Chinese New Year

Happy Year of the Horse! As you may know, it is now the Chinese New Year, or ‘’.

Chinese New Year is a major traditional Chinese holiday celebrated in countries around the world, not just in China! Countries around the world with Chinese populations will celebrate the new year in a festival that will usually fall in January or February and lasts over two weeks.

China is a big country, and the way people celebrate Chinese New Year can vary a lot. Often however people will come together for dinner, clean out their houses, and hang red decorations for good luck – and light fireworks, exchange gifts and money in red envelopes.

The festival is very old, and according to mythology it originates with a mythical monster, the Nian, who would come on the first day of the new year to eat children. People would put out food to distract it, and noticed that it was scared of the colour red, and thus hung red lanterns and decorations to scare the monster away for good.

Manchester has it’s own Chinese New Year parade  which includes red decorations all over the city centre, lion dancers, martial arts demonstrations, art workshops and a 15 minute firework display in Manchester’s China town.

The International Office at MMU held a Chinese New  Year party as well – celebrating with decorations and food.


We also hung charts around the room to let people find out which Zodiac year they were born in!

Do you know which Zodiac year you were born in, and what that says about you? 


The International Society

Manchester is an incredibly cosmopolitan and multicultural city and all of its universities welcome international students warmly. The International Society is an independent, not-for-profit organisation unique to Greater Manchester. The Society provides cultural and social support to international students, to ensure that their stay in the city is a wonderful experience.

The International Society is committed to promoting international friendship, and celebrating cultural diversity. From its small beginnings in the 1960s the International Society now has around 7,000 members from over 130 countries.

The International Society is a great way to meet people from your home country and connect with people from all over the world. It is jointly owned by MMU, The University of Manchester and The University of Salford, allowing you to meet students from different universities who have also chosen to study in Manchester.

One of the great things the International Society organises are its trips around the UK. The Society organises at least one trip every weekend during term time and most weekends during the holidays. Trips coming up in January and February include York, Liverpool, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Old Trafford and Oxford. They also organise some overnight trips, for example, to Edinburgh and Bath and Stonehenge.

The Society also holds a number of different language classes including English conversation classes. Some of the other languages on offer in the Spring Term include Arabic, French and Portuguese. As well as classes, the International Society holds regular global evenings, for example, a Singaporean Evening to celebrate Chinese New Year.

One of the main purposes of the International Society is to support international students and their families. For that reason partners and children are welcome to attend all of the trips and events. In addition, there is a dedicated families group which meets every week.

If you want to experience everyday British life the Hospitality Scheme arranges for students to visit a British home on a number of occasions during their time in Manchester. Once linked with a family students are invited to their home to share a meal, perhaps Sunday lunch or afternoon tea, or even on a day trip out with the family.

In short, make sure you sign up to the International Society when you arrive in Manchester, to make the most out of your experience!

How to… apply to UCAS

UCAS is the UK’s online application system to apply for university. It might seem scary and confusing, but not to worry – it isn’t. Even as an international student, UCAS can be your way into the UK university of your choice, making the process of applying straightforward. From submitting your application to getting an offer, everything is in one place!

First of all, it is important to look at the UCAS deadlines. UCAS works with deadlines that are very important to stick to – if you are late handing in your application, you may miss the chance of getting a place at the university of your choice. Make sure that you consult the UCAS website and check which deadline applies for you and the course you are interested in studying.

For the 2014 cycle, you need to remember that 15th October at midnight is the deadline for Oxford or Cambridge, or any courses in medicine, veterinary medicine/science, and dentistry – even if you’re an international student. The normal deadlines for UK and EU students are the 15th January at 6pm for all other courses other than arts and design courses, for which the deadline is 24th March at 6pm. For international students outside of the EU, your final deadline is the 30th June. However, it is best to apply well before this date to ensure that places are still available (popular courses might book up), and leave enough time to arrange your visa, travel, accommodation, etc.

Before you apply to any courses through UCAS, make sure that you are eligible for the course you would like to apply to – you only get 5 choices – so if you are applying to courses for which you are not eligible, you are essentially wasting your ‘slots’. It is always wise to keep one ‘safe’ option which might not necessarily be your first choice, but you would be likely to be accepted for. Remember also that you can apply for more than one course at the same university.

Then, check whether your school or college is registered with UCAS Apply – if so, you will need to apply through your school, and they can help you with the process. If your school or college isn’t registered with UCAS Apply this isn’t a problem, you can still apply independently.

Either way, start applying! You can do this simply by clicking the ‘Apply’ button from the UCAS homepage. You will be asked to provide information about yourself and your qualifications. Ensure that everything is accurate and spelled correctly – this is the only chance you will get to represent yourself to the university you want to attend! Have all the information you need before you start – including qualifications, results, references and personal statements. Approach your referees to check they are happy to provide your references before you include their details. Make sure that you have written your personal statement ahead of time, proofread it, and had it checked by someone else before you enter it into the Personal Statement box.

Remember that UK students usually apply before they have received their final examination results – this is normal, and it’s not expected of you to have finished already. It does mean that some offers you receive might be conditional on getting certain results. If you still need to obtain your results, select ‘pending’ in the drop down list.

If you have the results of your qualifications already, you can add them at this point, make sure you give the original qualifications, and not what you think is the English equivalent. You will usually need to show your English Language Qualifications.

Finally, remember that you can save and come back to your application any time before you submit it – give yourself plenty of time, and look at it as a work in progress. That way there will be no last minute stress – don’t forget that for the 2014 cycle, the deadlines are now 6pm, rather than midnight.

There you go – everything you need to know about applying to UCAS as an international student. You are not the first international student to apply! As long as you take plenty of time and make sure you have all the information you need ready to go, you will be fine! Good luck!

Celebrating New Years in the UK

New Years Eve is celebrated on 31st December in many countries across the globe, including in the UK. For many, it is one of the biggest party nights of the year with events held in homes, pubs, bars and venues nationwide. Lots of people prefer to host parties at home, avoiding the crowds and costs of official parties, where canapés and champagne are served to toast in the New Year. Modern celebrations originate from Midwinter celebrations which were held across the British Isles since ancient times. These parties involved food and the lighting of big fires to tempt the sun to return.

Like many other cities, London hosts a spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks display. Every year, 250,000 people gather along the banks of the River Thames to see the fireworks launched from the London Eye, Big Ben and rafts on the river, with the capital city’s skyline providing a stunning backdrop to the display. The image of Big Ben chiming at midnight has become synonymous with the New Year celebration and is televised across the world.

Wherever they are, people turn on a radio or television just before midnight to see the countdown of the last few minutes of the old year.  As the clock strikes midnight, people often hug and kiss each other (even strangers) and it is traditional to sing Auld Lang Syne. This is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns sung along to the tune of a traditional folk song, which sees everyone cross their arms over each other before joining hands, and dancing.

Check out this YouTube video of Auld Lang Syne:

In Wales, Calennig is celebrated over New Year which includes a parade through Cardiff and the ancient custom of giving gifts and money on New Year’s morning, surviving to this day in the form of giving bread and cheese. In Scotland (where New Years is known as Hogmanay) and some parts of Northern England, people spend the last few hours of 31st December preparing to be or receive first-footers. A first-footer is the first person to cross the entrance of a home after the start of the New Year. They traditionally bring gifts to bring luck, such as whiskey, shortbread, coal and fruit cake which are shared amongst the guests. The focus of Hogmanay, one of the world’s most famous New Year celebrations, are in Edinburgh which hosts a huge street party along Princes Street, with  cannon fire  at Edinburgh Castle marking midnight, followed by a large fireworks display. Some smaller towns in Scotland like Stonehaven hold Fireball Festivals beginning at midnight, where giant balls of fire are swung by participants in a parade down the High Street, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Celebrations held across the UK often go on the early hours of New Year’s Day morning. The 1st January is a public holiday across the country (with a second public holiday on the 2nd January for Scotland) which allows people to recover from the late night. Many spend the day with family and friends, sometimes enjoying big roast dinner. Others visit the local high street to take advantage of the January sales (which now tend to start on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas Day) to grab a bargain. On New Year’s Day, a million spectators line the streets to watch the London parade, the biggest New Year’s Day event of its kind, honouring people from all the different boroughs in the city.

At this time of year, some people choose to make a New Year’s resolution, which is a promise that you make to yourself to stop doing something bad, or start doing something good, on the first day of the year. This might be joining a gym to get fit, or to quit smoking.

What New Year’s resolution will you be making this year?

Christmas in the UK

Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday in the UK. Despite being a Christian holiday, it is also celebrated almost universally outside the religious community and by a growing number of non-Christians too.

This post will tell you all you need to know about Christmas in the UK.

The Christmas season is the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, believed to be the son of God in the Christian faith, making his birth an important date in the Christian calendar. According to popular tradition, the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph travelled on a donkey from their home in Nazareth to Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem, to pay their taxes and take part in a census. On their arrival in Bethlehem, they found that all of the rooms across the city were full. Wherever they tried to find lodging, they were told, “There is no room at the inn”. Eventually, one innkeeper allowed them to spend the night in his stable. That night Mary gave birth to Jesus in the stable, surrounded by farm animals, where she laid him in a manger. Shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel and were the first to visit the baby. Three wise men also visited Jesus in the manger, guided by the Star of Bethlehem, which they believed signalled the birth of a King of the Jews. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the baby.

There are many services and traditions in churches associated with Christmas, however I will focus on the more secular traditions followed by most people in the UK.

The run up to Christmas is my favourite part of the year, and while many shops start preparing for Christmas in early autumn, I start celebrating at the beginning of December. In fact, while I am writing this, the International Office is decked out with tinsel and snowflakes! The most typical Christmas decoration is the Christmas tree, which became popular in England after Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, brought a Christmas tree over from his native Germany. The royal family were shown standing around the tree in a newspaper, and so the tradition began. This huge one is in the Business School here at MMU.


I also love Christmas songs, ranging from the religious carols sung by choirs and in church, to the secular favourites played on the radio throughout December. Here are some links to my favourites; the first two are traditional carols you might hear in a carol service.

O Come All Ye Faithful

Silent Night

The next two are popular Christmas songs that are heard everywhere all December. Feed the World is a charity Christmas song originally released in 1984 to raise money for anti-poverty efforts in Ethiopia.

Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas

Wham – Last Christmas

Manchester is an amazing place to be at Christmas time with the beautiful decorations in the city centre, two temporary outdoor ice rinks and the world famous Christmas markets. If you only do one thing in Manchester for Christmas, wander through over 300 chalet style stalls selling intricate gifts, sample a hog roll, Bratwurst sausage or crepe, and soak in the festive atmosphere.

One of the main traditions of Christmas is gift giving. Typically people buy presents for their family and friends, wrap them in Christmas paper (decorated with religious or secular pictures or phrases) and place them under the tree to be opened on Christmas morning. Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, delivers presents to children during Christmas Eve night and places them either under the Christmas tree, or in Christmas stockings. He delivers presents to children across the world by flying his sleigh – pulled by nine reindeer, led by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – and going down the chimney. Many homes leave out a glass of whisky and a mince pie for Father Christmas and a carrot for his reindeer, to re-fuel before the continue on their journey.

Christmas in my house involves opening my presents from Father Christmas with my brother as soon as we wake up. We then go downstairs and open our presents from family and friends with our parents and Grandma. Afterwards, we eat a big cooked breakfast and put the Christmas dinner in the oven. While my Mum and Grandma cook, my Dad, brother and I go to the village pub to say hello to our friends over a quick drink. We return to the house to help with the last preparations for the Christmas dinner of turkey, roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, pigs in blankets, stuffing, Brussels sprouts and cranberry or bread sauce. Before we eat the dinner, we pull Christmas crackers, telling the jokes, and wearing the paper crowns found inside them. After dinner, my family settle down to watch a classic Christmas film. My personal favourites are the very British Love Actually, Elf and The Snowman.

If you do not celebrate Christmas you might be wondering what to do on Christmas day while most people are with their families. A popular thing to do is to go for a Chinese meal followed by a trip to the cinema. Chinatown and Rusholme will be very busy with the sizeable proportion of Mancunians who do not celebrate Christmas, so why not gather some friends and go out for a big lunch or dinner? Alternatively, cook up a traditional Christmas dinner and see what all the fuss is about!

Tell us about the Christmas traditions in your own country or about what happens in your favourite holiday in the comments section below.

Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays if you do not celebrate!

An insider’s guide to Manchester

Eating out

The Curry Mile, Rusholme, Manchester

The Curry Mile, Rusholme, Manchester

There are great cafes on campus at MMU serving a selection of sandwiches, snacks and hot meals at rock-bottom prices. The coffee is good too and cheap at £1.45 for a latte. To avoid crowds, go to Couch Potato food-truck outside All Saints Park; the usual greasy stuff but grab a hot dog with onions for £1! Oxford Road has many popular spots to eat – too many to mention – so it’s best just to go exploring! Walk down Oxford Road (or jump on a bus) and you reach the famed Curry Mile, so called because of number of Asian and Middle eastern restaurants, takeaways and kebab shops found on it. The largest concentration of South Asian restaurants outside the Indian subcontinent, with over 70 establishments in a one half mile stretch, there is tonnes of choice.

Dogs'n'dough restaurant, Manchester

Dogs’n’dough restaurant, Manchester

If you want something different, Dogs n Dough is a basement restaurant offering gourmet hot dogs, or pizza served in a takeaway box. On Sundays, you get free sides with any main! Hunters BBQ is a late-night café specialising in game curries. Grubby chic at its best, enjoy mismatched crockery, cheap cutlery and a slightly tatty interior as you tuck into pheasant, rabbit, venison or even quail! If you’re having one of those days deciding what you fancy, head to The Printworks, home to countless restaurants to choose from.

The Printworks, Manchester

The Printworks, Manchester


With 85,000 students, the social scene in Manchester is vast, but there are a few hubs to head towards. Oxford Road (known as the Student Quarter) is stretches 2 miles down to the Curry Mile, and littered with superb places, many offering deals on food & drink. The Northern Quarter is another lively area well worth a visit with a bewildering choice of bars. Whether you’re gay or straight, the Village – scattered around the famous Canal St – has over 25 friendly, tolerant venues offering great music and atmosphere.


For a city which gave us the likes of Oasis, The Chemical Brothers, The Smiths, Happy Mondays and Simply Red, music is a big deal here. You will find live music played regularly in the hundreds of bars and pubs across the city. For big names in the music industry, a must-stop is the Phones4U Arena (or the Manchester Arena) – one of the busiest music venues in the world.

The National Football Museum and Old Trafford Football Stadium, home of MUFC

Top: The National Football Museum
Bottom: Old Trafford, home of MUFC


Sport is an important part of Mancunian life, with the bitter rivalry between two of England’s great clubs; Manchester United and Manchester City. A tour of the Trafford and Etihad stadiums are well worth it for footy fans. The National Football Museum is open 7 days a week and home to the world’s greatest football collection with over 140,000 items to see. The 2002 Commonwealth Games left a lasting sporting legacy in the city including fantastic venues like the City of Manchester Stadium, the Manchester Velodrome, the National Squash Centre and the Manchester Aquatics Centre. Rugby League is popular in the North West so why not check out a game, or watch a cricket match at the 155 year-old Old Trafford ground, one of the most famous in the world!

The Arndale and Trafford Shopping Centres

Top: The Arndale Shopping Centre
Bottom: The Trafford Centre


Shopping is a huge draw for anybody coming to Manchester. There are two massive shopping malls, the Arndale (2nd biggest shopping centre in the UK boasting Europe’s biggest food court and UK’s busiest cinema ) and Trafford Centre (6th biggest but the most visited, with 41 million visitors.) Both contain hundreds of shops including all the big names. Afflecks Palace is must-see gem full of vintage and quirky stores. If you aren’t shopping, it’s still a great place to look around. The area surroudning it boasts more vintage stores, haberdasheries and vinyl exchanges. Spinningfields is home to some of the more upmarket shops like All Saints, Armani and Ted Baker – the destination to go if you are looking to treat yourself.

John Rylands Library

John Rylands Library

Hidden gems

A must-see is the stunning John Ryland’s Library. Regarded as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s Gothic style architecture – inside and out – transforms you to a different world. It may not be an obvious destination, but it is one of the most impressive with great exhibitions alongside medieval illuminated manuscripts dating to the 1400’s, making it an amazing space to learn, visit and study in!

Ski or snowboard on the UK’s longest indoor slope at Chill Factore or indoor-skydive next door at Airkix. For something more relaxing, check out Heaton Park with an historic hall, farm and animal centre, boating lake and tram museum to visit. On rare sunny days, head to St. Johns gardens – just off Lower Byrom St – a little known green oasis is in the heart of the city, perfect for a picnic! Wherever you are in the city, you will see the rolling hills of the Pennines on the horizon. Never forget that the Peak District is literally on your door step – a short car or train journey – will take you to some of the most beautiful, idyllic countryside the UK has to offer!

Manchester horizon and Peak District

Top: Manchester horizon
Bottom: Peak District

Tell us about your favourite places in Manchester in the comment’s section below!


A guest blog by David Heffer.

Behind the scenes of an MMU International live tour!

I’ve written about Connect to MMU before on this blog. Connect to MMU is a series of informative and interesting online events which give international students the chance to learn more about MMU and being a student here. As part of Connect to MMU we run live tours of our faculties to give prospective international students an insight into where and what they might study.

Yesterday we broadcast a live tour of the School of Art’s impressive new Benzie Building. You can see a recording of the tour here.

Although the Benzie Building is the new School of Art building, there are excellent facilities for art students in the Grosvenor and Chatham buildings too. For example, the Chatham building has a glass hot shop, ceramics and plaster, wood, metal and chemical workshops, laser cutting, a 3D printer, animation suites, photography resources including a darkroom, art studios and the amazing Holden Gallery.

Zee is our friendly student tour guide, and he loves to show prospective international students around MMU. Check out the pictures below for a sneak peek behind the scenes of our School of Art live tour!

photo 4

Our camera woman Lara frames the opening shot of the tour.

photo 3

Lara and tour guide Zee share a joke as they start the tour.

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Zee answers a student’s question on the stairs in the Benzie Building.


A new director for MMU International!

We have a new Director of International here at MMU!

Stephen Parkin was appointed as Director in October 2013. Before joining MMU International, Stephen has worked at a number of UK universities and also StudyGroup. Before starting his career in Higher Education in the UK, Stephen taught English in various countries including China, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

Stephen says “I am delighted to be working at such as great university in the heart of Manchester to help develop Manchester’s International profile”.


Advent – the countdown begins!

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.

Although it is a Christian tradition, many people observe Advent outside of the church community. The most common symbol is a special calendar used to count or celebrate the days in anticipation of Christmas. Despite the name, most commercially available Advent calendars begin on 1st December, regardless of when Advent begins, which can be as early as 27th November and as late as 3rd December. Many take the form of a large rectangular card with “windows” of which there are usually 24: one for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day. One is opened every day leading up to Christmas. The calendar windows open to reveal an image, poem, a portion of a story (such as the story of the Nativity of Jesus) or a small gift, such as a toy or a chocolate item.


Another symbol counting down to Christmas is an Advent candle, where the candle is lit daily to melt a small section for each day of December leading up to Christmas.


Advent calendars are already available in the shops, so who will be joining me in eating my chocolate treat before breakfast every day?

A day in the life of….Exchanges and Study Abroad Administrator

photoMeet Andy, our Exchanges and Study Abroad Administrator. Andy graduated from MMU in June 2013 with a First Class degree in Computer and Network Technology. While an MMU student, Andy worked as a Student Ambassador, helping with Exchanges and the International Welcome.

A typical day for Andy starts with a hot dog on his way into the office. When he arrives, Andy checks in with the Student Hub staff to see if any students have submitted documents to the Exchanges team.

Andy’s first big job of the day is processing students’ applications that have arrived in the post.  First, he inputs all the details into the Exchanges database. He then passes a copy of the application to the Direct Admissions team, for inputting into the student records system. Andy sends the original copy to the departmental coordinator so that they can make a decision on whether to issue an offer. Once Andy receives a positive response, he sends the offer out to the student.

Andy then checks any urgent emails that have arrived overnight and responds to student and staff emails and over the phone.

Andy works closely with the Finance team to get students’ Erasmus grants paid to them. He receives the documents that students submit and then gets approval from departmental coordinators at both MMU and the students’ host institution.

If Andy does not have to deliver an Exchanges talk, he is planning talks for students about their exchange options for the academic year 2014/2015.

A large part of Andy’s job involves working closely with MMU’s partner institutions to provide accurate course information and ensure that the course is the right fit for the student’s exchange.