Passing on what little wisdom I have

In so many ways I’m glad I’m not a fresher anymore! I really hate awkward small talk and your first year is full of it. So, what subject are you doing? What halls are you staying in? Where are you from? It gets a little repetitive. You can be a maverick and open the conversation with a curveball question like “So what type of dragon would you have, if you could own one?” But, as much as I like pondering such scenarios, in my experience, people don’t like to be caught off-guard. You will meet a lot of people trying to act ‘normal’ (although, everyone’s weird on the inside) therefore you might play at being ‘normal’ yourself.

A friend that I work with is starting university this October and so I’ve been thinking of various tips and pearls of wisdom I might give her. I found the first 3 months really hard but I don’t want to tell her, or anyone, that for fear of putting her off. She’ll have a great time, I know that for certain, but not everyone will have an amazing experience. So here is what I have to say to you, my fellow misfits. Firstly, I’ve already written about finding your kin and this takes work. Nothing in life simply falls into your lap; you have to work at it and actively seek out situations and experiences. If you feel that you and that girl really into country music had the tender beginnings of friendship then you should take her number, add her on Facebook (or any other social networking platform), and arrange to go to a barn dance (or something like that.) Go to societies and events that correspond to your interests – you know for certain then that you must have something in common with everyone else in the room! I went on a historical walking tour of Exeter and had a good chat with a fellow history enthusiast who had happened to have heard of my home town. That was an exciting moment – someone actually knows where I’m from! After having to tell a hundred people that it’s in Kent and about an hour from London you would have been excited too.

Secondly, the people you meet in freshers’ week aren’t necessarily going to be your best friends for life. I don’t even remember half the people I met! The same goes for your flatmates. Unfortunately, I had very little connection with most of them because I am, what I have termed, a ‘day dweller’ and they were ‘night dwellers’. Meaning, I liked to sleep at night and party hard during the day while they were the opposite. In fact, one of the only people I’m still close with after freshers’ I am now living with, and I refer to her as my husband because we bicker like a couple. But, again, that friendship took effort (and a whole Easter holiday together). I met all of my best friends through my friends I knew from school and we couldn’t be a closer bunch. When I started university, I was determined to be independent and establish my own group all by myself but I think this is what caused me to struggle so much – I had cut myself off from everyone I know. If there is one lesson you can learn from me it is that you should maintain the relationships you already have; I probably wouldn’t still be at Exeter without my school friends.

Lastly, money-wise, I have a few tips to share. I learnt from the best; my Exeter parents, (what I call my friends), have shown me all their tricks to eating and living cheaply. The pound shops in Exeter (and they are abundant) should become your best friends – there is nowhere else on the planet you will find Maryland cookies for 29p! Also, I have lived off the basics ranges from all the supermarkets and have not, as yet, caught food poisoning. Some of it is actually pretty tasty. I recommend Tesco’s onion and garlic pasta sauce (with some bacon, if you have the cash to spare.) I have a weakness for Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference sausages, but if I can resist so can you! In our flat we like to batch cook our meals and freeze them, and if you do it right (unlike me who ended up eating chilli every night for two weeks) you can happily feed yourself for up to a month. This is really handy over exam season (or when you eventually catch freshers’ flu) and you just can’t be bothered to cook.

That’s it, I think. Hopefully I have helped you on your adventure through university. Remember to embrace every opportunity, and good luck!

That “What Am I Doing With My Life?” Feeling

Have you ever had that thought whilst watching some young child genius on the TV, who can recite Pi to a billion decimal places whilst playing Bach as a warm up before they cure cancer, that you’ve seriously been underachieving in your life? That your whole life up until this present point has somehow been wasted? Moreover, you feel like you were never likely to be that successful at such a young age and probably never will be; this kid is 5 and already has surpassed your life’s expectations. A depressing thought, I know, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve been having this feeling recently myself. A friend of mine just went traveling around Europe for a month. Another has an amazing internship lined up. An old school friend is engaged and just bought a house. I’m not in the least bit jealous of the last friend – the thought of a mortgage and a marriage is enough to scare the pants off me. Nevertheless, what all three of my friends have in common is that they are pursuing their respective dreams. My dreams seem permanently on hold and stagnating right now; I feel like I’m constantly waiting for them to come into fruition, appearing before me in a puff of smoke. When the opportunities do come about I chicken out – the reality is almost too much to handle and I get scared!

What I really want to do is travel but the biggest barrier for me is money. Having not worked before this summer and not receiving any money from my parents, the balance in my savings account has been sitting at a big fat zero. The job should sort this problem out but there is a small voice in my head (probably my mother’s) telling me I should be saving it for a rainy day. What if something happens? What if my laptop breaks? What if I need a little extra rent money? These are all valid concerns but they are by no means reasons to stop me! My plan was to take a study abroad year in Germany – so committed was I that I’ve been on Duolingo (almost) every day to get my German up to scratch and I’m even taking modules in the language next year. This seems to be a more stable way to travel; movement is limited to one city but I’d have accommodation for the year and I’d get to study in my own language (thank goodness! I struggle enough arguing in English – I don’t know how I’d cope in German considering I can’t even order a cup of tea yet.) But, lo, I have almost chickened out again! “Don’t I want to graduate with all my friends?” I have asked myself, “What if I become isolated and depressed again?” Yes, ok, the possibility of my mood dropping is a huge potential threat for me. So, what am I to do if I want to achieve my dream?

The answer is hard to swallow; you just have to DO IT. My Nan is a huge inspiration of mine. She’s not perfect, by far, but you cannot say she hasn’t had an exciting life. Apparently, she was set up on a date by Harrold MacMillan! In a way, she is everything I aim to be: independent, free-spirited, and adventurous. She’s been all over the world and has amazing stories to tell because of it, and the reason she was able to go out and do all these things is because she took huge risks. She leapt head-first into every situation and because of this she is able to look back with a sense of pride. Stepping outside your front door every day is a huge risk, in a sense, so why should it stop me from going further away from home? So, long story short, ignore your inhibitions (I never paid much attention to my mum’s warnings when I was little anyway), take risks, and pursue dreams at all costs.

Why do all career paths feel like Cardiac Hill?

This summer is all about jobs for me. “Are you going on holiday?” my friends ask. *Chuckle* Not likely! First, I had to set myself up for the 3 months I am away from university. To be quite honest, I was in desperate need for the money – I cannot live off my ‘home-made’ chilli con carne every day for another year. But this wasn’t my true intention; what I really wanted a job for was to get out of the house. I catch cabin fever very quickly when I’m at home because, unfortunately, my home has never felt like ‘home’. I used to live in a beautiful town called Tunbridge Wells; my friends would remind me that while I lived there I couldn’t wait to get away from it but anything is better than the suburban, white picket fences that are closing in on me now. So, to Tunbridge Wells I had to go, to reclaim my new found adult-independence and freedom (but also to earn some money to buy a Nerf gun so I can shoot my new house mates in September.)

I was lucky to find a job quickly; last year I was still searching in August. My parents seemed to put a lots of pressure on me to get a job both this year and last; they don’t seem to understand that you can’t just walk into a place and get hired. The career climate is not beneficial for us students at the minute if you’re only looking for temporary work, moreover, the competition is fierce. I would tell you not to be disheartened if you are looking for work over the summer – right now is not our time. But, what I’ve found to be the most effective method is printing off copies of your CV (I handed out about 25 this year) and hand them to employers in person. This way you get to make an immediate good impression that can’t be received in the same way through paper or a computer screen. Also, try to make yourself as available and flexible as possible; employers are looking for employees to fit their needs, and they may be reluctant to fit to yours.

My working hours currently are scattered all over the month and so I’m luckily left with a few days free here and there. During these times I’m trying to work on my future career path, looking up internships, trying to build a résumé, and catching odd opportunities where and when I see them. Deciding what you want to do with your life is hard. Full stop. Am I certain on what I want to do? Hell no! When I was in reception I wanted to be a witch, just like Hermione Granger, and everyone laughed at me. The memory still stings a little bit because I was always told I could be whatever I wanted to be and growing up you realise that, really, this isn’t true. The more decisions you make the more you narrow down your options without realising; I wanted to be a doctor in year seven but that’s no longer possible because I’ve been focused on humanity subjects since GCSE.

It’s scary and I’m currently on the brink of an existential crisis. But if there is one thing a philosopher is good at it is just accepting, even revelling, in the chaos. A friend of mine once repeated some advice her mother gave her: if you do something you love then you will never have to work a day in your life. This seems ideal! I don’t want to work at all really – in an ideal world I’d stay at university for the rest of my life, keep doing degrees, pile up a student loan I’ll never pay back, and die a poor but well-educated woman. Unfortunately, the system doesn’t work like that so I have to think about what else I’m passionate about. I love writing, reading, drawing, photography, and most other creative pursuits. So here was my answer: I have to work in a field where I’m constantly creating something.

Therefore, in my days off work, I am trying to constantly create things. Writing, drawing, reading and editing – as much as I can. The more ‘work’ I do the more experience I gain and the more I have to show off when someone decides they might want to employ me. This is my advice to those of you who don’t know what to do with your life: find what your love and keep doing it over and over, more and more. If you get sick of it, then you probably shouldn’t make a career of it, but if it just makes you thirsty to do more then you’re on to a winner.

The Keyboard is Mightier than the Sword

I have been contemplating recently (considering the effects of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and to a far lesser extent my last post) about the impact of non-verbal human communication meaning writing, drawing, music, art, theatre and even just body language. Words and pictures can produce a greater reaction sometimes than what we say to each other and for that reason they are powerful tools – tools for positive change if we use them correctly.

My aim in writing myself, however, is not to empower the average person protesting but to express my newfound appreciation and value in writing. What I have learnt over the Christmas holidays is that not only is writing making changes in the world around us but within ourselves also. I’m very fond of writing letters for this very reason; when I am worked up about something they help me clear my thoughts and organise them coherently so I can understand clearly what I’m feeling (and whether those feelings are justified.) They also give me time to choose my words carefully because, as I have learnt from studying English and painfully analysing author’s words in minute detail, they can have a huge influence on the overall effect of what you’re writing. When I’m writing to myself I need time to select the word that most accurately describes my emotion because pinning and encapsulating such an abstract thing in language is cathartic in some way. Even now I’m picking my words tentatively to explain to you this experience, but I fear I might not be doing a good job!

When I write to somebody else, on the other hand, the words are also cherry picked not necessarily to express how I feel but in the best way to make them understand, empathise, or react. Let me give you an example and I can hope that clears things up. Someone I used to know said some things to me that were quite hurtful and I didn’t think it was fair of them to make the excuses that they did. It made me so angry that I just couldn’t let it go! I felt like I wanted some kind of justice or justification for what they said – so I wrote them a letter. Without sending it and capturing all my thoughts on that page, the anger went away. But it seemed to me the letter must be sent otherwise this person may say the same thing to someone else and, to my surprise, they were completely apologetic. It was a small win but one that made such a difference to my mood. The key here was not sending them hate-mail (no matter how tempting it is at the time – and, believe me, it is hard to stop yourself going on a mad rant) but manipulating your words to make them understand.

So here is my real message to you students: write more! You don’t have to write letters but a diary would do. If you’re feeling brave enough for the public to peep into your private life then keep a blog. Some people find writing to strangers oddly liberating – I know I do. Also, be careful of those words of yours. How many times have we been in arguments where we have said something hurtful or something we didn’t mean? Writing allows us to blow off steam or say what we really want to express without hurting anyone. Being a student is stressful enough as it is!

All’s Fair in Love and War

Today was the day of the Fresher’s Fair and I sensed (but also I was clued in by the fact that the ATM’s apparently ‘run out on days like today’) that – in my brain’s own words – “something crazy is about to go down.” And it didn’t disappoint. I deliberately put off going until mid-to-late afternoon hoping the swarms of people would have died down, but I made a fatal miscalculation. Since most students would have been out drinking the night before (while I was happily marathoning ‘Hannibal’ and avoiding fresher’s flu which has already infected 2 of my roommates) they wouldn’t be conscious until 1pm the following day, and not stumbling onto campus until 2pm. So when I arrived at 2:30pm, skipping along to find a society to join, I got swept into a lazy wave of freshers.

I come from a town called Tunbridge Wells where a lot of the population walk around like Londoners, constantly rushing for some train somewhere, and so I’m used to that stream of people not the occasional dawdlers at the fair who would stop in the most inconvenient places. As a philosophy student I feel like I should have more patience but when I have a goal or place to be I’m like a moving train with no brakes – I can’t be stopped.

Also, the Tunbridge Wells girl has a browsing technique when we shop; we don’t stop moving unless something catches our eye, even then it is to a suitable location so as to not be an inconvenience to others, but at all other times we ‘scan’ and pan round with our eyes. The technique doesn’t seemed to have infiltrated the south west so I’m having to adjust and acclimatise in this new environment. I came out successful, however, with some free packets of Haribo and my memberships to the creative writing and philosophy societies.

From what I’ve heard it’s standard procedure to oversubscribe, join more societies than you’re able to attend and end up dropping most of them so I took the opposite approach. ‘Less is more’ but that phrase has always been lost on me – surely more is more, and less is less? They’re binary opposites, right? I think undersubscribing is perhaps a better technique because that way you don’t spend out for clubs you won’t attend also I’m (pretty) sure you can still join later in the term.

I actually put a lot of thought into my choice. I wanted something social where I could meet like-minded people, so sport was out of the question for me being neither sporty nor a team player. I also thought ahead as to how the societies can help me in my future. Philosophy Soc will help me with my degree and I’m hoping Creative Writing Soc will carry me through after that when I become a struggling writer (my ideal career being like Ross and his music in ‘Friends’ to which Phoebe described him as ‘not appreciated in his own time.’) I’m also hoping that with the extra time I might get some of this book written which I’ve been planning for about 2 years. It is currently only 4 pages long but my procrastination skills have come along in leaps and bounds those 2 years!

Finding Your Kin and the Fear of Being Alone

I’m writing this at 8:23pm when most freshers right now are probably at the pub. I would much rather be at the campus cinema watching ‘X-Men’ but I’ve opted for a night in…on my second day…the reason being that I don’t want to go alone. The fear is judgement. That I might look sad going to watch a movie by myself. The catch is that I very well might find my kin when I am there, my fellow nerd girls and scifi lovers which, in the long run, could mean I might not go alone to the next film. Dare I say it, I might make friends! But I know I’m not the only one who’s feeling lonely. Fresher’s Week is a time for socializing which can be hard if you have what I call a ‘fantastic personality’ (i.e. you’re a bit weird.) My friends and I were extremely close when I left my secondary school and so I’m finding it harder than most to reach out to new people. Rejection is another factor that scares the pants off of all of us.

Nevertheless, I have learnt much and you too, padawan, can learn from my example. A friend told me before I got here to say “YES!” to everything and try as much as you can. My advice is both similar and different (yes, I realise that is a contradiction) and say yes to the things you will really enjoy but more than that you ought to follow through with that yes. If you’ve circled the heavy metal society in your booklet then actually go! Do not let the fact that your mates/flatmates/mates you made on the Facebook fresher’s group don’t want to go prevent you from checking it out. Me? I’m an amateur scifi fan so I popped down to the scifi society taster session. I procrastinated, telling myself that if I couldn’t find the place I would turn back but eventually I persisted and found the group. What I found there was more precious to me than the last packet of cookies in the cupboard – Fannibals or, for those of you that don’t know, Hannibal fans. I had finally found my kin. If only I had been wise enough to gather numbers so I could find a cinema buddy! Alas!

My second piece of advice is pacing. This lesson I have learned today when I went back and forth from campus to my halls in-between events, totalling an hour and a half walking time today. I have no idea what I was thinking when I decided to walk back a fourth time to see this film! Also, I realise that walking home alone in the dark for the third time this week might be pushing my luck. The tiredness is kicking in and now I have very little enthusiasm for anything. A pearl of wisdom from my boyfriend today: take a book. Sitting on the grass reading while you wait for the next event doesn’t look sad or lonely but sophisticated and someone very well might come up to so and ask what you’re reading. Ta-dah! Insta-friend!