When the going gets tough… the tough occasionally need to take a break

You may have noticed that this blog has been a little quiet recently, and mostly this has been due to my heavy workload at the moment combined with all of the extracurricular stuff I’m doing (there’s a reason directing is meant to be a full time job).

However, life also has a habit of throwing you a curveball just when you think you’re managing to hold everything together. My mum found out recently that the cancer she had had previously has come back, and that she will need to undergo chemotherapy for the next few months.

I’m not putting this on my blog for attention or sympathy, but because I have promised her that we won’t dance around the issue or use vague words. I’m writing about it because this is a blog about student life, and these are exactly the kind of problems that can come out of nowhere and disrupt it.

No one tells you when you are applying or arriving at uni what to do in these sorts of situations, but they must happen to thousands of students every year. I’m lucky that UEA has a very supportive Student Union which runs a regular drop-in clinic where you can ask questions, and all of my seminar leaders have been very understanding. It’s far better to have a ten minute chat with them about it, than to try and hide at the back of seminar which you haven’t been able to do all the reading for and hope no one asks you a question.

I have also been blessed with kind and supportive housemates who I am eternally grateful for.

My advice to anyone going through a similar situation is that you shouldn’t be afraid of taking a break. I woke up one morning last week with only half an hour to go before my first seminar started. Normally I would have sprung into action and accepted that whilst I would have looked worse for wear, it would be worth it; however having been ill the previous few days on top of everything else, I knew I didn’t have anything I could particularly contribute. For the first time in my student life I skipped a seminar, and therefore I had the time to get up and prepare for the rest of my day, and the other two seminars I had. And to my surprise, the world didn’t come crashing down. I felt better because I wasn’t pushing myself when I was already down.

Now this certainly isn’t going to be a regular occurrence and I’ve made sure that nothing vital was missed, but it was an important learning curve for me. Sometimes you just can’t do it all, and as long as you’re honest with those around you it’s fine to take a break for your emotional and physical wellbeing.

Hopefully I’m going to be back on track from this week but if I need to take things a bit slower, I know it’s not the end of the world.

My Ode to Autumn

The autumn term has always been my favourite academic time of year. It’s early enough that you still believe in all the resolutions you made in September (to read absolutely everything on your reading list, to always do work with at least a day to spare, etc.), it’s acceptable to do your reading whilst curled up with a hot chocolate, and at the end of it, beckoning you with fairy lights and tinsel, is Christmas.

This year it’s also an especially busy one for me as I’m performing in the UEA choir, on the Drama Society committee, sitting on the Union Council, and now co-directing Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’. Oh, and somewhere amongst all that I’m doing three literature modules.

But it seems to all be going fine, the plates are still spinning and our rickety old house seems to have stopped letting the rain in.

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Reading Ben Jonson’s ‘Poetaster’

So far second year seems to me to be far superior to being a fresher. Firstly, you know where everything is, but more importantly there is a tangible sense of working towards something. Hopefully you’re doing modules you’ve chosen and are therefore more inclined to like, and the knowledge that your grades at the end of this term actually count towards your degree puts something of a fire beneath your feet whenever the urge to slack off reading arises.

We’ll see if I’ve changed my tune by Christmas.

At the moment I’m also revelling in having a proper oven, even if all the dials are missing their numbers. Hopefully I’ll be able to show you some baking experiments, and I use the term experiment because baking tends to be a bit hit and miss around me, on a student budget.

This weekend I made Earl Grey Tea and White Chocolate loaf which whilst imperfect was still fairly scrumptious, hopefully this is just the start of my kitchen adventures.

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I’m thinking I may write a post soon on the student kitchen essentials, including equipment and basic cupboard staples, because I know a lot of people come to uni without much experience or confidence in that department. Whilst I wouldn’t consider myself particularly a foodie, I’ve really enjoyed learning cooking techniques and flavours from all around the world. Hopefully such a post will be useful because God knows that a lot of student cookbooks out there don’t seem to understand what it means to be living on a student budget – any student cookbook that considers star anise a cupboard staple can go straight to the charity shop in my opinion.

There is Power in a Union (to ban Sombreros)

If you haven’t heard about the great sombrero kerfuffle of 2015 then let me fill you in.

Last week newspapers across the country carried the story that the student union of UEA had banned a local Tex Mex restaurant from handing out sombreros. This has led to accusations of ‘political correctness gone mad’, and a lot of general smugness from middle aged journalists and their readers.

How and why this story has blown up so much is a mystery, but it probably won’t come as much of surprise when I say that this is the epitome of mountains being made from mole hills – and I’m not talking about the union’s decision.

So what actually happened?

Last week, during the Freshers’ Fair in the LCR, Pedro’s (the restaurant in question) was handing out sombreros to new students as part of its advertising. When Union Officers found out they asked the stallholders to stop, citing their advertising policy which the restaurant had been informed of before the event. The Union Officers felt that the free sombreros were not in line with their blanket ban on, “Discriminatory or stereotypical language or images aimed towards any group or individual”. Sombreros fall pretty squarely into the ‘stereotypical images’ box.

I think it is quite reasonable to disagree with the Union’s belief that people not of Mexican descent wearing sombreros is offensive, but the amount of outrage levelled against the Union is extraordinary.

The union’s facebook page was covered in comments from people criticising the officers’ decision, one memorable comment said, ‘I don’t understand why we’re in the top three for student satisfaction when the union does things like this’, (admittedly I have turned down the language). The ability to wear a sombrero around campus has never been central to my enjoyment of the student experience, but each to their own.

Rules like these exist to prevent racism and cultural appropriation – in short, to make UEA a welcoming and safe space for all its students. Can the Union Officers make mistakes? Yes. Might they have misjudged this situation? Yes, but I would rather we have a dozen ‘#somberogates’ than one student be made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome because of their ethnicity.

At the end of the day, Pedro’s is probably enjoying far greater footfall than usual thanks to the coverage, and the Union has said that it will review its policies – so has anyone really lost out?

Like I said, mountains out of molehills.

(You can follow this link for the union’s statement)

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