questions during the tour, but their major concerns were admission requirements, tuition fee, and living expenses. It was fine to discuss experiences of living in London with them, but a little difficult to know the admission requirements and tuition fee standard for each program. My rule was to give general information according to disciplines, and then encourage them to write to the admission office and / or departments they aimed at for details. I also picked some maps and brochures from the Strand entrance to distribute, so they had contacts that were useful.

King’s Campuses    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/campuslife/campuses/index.aspx

Reading Picnic

News said that this was the hottest summer of the U.K. in 7 years. Well, I’m lucky. As sunshine was luxury for U.K. dwellers, I should enjoy it as much as I could. Unfortunately, there were chapters of my thesis that needed revision and blank pages waiting to be transformed into papers for conferences in September. To make a compromise, I decided to go on a reading picnic.

I thought the small park near my place would be an ideal choice. The park was populated as it was Sunday, but it was ok. The most astonishing thing was all those people who were bathing in the sun. It was not that I was too conservative and felt uncomfortable with people wearing bikinis, but that in my hometown, which was a seaside city, people only wore like this on beaches and it was almost a shock for me to see half-naked people lying on the grass! After my eyes got used to it, however, I could focus and read, with kids running, laughing and screaming as the “background music”.

Generally speaking, it was a pleasant experience to read and enjoy the nice weather at the same time. But I think this kind of reading picnic is suitable only for one person. A group of people might distract each other and finally forget about reading and focus on picnic.

AKC-1

When I came to King’s last September, I heard about a course called AKC during the orientation period. The full name is Associate of King’s College London, and it stands as the course with longest history in King’s. The course is open to all King’s members free of charge, and attendees get a A.K.C. title after passing three years’ exams. I enrolled out of curiosity, and it turned out to be a right choice.

The theme of the AKC course is religion. The first semester focused on more theoretical topics including the development of religion and fundamental beliefs. Contents in the second semester were integrated with modern British history. All the speakers were organised and humorous, so it was not difficult to stick to the schedule and attend a 1 hour lecture per week, although it is not compulsory as recordings would be available in the libraries. That said, it had been quite difficult for me to understand some of the course as a non-Christian. The solution I found was to search online in advance and get a general idea. I also watched series of Yale Open Course on the Bible.

I was very worried before the exam, but fortunately passed. I still get 2 years to go before I can apply for an A.K.C title. However, it is something to looking forward to, not to worry about.

Associate of King’s College London    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/aboutkings/principal/dean/akc/index.aspx

“School Trip” to BISA

Towards the end of June, I attended the annual conference of British International Studies Association. It turned out to be both fruitful and fun, because my supervisor acted as the chair of my panel, making it feel like a school trip to Birmingham.

Most participants, including myself, only discovered that there was no projector at the spot, which meant our PPT slides could not work as planned. And I got quite nervous before the panel started, for it was my first presentation at such big conferences. My supervisor smiled and said, “You shouldn’t be nervous, since you’ll be doing presentations all your life!” Oops, I hope so, which means I can get my PhD in due time and become a scholar afterwards.

Unused PPTs

Themes of panels were quite scattered as it was a two-day conference. But it was interesting to notice that those who attended the same panels with me were actually the same group of people. I was lucky to get the chance to speak to them about their presentations and my own, also introducing my PhD project and asking for advice from the experienced scholars.

And I should not forget to thank my department, which reimbursed the registration fee as postgraduate research allowance. Though BISA was so expensive (100 pounds!) and didn’t even provide lunch, I still think it worth trying.

BISA    http://www.bisa.ac.uk/

Department of European & International Studies    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/europeanstudies/index.aspx

A Five Pound Grant

I’ve been receiving decline letters almost every day from various academic associations and charities, since I tried to exhaust every possibility for funding to support my upcoming fieldwork.

Yet there was one unique decline, which came in as a hand written letter, together with a five pound check. I was quite confused at first, for I’m not good at reading hand writings. It turned out that I was not eligible for the grant, but the secretary of the trust thought I was “good enough to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope”, so he would like to make a small contribution from his personal account. I was touched, and amused at the same time. Thanks to the PGR course Alternatives for Postgraduate Funding, the tutor of which reminded us kindly that we should always enclose stamped envelopes with applications.

I replied, also in a hand written letter, to say thanks, and that I would keep the check as lucky seed money, in the hope that I would succeed in future funding applications. Actually, this kind-hearted gentleman, who represented the honourable British tradition of generosity, inspired me, and I started thinking about academic sidelines. Next time I went to academic conferences, maybe I should bring a beautiful hat and raise money for my PhD fieldwork!

Postgraduate funding    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/study/pg/funding/sources/index.aspx

Alternative Funding guide    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/study/handbook/resources-links/altfund.aspx

Skill Forge (to book PGR courses)    https://training.kcl.ac.uk/kcl/index.jsf#

Venice Simulation

The amazing workshop on civil-military interaction jointly organised by King’s and the Italian Naval Staff College was more than words could express.

King’s participants discussed the tanker war and strategic choices under hypothetic U.S.-Iran conflict with Italian naval officers, and tutors from both institutions added inspiring comments. Opinions were presented in three groups, offering insights from different perspectives. It was also fruitful to communicate with Italian colleagues as they kindly shared their experiences in military service.

Italian Naval Staff College

The latter part of the 3-day event was occupied by visits to the Arsenal and the Naval History Museum. An officer from the Italian Navy, along with our tutor from King’s, led both tours and turned out to be excellent guides, without whom we wouldn’t have been able to learn in-depth knowledge and various anecdotes related to both sites.

The Arsenal

Our visit to the Naval History Museum

In terms of logistics, we did have some trouble in acquiring visa at first, but thing worked out with our tutor’s facilitation. On top of that, King’s DTC generously supported the workshop by covering the expenses of our accommodation at the Officer’s Club. I also applied to King’s Travel Award, hoping to reimburse the visa application fee and flight tickets, but unfortunately failed.

We enjoyed the workshop so much, and are sincerely grateful for our organisers and facilitators from both King’s and the Italian Naval Staff College.

Snapshots from Venice

King’s DTC   http://www.kcl.ac.uk/study/pg/school/dtc/welcome.aspx

King’s Travel Award Scheme    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/campuslife/services/grad/travelawards/index.aspx

Exams at King’s

Normally there are no exams to take for PhD students, as all methodology trainings are optional. But I got the rare chance to take an exam as I registered for the Japanese Culture course at King’s Modern Language Centre.

Unlike Chinese universities which always arrange exams on campus, this exam was scheduled at Excel London. It was far away from both Strand and where I lived, which meant I had to get up very early in the morning. The interesting thing was, after changed to DLR, the train seemed to have become a “King’s Exclusive” full of King’s exam candidates. I would feel like going on a school picnic if it was not for the serious looks on other students’ faces.

Candidates were so focused on exam preparation.

Second surprise came when I entered the exam room, which was so big that you might hear echoes (only if it was permitted to talk). Then I realised four different exams were held simultaneously, which seemed to be a creative arrangement that could maximise venue/human resources.

The third point I want to mention was not as amazing- it was so cold but coats were not allowed, and a transparent bag was required if you wanted to bring valuables with you to the exam desk.

I haven’t got the result of my Japanese exam yet, but I did enjoy the process despite the travel on tube, rainy weather, and cold exam room.

There were more happy faces after the exam.

“Events Bee” Buzzing around King’s

I recently went to an extremely inspiring lecture titled “Banker to the Poor: Lifting Millions Out of Poverty through Social Business”. The Nobel winner Muhammad Yunus shared stories about his legendary career. What impressed me most was he didn’t plan anything ambitious from the very beginning– everything started from his simple idea of helping people as he could. He emphasised that the society was not all fixed, and we should always have the courage to change.

King’s entitles its students the privilege to be an events bee, which I really appreciate. The Strand campus enjoys an ideal location, and holds many wonderful events itself—these are my first choice from the “events flora”. I also asked to be added to others departments’ mailing list, so I get information of events I’m interested in. Besides, I subscribed to various institutions including LSE, SOAS, and Daiwa Foundation, to get updates of their events. Though usually free, registration is essential. Sometimes luck plays an important role in getting tickets for popular events. Once I was refused entry, even though I got a ticket, because I was 10 minutes late.

To conclude, it’s more fun for me to go to quasi-academic events or exotic academic events out of my “research territory”.

King’s events    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/newsevents/events/index.aspx

LSE public events    http://www2.lse.ac.uk/publicEvents/eventsHome.aspx

Things to do in London    http://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do

Organising Our Own Conference

There is no need to make a fuss about academic conferences. I have participated in several, as presenter or audience, since I started my PhD at King’s. But how about organising one?

Our European Study Group has been preparing a postgraduate conference since April, and everything goes on quite well so far. It was fun when we first discussed the theme of the conference, then chores came. We sent out the call for papers and arranged room, registration, and catering. Finally, after the review of paper proposals, panels were organised and the conference programme was ready.

There were many anecdotes. Once we cancelled a meeting but failed to notice everyone. And when I sent out the call for papers to IR and Geography departments in U.K. universities and targeted at “real people” instead of departmental emails, to my embarrassment, I received a reply from a department manager, who was forwarded the email by the “real person”, asking why I didn’t send the circular to the correct address. Also, during my correspondence with King’s career centre concerning a short career development workshop to be held as part of our conference, I suggested a title for our career advisor’s talk, which she found too broad to fulfil…

Though conference organising takes some time and unexpected situations occur, I’m happy to be part of it and really look forward to a successful conference.

What is local? King’s Postgraduate Conference 2013    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/europeanstudies/eventrecords/2012-13/pgrconference.aspx