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.
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.
(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
After 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
Going 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.
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!
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
Surreally enough, the day I officially left first year accommodation for good coincided with a university Open Day. While surrounded by lost looking Sixth Formers clutching Open Day guides and wandering around with their parents, I was busy hauling never-ending boxes of books and kitchen supplies out to the car. As hundreds of potential new students descended on campus with their lists of questions and maps to subject talks, I was saying goodbye to my friends as quickly as possible so I couldn’t get too emotional about it all. I’ve never been very good at long goodbyes, but as everyone keeps reminding me – we’ll back before we know it.
Despite looking forward to seeing family and friends and having a few months of reading for leisure (which feels like a foreign concept it’s been so long), it’s comforting to know it won’t be too long before I’m back in Exeter again.
Now, I’ve already done several reflective posts on first year (I’m a sentimental sap, to be honest you’re lucky I haven’t written more) but this really is my final one. Looking back on it all, first year has not been what I expected. I hadn’t anticipated the challenges I ended up having to deal with, which were unexpectedly more on a mental level than an academic one, and at the same time I hadn’t imagined I’d meet the people I have, and that I’d spend my 19th birthday on the beach at sunset.
I think it’s important to realise that though lots of people hype up university to be the time of your life, that light at the end of the tunnel after years of GCSEs and A levels, we should remember that the ‘grass is always greener’ mentality just isn’t the way things work. Because while in the beautiful city and campus of Exeter the grass certainly is very green, it is also reality. University life has its pros and its cons just like secondary school did, but I’ve found them to be exacerbated. The good days at uni have been amazing; the bad days terrible.
This is not to say everyone’s experience will be the same as mine (if I’ve learnt nothing else other than facts about Charlemagne and the Great Irish famine, it’s that no one ever experiences things the same way) but that’s what this blog was for I guess, to give my personal take on things. I hope anyone who has skimmed a couple of my posts have found it to be what I initially intended – light-hearted, advisory and honest.
At the risk of coming across as horribly pretentious, I am going to share a few quotes that I’ve found to be particularly relevant and inspirational this past year to round this off. I have a lot of quotes I’m fond of, but these are the ones that make it to the cork board, and while I think they’re good advice for life at university I’ll probably try and remember them in the long run too.
- “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
Most history students will be familiar with this one, as I’d wager it’s probably the most popular personal statement quote for historians out there. Despite it’s ‘cliché ness’ however (she says, writing a blog post on inspirational quotes), in the midst of inevitable course doubts and post-modernist induced crises of “but what is the point of the past?!” it can be useful to be reminded why I’m studying my degree. For me, the idea that our best guide to the future of humanity is to look to our past is what makes history such a relevant, fascinating and enlightening subject. Outside of academia however, it’s also relevant advice for other aspects of life – learn from your mistakes to make sure they don’t happen again. (*Cough* no matter how drunk you are, be sure to fall asleep somewhere you’ll be happy to wake up.)
- “Today was the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.’” – Dale Carneige
If you are the type to lie in bed at night, worrying and over-thinking the things you’ve got to do in the day to come fear not – you are in good company on this blog. I only found this quote recently, but it really resonated with me. Too often I will stress and over-analyse the next day, the to do’s to be conquered, the tight time schedule to get through, and yet when the day is over, usually without event or incident, I move straight onto the next one. The reality is, however much I might build up a day with this presentation to deliver, or this book to get back by 11am unless I feel like facing a fine, nine and half times out of ten, everything turns out fine.
- “The only person you should try to be better than, is the person you were yesterday.”– Anon
There are various iterations of this on the internet and no obvious source, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. The constant desire to compare and compete with others is one that I’d imagine most people encounter through their education, but while it can motivate you to work harder and improve, I’ve found it can also be very draining and counter-productive. Sure, knowing you’ve done better than your neighbour can be a bit of a confidence boost, but at the same time knowing you’ve done worse is a horrible feeling, and in reality neither scenario will change the fact you’ve got the grade you’ve been given. This past year I’ve been trying to remove myself from the temptation of comparing with others and just trying to focus on my own progress in a well-intended self-centred sort of way. Again, it works outside of academia as well; we all say or do things we regret or wish we could do differently, but when all is said and done, the best way to combat that regret is to try and do things better in the future.
- “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain
Oh the woes of procrastination. Forget 4am fire drills and 9am Monday morning lectures – the real enemy of first year has been how much time I’ve spent putting off what I should have been getting round to. There are those who seem impossibly sorted and organised, but really they just got going before you did. There is no secret formula, no cheat sheet, no short-cut at degree level, just the cold reality that if you want to avoid the hideousness of an all-nighter in the library you’ve just got to get started. To reference another quote; “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop” (Confucius).
- “The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.” – JK Rowling
As perhaps the most famous University of Exeter alumni, it only felt fitting JK made this list, and this happens to be one of my favourite quotes of all time. Rowling was referring to her own struggle as single mother on the poverty line in this, but it can apply to a lot. Knowing that at one point I was seriously considering dropping out but made it through that phase is a comfort to me now. Times can be hard, but getting through them is only strengthening your resolve to face similar challenges in the future.
(If you have 20 minutes to spare and are a fellow fan of All Things Inspirational, I highly, highly recommend JK Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Speech where this quote is taken from; if nothing else watch it for the gay wizard joke. The speech was so well received it’s also been recently released as a book ‘Very Good Lives’ which pretty much permanently lives on my bedside table.)
- “You can’t control the outer circumstances of your life, but you can control how you react to them.”- Anon
A good friend of mine recommended this to me, and I think it captures pretty much everything the rest of these quotes are trying to say. Life happens and goes on regardless of the impact it might have on us as individuals, and all we can do is try and keep a level head and deal with everything that comes our way. Found yourself in a flat of party-hard folk as an introvert? Join societies or look elsewhere to find like-minded people. Got a third on that last essay? Learn from the criticisms, maybe ask your tutor, and change your technique for next time. There’s a line of thinking which says ‘the only thing stopping you is you’ and while this is easier said than done, I think for a lot of things it’s the truth.
I’ll definitely take up this blog again for second year, but until then I hope people have a great holiday and a relatively stress-free results day! See you in September! 🙂 x
As you may have picked up on by this point if you are regular peruser of this blog (or, actually, if you have seen pretty much any of my other posts) I am a huge fan of lists. In keeping with this trend, and in light of the fact I’m entering my final week at uni for this academic year, I decided to create the Ultimate Bucket List for a first year student here at Exeter.
Disclaimer: Some of these aren’t specific to Exeter and are more general first year university achievements. There is also a distinct lack of clubbing related challenges due to my own personal preferences on that front, but a quick Google has revealed the internet is full of them if you’re interested in that side of things.
So, from the bizarre to the admirable, to the must-do to the plain silly, in no particular order, here are 19 things I think it’s worth doing as a student in your first year at Exeter:
- Complete the Old Firehouse Challenge – devour an entire pizza and of course, the ultimate challenge of managing to find a table in the first place. If you’re feeling extra brave, follow it up with the calorific masterpiece that is Harry’s Heart Attack for dessert, it’s slogan being ‘Two will struggle, one will need the heart and stomach of lion!’ Challenge accepted.
- Get lost wandering around the green forestry of Exeter’s campus. Things to spot: Reed Hall, that pond with the fountain, random art installations and thousands of bunnies. I imagine I’ll still be getting lost come final year, but the abundance of woodland paths in and around campus is genuinely one of favourite things about Exeter.
- Order curly fries at the RAM to fuel you through a late afternoon lecture or seminar, and meet up with a course mate to bemoan how much work you’ve got to do in the coming week.
- Join a hundred and one societies at Freshers Fair, and end up becoming a regular member of only one of them. We are all guilty of this and it seems none of us will EVER LEARN.
- Walk along the Quayside on a sunny weekend or pedalo if the weather permits and you’re feeling adventurous! If you want a real challenge, trek along the river to the Double Locks pub for a classic pub lunch.
- Order horribly overpriced Dominos (even with the discount codes I swear Dominos is the biggest rip-off in the history of pizza) because you are just that bored of cooking.
- Take the train to Exmouth Beach, have an ice cream/fish and chips on the front in true tourist fashion, and wander up and down the sand feeling very self-satisfied in the fact you go to a university on the coast.
- Take a selfie in Parliament Street. At an impressively tight 64 centimetres wide at its narrowest, Parliament Street has (falsely) been claimed to be the world’s narrowest street, but it’s still pretty cool.
- Complete Rock Solid. I didn’t actually manage to get round to this, but I’d say to anticipate a lot of mud and a lot of laughs if the Facebook photos were anything to go by. Definitely something to do for second year.
- Do a week’s worth of shopping in the Pennsylvania Road Co-op because you just can’t be bothered to walk into town or trek to Morrisons. Instantly regret the decision when you get your next bank statement.
- Do something for bonfire night, whether its getting a ticket to Ottery St Mary to experience the famously bizarre local tradition of flaming tar barrels, or popping down to Exmouth for their impressive firework display.
- Actually go inside Exeter Cathedral and look round, as opposed to just taking selfies outside it. So I’m a self-confessed history geek, but the Cathedral has been around for 600-odd years and is genuinely a beautiful building. It’s vaulted ceiling is the longest in the whole of England, and it has an awesome astronomical clock too.
- Visit the Exeter Christmas market. Arguably a student staple must-do; brownie points for buying homemade chutney.
- Have brunch in Tea on the Green (or Boston Tea Party, whichever takes your fancy.)
- Swim in the outdoor swimming pool by Cornwall House. It’s been closed practically the entire time you’ve been on campus, but come May and exam season, the pool suddenly throws open its gates. Make the most of being in on-campus accommodation and plod down in your flip flops and towel for a de-stress swim in wonderfully heated waters.
- Spend a lazy day in pyjamas. Eat cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner and revel in the bliss of no adult authority being around to tell you to do otherwise. You’re a fresher, that essay/reading/seminar prep can wait; Netflix can’t.
- Drink milk/orange juice from the bottle or carton to save on washing up. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
- Take a photo with the University of Exeter stone. Okay, so perhaps not necessarily a ‘must-do’ for first year, unless you are super keen, but definitely something to get round to eventually.
- THE ULTIMATE EXETER CHALLENGE: Find someone from Yorkshire. Take a selfie with them, get their autograph, treasure their dulcet Northern tones – they are a rare and precious breed in Exeter and you might not get the chance to meet one again.
The library is packed to the rafters with harassed looking students in various states of dress, the Market Place is selling post-its, pens and vodka at discount prices, and everywhere you go people are talking wistfully about the holidays.
Yep. It’s that time of year.
Currently most of the student population is slap-bang in the middle of revising for exams, so of course I find myself spending my afternoon writing a blog post instead of memorising essay plans. Obviously.
Coming to the end of first year with increasingly terrifying rapidity, it’s reached the point now where I feel able to look back on the whole experience and see just how far I’ve come. September feels like a lifetime ago – so much has happened since then, the awesome and the atrocious, I’ve learnt so much (although judging by the state of my revision you wouldn’t know it) and I feel like I’ve grown up a lot too.
In the vein of this somewhat cheesy nostalgia, I’ve decided to compile a list of 10 things I think I’ve achieved this year. Especially during exam season it’s easy to get hung up on final year averages as a gauge of ‘how well you’ve done’, but I think especially in first year there are a lot of other challenges to get over beside the academic; and no matter how small these ‘achievements’ might be, I think they deserve a little recognition:
1. Survived Freshers’ Week
It was just as intimidating arriving to a campus of complete strangers as I feared it would be, but through all awkward introductions, over-priced Freshers’ events and hideous flu, I made it through without a single homesick breakdown.
2. Lived Off Something Other Than Beans On Toast
Self-catered and I have had a love/hate relationship of sorts, but over the last term especially it’s gotten much easier to throw edible meals together. No longer do we avidly stick to student recipe books, bemoaning not having that clearly vital piece of student kitchen equipment; a lemon squeezer, or spend ridiculous amounts on Dominoes ‘discounts’. Instead, I’m actually now reasonably capable of constructing a variety of meals for the week and not suffering from vitamin deficiency.
3. Lived Away From Home For 3 Months Straight
I was always a little worried about being away from home for such extended periods of time, but no matter how tough it might seem at first – time really is a healer. It’s amazing how much easier it’s gotten to be away from my family, and no one was more surprised than me when after a month-holiday over Easter, I was actually desperate to get back to Exeter. ‘Home’ home will always be where my family is, but I feel like I’ve officially adopted Devon as my ‘uni home’ too.
4. Written An Essay On A Topic I Previously Knew Absolutely Nothing About With A Bibliography Of 18 Books
I now know so much more about the Great Irish Famine than I thought humanely possible. I guess this is a standard part of university life for humanities students, but my goodness it’s a long way from the standard expected at A level. The independent research was intimidating at first, but it’s also hugely satisfying to become a mini-expert on an obscure topic of your choosing, and after scouring the library for all and any books that could possibly help you out, submit an essay you’ve spent 2 weeks constructing.
5. Managed To Get A 3 And A Half Hour Train From Leicester To Exeter With 2 Ridiculously Over-Packed Suitcases, A Rucksack Full Of History Textbooks And A Guitar
I think this one speaks for itself as an admirable achievement.
6. Kept On Going
This one has been particularly important for me, even though it’s taken me a while to recognise it as an ‘achievement’ as such. To cut a long story short, when things got tough and I thought that maybe university wasn’t for me, I sought out all the support I could and managed to stick it out. I’m really grateful for that now looking back, and am proud of myself for keeping my head above water when it was all getting a little overwhelming.
Aside from feeding myself, independent living has also brought a number of other jobs I’d never even really thought twice about that I’ve had to get to grips with as an ‘adult’. A non-exhaustive list of these includes: booking my own doctors’ appointment, making weekly shopping lists, going to the Bank for Serious Conversations, making restaurant reservations over the phone, picking up prescriptions, sending relatives Birthday cards (as opposed to signing the family card) and buying my own loo bleach.
8. Didn’t Miss A Seminar
I am pretty proud of this one. Arguably 9am lectures are very tempting to miss when you can catch up online at a more reasonable hour, but if I’m honest I’m quite happy to turn up to be spoken at for an hour. It doesn’t exactly require much effort, aside from making notes. Seminars however, are a different ordeal entirely; intensive 2 hour sessions which require reading and preparation and, horror of horrors, interaction. Far more daunting, and unfortunately far more essential to attend.
9. Found A House For Second Year
Some might not class this as an achievement seeing as all first years have to find themselves accommodation, but seeing as this was without a doubt the MOST stressful aspect of first year for me, I can’t not include it. Dozens of house-viewings and depressing phone conversations with various landlords (“Oh, so sorry, that one went 10 minutes ago”) later, I am in fact not living in a cardboard box in September, and frankly that’s all I really care about.
10. Made Friends
Spending 7 years with the same group of people at secondary school, it was more intimidating than I thought having to suddenly branch out and make new connections all over again at university. It was like being 11 years old again and having that whole ‘first day at school’ feeling, except we’re all supposedly infinitely wiser and cooler now that we’re over 18. Fortunately, I’ve found a pretty great bunch of people who I’ve met in all kinds of situations throughout first year and I’m grateful to all of them for putting up with me and making me laugh on a daily basis.
When American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Centre on September 11 2001, the world could only watch. Something shifted in American consciousness, shock, incomprehensible horror, national grief, and then – anger. Anger towards the nameless hijackers who had brought about the deaths of 2,753 Americans going about their daily lives, anger, and a desire for justice and revenge.
Daily life came to an end that day on the other side of the world too.
Moazzam Begg, born and raised in Birmingham, had moved with his wife and children to Afghanistan in early 2001 to build a girls’ school, and recalled the day the bombs started to fall on Kabul. The daisy cutter craters that swallowed whole streets, shattered every window in his house and killed thousands. Eventually forced to evacuate to Pakistan, Moazzam’s life was yet again turned upside down with a knock on the door at midnight, 31 January 2002.
Arrested on his doorstep by American soldiers, handcuffed and hooded, Moazzam would not see his family for 3 years. Just under 2 of those would be spent in the highest security detention facility in the US: Guantanamo Bay.
As guest speaker of the Arabic and Middle Eastern Society at Exeter, news of Begg’s visit to the University gained a lot of publicity in the past few weeks. Over a thousand people on Facebook said they would be attending the event, and queues on the night extended outside the Forum doors. I was fortunate enough to have been in a lecture in the Alumni Auditorium beforehand, and so was able to save some friends and myself seats on the 5th row from the front.
While it was only an hour long, I think it’s fair to say it was one of the most inspiring, horrifying and mind-altering things I’ve ever witnessed.
In many ways, much of Begg’s recollection almost sounded like a bad film; surreal, ridiculously violent and bizarrely comic at times. Begg spoke of the dehumanizing shaving process he endured, the trophy photos taken of him by American soldiers, and in the same breath recalled a conversation he had with a US soldier about his visit to Stratford Upon Avon. He recommended the documentary Taxi Drive to the Dark Side, inspired by the murder of a taxi driver by American soldiers that Begg himself was witness to, and managed to make the audience laugh with the implication that it had won an Oscar thanks to his performance. He interrupted his description of 2 years of solitary confinement, of press-ups and poetry and nightless-days of boredom, to recall the time he ironically ended up comforting his guard whose girlfriend had left him through the bars of his cell.
Much of what he said though, particularly about the acts of US soldiers, palpably shocked the auditorium, and this was in many ways perhaps empathetic of the shock that Begg himself had experienced. “We thought the Americans were the good guys. We couldn’t have been more wrong.” He spoke of how Guantanamo guards were supposed to swear that they were ‘honour bound to defend freedom’, but the irony of the fact he was padlocked in chains was lost on them. He described the brutal beatings from American soldiers who swore at him in badly accented Arabic, and he recalled word for word the first thing he was told by a senior officer upon his arrest:
“You are now the property of the United States. You have no rights. You forfeited those on September 11th.”
Begg constructed a visceral narrative, hard to listen to at times, and impossible to imagine how it would have been to endure. Yet, despite the difficulty of the topic and the very political nature of his situation, Begg managed to put humanity at the forefront of his lecture.
He spoke of the ex-Guantanamo guardsmen he now considers friends, described the time a female soldier brought him a Cadbury’s Crème Egg in solitary confinement, and recalled the tears of his eldest daughter the first time he saw her after 3 years of imprisonment. Begg argued that it is easy to hate our enemies from a distance, but once up close it is all too easy to empathise with their suffering. He also raised the difficult and unpleasant truth that while we know that 2,753 individuals were killed in 9/11, those murdered by the bombs dropped by Americans were never recorded.
I won’t pretend I know much about the situation in Iraq, or the controversies surrounding Guantanamo, aside from what makes the BBC news website or comes up in my Googled research. From this perspective, I can’t comment on the factual accuracies of Begg’s narrative, and I will say that some of these, particularly the details surrounding his arrest, remained unclear at the end of the lecture – though this could well have been due to time restrictions.
What I can assert with confidence though, is that what he had to say gave me an awful lot to think about.
I don’t think I’ve been so profoundly affected by something of this nature in a long time. I was 5 years old in 2001; I can barely remember 9/11, but I do know that the conflict stemming from it has shaped the news stories of my childhood and adolescence. The on-going terrorism of the Middle East and the West’s dubious interventions are a fundamental part of my generation, and I feel almost duty-bound to gain as many perspectives as I can on the issue.
Moazzam Begg is a controversial figure, but was undoubtedly an inspiring speaker and obvious advocate for the continued plight of human rights. I’m very grateful to the Arabic and Middle Eastern Society for organising the event, and that I was able to hear his side of the story.
“Still the papers do I pen,
Knowing what, but never when –
As dreams begin, and nightmares end –
I’m homeward bound to beloved tend.’”
‘Homeward Bound’- Moazzam Begg
So I’ve been planning on a post like this for a while, because although you would never have found me advocating sweaty exhaustion while at secondary school, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of regular exercise while at Exeter. There’s usually a lot going on at university, socialising, deadlines, house-hunting etc, but in my mind there are three things outside of all that that we could all do with prioritising a little more:
• Eating right
• Sleeping right
• Regular exercise
Now, eating is easier if you’re in catered accommodation, but for self-catered I’ve been in the quite entertaining position of having to remember the food groups for the first time since year 7 science lessons and realising that I’d managed to pretty much miss out on protein for a week and a half. Meal-planning and consideration of things like ‘vitamins’ will hopefully keep that in check. Sleeping well is another one that can be tricky, but getting into a semi-regular cycle that ensures you get at least 7-9 hours is essential for keeping up your energy for the whole term and making sure you don’t crash in that final week of deadlines.
With those tackled, it’s just that little exercise one on the end.
To the uninitiated, Exeter might seem like a slightly exercise-obsessed environment. In many ways, it’s hard to get away from – everywhere you look there are guys in rowing/badminton/korfball stash and girls in fluorescent leggings and trainers. Half the student population here seem to live in sport kit, and while that can be intimidating, I’ve been reliably informed that a lot of people exploit the trend for comfort purposes and have yet to actually set foot in the Sports Hall.
If we’re being honest though, there are plenty of ways you can keep up the exercise. Hiking up Cardiac/Forum hill on a daily basis is a pretty good starting point, but if you’re like me and have no desire to commit your precious free-time to competitive team sports and the thought of a gym environment breaks you out in a cold sweat; consider something else.
The simple jog.
The idea of ‘going running’ on a regular basis was terrifying when I first considered it, particularly as I had no idea where to start. At this point, I’m going to massively plug the NHS Couch to 5km podcast, which takes you from absolute couch potato to running for 30 minutes solidly over a 9 week plan. It’s an easy-build programme which anyone can do, so with the ‘I don’t run’ excuse out of the way, here are 6 reasons why running is the way to go:
1. Get fit
This is pretty self-explanatory, but not to be underrated. With the whole overhaul of starting a new life at university, why not add in a couple of New Year-esque resolutions too?
2. Avoid gaining weight
It might seem obvious, but they don’t talk about the Freshers’ 15 for nothing. It’s pretty easy to gain weight at university what with the microwave meals, greater alcohol intake and the temptation of Dominos on a tri-weekly basis. It might go against the grain of stereotypical ‘student living’, but building regular exercise into the university routine around lectures and socials is a good way to if not combat, at least minimise the effects of an erratic diet.
3. Avoid the scary gym fees
I can’t actually speak with much authority on this point, as I’ve never voluntarily been to a gym in my life, but I do know that memberships can cost a hell of a lot. Unfortunately, the university gym is no exception, and if you’re covering accommodation and food bills with your loan, shelling out on a membership you may/may not use seems a little excessive. In praise of the lowly run, the only investment you really need to make is in a decent pair of trainers.
4. See more of where you’re living
Finding a route to run can be a challenge, but an interesting one. The first time I tried to follow my 5km route I ended up getting hideously lost, running about 8km round in circles, and having to ask, red-faced and sweaty, a bemused passer-by which direction the Cathedral was. Some months later though, and I’m now aware of a whole host of back routes and side-alley short-cuts around the city centre which minimise my exposure to the public but can take me on some decent-length routes. Running around town has also meant I know a lot more about Exeter than I would’ve otherwise – international food shop? Just along Old Tiverton Road. Need to get to the Quay? Here, take this scenic short cut.
There are plenty of ways to de-stress that don’t involve panting up hills, and while I advocate all and any ways people can find a little peace, exercise is a pretty good one. While when you first start running it might seem the exact opposite of calming and therapeutic, once you’ve built up your fitness I promise it is a genuinely enjoyable process. The endorphins from that bizarre ‘post-run peace’ can last a whole evening, and the sense of accomplishment in making a new personal best can be hugely satisfying.
6. Positive procrastination
Literally run away from your responsibilities/deadlines, with the perfectly valid reasoning that you’re doing it for your health.
A final note on embarrassment:
Being a beginner is enough to put a lot of people off ever contemplating running, and I was personally no exception to this. I’m not exactly the epitome of the slim/toned runner of the Nike adverts, and in my ill-fitting leggings and bright exercise-induced tomato face I felt very self-conscious at first. ‘Running-down-an-empty-residential-street-at-10pm-just-to-avoid-other-people’ self-conscious. However, in hindsight I’ve realised that the only thing people should be thinking when they see someone out running is ‘wow, look at that motivated person doing exercise’ and anything else is, quite frankly, their problem, not yours.
From complete beginner to running 5km – the NHS’s free Couch to 5km Podcasts are the way to go.
To avoid embarrassing encounters with members of the public and to keep track of where you run, how far, and for how long, I recommended Map My Run.
(I spend far more time in the library than I’d anticipated before coming to university, but then again, I’m fairly sure a good 60% of that time is not spent productively. Instead, I’m usually either distracted, procrastinating or just completely losing my train of thought staring out the window. Below is an all too realistic account of where I my brain usually ends up when I’m meant to be getting on top of 500 word source analyses.)
• Right. Time for my 5 minute-ly ‘let’s stare out of the window’ break. Those last two sentences have earned me this much at least; I mean, I used the word ‘poignantly’ and ‘exacerbated’. Maybe if I prop my chin on my hand I’ll look thoughtful and philosophical as opposed to deathly bored.
• *Looks up potentially useful book in the library catalogue* 936.70?? You’re kidding, I’m not climbing two flights of stairs for that. I’ll do without.
• *Looks up other potentially useful book* Express collection? Lord no, I can Google that section of the book – I can’t deal with anymore stressful deadlines in my life right now…
• …Though, that being said, I could do with an AMT vanilla milkshake. Meh, I might as well – the walk will do me good.
• That is genuinely the third rainbow I have seen today – and it’s a double one. Wow. Better add it to the snap-chat story. I don’t want people to miss out on this.
• How can that be the time. Oh my goddd.
• Ok that’s it – lunch is being moved forward to 11:30am. I literally cannot survive until midday.
• I can hear that that guy is listening to Eminem through his headphones from 5 seats away. Maybe if I glare pointedly at the back of his head he’ll get the message and turn it down.
• Time for a ‘lets-fill-up-the-already-half-full-water-bottle’ break.
• Urgh, my back is killing me. You think with the sweeping Forum ceiling and fancy light fittings in DH1 the Uni could have at least invested in some ergonomic chairs. I wonder if anyone would think I’m weird if I did some yoga. That would be a productive use of my time.
• I want to check Facebook but I know that the people behind me can see my screen and will 100% judge me, so BBC news it is.
• Please don’t judge me fellow-library-goers, I am genuinely researching this essay on religious fundamentalism, not planning on joining ISIS.
• … How did I end up on YouTube watching babies eating lemons/vine compilations/cat videos? I literally have no idea how Googling the Temporary Relief Act of 1847 led me here.
• Sure, new neighbour, feel free to sit down in the seat right next to me so that I have to move my books despite the fact there are literally thousands of other seats free.
• *Spies surreptitiously on what the person next to me is doing* *sees equations* *recoils in horror* Am I ever grateful I’m not doing Economics. Yknow, this essay doesn’t look so bad anymore.