Tips For Starting Uni

It’s August, A level results day is looming, and in less than a month term will be starting at universities all across the UK. For those of you hoping to be going to one of those universities for the first time, you don’t need me to tell you that it’s a daunting time. For me, though, this will be my third year at a UK university, so here are my tips for starting uni! Continue reading “Tips For Starting Uni”

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Things To Do To Prepare You For Uni

Here in the UK, exam season is beginning to come to an end. Many current uni students are already starting their summers, while future uni students are still focused on working their hardest to get the grades they need. But in just a few weeks, they too will have a long summer to look forward to.

So how best to use that time to prepare oneself for uni?

Here are a few things I wish I’d done, plus a few other things that I’d recommend doing.  Continue reading “Things To Do To Prepare You For Uni”

University Life, Part Two: The Cons

Previously, I’ve written about how great an experience university is (you can find that post here) – but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Not everyone is cut out for studying. And good Lord, do you have to do a lot of studying.

Besides studying, university can be tough – in terms of organisation, mental health, and a whole load of other things. So here are all the things I’ve found that aren’t so great about uni life.

It’s a lot to fit in. Lectures and seminars. Reading. Assignments. Looking after yourself. Cleaning. Actually talking to people. Extra-curricular activities. Part-time jobs (because not everyone can rely on parents or savings to feed themselves and pay the bills). Remembering to phone your parents. You have to have a lot of self-discipline and time-management to be successful and if you don’t, it can put you under a lot of pressure. I, for one, really struggle in this department, which can make everything rather stressful, especially during periods when I suffer from low moods and a lack of motivation and energy.
And don’t forget, of course, that some of us are first-timers when it comes to household chores. Up until now, we’ve been living with our parents. Not only do we have to cook and clean, we have to learn how to do it. And then we have to remember to do it.
The other main problem that I find with uni is this: there is never a home time. There is never a point where you can confidently say: “There. I’ve done everything I need to do. I can relax now.” There is always more you can do. You can always do more extra reading. You can always spell-check your essay again. You can always revise that thing just one more time. It is never-ending. As much as you bribe yourself to finish that assignment with “you can relax when it’s done”, you know deep down it isn’t true: you need to go shopping for actual food (you’ve been living off cereal, canned soup and crisps for at least a week), you need to clean your room (which will take hours), you still need to do your laundry. Frankly, university can be exhausting.

And let’s not even talk about the debts you’re getting into – on top of massive tuition fee loans, most students also rely on maintenance loans. As previously discussed, studying is full time, except instead of getting paid for it, you’re charged ridiculously huge sums to do all this hard work, and then find a way to pay for rent, bills and food as well. Getting a part-time job will inevitably decrease your studying time (that you paid all that money for!), and watching your savings disappear with no source of income can certainly be nerve-wracking (I could’ve bought a car, or seen the world, or carried on saving up for a house with those! But no, apparently I need them to survive now).

Then you can add mental health issues to all that stress – looking at all the above, is it really that surprising that, according to The Guardian, 78% of students suffer, or have suffered, from mental health issues? Of course, these problems can only make any previous issues worse, and because they’re difficult to talk about, finding the time (and the will, and the courage…) to get help unfortunately is only an additional source of stress. 

I mentioned in Part One of my posts about university life that I’m looking forward to life after uni, and part of the reason for that is that my life will finally be stable. I’ll have a steady income, a concrete end to my to-do list, a steady schedule. I’m looking forward to having my time strictly divided: this is work time, which lasts for this amount of time, and this is chores time, and once that’s done, then – then you get your me-time, and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. And maybe it isn’t actually like that, but at least I can dream.

University Life, Part One: The Pros

I chose to come to university mostly because I didn’t know what else to do. That sounds like a bad way to make such an important decision, but I had no idea what job I wanted to do – besides, the idea of getting a job terrified me. There were no apprenticeships in anything that would suit me. There were, however, degrees that would suit me. I figured, if I do a degree I enjoy, then surely that will lead me into a career I enjoy.
So, whether it was the best choice or not, I went to uni.
And let me tell you something: I am so glad I did. Sure, there are some things that haven’t gone as I’d hoped and things that I wasn’t expecting to be problems (more on that in another post), but on the whole, university has so far been a fabulously beneficial experience for me.
For starters, remember how I said the idea of getting a job terrified me? Well, so did the idea of leaving home and going to uni. But the thing is that, at uni, everyone is the new kid. You’re shoved together in your halls and your lectures, and nobody knows each other and everybody is probably just as terrified as you are, whether they show it or not. It’s a new start, a new experience, surrounded by new people.
That’s several advantages in one. In school, you have a limited number of friends: of all the people of your age in your local area and who are in some of the same classes as you, you have to find the most agreeable ones. At uni, though, there are people from all walks of life, and in both classes and societies, you all end up classified by interests. Whether it’s a mutual passion for your degree subject or for a certain hobby, these are people you actually have something in common with. These are people you can be yourself with. And because they’re new people and it’s a new start, you can feel free to be whoever you want to be. I, for example, took this new start as the perfect chance to turn vegetarian.

Speaking of feeling free, leaving home to go to university gives you a whole new sense of independence. You get to come and go as you please. You get to make whatever food you like at whatever time you like. You can spend time with whoever you want for as long as you want. For me, this has taught me things about myself I didn’t even know. I have discovered that I love experimenting with food and trying new things, even though I’ve always been quite a picky eater. I’ve also realised that I have a tendency to try and do things on my own, without asking for help – and consequently, that this isn’t always a good thing, and that it can feel good (and totally not as scary as I thought it would be!) to share my thoughts, plans and ideas with others.

I see uni as a stepping stone to adult life: you’ve moved out of your parents’ house, but you’re not living on your own yet. You have to cook and clean for yourself, but you’re with other people who are also learning how to do that. You have to budget your money and your time, but you have the support of the uni – personal tutors, advisers, and other welfare staff – to fall back on if you need help. It’s a safe space to learn to be independent and grow your confidence so that you’re ready for the adult world.

On top of that, there’s an awful lot of opportunities that university has to offer. Be it internships, research projects, semesters abroad – there’s more chance for CV improvement than just your degree. Plus, it’s an absolute confidence booster. When I signed up to be on the committee of the Creative Writing Society last year, I wanted to help, in some way, to improve a society that I saw so much potential in. But I was terrified of adding extra responsibilities to my studies; I just wanted to do something small. Now, though, I’m taking almost complete responsibility for the anthology we’re putting together, and I’m helping to organise the writer’s retreat weekend we have planned. I’ve made phone calls, I’ve promoted the society to strangers, and I’ve even led some of our writing sessions – which means talking to an entire group of people at once. It’s more responsibility than I imagined I would have, but it’s showing me what I am actually capable of when I push myself out of my comfort zone!

 

All this independence and confidence boosting has ultimately shown me that the Big Wide World is not as scary as it sounds. Thanks to my involvement with the Creative Writing Society, I have an idea for what career I want to go into after I get my degree. And more impressively, considering how scary I found it before, I’m actually looking forward to life after university.

But university isn’t all positives, and its pressures are another reason why I’m looking forward to leaving. And if you’re reading this while wondering whether university is for you, you’ll need the full picture – not just the benefits – before you decide. So, here is my post on the cons of university life.

New Semester Resolutions

     In the midst of writing essays and revising for the January exam period, I forgot to make New Year’s resolutions this year. Not that it really matters: I always think there are many opportunities for new starts apart from New Year. For me, one of those is a new semester. Deadlines and the stress they bring are gone for now, allowing time for other commitments such as self-improvement. Plus, with new modules under way, a new semester seems like the perfect time to become a new version of oneself.
     I’m not making resolutions as such, but there are many things I’d like to start doing, better habits I’d like to get into, this semester. One of them, as always, is to be more organised. This time, I’m going to stay on top of filing my lecture notes and I’m going to make sure to give myself plenty of time to not only complete but also perfect my assignments. I’m also going to watch the German news every night and watch more German films, to keep up my language skills; I might even sign up for German conversation classes, as I don’t feel I speak enough in seminars. And I’m going to do it all with positivity and motivation to spare.
     But that’s not all. I’m going to be a lot more involved in my university’s Creative Writing Society this semester, and that’s not so much something I’ve decided to do myself as something I’m already doing. I signed up to the Creative Writing Society committee last year as the “Editor”, which so far in this academic year hasn’t involved much, so I’ve basically just been doing odd jobs that other committee members are too busy to do. Now, however, the anthology we’re putting together is gaining momentum, and this is pretty much entirely my domain. I’ve been promoting the anthology to the Society’s members; I’ve been reviewing all the entries we’ve had so far so their authors can improve them*; I’ll be going to talk to the head of the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics to see if the School will support and advertise our project as well as get us more writers; I’ll be organising feedback sessions for the writers to read and comment on each others’ work; and when they send me their final submissions, I’ll be formatting the whole thing for printing. 
     On top of all that, I’ve volunteered to help out with some of the other things Creative Writing is doing at the moment, which goes from the running of our usual writing sessions and social events to the organising of a writers’ retreat weekend at the end of the Easter break in mid-April. All in all, I feel like being part of this society’s committee is going to be incredibly hectic for me over the next couple of months, but the success of this society is something I’m very passionate about, and right now I feel like my enthusiasm will be more than capable of making up for any time, energy or sleep I end up lacking.
     Finally, I hope to spend at least ten minutes every day working on my own writing project (come this summer I’ll have been writing this novel for four years, and I’d very much like to finish it before I die), and I’m also aiming to start updating this blog regularly – every Friday, to be exact. I’ll be posting updates on my writing, updates on the Creative Writing Society, other writing-related bits and pieces, book reviews, and maybe even a short story or two. If you’d like more frequent updates, I’ll be posting shorter posts and occasionally some pictures on my tumblr blog.
     I know it seems like a lot for one girl to do while keeping herself alive and healthy, attending lectures and maintaining some semblance of a social life, but I feel like I’m in a much better place mentally and emotionally this year compared to last year**, so I think I can cope. Plus, I feel a challenge is what I need. What better way to stay focussed than to always have something to focus on? What better way to get oneself out of bed in a morning than to have so many goals to achieve? Of course, I can only hope that this doesn’t backfire; this is supposed to result in productivity and fulfilment, not stress and an impulse to hide from everything under my duvet. If this is a success, then I’m hoping it’ll set me in positive, productive habits for the rest of my life.
     On that note, let the whirlwind that is this semester begin!
*=I’m planning on writing a blog post on editing others’ work, so look out for that in the near future.

**=There were points last year when even the prospect of leaving my room to go to a lecture seemed like far too much pressure, never mind making an appointment with the head of the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics.

Language Is Magic

I’ve been at university for a bit over a week now, and started my Linguistics with German degree course two days ago. At the end of the seminar I had today, our group was asked: “why do you all want to study linguistics? What about it makes it interesting to you?”

When I tell people I’m studying linguistics, many of these people ask me: “what languages?” They assume that they know what I am talking about, but they forget, or maybe don’t realise, that there is more to a language than knowing how to use it to communicate. Linguistics is the scientific study of language as a concept, from phonetics (speech sounds and how we make them) to sociolinguistics (how social factors such as class, sex, age and ethnicity affect the way language is used) to syntax (the structure of sentences). But things like that often don’t cross people’s minds. After all, they have been speaking their language for years; what more is there to know?

That’s why I find linguistics interesting. Those of us who, for example, can’t programme computers know very well that we can’t programme computers. But not many people know just how much they don’t know about the sentences they build and the sounds they form into words every day. It’s like a hidden science, it’s like a secret society. You don’t know it’s there until you really stop and think about how you don’t need to be psychic to place images in other people’s heads, you can just put one word after another in a specific way and providing that they speak the same language as you, they can rebuild the image in their heads just as you described it to them.

And the person doing the describing doesn’t even have to be anywhere near you for them to communicate that image. You can make little inks marks on paper, and these little ink marks have the power to take strangers on journeys around the world, to inspire them, to entertain them or to break their hearts. You don’t need magic to cast a spell on people; you just need words.

If you think about it, all language is is a load of sounds, and all writing is is some funny squiggles, and yet we can understand them. And we take it completely for granted; we don’t know how we do it, and we don’t even think about how we do it, we just do it. Doesn’t that say something amazing about the human brain? Because nobody told you how to put a sentence together, but you still know how to do it. Well, you say, it’s just common sense. So does that mean that you were born knowing that the adjective goes before the noun (eg, “the sneaky fox”)? Does that mean you were born knowing that it makes sense to say “the fox will hunt the rabbit” but not “the fox will the rabbit hunt”? If we were all born knowing these things, then why does the adjective come after the noun in French, and why would “the fox will the rabbit hunt” be a perfectly grammatical sentence in German?

Language is a mystery but that doesn’t stop us using it every day. Language is powerful and strange, but language works in so many ways we don’t understand, and personally I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to find out all it’s secrets.