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.

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Let’s Talk: Sometimes University is Hard

Something I have noticed that many student bloggers do, and I am very much including myself in this, is to write short and snappy articles outlining how you solve ‘x’ problem; ’10 Tips for X’ etc etc.

Now, I’m certainly not about to advocate the doing away with such content. It’s quick and easy to read, digest, and from personal experience I know that it can often be quite helpful – before starting university I read a lot of ‘Top Tips for Freshers’ guides and they helped me feel a little less nervous.

However, today I want to address something which can’t be solved in a round 400 words, something which I wish people had said to me before I started uni.

And that is that university is hard. Like, really hard sometimes.

Perhaps you think this shouldn’t come as a surprise, we all know that universities are places of academic rigor (or at least they should be) and so we can’t expect it to be plain sailing all the time. However, the problem is that we are sold an image of university which is something like this:

[Picture] “A sunny field under a blue sky, groups of students laughing and carefree – more often than not, not looking at the books which lie open in middle of their circle of friends.”

Or perhaps:

[Picture again if you will] “A serious looking student sitting in a well-lit library. They are clearly working hard but their face is a picture of health – no bags under the eyes here”.

And sometimes university is like this. Often it is fun and you are surrounded by your friends for much of the time, and studying a subject you love is fulfilling.

But-

Sometimes it is stressful and can feel like you’re knocking your head against a wall. Sometimes despite your hard work you don’t do as well as you wanted to in a class. Sometimes things going on at home or in your social life can take over and distract you from your goals.

I’m writing this because this is what happened to me last year. There were things going on at home, one of my parents was very ill, I was making poor decisions when trying to balance my social life and studies – all of which was compounded by the fact that I had high academic expectations of myself and felt that others did too.

This is not to say that I didn’t have any good times second year. I had some really amazing experiences and memories I will treasure for a life time, but I was also stressed and unhappy for a lot of it. Being home for the summer has allowed me to take a step back, catch my breath and reflect on what went on.

I can see now that a lot of the time I was making myself stressed… because I was stressed? Whenever anything became difficult or didn’t turn out as I hoped, I turned it into a reason that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t a good student, rather than just seeing it as a natural setback that happens to everyone.

Talking to other people I have heard lots of similar stories. We all imagine that everyone else is finding things easier than us. That we are somehow uniquely deficient when it comes to the things that we want to be good at.

So, in summary, there is no easy answer to this. I’m still working it out for myself. But I think it’s good for students to know that it’s ok for things to not always be ok. Sometimes uni will be difficult and you will be stressed, but everyone else is feeling the same.

University is hard sometimes, but also, sometimes it’s bloomin’ amazing – and at the end of the day I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

(Here’s a really great video by the vlogger, Lucy Moon, addressing similar issues)

So You’re About to Become a UEA Fresher?

It’s not that long until the dreaded results day now and I know that on top of worrying whether or not they’ve got the grades to get in a lot of students will be worried about moving to uni. Never fear, I am here to demystify the whole thing. So settle back, have a cup of tea, and I will tell you my top freshers’ tips.

1. What (Not) to Pack: If you are moving into student accommodation for your first year then you may be worrying about what you need to bring with you. My first piece of advice for all UEA freshers is COATHANGERS. I can’t speak for all the residences but they definitely aren’t included in Norfolk Terrace and you don’t want to be piling your clothes on the floor of your cupboard.

It’s also important to PACK FOR ALL SEASONS. When you depart for uni it might be autumnal sunshine but remember that you may not be going home before winter and Norfolk can get very chilly. If you’re a tea and coffee fanatic like myself then it’s a good idea to bring a KETTLE as not all of the flats have them and the queue at the campus shop is very long on the first day if you try to buy one when you get there. You don’t need to worry about bringing things like toasters, we have industrial size ones in the kitchens and you aren’t allowed them in your rooms.

Bring things that remind you of home and fill your room with your favourite things. Bring those books that you can read again and again, the DVDs that you watch when you’re feeling down, even your teddy bear if you still have one. These will all help you feel comfortable in your new home and will cheer you up if you get a spot of the freshers’ blues.

2. Decorate Your Room: When you first arrive your room will probably look a little sad and bare, but please don’t be put off. Once you’ve put your bedding on, added some books to the shelves and posters to the wall it will look completely different. It’s a good idea to pack some photos of your friends from home and bring knickknacks to put on the desk. It’s a great chance to really create your own space.

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The poster board in my Norfolk Terrace room

3. Arriving at Uni: Your arrival at uni can be a very chaotic affair with a dozen other people trying to move their large suitcases through a small flat at the same time as you, but this is your first opportunity to meet your new flatmates so try and conquer any potential nerves and say hi. Once you’re in your room and unpacking, prop your door open so people can pop their heads in and introduce themselves as they pass. Everyone else is new and wants to make friends too so make it as easy as possible for yourselves.

4. Which Freshers’ Events to go to: Firstly, be aware that lots of clubs will be trying to take advantage of Freshers’ week and they know that the incoming students don’t want to miss out on ‘Official’ freshers’ events – therefore be wary of people trying to sell you club wristbands and know that only tickets sold through the UEA Union website are genuinely official events. Personally, I’d only recommend bothering with the first week tickets but if clubbing is something you really enjoy then you can still buy tickets for the second week events once you arrive and find other people to go with.

Don’t forget to go to the Freshers’ fairs, you can get great coupons to use with local businesses and sign up to over 200 hundred societies (although I would not recommend signing up to all 200). I’ll be at the Societies Fair this year representing the Drama Society, so please come and say hi if you’re interested in the society or have any questions.

5. And Lastly: If you’re unsure about something ASK FOR HELP. There are lots of people on campus who would be happy to help you however you need it. There’s the Students Union who have a drop in service, the Dean of Students, your academic advisors, and older students who have been trained to mentor younger students. We’ve all be freshers once so we know how scary it can be, but we’re here to make your transition to uni as easy and enjoyable as possible.

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If you have any more questions (or your own freshers’ tips) then please feel free to ask here or contact me at h.armstrong@uea.ac.uk

I am also now on Instagram so (once September comes around) if you’d like a glimpse of what life for a UEA student is like then you can have a look at hjp_armstrong.

Best of luck to all the A Level students (including my little brother which makes me feel very old)!

Freshers’ Flashbacks (plus Global Goals)

Watching Freshers’ Week go by as a second year is a strange experience. I suppose it’s a living form of nostalgia, but, for me at least, it’s far more preferable than actually having to go through Freshers’ again. As a second year you can just go to the events that you know are good, and this time you can do it with a tight knit group of friends rather than a bunch of acquaintances (who may well go on to become your tight knit friends but that’s a different matter).

The other great bit about being a second year this September is that you can skip all of those awful welcome talks and get stuck straight into the business of studying the stuff you’re interested in. Although not being able to find where your lectures are does still occasionally happen.

Of course, first week is still super busy. Not only are you tackling the mountain of reading set for class, but as a second year you probably also have commitments to societies, and a group of friends who you’d like to see after having been scattered to the four winds during the summer.

This year I’m on the Drama Society Committee as their Union Liaison and Equality Officer, I’m in the choir, I’ve joined the UEA Student Labour party, and I need to keep up with this blog and other sites I write for. So it’s nose to the grind already, but I have a feeling that this year is going to be good.

You can find out more about Drama Society by going to ueadramasoc.com

You can find out more about Drama Society by going to ueadramasoc.com

On a completely separate note, I hope you’ll forgive me for writing just briefly about the new Global Goals.

So back in 2000 the UN developed a list of goals which were known as the Millennium Development Goals. The idea was to get countries around the world to sign up to a set of commitments which included reducing infant mortality rate, ending extreme poverty, ensuring universal primary education, etc. To find out how successful this was please watch this video (tldr: we did a pretty good job):

Now however, it is time to set a new list of Global Goals, and we need to each be a Global Citizen.

Please do check out this video and follow the links to the Global Goals website.

Without wishing to sound too preachy, I try to remember when a seminar seems dull or an essay not worth the effort, that a good quality education is a rare and precious thing. But, in time, it is possible that education could be available for everyone.

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