I’m back!

Hello Everyone! (Belated) Happy New Year!

I realise that it’s been a bit of a while since I last posted – long enough for us to have a new US president and even a new year – however, in my defence I had not only a dissertation to submit but also my first postgrad application.

Before I write about that though I wanted to quickly talk to you about my New Year’s Eve.

This year I was very lucky to be in Marrakech, a beautiful and complex city where great wealth sits next to extreme poverty. Without wishing to sound cliché, it’s the kind of place that makes you stop and consider what you have and how easily it can all melt away (sorry if this gets a bit dark).

But my actual new year’s was spent in a small riad on the outskirts of the Medina, in a room full of people from around the world. I spoke to people from Ireland, Germany, France, and Russia as well as of course from Morocco.

Nothing that profound happened; we spoke, we danced, we ate lots of lovely Moroccan food – it was just a good night in general. But at the stroke of midnight I did consider for a second how privileged I was to have this experience – not only to travel but to meet people from all over the globe (although admittedly it was a bit Eurocentric). Over the next year as Brexit really takes off and Trump wreaks havoc across the pond, fear and hatred of foreigners will be stronger than ever. So I made a promise to myself in Marrakech: that I would continue this year as I started it, embracing people from around the world.

I don’t know how we can turn the tide on right wing populism, I have zero answers as to how the UK brings itself together again; I don’t really even know how best I can do my part to help the world. But I hope that remaining open to it, maintaining communications with people from beyond my small corner of the country, and refusing to ever accept that we should be building walls rather than bridges will in some small way make a difference.

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In my next post, which I shall endeavour to put up shortly, I will discuss the process of writing a dissertation. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments or email me – I know when I was first setting out on mine I wanted to talk to lots of people that had already done them.

Until then x

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.

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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.

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Showing Norwich off to the Parents

As November draws to a close we are now entering what I shall call ‘Peak Parental Visit’ season. Drawn by the lights of Norwich, or the need to give students a lift home, over the next three weeks hundreds of parents will be descending on the city.

As lovely as it is to see you parents, and to get a free lift home, this can pose a few problems. When they ask you to show them your favourite Norwich spots the UEA SU bar probably isn’t going to cut it.

Fear not however, I have compiled a list of places in Norwich sure to charm any parent and assure them that you absolutely have visited Norwich beyond Prince of Wales Street.

#1 Norwich Lights

This is by far the easiest win.

This year especially Norwich seems to have gone all out on the Christmas lights. Take your parents for a stroll through the market after dark and admire the lit up mistletoe, the projections on Norwich Castle, and the famous Jarrolds Department Store Christmas lights.

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And of course, don’t miss the tunnel of light which recreates the effect of the Northern Lights – and all for free!

#2 Norwich Lanes

Wander through Norwich Lanes and support all of the fabulous independent shops. Whilst you’re at it, why not also enjoy one of the many wonderful cafes that operate down there?

My favourites are Biddy’s Tea Room (make sure to book in advance!) and Roots Café.

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You can also check out this wonderful tea and coffee shop and buy some of their winter warmers.

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#3 Norwich Ice Rink

Returning soon, Norwich Ice rink is a seasonal attraction which runs from mid-December to mid-January. This one is a bit more spenny, but if you don’t mind the cost or the chance of getting a bruised bum then this is a great way to spend the day, plus show your parents Chapelfield Gardens.

#4 Sainsbury Arts Centre

If, however, the winter has been getting into your bones (or you’d just rather stay on campus) then there is the Sainsbury Arts Centre. At the moment they have fascinating exhibition entitled ‘FIJI: ART & LIFE IN THE PACIFIC’, which will take you far away from the Norwich winds.

It’s also a chance to show off the on campus architecture that was used in Avengers Assemble and Black Mirror.

#5 Tombland

Fantastic name right? This is the area around Norwich Cathedral; there are all sorts of interesting pubs, restaurants, antiquarian bookshops, and of course the cathedral itself which is beautiful (if chilly) to see this time of year.

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Hopefully you will find these places as loveable as I do, let me know if there’s anywhere is Norwich which you think is a must see!

Open Days…Again?

As we hurtle towards the end of the autumn semester I am reminded just how quickly my final year at UEA is passing. What particularly drove this home was a visit to another university this week to hear about their Medieval Studies MA.

I made the decision last year not to stay on at UEA for my MA partly because there isn’t a specialist in Norse literature here but also because I don’t think I would like to be here after all of my friends have graduated. However, looking around another university – even the University of York which is essentially UEA’s twin – felt a bit like a betrayal.

I travelled up to York last Wednesday (having to catch a train before 7 in the morning!) with a friend to attend an open day at the University of York. Walking around the city I was struck by its similarities to Norwich, the old alleys and wonderful independent shops, but it was when I reached the university campus that it began to feel uncanny. York and UEA were set up roughly around the same time and shared a taste for brutalist architecture. We both have lakes with iconic buildings on their banks and flying walk ways that create a feeling of having stepped out of the ordinary into something new and perhaps a little futuristic.

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York’s Central Hall

York and UEA do have many differences however, whilst UEA forged ahead determined to live up to its motto Do Different, York chose to mimic older institutions and became a collegiate university (I don’t mean this is a pejorative sense) . Walking through the campus felt rather like seeing someone’s doppelgänger – you could see the differences but the similarities were striking.

I had a wonderful day up north. I love York for all the same reasons I love Norwich and if I got onto the MA there it would feel like a natural progression. I come from a medieval city, I’ve studied in a medieval city for my BA, so it would be great to continue that tradition during post-grad.

(If you happen to find yourself in York, after checking out the Minster and all of the amazing museums, make sure you stop by the Fudge Kitchen – it’s expensive but it will blow your mind!)

Obviously, I’m in the middle of it all at the moment but I hope to talk about my MA application process on here in the future as it seems to me that there are far fewer resources for post grad applications than there are for undergraduate.

As always feel free to message me with any questions you may have and if you would like a glimpse of life at UEA then you can check out my Instagram hjp_armstrong.

Not the post I was hoping to write:

I had hoped to be writing a post today about some of my favourite places in Norwich – it’s been awhile since I did anything like that – but unfortunately it’s been bucketing it down all day and I really don’t fancy standing in the rain taking pictures (especially as I’ve currently got the sniffles).

So, instead I thought I would just do a little update on where I am and what I’m doing.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the election of Donald Trump. I didn’t stay up all night in the student union bar as a lot of people did because I had an essay to write the next day, but UEA TV have done a lot of very good coverage of it.

It is of course a blow to all of us who thought that the US couldn’t possibly look past such racism and bigotry and I think it will make us think of our own politics rather differently. There was a generally muted feeling on campus the following day, everyone seemed to understand that something momentous yet terrible had happened. However, Trump’s election isn’t considered a reasonable excuse for turning in an essay late so life somehow ticks on.

On this greyest of Saturdays I am staying in, drinking tea and planning my MA application. It’s quite complicated and unlike undergrad applications there isn’t anyone holding your hand along the way. But, it’s also very exciting and it inspires me to work harder when I’m feeling that I’d rather stay in bed than go to the library. My modules are still going well and I am utterly in love with the Gothic. It’s really made me realise how lucky I am that I can spend all day reading something I love and call it work!

As for Drama Society, we currently have on a production of ‘King Lear’ in the UEA Drama Studio and as a committee we are busy organising this year’s Winter Ball. Today is the last day to buy tickets and we have already sold nearly 100! It’s very exciting to get to put on events like these but it’s also a massive amount of responsibility – perhaps it’s slightly machiavellian but I often find myself thinking how great this going to look on my CV…

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Hopefully I will soon have a ‘Best of Norwich’ post to share with you – so keep an eye out!

Best wishes to you all and be excellent to one another!

From Syria With Love – Art Exhibition

A few days ago I had the privilege of seeing From Syria With Love’s touring art exhibition.

All of the artwork in it was done by Syrian children in refugee camps in Lebannon and, as you might expect, it was a deeply moving experience.

When we arrived in the small exhibition space off Magdalen Street in Norwich, my friend and I were just in time to see the screening of a short documentary about the children living in the refugee camps. Whilst rough and ready, it was one of those rare pieces of footage which can put an entire room on pause. In this small room in Norwich, a truth which I have known for a long time but not wanted to think about too hard was held up to my face.

It is one thing to know that there are millions of Syrian refugees but it’s another to listen to them articulately describe that which for us is unimaginable.

After the film, I looked around the exhibition. It’s small and unpolished, but to present it in any other way would have been disingenuous to what it was trying to convey.

All of the artwork is by children but much of it depicts things no child, no person, should have to see. The ones which have stayed with me afterwards include a depiction of the bombing of a hospital and another showed ‘War’ arriving at Syria’s door after leaving a trail of blood through Iraq and Afghanistan.

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All of the money raised by From Syria With Love goes towards helping Syrian children in refugee camps, helping them get access to an education and to emergency support. They have no managerial costs and provide a breakdown of how they spend every pound of their money on their website.

Afterwards, my friend and I walked away, deeply affected but unsure as to what we can do to help. It’s still a question I am asking myself, but I do know that if this exhibition comes to a venue near you then you must make the time to see it.

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There is no greater cure for compassion fatigue than to hear of the horrific experiences of Syrian refugees in their own words and images.

You can find out more about From Syria With Love at their website.

Third Week, Third Year

Although we are only in the third week of term third year feels well and truly underway – I’ve already had a summative (which means that the grade counts towards my degree) essay to hand in!

The first two weeks have been something of a blur and the various freshers events at which I was promoting Drama Society have all begun to blend in to one. I just really hope, as a soc, that we’ve managed to make at least a few nervous freshers feel a bit more settled and maybe even helped them meet their future friends.

This was also the first year in which I didn’t attend any fresher evening events, well aside from the one Drama Society organised, and although I was a bit envious of some of the cool stuff that was put on at the Freshers’ Ball, overall it was definitely the right decision not to go – I would have been exhausted!

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This term I’m doing two modules; The Gothic, and my dissertation.

I can’t really talk in too much depth about my dissertation because I’m still working it out for myself, but on the Gothic front I am having a great time. So far, this is probably one of my favourite modules at UEA, certainly up there with last year’s Medieval Writing module. I’m loving the reading, my seminar group, and the fact that our assessment is broken down into multiple essays over the term rather than one giant one at the end of the semester. I am also feeling a lot better at the moment than I did this time last year so ideas just seem to be coming to me more easily – which is one of the weird things about academia, in many ways it is just as creative as fiction/poetry writing etc, your brain makes leaps that you can’t always explain and you certainly can’t force. Looking back I would probably describe my first term of second year as being like having writer’s block.

I was speaking to one of my tutors recently and he said to me that I worried too much, that I thought too much about my grades when I should be enjoying studying. It reminded me of one of my favourite poems, ‘Ithaka’ by C.P. Cavafy which I may have talked about somewhere on this blog before. But the stanza it particularly recalled was this,

‘Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.’

So that is what I will try to do, to enjoy my time left at UEA and not see my degree as something to be got through or achieved as quickly as possible. Whilst receiving my degree at the end is important, it’s not the roll of paper which will make me ‘wealthy’, but the amazing experience that I have on the way.