Keeping an eye out for the Little Things

A lot has happened in the past month. A helluva lot. There’s been an awful lot of DramaTM in my household to say the least, from hospital visits to discovering we had neglected to top up the dishwasher salt for over 3 months (how we were to know that was what the flashing red light meant? And okay, so that wasn’t so dramatic, but my mum was suitably horrified).

For me however, the biggest news has been having my Study Abroad location confirmed. No longer shall my bio for this blog read ‘studying BA History with a Year Abroad (at an as of yet undetermined location)’, because I’m going to Ottawa, (that’s the capital of Canada), ladies and gents. This time next year I’ll no doubt be bundled up from head to toe in layers against -20 degrees battling through the snow and ice to get to my classes, and ice-skating on the Rideau Canal on my weekends.

And I absolutely can’t wait.

I’ve been to British Columbia a couple of times to visit relatives, and so know I already love Canada, the landscape, the people, the Tim-bits (miniature donuts which are practically a national dish). But to know I’m going to be spending an entire year in a place none of my family or close friends has ever visited before is just the most exhilarating feeling. I am terrified and thrilled and nervous and impossibly excited all wrapped up in one- and it’s still 6 months away. There’s so much to plan (accommodation, visas, health insurance, flights- just listing them is making my head ache) and so much more to decide on what I’d like to do while I’m out there (make a weekend trip to New York? I think so.)

I will miss Exeter though, that much I already know. I’ll miss the practical compactness of the city and the fact it’s mild enough now that the daffodils and snowdrops are already all over campus. I’ll miss my friends too, but fortunately most are doing Industrial Placements for third year, so we’ll all be back together again for final year. A year away though I think will do me the world of good. This past term I have definitely felt myself slowing up a bit motivation-wise, and although I will be obviously working towards my degree, I hope I’ll be having a lot of fun too. Seeing as I didn’t take a gap year, this will be the first big chance to do the ‘independent travel thing’ as such.

With so much of my mind focused on the future however, I’m a little worried I’ll wish away second year. I have always been the type to look forward to things; ‘this next summer holiday will be the best ever’, ‘I can’t wait to see family at Christmas’, ‘when I get to Exeter I will have made it’- and while I know there’s nothing wrong with that, I do think sometimes I’m not appreciating the here and now enough. Because second year has been on the whole very kind to me, and I know that when I graduate this will be the part of university life I miss the most, the day to day stuff I mostly take for granted. The little things that keep me smiling through the deadlines and drama.

I couldn’t sleep the other night thinking this all over, so I ended up scribbling some of these little things down on my notepad. I know they might not mean much to anyone reading this, but this blog has become somewhat of a diary for me, and it might hopefully remind you too to remember the highlights of the mundane and ordinary.

The Little Things

  • The walk home from campus after my 5:30 lecture, rounding the corner to cross the bridge over St James’ Park platform and looking back up along the rail tracks to see the sunset.
  • Fernanda, my Brazilian basketball teammate on the university women’s team, who is always making loud jokes and constantly laughing, even at 7am training on a Tuesday morning.
  • The fact that every week when I get up for my 8:30 lecture it’s that little bit lighter outside, as the long dark days of Winter slowly ebb into Spring.
  • The days when I Skype my good friend Ellie in Colorado (who I met when she was on exchange at Exeter), and no matter how glum or down I might be feeling, her smile always cheers me by a country mile.
  • Piling into one bed with my housemates on a sunny Saturday morning, slightly hungover, to try and piece together what happened the night before.
  • The satisfaction of walking past all the prospective students looking around on Open Days and thinking ‘I remember being where you were, imagining myself here- and here I am.’
  • Laughing while collectively brushing our teeth in the corridor with my housemates before bed.
  • When I’m dreading doing the reading for a seminar, but it actually turns out to be so interesting I spend an extra hour doing background research on Wikipedia and Youtube, and I’m reminded that I chose the right degree.
  • Bumping into familiar faces on campus from my course or who I know through societies and getting a quick, unexpected hug in between lectures.
  • The fact that after a couple of tricky, tearful days I came home to find not one, but two huge bags of chocolate M&Ms bought for me by my housemates, who’d both unwittingly had the same idea to try and cheer me up.
  • Someone else giving in before me at the state of our kitchen and attacking the washing up.
  • When I’m just beginning to drift off to sleep and I can hear my housemates trying to laugh quietly in the room next door.
  • Getting really into writing an essay because, actually, I’m pretty passionate about the line of argument I’m going for.
  • When I happen to have an umbrella in my bag when a sunny day abruptly turns into a downpour.
  • Car trips back from National League basketball games, when we stop off for chips and our coach sings along to 70s disco tracks all the way down the M4.
  • Catching up with my parents on Skype on Saturday mornings, and when they take the iPad down to the dog so she can ignore me entirely.
  • Days when we all give in and order take-out, eating it sitting on my bed until my room stinks of pizza, and listening to whatever song of the week I’ve decided to play on repeat.
  • Going for a run just as the sun is starting to set and watching the clouds turn pink and gold as I’m coming back up the hill from Morrisons’.

This might seem a little cheesy, but even if these parts of university life maybe aren’t the most exciting or noteworthy, they are the parts I know I will miss the most. They’re what remind me that for all the down days and days where I question myself, I know I should remember that I’m lucky that I am here, with the people I am with.

Why I’m Studying A History Degree

Term two of second year has gotten off to a great start. I’m so glad to be back in the buzz of university life, have a schedule of basketball practices and Exeposé meetings to structure my week around and get stuck back into my degree. I was thrilled with how well received my One Second Everyday video was when it was shared on Exeter’s official Facebook page; 276 likes, 37 shares and over 5,000 views and counting! Looking back on it has made me realise how much fun I had last term – and how important it is to make the most of daily things; the walk to campus on a beautiful day, or weekend pancakes with my housemates. I will definitely be keeping it up for 2016, and now that I know the ropes of making a good compilation hopefully this one will be better than ever!

HistoryToday though, I thought I’d make a post on a more academic vein than I usually prefer to opt for. There’s no doubt that university life involves so much more than the degree, but it’s also important to appreciate we’re only here because of our degree. The UCAS applications and A levels weren’t for the purpose of having fun at societies and learning the pros and cons of independent living; ultimately we’re here to study our chosen discipline. Through the pain of 8:30 lectures and the stress of deadlines however, sometimes I find it’s easy to lose sight of why I chose History, so in this post I thought I’d look back and consolidate some of the reasons why, despite how much I resent it some days, I chose History – and why I have no regrets about doing so.

  • I had a wonderful History teacher. I feel no shame in the slightest in saying that my fabulous A level teacher at school was a huge influence in me deciding to pursue history. Impossibly clever, terrifyingly witty and generally very entertaining, she would conduct whole lessons on the ins and outs of the French Revolution without referring to any notes or plans. She’d done an undergrad and then a PhD (with her thesis being on Medieval gambling and horse racing) and there’s no doubt a little piece of me wanted to be like her; knowledgeable about seemingly everything, and able to win the respect of all who met her. I was far from the only one – of the students who took A Level history I reckon at least 4/5 went on to do a History degree, and will largely in debt their decision to her.
  • History is essentially stories. As a child, I loved having my story book read to me each night. The reason I learnt to properly read at all was because 7 year old me thought we were progressing too slowly through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, so I started to read ahead. At school I loved English for the same reason, but the more I studied history the more I realised it offers the most fundamental stories of humanity. Since the beginning we have been telling tales of our ancestors, and the myths surrounding them, and to look back at history now – at not only the ‘truth’ of the past but also how people remember it or have told it since then, is to keep up this ancient tradition.
  • The past teaches us about the future. To quote George Santayana on a gobbit that I’m fairly sure appeared in 80% of all History personal statements: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It might be cliché, but it’s true. People who say history isn’t relevant to the modern day infuriate me, as no matter whatever political decision or social crisis we’re facing we’ve probably already dealt with a comparable situation in the past. I remember learning about the Wall Street Crash at the time of the 2008 recession and our teacher pointing out all the similarities in the situation. Looking back at how humanity has acted in the past (and the benefits and flaws of those methods) are key to being informed on taking such decisions in the present and future. Remembering this is an important one for me, as sometimes I worry that there’s ‘no point’ to my degree. The very reason I didn’t choose English (not to down on the subject) was because I thought I’d probably end up having a post-modernist existential crisis several times a week – History has thankfully saved me from these!
  • It’s insanely interesting. Out of our house, I’m pretty sure I could bank on being the one to get away with talking about what I’m studying at the moment without boring my housemates to tears. Unlike Economics, English or Physics, you can guarantee there will be a part of history people will find interesting. History is everywhere you look, on every holiday you go on, in every town you visit. There are certainly less interesting aspects, but as a subject I find that from Charlemagne to Hiroshima most of the time I get drawn into my assigned reading through sheer natural interest.
  • There’s so much to study; and you get to choose. This leads on from my previous point; no matter what you find interesting there’s definitely some way you can adapt your degree in order to study exactly that. Compulsory modules in first year provide a grounding knowledge, but from second year onwards the options when choosing specialist modules are huge; last term my friend studied William of Orange and the Stuarts, and this term she’s learning African-American History, from the Slave Trade to Obama.
  • It incorporates lots of other disciplines. I’m sure there are those who would argue this is true for a lot of subjects, but to give an example; first year essay questions ranged from analysing the impact of famine (Science), assessing religious fundamentalism in the modern day (International Relations and Theology) and looking at economic factors for European expansion (Economics).  Whatever your strengths or interests, History caters for those and you can head down the path which best suits you. In some ways I feel I’ve learnt more about religion, science and literature than I ever would have if I’d done a subject specific degree. No matter the discipline, the history of said subject is covered at some point.
  • You learn important transferable skills. Here it comes; the inevitably ‘career utility’ justifications. But again, it’s true – a History degree is far more than just learning about history. It equips you with highly regarded transferable skills that will be valued in almost every workplace. As listed on the Careers section on Exeter’s website, a History degree will teach you:

o   Communication skills, both written and oral
o   Critical reasoning and analytical skills, including problem solving and creative            thinking
o   Research skills such as disseminating and collating information
o   Construct persuasive arguments and question assumptions by selecting and            ordering relevant evidence
o   Work in groups, accommodating different ideas and reaching agreements
o   Think objectively and approach problems with an open mind

(These might sound generic but that’s sort of the point – History degrees teach important and flexible skills you can apply everywhere.)

  • It’s a valuable degree. From Salaman Rushdie and Jonathan Ross to Sacha Baron Cohen and Gordon Brown – History graduates have gone on to do all manner of things. But whether you’re interested in media, politics, journalism, MI5 or education, a good degree in History is certainly going to put you in a great position. It’s appreciated that History is academically challenging but also provides the transferable skills already mentioned and a strong cultural understanding for the world we live in.

(If anyone reading this is thinking about choosing to study a History degree at Exeter and has any questions, feel free to email me at tb397@exeter.ac.uk)

One Second Everyday Video – Year 2, Term 1

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.

Watch the video

The Student Housing Panic

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:

  • Collectively decide on your requirements/wishes.  Getting together everyone you’re going to be living with and having a good ol’ discussion about everyone’s personal requirements and wishes for the house before you even start viewing is the best way to go. You might have to compromise later on, but it’ll help you make a shortlist out of the vast number of possibilities for housing in Exeter.
  • Living space. Look for a nice kitchen/living room living space. Unless someone has a big bedroom they’re willing to host communal gatherings in, you’ll quickly miss the kitchens and wide corridors of halls. We weren’t a fan of homes where the front downstairs room had been converted into an extra bedroom (as a lot of houses in Exe have done) but as long as you’ve got a big enough kitchen I imagine you’ll be fine.
  • Double glazing. A biggie. No one wants to wake up with a damp duvet because of condensation. Also along this vein, ask about the house’s insulation. It’ll save you a bundle on heating bills.
  • Look for mould/damp. It likes to lurk in the corners of ceilings and under stairs. A little bit won’t harm you for a year, but excessive mould can be a health hazard.
  • Ask about furniture. This was a big one for us- we had no idea how much of the furniture was the property of existing tenants until we moved into a far sparser house than we were expecting.  This leads me onto what I think is my most important point-
  • Talk to the current tenants. Preferably alone. To get a real feel for the house without the estate agent glaze, it’s best to get a chance to chat to the current tenants. Ask how they’ve found the house, if they’ve had any problems with the landlord, how much their bills have been on average. If you’re short on time, ask for a tenant’s email so you can contact them later on with all your questions. Most tenants will be happy to help (we’ve all been there with you) and I guarantee it’ll be the most honest and helpful review of the house you’ll find.
  • Get promises in writing. When it comes to putting your signature on the dotted line, actually read the contract you’re signing up to thoroughly. I’ve heard lots of stories of landlords who on house viewings promised to redo kitchens or bathrooms over the summer, and then never ‘quite gotten around to it.’ If the landlord makes you a promise in person, ask for it to be included in the contract- otherwise they’re not legally obliged to do anything.
  • If in doubt, go to the Student Advice Unit. That’s what they’re there for! Any concerns or queries about your rights as tenants or the fine print in the contract etc, it’s best to check it out with the Uni first.

This might all sound a little doom and gloom, but although I’m sure there are plenty of reasonable and fair landlords out there, it’s best to be aware. Ultimately, they want to sign away their house for the coming year and will be happy to tell a few white lies to do so- but don’t let that and panic about finding somewhere make you rush into decisions.  Where you’re living isn’t the be all and end all but it doesn’t hurt to try and find somewhere nice. So don’t be afraid to ask hundreds of questions, talk to the current tenants and remember the Uni is there to back you up. Best of luck!

Best Apps for University

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. There has been significant debate about why the world media ‘cares’ more about attacks in France versus daily attacks of a similar nature in Syria, but in some ways it has served to highlight exactly what current migrants are escaping from, and if that brings greater understanding to their cause it can’t be a bad thing. The more I read and hear about the conditions migrants are leaving, and the ones they’re facing now, the more grateful I feel to have lucked out on being born in the UK. In light of it, all our various complaints and grumblings seem superficial and almost offensive, but in some ways, they’re just the continuation of human life. Awful news fills the headlines most days, and yet we still bemoan burnt toast. It’s just the way we are.

I started writing this post a while back, and though part of me thinks it’s tremendously shallow, I thought I’d post it anyway.

It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice who spends a significant amount of time on campus that apparently the entirety of the Exeter student body seems to live with iPhones glued to their palms all hours of the day. Even with my now dated fourth generation, I am no exception to this. This past term I’ve been carrying out vague investigation into apps to improve my university experience, and I’ve discovered a number of truly very handy widgets for the iPhone (and possibly Smartphones in general – I can’t say I’ve done my Android research) that I thought I would share here.

iExeter – FREE

  • This is bit of an obvious one I know (and not a university endorsed plug), but the Exeter App, despite it’s occasional crashing, is a good’un. It’s easy to use, and has direct links to your timetable and email, transport and bus updates, food and retail outlets on campus info, maps, and even a system of telling you how many washing machines are in use in accommodation laundry rooms. I did admittedly use it more in first year than this one, but I’d say it’s an essential for all Exeter students to download at some point and see if it’s for them.

Wunderlist – FREE

  • Now I’m sure there are plenty of excellent ‘to do’ apps and the like out there, but Wunderlist is a good place to start. I especially like it as you can sort your ‘to do’s into folders, and that as you log-in, it automatically syncs between your phone and a nice little widget on your computer as you add or check things off. It’s aesthetically pleasing, and for an added bonus it makes a hugely satisfying little ‘ding’ every time you tick a to do off. (I have friends who’ve listed things like ‘get out of bed’ and ‘have a shower’ just so they can enjoy that minor sense of accomplishment.)

Duolingo – FREE

  • As I mentioned in an earlier post, I made the somewhat brave decision to resurrect my AS French this year and take an FLC module as part of my degree. It has been a bit of a baptism of fire, and on the recommendation of a linguist friend, I started looking into language apps to try and get me back up to speed (‘Mrs Vandertramp? Subjunctive? I’m sorry, what?’). Duolingo was widely recommended (it won Apple’s app of the year) and my goodness I can see why. It offers a huge range of languages to learn, and operates by prompting you to do a little bit of practice every day. Through a combination of listening, reading and speaking translation exercises – all in super simple phrases – it has gradually built me back up from ‘le chat est gros’ to a standard vaguely on a par with my module. It has been really helpful to have on the side as a daily 20 minute consolidation of my language learning, is very easy to use, and I honestly can’t recommend it more to anyone wanting a language app.

Focus Timer – FREE

  • Focus Timer has been a new venture for me. I have a tendency to be an appalling procrastinator (to the extreme) when it comes to actually getting down to putting pen to paper for my degree and it was reaching a dire situation by reading week. Instead of vaguely faffing for an afternoon therefore and claiming I’d done ‘about 3 hours work’, Focus Timer encourages me to, as the name might suggest, genuinely focus. It essentially acts as a timer – it begins as soon as you turn your phone face down, and stops whenever the phone is picked up. As a result it’s handy to keep track of how long those little ‘breaks’ to check Instagram actually are. The app allows you to have different timers for different subject specific areas too, and you can also keep track of your week’s progress and make goals for what you’d like to achieve. Of course, time is no real measure of work achieved, but it’s a start!

1 Second Everyday – £2.29

  • Devised by Cesar Kuriyama, ‘One Second Everyday’ is pretty self explanatory, but for the real inspiration behind it, Cesar’s TedTalk on the project has over a million views. A one second video, every day, for as long as you like, with the aim to compile a short video capturing a brief snapshot of your life. I first heard of it when it was suggested to me as a student project for my blog, and although it took some getting used to, I’m now hooked, and am consistently taking a mini-video each day. Although it’s at a cost, I think the app is a very valid investment for a really nice idea. I like the fact that it captures all aspects of daily life, not just those special events you get the camera out for – but the dull days and the rainy days too. You can set reminders each day so you don’t forget, and at minimal effort, I think the final result is going to be a wonderful way to look back on how I spent second year.

Dealing with Rejection (though not the relationship kind)

Rejection quoteFailure happens to all of us at some point. Whether it’s a GCSE you knew you always hated, your first, second or even third stab at a driving test, or aiming for and just missing out on a spot in the first team. This time last year I wrote a post about choosing and applying to universities, and I’m aware it’s once again the season of personal statements, UCAS and acceptance emails – but also a time when you might be experiencing your first taste of rejection too.

Getting a rejection from a university that you’ve probably visisted, researched, and then given the highest honour of one of your five UCAS slots hurts, there’s no doubt about it. If the university is a prestigious one, it can feel like a personal blow to you – a failure that despite your grades and hours spent drafting and re-drafting your personal statement, you still somehow ‘weren’t good enough’. If the rejection is from your first choice, all the worst. You might have built up a mental picture of yourself at that university, where you’d be living, what societies or sports you’d get involved in, and having to move on from all of that is tough going. And then there’s arguably the most difficult part; telling everyone else. Rejections aren’t something you’ll cheerily inform family and friends of as soon as you get them; they’re instead brought up in an awkward and often delayed conversation that isn’t much fun for either side involved.

Rejection for me came in the form of a blunt ‘unsuccessful’ email from the University of Durham some time in the winter of year 13. It was quickly followed up with an offer for an alternative course, if I really wanted, but it wasn’t History. I can’t say I was all that cut up about it, I had already been accepted to Exeter, my first choice, but it niggled at me nonetheless for a few days. What if I had wanted to go to Durham? My grades were what they were asking for, so it must have been my personal statement. In which case, what had I done wrong? What was wrong with me?

It was at this point, I realised something. I was proud of my personal statement – I’d spent a long time putting it together, even more time re-drafting it with the advice of my teachers and Head of Year in mind, and then even more time again re-drafting that version until I felt it was an accurate representation of myself. I’d avoided the white lies as far as possible, I hadn’t exaggerated about the books I’d read or the things I’d done; I’d just tried to speak honestly about why I loved my subject and why I was good at it. Personal statements are always going to be cringey to an extent – after years of learning that above all else ‘modesty’ was the most important characteristic to maintain as a teenage girl, to shove all that aside and sell yourself goes against the grain. But, despite the cheesy intro and awkward synonyms for ‘passionate’ because we were told it was the Number One Word to Avoid, when I submitted my personal statement on UCAS I felt it did me justice.

It was knowing this, that in the long run enabled me to turn the rejection from Durham into something positive. Gradually I realised that there was nothing wrong with me per say; instead the admission team at Durham had just been doing their job. They had looked at my application, thought ‘this girl isn’t the type who would do well here’ and sent off my rejection. Later my Head of Year told me that I should have mentioned more academic works that I’d read, but to be brutally honest, reading up on historiographical trends in my free time is not my idea of fun, and never has been. I didn’t put those sorts of books on my personal statement because I hadn’t read them, and if Durham rejected me on those grounds of not being ‘academic’ enough – then they did exactly the right thing. If I had crammed my academic reading in the summer, and reduced the paragraph on my extra-curricular pursuits to tailor it to Durham’s expectations, I might have got in – but it would no longer have been ‘me’ they were accepting. I’d have then turned up in September most likely unprepared in comparison to the rest of my coursemates, and, in all honesty, not suited to the university.

I think I’ve gone on quite a long winded way of saying it, but essentially I’m trying to explain that if you give your all, prepare as best you can and put yourself forward in a way that you feel does you justice; rejection can never really hurt you. It’s the same for other aspects of life as well; if you fail that first driving test, it’s because you just weren’t ready, if you don’t make the first team, it’s because you need a little more training, if your essay comes back with a 2:2 instead of 2:1, that’s just letting you know that there’s something you need to look at to change for next time. One of my favourite lecturers here at Exeter recently told me the best mark you get in your first year is your worst, because that’s the most helpful in terms of your improvement. University applications can feel a little daunting as often people worry that they’ve only got one shot, but that’s really not the case. If I’d set my heart on Durham, I could have reworked my statement, read the books I knew they would be interested in and re-applied. I could even now have a shot at applying for a Masters if I wanted to.

Rejection can really hurt your self-esteem and confidence, but (and excuse the cheesiness) if you’ve tried your best that’s really all you can do. You can’t be any more than the best you can be. It’s bound to feel a bit rubbish for a while, but try not to see rejection as a door closing – instead try to imagine it more as a whopping great big ‘Diversion’ sign blocking your way. It’s not permanent, and you might come back to that very same door later on, but for the time being life is directing you down a different corridor.

The Student Cooking Blog: Part 1

Food 2Cooking easy, simple meals is a must-have skill at university, and one that’s taken me a while to get the knack of. Being in self-catered Lafrowda last year, and now having the entertaining challenge of sharing a pretty small kitchen with 6 people, I’ve had quite a bit of practice of the student staples. There are all kinds of handy tips you pick up over time, like the wonder that is the Schwartz packs of chilli con carne spices, and how it’s much cheaper to buy a curry paste and cocount milk than a jar of curry sauce, so I thought I’d start sharing some of my culinary wisdom (if you can call it that) on here.

To start, here are three of my favourite all time recipes. These are all veggie, but you can add meat to pretty much all of them as and when you want.Food 1

Ultimate Tomato Pasta Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 x onion
  • 2 x garlic cloves
  • Suitable amount of veg – mushrooms, courgette, peppers (fried bacon or cooked sasuage works too)
  • 400g can of chopped tomatoes
  • Tomato additions: puree, ketchup
  • Salt and peppar to season (or other mixed herbs if there are any in the cupboard)

Method

  1. You’ll probably want to put the pasta on before you start cooking the sauce unless you want to be waiting around.
  2. Dice the onion and slice up the garlic as thinly as you can (no one has time for garlic crushers and they’re a pain to clean!)
  3. Fry the onion and garlic in a little oil, and add your chopped veg to fry too. Chopped mushrooms, courgette, a pepper that’s going  a little soft in the bottom of your fridge- whatever you fancy.
  4. Add your can of tomatoes and turn the heat down to a simmer.
  5. Add your tomato flavour additions – a teaspoon of puree or a tablespoon of ketchup to sweeten.
  6. Salt and peppar to season! (No one really knows how to season but throw some in so it looks like you know what you’re doing.)
  7. In general, the longer you leave it (within reason) the better because then the flavours can ~infuse~

This will probably make about 3 or 4 meals worth, so unless you’re entertaining friends bag the leftovers into poritions and put them in the freezer for an easy defrost dinner another day! Cheaper and definitely more tasty than buying a jar of sauce 🙂

 

Roasted Veg and Cous Cous

My current absolute favourite lunch – a warm salad is so lovely as it gets closer to winter and this definitely fills me up for the afternoon.

Ingredients

  • A basic bag of cous cous
  • Vegetables to roast: this can be anything, I tend to have at least a garlic clove, a pepper and a big tomato, but some sliced courgette, red onion or aubergine is fab too.
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Feta cheese (or the supermarket ‘Greek Salad Style Cheese’ alternative) or you can use halloumi if you’re feeling exotic

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Slice up the vegetables and put them in a roasting tray. Drizzle them with a little bit of oil, and sprinkle with sugar if you like (it really brings out the sweetness in the tomato and peppers) and then put the tray in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile cook your cous cous. It’s super easy, just measure out enough to cover the bowl a few cenitmetres deep, and then pour over enough boiling water so that it completely covers the cous cous with a centimetre to space. Stir well and leave for a few minutes (with some foil over the top of the bowl to speed it up). Fluff up with a fork so all the grains are separate; if you make too much save some for another day!
  4. If you’re having halloumi, slice up thinly and fry with a little oil in a small frying pan. It cooks very satsifyingly, squeaking as it fries and browning well. Should take no longer than 10 minutes or so.
  5. Take out the veg and pour over your cous cous. Add your halloumi or crumble some feta cheese over the top.
  6. Finally, drizzle with some balsamic vinegar. This makes it for me!

If you want to save for another day, keep the cous cous and veg separately to stop it going soggy, but it makes a great cold lunch too.

 

Eggy Bread (aka Easy Pancakes)

Ideal way to get rid of bread that’s going a little stale and my absolute fave late night snack or late morning breakfast. So warm, so more-ish, and so much more satsifying and easier than pancakes.

Ingredients

  • A couple of slices of bread
  • An egg
  • A splash of milk
  • A knob of butter or some oil
  • Toppings: jam and golden syrup are best. It’s up to you really; my brother is a Nutella-holic so he’d have that, and my housemate has ketchup with hers but that’s blasphemy in my eyes! If you really want to go all out, you could fry up some bacon to have with it too.

Method

  1. Whisk your eggs and milk together as if you’re making scrambled eggs in a low sided bowl.
  2. In a frying pan, melt the butter or warm the oil.
  3. Soak your bread in the eggy mix, turning over the bread so you soak both sides.
  4. Slop the soaked bread into the pan, turning over when it’s browned nicely.
  5. Repeat until you’ve used up your eggy mix and the bread!

In terms of cooking resources, we all start  university with such good intentions (and so many cookbooks kindly gifted from well-meaning relatives) but in reality, most of them never make it off the shelf more than once or twice. My favourite cookbook however is ‘From Pasta to Pancakes: The Ultimate Student Cookbook’ by Tiffany Goodall. It has all the basics and photos for every recipe offering a step by step guide. Plus, the recipes are so good my mum ended up buying one for herself when I took the family copy to university!

There’s also Uni Grub, an online student cooking resource set up by an ex-Exeter student that offers tasty, cheap and simple recipes with photo guides too! It’s only just been set up but it’s really easy to navigate, and their Nutella brownies are amazing.

 

 

In Which I Write Another List

(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.

  • You’re used to the hills

Autumn campusAfter any extended stay away from Exeter that first high-powered hike up Forum Hill burns. You’ve heard it all before and you’ll hear it again (many, many times), but Exeter’s hills really are an iconic feature of the University. And probably the reason people are so sporty. They have to be a reasonable level of fitness to get anywhere on time. As seasoned second years though, we’re learning the tricks of the trade. Morrisons’ is a 20 minute walk but at least it’s a flat one, you’ll need to leave the house 5 minutes earlier to get up to a lecture in Newman Blue etc, etc.

  • You feel less homesick

This is definitely a welcome development. Although it was bitter pill to swallow at the time, the only long-term cure for homesickness is time and distance. It was tough in first term, but got easier as the year went on, and it’s still getting easier now. Sometimes it’s a surprise to realise I haven’t called home in four or five days, and it’s a strange feeling that as much as I love my family, I had been quite busy enough to not think about them for the best part of a week. I know it’s an inevitable part of growing up to feel less attracted to the idea of going home, but it is certainly a very satisfying and tangible thing too. There’s that quote about ‘friends being the family you choose for yourself’, and despite the grotty accommodation and nightmares over bills, a little family is exactly what you establish in a student house, and it’s so much more comforting than the bland corridors of first year.

  • You know your way around (sort of)

I still have to ask the poor receptionist at Queens every. Single. Time. Where I’m meant to be going. She’s kind of resigned to it at this point. Knowing my way around town though is another matter. Living in a different part of Exeter has made me reevaluate my mental map of the city, but it’s also meant I’ve been able to connect up all those dots I hadn’t realised were connected by this side-street, or that footpath. Even though I did a fair bit of exploring last year, I’m determined to broaden my horizons again this year, and find new foodie places and pubs to take guests to.

  • You feel more confident

ForumGoing to Freshers’ events with a few friends and a ‘can-do-it-doesn’t-matter-if-we-make-fools-of-ourselves’ attitude was so refreshing, and so much more fun than the terrifying experience of last year. Having friends already is a novelty that will never wear off when it comes to Freshers I feel. It’s nice to be involved in societies instead of just turning up to events, it’s nice to know people outside your course and in different years through society committees, it’s nice to no longer feel pressured to do everything because it’s just too impossible. You just do what you can fit in and with people you like, and it’s a great feeling.

  •  “Way more work (well, for me, anyway)”

This slightly passive aggressive quote is from my very motivated medical scientist housemate, who I interrupted mid-lecture write up to ask for her opinion on changes so far in second year. Bless. It’s a statement that would probably be concurred by the English, Biology and Economics students living with us too. And most of the second years on campus. I’m biding my time on the whole work front this term I know, after Christmas will be a brutal return to reality!

  • TFW: Second Year Superiority Style

We all have to be a Fresher at some point, but if I’m honest it’s great to no longer be the newbies. Yeah, you can’t pull the ‘but nothing counts!’ card in second year, but at least we can fondly laugh at the Freshers who panic about getting a ticket to the ‘best night of their lives’ at Unit 1 or who turn up to Freshers’ fair expecting to find a cash machine on campus without a two mile queue.  We laugh because we were right there with them 12 months ago, but the important thing is that we’re oh so mature and sorted now. Obviously.

Bring on Second Year

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.

That being said, I can tell a lot of things are going to be different this year, and my course is no exception. This term I’m in the interesting position of taking only two 30 credit modules; an independent research module called ‘Doing History’ and an Intermediate French language module with the Foreign Language Centre (FLC). Combined, I have the terrifying total of 4 contact hours a week. Four.

Compared to the structured set up of last year, when I was up on campus every weekday going to this Medieval History seminar or that Modern lecture, the lack of any real timetable is definitely unnerving. I have plenty to keep me busy I’m sure, but I’m a hopeless procrastinator, and am a little worried that my days will blur into successive weeks of ‘not much getting done’.

So, in traditional September fashion – the month of New Beginnings for the past 14 years of my life in the British education system – I’ve decided to make a few resolutions. Not all are work related, but hopefully they’ll give me some structure to build my week around!

  1. Play a sport

When the recent league tables for 2015/6 came out, alongside retaining it’s top 10 position, the University of Exeter was awarded the prestigious title of the Sunday Times’ ‘Sports University of the Year’. Considering my sporting participation last year (or rather, sincere lack thereof) I think it’s fair to say that this title is in no way thanks to my contribution. This year however, I’m determined to join the two-thirds of the student population who are involved in sport, across some 50 different clubs and societies, and actually join a team. As someone who has avoided the intense fitness-based atmosphere of the Sports’ Park and has shockingly bad hand-eye coordination at the best of times, this might be an interesting one – but I’ve decided the women’s Development Basketball team can’t be all that scary. So I’ve handed over the £70, signed myself up for some stash, and will be going to first training on Sunday. Wish me luck!

  1. Learn a language

Is this a cop-out seeing as I’m already signed up to do a French module? Maybe. But it has been a good two and a half years since my AS French exams, and despite my best attempts at being put in the Beginners set (Me: “Seriously, I’m not AS standard anymore, I can barely remember the present tense let alone the subjunctive”, FLC Lady: “I’m sorry but I simply can’t put someone with above GCSE standard in the beginners group”) I’ve been signed up to an Intermediate course. So, we’ll see how that goes. It will be nice to use a different part of my brain memorising vocab and butchering the French accent instead of trawling through history books, and hopefully it’ll come back pretty quickly! A language is a great addition to any CV as I’ve been told, and the FLC really does make it very easy to sign up, so I’d recommend it to anyone out there considering it as well!

3.  Go veggie

This is nothing to do with university as such, but as a result of a combination of financial, environmental, ethical and sheer will-power-testing motives, I’ve decided to give the whole veggie thing a try. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of meat anyway, and in an attempt to spice up my culinary repertoire (which is pretty limited) I think actively trying to be vegetarian and having to seek out new ingredients and recipes could be a good challenge.

4. It’s second year already – embrace the fact that The Future is inevitable

It’s the classic question that all final years dread; “so, what are you going to do once you’ve finished your degree?” but I’m determined I won’t be left rambling on about internships that may or may not exist or vague plans to take a year out travelling. That means jumping on the bandwagon now, and starting to take a hard look at life beyond university, and what I can do about it now. The most important thing in the immediate future is deciding on my year abroad (which university is most suited to me? What are the courses like? What about the weather? And how cheap are plane tickets?) but I’m also keen to finish my Exeter Award, get involved in Career Zone ventures like the eXpert scheme, and sort out a useful Internship for next summer.

  1. Don’t get too stressed.

Last year I started well, far better than I anticipated actually, but ended up really struggling for the latter half of first term. More than anything, my aim this year is to not let that happen again. I’m surrounded by a supportive, lovely group of people and I know my way around the numerous support facilities the university offers, so I’m in a far better place to face a new academic year already. I’ve just got to keep my head and not let it all get to me when the workload and expectation inevitably ramps up as term progresses.

This year as part of student blogger duties, I’m also going to have a go at taking a snapshot of my daily life here at Exeter on the app ‘One Second Everyday’. It’s pretty self-explanatory, and now I’ve worked out how to use it (just about) hopefully by the end of this year I’ll have a neat, little video summing second year up. Bring it.

Adventures in Interrailing

It’s the week before Freshers’ and I’m all officially moved into my shared student house in Exeter. I’m the first one here and am currently rattling around this house for six on my own, so I’ve been keeping myself busy the past few days unpacking my stuff, thoroughly sanitizing the kitchen, decorating my room and attempting to mentally prepare myself for second year. Although I am slightly nervous about starting the new year, I am mostly hugely pleased to be back, and I’ve got a good feeling about second year being better than my first, despite the threat of ‘everything counting’ degree-wise and the inevitable drama shared housing is bound to bring. Before I get to all that however, I thought I might make a post about how I’ve spent some of the past 3 months away.

This summer, while many of my Exeter friends were off being responsible students getting themselves sorted with useful internships at banks in London or part-time jobs in their local areas, I instead decided to blow a chunk of my savings on something I’ve wanted to do since I was about 14. The pinnacle of traditional student vacations: Interrailing.

I was admittedly in part influenced by the fact I had a friend from Canada making a brief stop-over who was very much of the mindset that ‘Europe is all so close together, right?? Surely we can see basically all of it in 9 days’. Though we had to work on her expectations a little, I’m not the type to step down from an excuse for travelling.

After hours of Skype discussions, emails back and forth and debates about whether this was all just a ludicrous idea, in the space of those 9 measly days we ended up making our way from London to Paris via Eurostar and then flying to Italy, stopping off in Milan and hiking the Cinque Terre coastline before finishing our trip in Rome. It was a packed schedule with a lot of painfully early starts, sleeping on public transport and insane amounts of walking, but it was also a truly awesome experience and something I can’t recommend enough to do as a young person.

Me being me though, I couldn’t help but make a note of blog-worthy titbits of advice along the way. We were complete novices and learnt a lot through trial and error and from other backpackers we got talking to, so I thought I’d share some of them here in case anyone else out there was planning on their own interrailing adventure at some point.

  1. Choose your travelling companion carefully – Best friends don’t always make the best interrailing buddies. Consider things like taste in tourist attractions (are you going to be traipsing around art galleries or hitting the shops?), budget, whether you’ll be happy to get along with them at 5am on an early train on 3 hours sleep, and even things like fitness. That last one was particularly relevant to me, as my Canadian friend is a national cross-country runner and exceptionally fit. I am decidedly not. Needless to say, she could probably have hiked the Cinque Terre in half the time it took us.
  2. Don’t forget budget airlines – In the days of yore a round-the-continent train ticket was indeed the way to go, but things have changed since the 80s and now £50 for a 2 hour flight from Rome to London just makes sense.
  3. Look up key phrases in the languages of the countries you’re visiting – This does not need to be extensive; ‘thank you’, ‘good morning’, and ‘excuse me’ will do (that last one is especially important if, like me, you spend an inordinate amount of time accidently bumping into people). Even if you butcher the pronunciation most locals will appreciate the effort.
  4. Make the most of each city – Or if you’ve never been before, know in advance what you want to see. In retrospect, Florence would have been more our scene than Milan and we should have thoroughly researched what was available before we stopped off there.
  5. If you’re going to hostels, make the most of the common room – The Canadian and I had a pact to try and make at least one friend in each place we stayed, and although they mostly ended up being Americans, I’m glad we made the effort to talk to people. Heated debates about gun control and ObamaCare vs. the NHS aside, the international chat with other people our age really made the ‘interrailing experience’ for us.
  6. Ask people to take your photo instead of selfie-sticking it – Now, I’ve got nothing against the selfie stick, it’s a fab invention – but we met some lovely people and had some useful conversations through taking each other’s group shots.
  7. Prepare for at least one thing to go wrong – And by prepare, I mean make sure you’ve got emergency money. For us, it was within the first 15 minutes of our 9 days when we forgot one of our train tickets to London. Cue me splashing out on a hideously expensive one-way £80 ticket.
  8. Check for Air Con – I cannot stress this one enough, especially if you’re going to Italy in July. As a born and bred Brit who is well adapted to drizzle and mild summers, 35 degree heat at midnight was not enjoyable. If I were to do things again, I definitely would have spent a little more and invested in somewhere with air con given the chance.
  9. Take a padlock for your luggage – Particularly if you’re staying in shared dorms in hostels, it gives you peace of mind to know your stuff is safe overnight. Plus, most places have luggage rooms to leave your things during the day, but not all of these will have lockable lockers.
  10. Print off maps of how to get from train stations to your hostel – If you don’t fancy traipsing through a new city for hours on end with all your luggage, like *cough* some people, I’d recommend Google mapping it before you get out there.
  11. They like their lunch breaks on the continent…make use of this – If you’re doing big tourist attractions e.g. climbing Notre Dame or visiting the Colosseum, early in the morning (and I mean 8am early) is a sure way to beat the queues, but lunchtime isn’t a bad bet either. We joined the queue for St Peter’s Basilica at 1:30pm and were in in a record 20 mins. On the way out at around 3pm the queue must have been pushing three hours.

And a side note for Italian interrailers:

  • Remember dress codes when visiting religious sites – In the 30+ degree heat of Italy, we spent most of our time in shorts and dresses, but you won’t be allowed into Churches and Cathedrals if you don’t have some means of covering up to be sufficiently modest. Either remember that you need to keep your shoulders covered and dresses/shorts down to just above the knee or get into the habit of taking a scarf or two around with you.

All this being said from lessons learnt the hard way however, interrailing is amazing fun and if you’re careful about it, it really doesn’t have to burst the bank. Italy and France are pricey destinations, especially in summer, but you can stay for as little as a tenner a night if you opt for hostel-hopping in Belgium and the Netherlands. Plus, many tourist destinations and museums have student or under-26 discounts, so make sure to take some ID.

Independent travelling is a unique experience after years of family holidays, and although it takes some time and effort in the planning, it’s definitely a good way to use up some of those long summer months in between university. Plus, as the adults in my life keep so kindly reminding me, holidays this long won’t be around for much longer now, so if you can, I’d say make the most of them!