After a hectic Christmas, I have already submitted my first deadline of 2016 and am currently preparing to move back down to Exeter for the start of Term 2. New modules and challenges lie ahead, so I thought I may take the time to consider what I can do to make life easier for myself in the coming months by looking back at the previous term. These are not New Year’s resolutions as such, as I am terrible at keeping them, but more guidelines to help keep me on track while I tackle the new term.
Having spent most of Christmas in the kitchen eating everything that I could find, I thought that my student diet may be good place to start when considering the New Year. Now, I know many people try and change their diet after Christmas and do not always do so well, so I have decided not to make any radical changes, I just won’t spend all day with one hand in a packet of crisps and the other in a pack of mince pies.
Before coming to Exeter, I would have classed myself as a foodie. Not necessarily in the regard that I’m a vegetarian, gluten-free lover or self-nutritionist as some claim, but it was all goats cheese tarts, spinach and ricotta. However, like many others who have come away to university, my eating habits have degraded and I can no longer make that claim. All originality has vanished and cooking has gone from being a hobby, to a chore, simply a source of stress. The small self-catered kitchen in my Birks flat has become daunting, consisting of large piles of washing up, lacking clean surface space due to the remnants from last nights ‘flat party’ still remaining.
At the beginning of this academic year, I was asked by the Student Blog team to have a look at creating something with the One Second Everyday app to document day-to-day life as a student in my second year. It’s been an ongoing project in which I’ve been taking a second long video each day of what I’ve been up to – whether it be a day in the library actually getting some work done, a basketball away game, my parents coming to visit and taking me to Cornwall or just nights in fooling around with my housemates. By choosing just a second a day I’ve obviously had to be very selective, and this video has by no means caught the best (or the worst) moments of this term where I’ve invariably not had my phone to hand, but it is nonetheless, I think, a lovely collection of memories and short but sweet insight into student life.
And just like that, my exchange term in Exeter has come to an end. I’ve made a little loop around London and will be catching a flight to be home for the holidays. My time in Exeter was amazing and I need to also extend a huge thank you to all the incredible people I met that made my time in Exeter so. There’s so much I’m going to miss here. Looking back, I’m really thankful that I had this blog and the opportunity to even be a blogger. I’m usually pretty terrible at keeping a travel log about all my trips, but this blog really pushed me to do that and I’m grateful I had this opportunity.
I’ve learned a lot throughout my experience and I’ve grown in a variety of ways. It sounds so cliché but I think that once you go on exchange, you encounter different people and circumstances that will compel you to undergo change.
And that was it. My last week of classes and my last full week in Exeter. I still remember quite clearly the very first time I walked to campus (it was dark and rained like cats and dogs), my first impressions of Exeter walking along the high street, my first couple of lectures. It seems like just yesterday I had all these firsts and now it’s come to me counting up all the lasts.
My professor for Modern Irish Literature, Dr. Ellen McWilliams, was so sweet and lovely and threw a little party for our seminar group with munchies and goodies. I think the last time I had a party in school was probably way back in elementary school. In my Dream Palace seminar, Dr. Lisa Stead also gave us all little treats at the end of class. This semester was the first time ever that Dream Palace has run so it felt kind of cool being a part of pioneer class for the module and sort of making a bit of history. If you’re in year 2 and wavering as to whether or not to take Modern Irish Literature or Dream Palace next year, I say go for it. It’s 110% worth it and you’ll get so much out of either or both of those classes!
Happy December! Time is really flying for me. I can’t help but find it a little odd that it’s December and there’s no snow, but the gales of wind and sporadic showers of rain are doing their very best to make up for it. I found out the other day that they have wind warnings here and I thought it was just the strangest thing. But then I thought about how we have cold warnings at home and how out of place that concept is in a place like Exeter, and then the wind warnings made a touch more sense.
For those of you concerned with my academic wellbeing, I have indeed started one of the essays I promised I’d start writing in my last blog post. I’m quite excited for this actually (I know that sounds super lame). But I’ve really loved Modern Irish Literature and I’m quite happy with the topic I’ve decided to marry (I borrowed that brilliant expression from my lecturer).
The number of weeks I’ve been here has hit the double digits! And the temperatures here have finally broken into the single digit range so at last I felt like it was acceptable to break out my “winter” coat. Back home, I’m used to saving my winter coat for when it’s absolutely a necessity because if you start wearing your winter jacket when it’s only kind of cold and not freezing cold, you’ll have nothing warm enough to wear when it’s freezing cold. I don’t think I really needed to apply this mentality here in Exeter but some habits die hard.
I believe it’s also acceptable to announce to the world that the Christmas season has official descended! We had a light-up ceremony on Thursday in Princesshay, which is like the central shopping district/square; it was all very exciting and lots of good fun. I’m not sure if we have these light-up ceremonies back home; I feel like we would and I’ve just never paid enough attention to know that they were going on. I’ll have to make a note to keep a lookout for it next year. I feel like I keep saying I’ll do all these things once I get back and it’s all just going to amass into this one big list; perhaps I’m better off saying that I’ll go back home and try and be a little bit more of a tourist instead of subtly avoiding it.
Homesickness is by far the largest difficulty I have had to face during first term. After ten weeks here things have become noticeably easier, though there are still days I wind up longing for the familiarity and comforts of the place my life existed until September. And this is perfectly natural. When you’ve been working for years toward one thing (which subconsciously you imagine will deliver you to a life of partying and sophistication a la Brian in Starter for Ten) there’s bound to be some degree of collapse when you finally get there. Sometimes starting out somewhere new can feel like too much and too little at the same time, and nostalgia for the security of the past is not a sign of weakness and failure.
Some students breeze into university life – straight from boarding school or an extended period of travelling, perhaps – without giving what they’re leaving behind a second thought. But I for one was never going to be one of those people. I have spent two decades in my small, rural hometown, living, working and learning. My friendships date back to nursery and infant school; a childhood’s worth of memories rattle around the houses I have lived in. Tearing myself from the world I had built up over the years was never going to be easy, though that isn’t to say it would be impossible.
Here is some advice I have acquired for those struggling with homesickness at university. It is a ‘sickness’, after all, and treatment exists…
“It will be the best years of your life” was something I heard a lot before starting university. The process of moving away to study holds a kind of mythical status: whilst in sixth form, it represents an ideal of independence; for misty-eyed relatives and teachers, submerged by commuter trains and a nine-to-five, it’s a rose-tinted memory of carefree freedom. Yet in the thick of life as a fresher it can feel like something else entirely. Balancing new academic challenges with a deluge of pressures on finance, image, sexuality and social behaviour can be hugely isolating and overwhelming – especially if you have to learn to use a hob and a washing machine at the same time.
Things are doubly testing if you have done them all before and have it not work out. I started at Exeter this September after leaving another institution halfway through my first term last year and even the thought of returning to education was terrifying.
Second year is well and truly underway as everyone collectively realises just how much work they have to do. Scrolling through ELE, reading lists and questions about topics you’ve never even heard of fill your screen. Perhaps these are problems you can deal with once you’ve made that colourful calendar which you’ve been meaning to devise since arriving back in Exeter 7 weeks ago.
While such challenges of second year are certainly making themselves known, this year is so far suiting me far better than last year. Originally I imagined the transition between first and second year would be going from the excited fresh faced 18 year old who is ready to see the world to a tired student who’s lack of sleep and constant stress leaves them unable to tell the difference between their toothbrush and mascara.
Tuesday October 13th marked me having been in Exeter for one month – I can hardly believe it! It seems like everything has just flown by. I feel like I’ve been here a lot longer than I actually have, and I can bet I’ll feel like I hardly spent any time here when it is time to leave.
This week was a bit of a milestone week as I also handed in my very first couple of assignments on Thursday. Exeter uses an electronic submission system and while it’s very sustainable of them, I have to admit that handing things in online scares me a little. I’m someone who likes things to be more tangible and I quite revel in the feeling of having a printed copy of my essay and giving it away to the professor for him/her to decide my fate. Submitting something electronically gives me the impression I’m giving away my efforts to an abyss. To be fair though, I did like the fact that I got to hand it in whenever I pleased instead of waiting for class time and having six pieces of stapled paper feel like the weight of the world in my bag.
(I really need to branch out from the whole list thing in my next post)
We’re into week 4 of first term, and things are getting back into a routine of sorts. I’m beginning to learn my housemates’ timetables (since mine doesn’t exactly require much memorisation), we’ve made the trek to Morrisons’ for weekly food shops a few times, had our first house party, set up a cleaning rota that would be impressive if it survives the month, and already had our various existential-degree-related crises. The whole 4 hours a week thing is taking some getting used to, but I think I’m getting the hang of structuring my own time. I’m busier than I thought I would be with society committee responsibilities, playing basketball and now writing an online fortnightly Features column for Exeposé; but I’m not complaining. Busy is best for me, and I’m more than happy to accept the late nights and early starts as long as it doesn’t mean I’m languishing in bed till midday everyday feeling purposeless.
All that being said, I’m (typically) writing this the day before my first deadline of the year, so I’m going to keep it short and sweet for once! Second year is already shaping up to be very different from first, so I thought I’d have a look at some of the main differences I’ve noticed so far.
As of late, I’ve found that I’m beginning to notice less the stark differences between here and home and rather, more embracing what is here that I would not have, or see, or be able to experience back home. I feel more like I’m a participatory observer versus an outsider looking in, and it’s a refreshing perspective.
Last weekend, I looked outside to see my very first lunar eclipse. I stayed up to see a part of the eclipse and then gave in to sleepiness, but I managed to wake around 3:30am when there was supposed to be the supermoon; therefore, despite my tiredness, I managed to get my eyes open and myself out of bed to look out the window. The entire spectacle happened at much more reasonable hours for my North American friends, but from what I heard, I think I had the better view so I guess you win some, you lose some.
I decided that it was kind of boring if all my blog titles just always consisted of dates so I tried to jazz it up a little. We’ll see how that goes. Perhaps my lack of foresight for my titles gestures at the fact that I might not be a very forward thinker, but hey, from here on out, it can only get better, right?
And the same can be said for my second week in Exeter. This is going to sound super nerdy, but this past week was the first week of classes and I have to say, I quite enjoyed it. I felt in my element again surrounded by my works of literature and lined paper. (A4 paper here is not the same as A4 paper back home, though. Here, it is just that little bit longer so the ends of all my handouts stick out of my binders and frustrate me to no end.) For folks who may not be as enthusiastic about my academic endeavours as I will soon prove to be, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs because there will be a lot of raving about the classes I’m taking.
The first week of term has flown by already in an exhausting mix of 7am alarms for painfully early 8:30am lectures and evenings spent at various second year house-warmings. Despite being shattered already, to say I’m glad to be back is a huge understatement. I’ve missed Exeter so much – I’ve missed the Forum and the pricey AMT milkshakes, I’ve missed the library and the satisfaction of finding 6 entire shelves full of relevant texts to your interests, I’ve missed being surrounded by young people and familiar faces; I’ve even missed the hills. The amount of reading and research that needs to be done this term is looming and my housemates are already attempting to secure placements for next year, but at the same time I can’t help but feel bizarrely content to be back in the buzz and minor stress of it all. Summer, despite the occasional interludes of lovely holidays and travelling, was for the most part quite a long and lonely experience, and it’s so good to be returned to my Devon home.