I’m quite glad to be back in Exeter after Christmas – I’ve learnt there are pros and cons of both living at home and in Exeter. At home, there is family, friends, cats and home-cooked meals. But in Exeter, there are even more friends, independence and a lot more fun. Living in the house is a lot better for me than halls, I really like my housemates and we always have a good time, whether we’re going out or just staying in. Although I was sad to say goodbye to my family, I was looking forward to getting back into a routine of learning and working. After all, there are only so many lazy days you can have.
So far this year I have been pleasantly surprised by the workload and the course. Coming back in September, I was really worried about how difficult second year was going to be, especially after struggling with first year. I think I’m used to the course structure, I know how to prepare for sessions and I know how to organise my revision.
Christmas is hailed as the “most wonderful time of the year”… and to be honest it truly is (once you ignore the fact that after all the merry-making you have exams or a 2,500 word essay to submit)!
Unlike most students who travelled to spend time with their families, I spent mine in Exeter and the rest of my family travelled to join me. To be honest they didn’t know what to expect: my older boys assumed Exeter was a tiny village and were certain we would spend the whole period cuddled by the fireplace, but they were pleasantly surprised.
Seeing in the New Year in a living room jam-packed with my friends from home, I took a moment to contemplate how much I have to look forward to in 2016. There’s terms two and three, holidays and summer plans, a new beginning in starting second year and – rather frighteningly – my 21st birthday. Of all of these, it’s the latter that jumps out at me as the next twelve months’ largest milestone. Perhaps because I am – relatively speaking, anyway – pretty old for a first year. Whilst many of my flatmates and friends here celebrated reaching 18 last spring or summer, I turned 20 on a rather grey (and self-pitying) day in autumn. The phrase “in my twenties” just sounds far more adult than I feel.
Though conversations about age have seldom come up during my time at university so far, I know that being outside of the stock 18-year-old age bracket of freshers is a concern for many prospective students.
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.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, sorting housing was without doubt one of the most stressful aspects of first year for me. We waited, just as all the Guild-endorsed promotions told us too, until after Christmas, and then spent a nightmarish few weeks charging around house viewings, ringing up landlords 24/7 and securing our current residence by pure luck that our email arrived 2 minutes before another interested party’s.
It was not a fun time, least of all because we had no idea what to expect and what we should be looking for. Everyone had different ideas, but we quickly realised we were going to have to collectively lower our expectations. Dramatically. ‘Student living’ is a catchphrase for a reason. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy living where I am now (although I think I could be living in a shed and still have a good time with my housemates) but there’s certainly things I’ll be bearing in mind when I go looking for final year housing. Just because you are probably going to end up somewhere a bit grotty, as is student tradition, doesn’t mean you should be sacrificing all comforts, and it’s best to be as knowledgeable as you can be.
So, from my experience here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re going about choosing and securing your student house…
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 most noteworthy this week was how unproductive I think I was. This is the strange time in the term when all that’s left to do for classes is the summative papers, but those are due in January of 2016, which seems a very long way away. At the same time, those summative assignments are worth a scarily significant portion of our final grades, so it’s probably in my best interest to move it closer to the forefront of my mind, rather than pushing it to the back. I will make plans for them this week. This is now in black and white; I can’t shirk from it now!
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’s getting to a tough time of term. The deadlines are piling up, reading week is a distant memory, and the Christmas holidays are pretty near – but not quite close enough. This past week for the first time since I’ve been back this year, I’ve genuinely missed home – the home-cooked meals, having a kitchen you’re not afraid to walk about barefoot in, my dog, being able to have a bath, and my family.
The events in Paris have cast a shadow over the past week, but they have also put everything into perspective. Deadlines and early starts might be a pain, but never have I been more acutely aware of how lucky I am to be studying at a world class university in such a safe and tolerant society.
Compared with the last couple of weeks, I think this week’s recap is going to sound far less exciting. It wasn’t that it was a slow week, far from it actually, but I did more sitting down to hammer away at my papers than spelunking and adventuring. All in all, it was a rather stressful week, but there were still a number of highlights.
I went to see Spectre this week and it was the very first James Bond movie I’d ever seen. It was a decent movie but I’m not sure if it’s really my cup of tea. I also discovered the incredible deliciousness of sweet and salty popcorn. Back home, we just have…popcorn and you can choose to add butter but no such thing as sweet popcorn exists. I was a little excited about this novelty to say the least. My friend who came with me told me that they have sweet and salty popcorn back in Singapore too; I think I need to pitch this to movie concessions when I get back. We’re totally missing out.