School’s (not quite) out for summer

Summer breaks often feel a very unsettling time for me – I enjoy them of course but the stripping away of the structure that comes with an academic term, the daily jobs that need doing, the steadily approaching deadlines, can make me feel rather rudderless.

However, so far, I have been keeping myself very busy. I have just spent the last 2 weeks in London taking part in UCL’s Summer Classics School (aka a crash course in Latin).

ucl

The Bloomsbury campus is gorgeous with a beautiful bookshop and a lovely union run café, it’s also within walking distance of places such as the British Museum and the daily food market on Tottenham Court Road. However, for all its beauty and the exciting places within reach I still don’t think I would have enjoyed going to university in London (the tube in all the recent hot weather was unbearable). Norwich is gorgeous and has quite enough going on for me.

ucl 2

Whilst in London I also took the chance to see some theatre – I would have been an embarrassment to the Drama Society otherwise. I was fortunately able to get a £25 ticket, only booking the day before, to see Robert Icke’s production of Hamlet at the Harold Pinter Theatre. If you’re in London and get a chance it’s a simply stunning production that’s kept me thinking about it for days afterwards (Here’s a review which I think really captures my feelings towards it). I was also tickled that during the show I kept remembering snippets of my second year Shakespeare module – clearly some of it went in and stuck!

hamlet

I’m now back from London but am turning straight around and heading off to Norwich because tomorrow I’m graduating! I will of course make a post soon about what I get up to during Grad Week, so watch this space.

Advertisements

End of Autumn Semester

Goodness gracious, it’s almost Christmas!

The last few weeks of term disappeared so quickly that I’ve barely had a chance to breathe; Drama Society has been very busy picking our first show of next semester as well as casting our upcoming musical, ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’.

On top of that I’ve been working on my final essay for The Gothic – I’m very sad to be finishing the module as it’s been one of my favourites at uni. It was also doubly sad because this was the last year the module was going to be running so it wasn’t just the final seminar for us but also for my tutor who has been running the course for the past 8 years.

My final Gothic lecture was also, in all likelihood, my final undergraduate lecture as all of the modules I’m taking next semester are seminar taught only. Graduation suddenly feels a lot more pressing.

gothic book.jpg

I won this lil book for coming second in the Gothic module pop quiz

Over Christmas I am working on my dissertation which I *think* is coming on well… it’s nice at least to spend so much time working on something that I’m really interested in. I’m also trying to write my first personal statement for one of my post grad applications – like I said, graduation is suddenly a pressing issue.

Coming home from uni I’ve had the chance to chat to my friends and siblings about their time at uni, and I’ve been shocked at some of their stories (and not just the Freshers’ week ones). Quite a few people I’ve spoken to say that they have one or two professors who are unhelpful or won’t make time to explain things when asked. It’s made me realise that the brilliant university experience that I’m having isn’t necessarily the same for everyone. Perhaps I’ve just got lucky with the tutors I’ve had or maybe it’s something about UEA’s outlook, I really can’t say. But I know that whenever I have had problems I’ve always felt that I had someone to turn to, whether that person was my academic advisor, staff at Student Support or a representative at the union.

Maybe I’m just getting nostalgic before I’ve even graduated, but as my final few months at UEA approach I find I’m falling more in love with it than ever.

uea sunset.jpg

My Summer Work Experience 2016

Well we are now well and truly into the summer break and although the Autumn term doesn’t start until late September it doesn’t seem that long until uni begins again.

However, I am currently very much enjoying my break from academia. Over the last few weeks I’ve been filling my time by doing work experience at my local museum and reading a real mixture of stuff – importantly, the stuff I really want to read.

My time with the museum has been great in many ways, I’ve really enjoyed my work with the Development Officer which has allowed me to make use of and expand the admin skills I have gained (all through my work with the Drama Society) over the last year, and it has opened my eyes to career possibilities beyond graduation. Whilst I’m planning to do a MA in Medieval Studies/Literature I’m still having to start to imagine what life will look like after graduation.

Not only do I enjoy the work I have been doing (and the opportunities I have been given to come up with and implement my own ideas) but the setting is gorgeous as well. The museum is housed in a building known as The King’s Manor and sits directly opposite Salisbury Cathedral. Of course, this means that my walks to work are beautiful and it often strikes me how lucky I am to have lived so much of my life in the shadow of this amazing monument. The school I went to for my last two years of primary school is only a few doors down and one half of the sixth form college I went to is on the other side of the Cathedral close, so I really have lived a good chunk of my life in its shadow.

The work experience I have been doing this summer has been interesting but also very helpful in giving me a better understanding of the kind of work I would like to get into. But importantly, this wasn’t a placement organised by my uni but one I went out and found myself.

I researched and wrote a cover letter explaining why I thought I was a good fit for the museum and found the most relevant person to send it to. I then had an interview in which I had to justify the things I had written and pitch why they should take me on. I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that being proactive and making opportunities for yourself is so important and, in my experience, very rewarding.

I’m now off on a short break to Wales and then to produce a play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before coming back to do a few more weeks of work at the museum. No rest for the wicked and all that.

Best of luck for those still waiting for exam results – not long now!

Summer 2016 Plans

Hello Everyone,

Apologies that it’s been a little while but I’ve been out of the country for a bit (Florida to be precise) but now I am back, complete with sunburned feet.

Today’s blog is just to give you a little context for what I will be doing with my summer holiday, my FINAL summer holiday (!!!) before I head back to Norwich this September to start third year.

As I have opted to do a literature dissertation this autumn term I am currently surrounded by piles of books which require reading. I’ll try and keep giving updates about how my dissertation is progressing, both to give some context and advice for any other students reading but also to document for myself how it developed.

I won’t go into the details too much right now, but essentially I have had a think about what it was that I really enjoyed studying this last year, to which the answer is Medieval Writing and Romanticism. I was also advised by Karen Schaller, the Convenor of the English Literature BA, to look around at modules that I would like to have taken but can’t for whatever reason. This inspired to me have a root around the websites of other universities and see what final year modules they offer which I would have been interested in. The long and the short of it is that I’ve decided to research Medievalism, specifically Romantic Medievalism which is the 18th century reimagining of what the Middle Ages were like.

Looking back I realise that later interpretations of medieval life have always fascinated me. Even as a child my favourite books were historical fiction (I read The Other Boleyn Girl when I was 10 which on reflection was definitely too young!).

dissertation reading 1

The very beginnings of the dissertation research

On top of all this reading I also have an interview lined up at my local museum to see whether I can do some work experience with their admin team for a few weeks. As I think I have previously mentioned, I really enjoy doing the behind the scenes work for UEA Drama Society, but looking ahead to the future I think that I might be interested in doing similar work in the heritage sector. Fingers crossed they take me on, if nothing else it will keep my CV up to date and diverse.

And last but by no means least, I will of course be heading up to Edinburgh in August to take the show which I am producing (‘Death and the Data Processor’) to the Fringe Festival. More on that later!

As we are approaching A Level exam results I am aware that a lot of students will be anxiously waiting and worrying about life at uni. As always, if you have any question please feel free to comment on this post or email me at h.armstrong@uea.ac.uk

Best of luck!

Avoiding the dreaded ‘Summer Slump’

I realise that a lot of my recent posts have been fairly serious/ political in nature, and whilst they are an important part of my blog, I want to try and even that out with some of the more pleasant aspects of student life.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I find it impossible to get things done over the summer. All sense of schedule goes out of the window and I’m reading until four in the morning or not responding to emails for nearly a week. I call this, ‘The Summer Slump’.

This occurs because all those things you didn’t do during the term, e.g. the shows you didn’t watch, the books you didn’t read, the people you didn’t see, are suddenly no longer the forbidden fruit. You can shamelessly indulge in all of them and this simply overloads the system.

Consequently, nothing gets done.

Whilst there is no cure for this seasonal funk it is important that you attempt to fight it off, for if you don’t then by the time September rolls around your brain will have turned to mush. I speak from experience.

Unfortunately I can’t offer any full proof methods of keeping the slump at bay, but I can offer these tips-

  • See old friends. It sounds obvious but it’s like chicken soup for the soul, and it gets you out of the house – an important step in any attempt to combat the slump.
  • Have a reading/watch list. Undoubtedly there will have been a lot that you haven’t found time to check out during the term and crossing even a film title of the list can feel like an accomplishment after a month of no academic work.
  • Do something (a project for instance) that imposes some form of schedule on you. It’ll stop you feeling like you have wasted a day and will give you something to look back on by the summer’s end. Running a blog for instance…
  • Keep that brain ticking over. I know what gets to me most is the lack of classes to give me a mental workout. Like any muscle you need to keep flexing it if you want it to stay strong. Don’t lose all your hard work from the previous year by not touching your subject for three months. I download podcasts from iTunes and iTunes U to keep me thinking over topics I covered this year, and to prepare for next term.
  • Most importantly however, take a moment to enjoy the fact that for the next few weeks you aren’t reliant on your own cooking. Savour it (literally) whilst it lasts.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle for productivity over the summer is the internet. Why commit to doing something for a whole hour when you can just commit three minutes at a time to cat videos?

This is probably why most of my reading gets done when I’m somewhere without access to wifi.

Speaking of which, I am going to be in deepest, darkest Wales for the next two weeks so it may be a while before I can write another post.

Until then enjoy your summers and best of luck averting the Slump.

11720129_10207423900494652_2096192567_n

What I’ve got through so far this summer (Ok technically I’m rereading The Song of Achilles for the dozenth time but still)

Filling the summer holidays – Chalke Valley History Festival

I was forewarned that university holidays were long, but I’m only just beginning to realise quite how long they are.

I’ve been home for two weeks now and already Netflix has lost its appeal. I’ve promised myself that I will get through the ever growing pile of books by my bed but my current read, ‘Iceland’s Bell’ by Halldor Laxness, just doesn’t appeal when the sun is blazing away outside.

The task, then, is to find ‘constructive things to do’ as my mother would say. This week I have managed to assuage the guilt of not finding a proper job this summer by volunteering at the Chalke Valley History Festival.

CVHF is an annual festival which takes place, surprise surprise, in the Chalke Valley area of Wiltshire. It’s the largest festival in the UK dedicated to just history and is therefore a nerd like myself’s dream day out.

tumblr_nqrbakjzgU1qm67xwo1_540

Despite having lived nearby for a long time this was my first visit to the event, and I’ll cut to the chase by saying I loved every minute of it. As a volunteer I had free entry to the site and was able to wander around early in the mornings watching the re-enactment camps slowly come to life. The Tudor royals lounged in the sun whilst hassled looking faux servants scuttled around preparing for the lunch time feast, and roman soldiers chatted to Dark Age peasants whilst a Georgian woman walked around in her nightgown.

I was also lucky to see around half a dozen amazing talks by acclaimed historians, ranging in topics from the untold stories of the non-white, non-european participants of the first world war, to debates about the importance of Magna Carta… maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

tumblr_nqrbab12ck1qm67xwo1_540

Events like these are a great way of adding something to your CV, especially as we now live in a world where every job wants prior experience. There were volunteers who had just finished their GCSE’s and there were volunteers who had just become grandparents – basically, anyone with a love of history was welcome.

My only gripe with the festival was just how stereotypically Wiltshire it was (by which I mean how very Salisbury). Most of it took place during week days, which of course isn’t the organisers fault, but with events starting at half five in the evening in a location in the middle of nowhere, only a certain demographic is able to attend.

What I’m trying to get at is, that it was very white middle to upper class. A sea of multi-coloured corduroy trousers filled the valley and someone was heard using the term, ‘spiffing’.

Now the local demographic isn’t something the organisers can do much about, but what does need to be changed is the lack of diversity amongst the speakers. I saw only one talk by a historian who wasn’t white, and a panel discussing the importance of Magna Carta in the development of liberty and human rights was entirely composed of white men.

Obviously this isn’t meant to be construed as an attack on white men, although undoubtedly some will interpret it that way, but we do need to actively be making space for and promoting voices beyond the traditional white Anglo-Saxon narratives that we usually hear in history.

On a lighter note, here’s some Romans with the Tardis.

No idea why there was a Tardis there...

No idea why there was a Tardis there…

Ich bin ein Berliner!

Apologies for the lateness of this post, but as I have been out of the country I think I have a fairly good excuse.

Last week, to avoid my pile of essays which are currently tucked away where I can’t see them, I ran away to Berlin for a few days. This post is largely an explanation of why this was definitely relevant to my coursework and not just a jolly to the continent.

Berliner Dom

The Berliner Dom

Over the last term I have been studying Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, a fantastic novel by a German writer who taught at UEA before his death in 2001. The book is about one man’s journey to find out about his past after discovering that as a child he was evacuated out of Prague to escape the Nazis. It was originally written in german and is obviously about a very dark time in Germany’s history, something that would have been personal for Sebald, so I have worried that something might have been lost in translation, that some of the power is reduced when read in a different context. Rereading it in Berlin felt special because like the novel, the city walks a fine line between remembering and respecting its past whilst trying to break away towards a new future.

tumblr_nm11lcgRk91qm67xwo1_540

Sebald was also known for his use of photos throughout his novels, blending reality with fiction. So, whilst in Berlin I went to an exhibition of Vivian Maier’s photographs; she was a street photographer in Chicago and New York during the 50’s and 60’s, who without any training managed to take beautiful, professional quality photographs of everyday life.

tumblr_nm5gi0GiTf1qm67xwo1_1280

None of the subjects of Maier’s photographs would have had the chance to see these pictures, many of them didn’t even know they were being photographed. The uncanny thing about these images is that they all have what Roland Barthes termed, ‘a certificate of presence’, each photo inspires a story in your head, and yet these are all real moments… long story short, it got the little grey cells in the brain thinking over ideas for my essay.

Besides capturing professional quality photos of the streets of US cities, Maier was also an early supporter of the selfie – something that was much harder to do without the aid of a front facing camera.

If you’d like to know more about her there is a documentary which can probably be found online called, ‘Finding Vivian Maier’. Whilst I haven’t yet seen it myself it has won quite a few awards so I imagine that it’s pretty good.

Wrathful Achilles? More like a burrito of sadness

Wrathful Achilles? More like a burrito of sadness

Besides pretending that this was a totally justified research trip, I also spent a day on Museum Island (only 9 euros for a student!), and attended a meet-up called ‘Hacks and Hackers’, which is designed to bring together journalists and those who work in the tech industry. (Not the usual thing I do when on holiday, but I was staying with my friend Lucy who was one of the organisers.) Data journalism wasn’t something I was even aware of before so it was very enlightening, even if some of the technical language went over my head.

'Hacks and Hackers' was hosted at the ambitiously named, 'House of Democracy and Human Rights'

‘Hacks and Hackers’ was hosted at the ambitiously named, ‘House of Democracy and Human Rights’

Berlin is a great city for students, there are lots of student discounts, endless places to explore, and, if you’re into that kind of thing, some of the best clubs in the world (apparently).

tumblr_nm5gxbIAmO1qm67xwo1_540

Just some of the incredible food available in Berlin

tumblr_nm5gx8mYaj1qm67xwo1_540

A street food market…. very easy to spend a lot of money there

Lastly, I’d like to thank Lucy and Nick again for being the best hosts imaginable, thank you for sharing your home and your city with me.

Until next time, auf widersehen!