Things that you appreciate more at the end of an Undergraduate Degree

I feel bad that I’ve gone through another 6 month blogging hiatus. However, in that time I have written 18,000 words of assessed essays, sat 3 exams constituting 20% of my degree within 3 days… and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Warwick. Cut me some slack! Still, I wanted to get back on the blogging wagon, so here I am, even if it has taken me a few weeks of hitting the reset switch since my final exam to get around to doing it. This post is all about things which I have come to appreciate more now that my undergraduate degree is over. They are either things I missed because I was away at university, or, long for now that I am back home in Norfolk and removed from The Bubble. Personally, I have been glad to have certain things back in my life. But, simultaneously, I feel there are things I enjoyed at university, perhaps without realising it, that I am missing already. As I said, they are all things I appreciate more at the end of my degree. Things I appreciate having back

  • Reading for pleasure 

When you’re in the study zone, revising for hours of the day, trudging through notes and scribbling onto flashcards indefinitely, is it surprising when reading for pleasure takes a backseat? For me it certainly did. I’d been pouring over words all day, I didn’t want to add more onto my plate for these past few months! Moreover, it isn’t just the weariness of reading all day that put me off the pursuit of fiction in my spare time… it’s the way you think about what you read which put me off as well. Studying for humanities essays and exams, you critically analyse sources as a fundamental part of your higher education. At the end of my exams, I tried reading to wind down soon after. But I found no enjoyment or relaxation therein. I was over-thinking and critically interpreting the novels. My brain hadn’t switched back from exam/essay mode. And it sucked. It killed the reading experience for me. Gradually reading for pleasure came back to me. I don’t know what triggered it, but it probably came with activities which helped put a distance between me and my exams: watching crap TV, heading to the pub, going on long bike rides and eagerly returning to exercise. Since the end of my exams I have read hungrily, and it has felt amazing to read for pleasure once again.

  • Access to a dishwasher

Living with 12 people and sharing a kitchen with them hasn’t changed much since first year (I lived in the same campus accommodation in final year as I did as a fresher… made for some very strange deja vu moments). People don’t clean up after themselves, leave dirty dishes in the sink for days on end, and shared spaces deteriorate very quickly with only 2/3 inconsiderate people in a group of 12. As a bit of a clean freak, I found this particularly hard. But whatever- it’s over now, and I feel that I kept myself (relatively) in check… Although some of my housemates may disagree. Borderline psychotic Facebook group posts aside… I think I kept it together pretty well! Anyway, getting back home and having access to that magical machine known as a dishwasher was fantastic. No dreading the end of a meal because you have to stand and wash all the utensils, pots and pans. Honestly, they make life so much simpler and it’s easy to take this everyday appliance for granted.

  • Being back in the countryside

This is a matter of personal taste, of course. But as a guy from the sticks, I certainly missed big open spaces, rural quiet, and being so close to the beach. I know rural life isn’t for everyone, and living nearer to urban areas has its benefits as well… But at several times during my final year at Warwick I longed for the big skies, fresh air, scenery, and quiet that comes with living in rural East Norfolk. Even in Norwich, you’re never more than 10-15 minutes from fields and countryside! Best of both worlds if you ask me. And the beaches. Seriously, Norfolk’s beaches are so underrated. Holkham, Wells, Winterton, Sea Palling all have golden soft sand, beautiful dunes and all the makings of a sterling beach holiday destination. I think coming back from uni after my final exams made me appreciate home even more. Side note: The Telegraph recently named Noroflk the classiest county to live in! I’m glad my home county is being taken a bit more seriously, and receiving more positive, balanced press. I may be biased but I think it’s deserved!

  • Access to a car

When studying at Warwick, it was impractical and unnecessary for me to have a car. I share my Mum’s car anyway (haven’t needed my own, so never saw the point in buying one for the sake of it), so couldn’t bring it even if I desperately wanted to. However, linked to the above point about being back in the countryside, you certainly need a vehicle here to get around and enjoy things. But the ability to head off and visit friends, places or the city, in private transport, on your own time, is great to have back. I don’t really mind buses, but you have to plan your time better, and it isn’t as flexible. Moreover, especially in Noroflk, there are just some places you cannot get to because there are no public transport options which reach them! Or, they exist, but they’re so convoluted and time-consuming the impracticality makes them nigh on impossible anyway.

Things I miss having 

  • Omnipresent coffee vendors

Instant coffee does a job. But then again, so does ITV’s coverage of the World Cup… But it’s not the real mccoy. Give me coffees based on espressos and the glory of the BBC any day of the week. On campus, I was never more than a 5 minute walk from a cafe which sold proper coffee. In the foray of dissertation writing and exam revision, I came to depend slightly on the boost a strong cup of coffee in one form or another. Still, I took it for granted. Now I am back home, in a village with no coffee shops of any description, and there is an espresso cup-shaped hole in my life. Admittedly, where there’s a will there’s a way, and some of the nearby pubs or cafes must serve proper coffee. But, with the ease and low cost of campus coffee, they don’t really compare.

  • Gym access

I need fitness in my life in one form or another, and the gym is my preferred outlet for physical exercise by a long stretch. On campus I lived within sight of a very decent gym facility, had access at an extremely reasonable student rate, and enjoyed a diverse range of equipment and free weights to support whatever fitness regime I chose. Now I am back home, I do so miss the equipment required for squats, deadlifts, bench presses and so on. I looked into gym membership here but I balked at £25-40 monthly membership fees, limited equipment, and up to 40 minute drives to even reach them. I most definitely took the university gym for granted, and miss having access to it. The silver lining is I have altered my workout routine, and I am focusing on classic bodyweight exercises like pushups, pullups and dips. It’s very beneficial to change it up with exercise routines every few weeks, so in a way the lack of a gym has forced my hand here, but to my own benefit. I will be writing a separate post all about this shortly, because I really have felt the bodyweight shift has been a positive change.

  • Student Immersion

I love my family and friends back home, and the following does not detract from that at all. BUT, as a student you get used to living and working on campus, surrounded by thousands of people who are working towards similar goals as you, that are like-minded and approach life in comparable ways to you. This is not to say that there are not people like this back home, of course there are. There just isn’t a comparable concentration or volume of these people. Again, this is possibly due to living in the sticks. But as a student, I love being surrounded by other students. Being able to drift unexpectedly to a pub on a Tuesday afternoon, and for it to still have a decent amount of people and hubub going on despite the random timing makes the experience that much better. Bumping into a classmate in Tesco’s and nattering as you do your grocery shopping makes the essential but dull activity much more bearable. I’m ever so grateful to be home, but I do miss the student community.

All is not lost…. Overall, there are several things that I have come to appreciate more now that I have finished my undergraduate degree. I’m sure there are many more that I could talk about, but these were the things which came to my mind first. But, as to the things I miss having as part of student life… I’m not losing them completely, just because I’m done at Warwick. Since my last blog post I applied for post graduate study and funding in the USA. I am very pleased and excited to be undertaking an MA in Public History at New Mexico State University! This is subject to a Visa meeting at the US embassy but hopefully that will go smoothly. Otherwise everything else is pretty much in place! I cannot wait to undertake this next step, further my education, get to know a new area and new people, and study abroad all over again.

Prepare yourself USA, the Wandering Canary is coming back!

(^ Visa pending, haha!!!)

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Recipes for a Fulfilling Summer

It’s been a while since my last blog post. As I have now begun the latter half of my last quarter at UCSB, I feel it’s time to get off my butt and do something about this heinous crime of neglect. I’ll admit, I have been having an absolutely terrific time at UCSB, and I have numerous mixed feelings about approaching the end of it.

I’m not sure I’m ready to write extensively on all of them (or any of them for that matter…). When I come to terms with it, I’ll be sure to relate them as well as I can. I think any of my readers who are from my home university, and are about to go on the year abroad as well; or are looking into education abroad in general from wherever, the end of your time abroad is an unavoidable prospect. An unpleasant, unavoidable prospect.

By no means should it hang over your head from the get-go, of course. Seizing the opportunities that arise, and creating opportunities for yourself, are far more important. This should not be forgotten when you embark upon a year abroad.

Instead, for the moment, I’d rather talk about how people generally understand that huge block of potential we call the Summer Holidays, back home in the UK. This is because it is something I am also contemplating at this time of the quarter. I don’t know how you all feel, but planning for Summer is a pain. There is always so much you could do, yet those holidays have a habit of just slipping right by you. It’s depressing, but I always feel I could make more of Summer.

Acknowledging that makes me want to rectify this situation for 2013. Therefore, here are two polar opposite ways of approaching the Summer holidays, in recipe form. There are many other recipes out there, and who knows, I may write others if these are successful. Both have their distinctive merits. However, it may well be the case that a fusion of the two would be highly satisfactory too. Bon appetit!

The Solidly Sensible Summer

Ingredients:

  • A hunk of work experience and/or an internship
  • Lashings of reliable income
  • Stacks of savings
  • A couple of CV-enriching strings to your bows

Preparation:

  • Begin seeking employment or other beneficial work experience early, and leave applications to mature very early on, well-ahead of Summer.

Directions:

  • Upon successfully garnering a relevant internship and/or employment, engage with said task enthusiastically and confidently, culminating in a rich, useful experience.
  • If possible, draw income from the sumptuous experience, and place said finances into a secure place, a bank perhaps.
  • Deftly draw the most beneficial of these experiences from the overall whole, and construct into CV-enriching points, ready to add to your future job applications at a later date.
  • Meanwhile, maintain the deposited funds as much as possible during the Summer. Ageing these will be of use to you in the future, when petrol costs keeps rising and you realise numerous other expenditures loom on the horizon: such as books for that final year of university, or your Xbox Live membership which needs renewing in September. Preparedness is next to awesomeness, don’t forget.

Cooking time:

Several hours per day. Generally, work experience and internships will weigh in heavily against your free time. For all of those early Friday mornings at the office, there’s a Student Night at Lola Lo’s on Thursday that may have to be foregone.

Entire cooking process may well take up the entire Summer.

Temperature:

Socially-speaking- Very low to Low at most times. However, bursts of high heat will be required to maintain your sanity, potentially.

Notes:

The dedication and commitment required for this Summer recipe are not inconsiderable. Please do not undertake lightly. However, the end product is a highly rewarding dish, and should not be dismissed lightly.

Credit: http://www.commercekitchen.com/

The Socially Sizzling Summer

Ingredients:

  • Dozens of social events
  • A pile of petrol receipts
  • Numerous nights of debauchery
  • A couple of festivals
  • A large amount of sand
  • A generous overdraft
  • Several television series to catch up on (NB: Brand or type is unimportant here, but this recipe would highly recommend Breaking Bad, The Wire, Homeland, or The Walking dead).
  • A handful of lazy days, filled with very little at all.

Preparation:

  • Before finishing your last term at university, ensure you have all the necessary people lined up to contact, as soon as that last exam finishes.
  • It may well be the case that this recipe will require a steady in-flow of cash to fund it. Select either enriched pre-existing savings, or a secure a summer job, to help fund your activities. When selecting the job, ideally it shall be flexible, well-paid, enjoyable, varied and require relatively few hours of work on weekends. IE no job that existed for a young student ever.

Directions:

  • This recipe can largely be improvised, and quantities of the ingredients are usually dependent on the personal preferences of the Chef. Personal discretion is recommended here. This recipe tends to require minimal direction, and can quite often snowball delightfully of it’s own accord. 
  • During the cooking process maintain an open mind and schedule. Unexpected developments or social opportunities may arise at any given time.

Cooking Time:

Between 2-5 days per week, depending on the number of servings required. Depending on the size of said dishes, individual cooking times may vary. Here is a list of suggested cooking times for individual dishes:

  1. “A quiet one down the pub”: 2-4 hours, depending on how long you have to wait for that-one-friend to buy the rounds, who reliably never does.
  2. “Beach trip”: 4-7 hours, depending on several variables such as:
    – Temperature
    – Presence of rain (always a factor in any recipe for Summer in Britain)
    – Sunbathing tolerance
    – Supply of beers
    – Did you remember the frisbee?
  3. “Mildly-Disastrous Camping Trip to Washed-Out British Seaside Town”: 3 days to a week.

Notes:

Do not neglect the Socially Sizzling Summer for too long at any one time. The Sizzle may well just… fizzle out. Input is required, and often you may need to seek outside input. Sous chefs and other friends should be wielded effectively to propagate a fertile environment for social events to proliferate.

While an enjoyable dish, the Socially Sizzling Summer may well be devoured very quickly. Moreover, negative repercussions of this dish have been know to include the following:

  • Significant debt
  • Hangovers
  • Sunburn
  • Lost possessions at festivals
  • Parental frustration
  • Loss of brain cells
  • Did I mention debt?

However, please bear in mind that this dish may well bear some delicious fruits as well, including:

  • Unforgettable experiences
  • Touching the hand of that singer as they jump down into the crowd in front of the main stage
  • Brilliantly perceptive and insightful conversations in takeaways at 4 am, which you may or may not be able to recapture
  • Rekindling your love for Pinkman
  • Enjoying a cold pint on a summer’s evening, next to the BBQ 

Credit: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8155/7215313684_8608af2fc3_z.jpg

Welcome to UCSB

It has taken me longer than I intended to get round to this post, because there has been so much going on in my first week at Tropicana Del Norte, I haven’t just sat at my laptop for an extended period of time. However, as I wait for a Skype chat with my parents and sister, who’s leaving for her first year of uni tomorrow, I felt it was time to try and capture just a fraction of the amazing time I am having here in Isla Vista.

After my first few days in Anacapa Hall, I moved into TDN a week ago today, on the 23rd of September. Before that, I crashed on Imogen’s sofa (one of the other Warwick students here at UCSB) on the night of the 22nd. Getting to know Del Playa (DP) first-hand, with a house to stay in, even just for that couple of days, was really beneficial. I can imagine getting to know DP from scratch can be pretty overwhelming. Essentially it’s the party central for UCSB students, and is the main component to the night life here. The disconcerting thing is how people will just pile onto DP, “party-hop” from house to house, and many people just leave their doors open to people wandering in. I cannot imagine doing that back home, but it’s a lot of fun. House parties are the name of the game here, as it permits under-age drinking.  Speaking of which, due to the alcohol-related laws:

A) I’ve reverted back to that teenage phase where drinking is off limits, but here the consequences for me getting caught by police are much greater than the mere slap on the wrist I’d be likely to get in England. However, as I have been drinking for a few years, the crucial difference between now and the teenage phase is that it used to be kind of exciting for drinking to be off limits. Now it’s just a pain in the backside.

B) There is nothing more appealing than the idea of being able to have a cold Budweiser on the gorgeous beaches here, but public drinking is off limits. Which is frustrating.

Nevertheless, it has been like being a Fresher all over again, in a way, which I like. A lot. Getting to know loads of people, having far too many people packed into your room and chatting with them, going out to get nachos at 3am, signing up for sports clubs you will probably never join, and lots more standard Fresher-esque behaviour.

Re-freshed all over again!

But there have been other, non party-related elements to my first week which I have really enjoyed.

  • I’m not going to lie to you here- having a British accent. It’s a great conversation starter or ice-breaker, and can be greeted with a lot of… enthusiasm.
  • The people who live in my apartment are all really friendly, great guys. We get along fine and I have been very lucky to land among a good bunch of blokes.
  • Sharing a room with Giles has been an easy changeover, which is a good result too. Except for my annoyingly early starts (even though I got into bed at 4.30 last night, I still ended up waking up at like 7.30: my body clock hates me), which Giles is very good about- ie he sleeps through them- living together has been a breeze so far.
  • Playing football again, at intramural (casual) level. I had my first training sessions a few days ago, and am playing my first “pick-up game” at 4.30 today. Cannot wait.
  • Getting to know a whole new gym, with new machines, cable equipment, and other bits and pieces which make my inner Gym Monkey very happy.
  • Finding my way round campus, and finding unexpected areas or buildings.
  • Finally going to some classes so I have a vague idea about how the academic side of things will pan out.
  • Cycling around on Dante, my new bike, which I have been loaned by TDN. International students can get a loan bike for free here, which is a fantastic idea. Giles got one too, and his is named Seabiscuit. It feels great to cycle so often, and it must be having a knock-on effect for my fitness which is always an added bonus.

Dante, the Inferno.

Seabiscuit, Scourge of the Seven Seas.

  • Adopting a Betta Fish as an apartment. They don’t play well with others, and will eat other fish if put in the same bowl. So we have named our killer Betta fish Goliath!

Meet Goliath, the baddest fish you’re likely to meet. Well. Sort of.

  • Cheap food at take-outs, restaurants etc. Yesterday I went on a beach trip with some of my apartment buddies, and headed further afield to Santa Barbara beach. Afterwards, when we had built up an appetite, we headed to this amazing Mexican restaurant. The set-up was very basic, but plates of tacos or meat dishes served with tortillas were about $2.50-$.50 each. Interms of value, it was very good, but in terms of taste, it was excellent.
  • Did I mention the beaches?

 

  • Cruising along a sunny highway in a car full of new mates, mountains off in the distance, all the windows down, blasting out music such as this:

  • Hilarious American attempts at British accents. Some have been pretty decent… others have been horrendously bad.

Apart from all these wonderful things, there are a few differences with living here that I have to be wary of. These aren’t bad things, by any stretch of the imagination, but are just factors in the way of life I’ve stepped into that I need to consider.

  • You become wary of police all over again. Not only as I’m under-age  but because I cycle to most places. This include parties on nights out, and you have to be extremely careful about BUI tickets- Biking Under the Influence. These tickets cost a bomb, can get you into a hell of a lot of trouble, and I for one don’t want to risk my visa status because I was a bit tiddly on a bike. So I can bike to places, but it is wise to then walk my bike when I come back after the copious amounts of booze that will undoubtedly have been consumed. As a result, I think you have to develop what I call a “Podar”- police radar. You keep an eye out at intersections, tone everything down if police are walking along DP, and NEVER, EVER, sit on the curb. You’re asking for a night in the drunk tank if you do that.
  • As much as I love the unlimited fizzy drinks and ice cream available at my cafeteria, these two bonuses are representative of the larger issue of how easy it would be to eat massive meals, 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. I get all my meals covered here at TDN, and can make as many visits to the canteen as I’d like. The food here has been pretty good all told, but whereas at uni in England, I’d make do with a bowl of Special K and a banana for breakfast, here it is very easy to just have cooked breakfast everyday, for example. Admittedly, this is just a question of willpower, and from now on I will try and limit myself to a big dinner, lighter lunch and a healthier option for breakfast. But it’s just so easy, particularly after a heavy night out, to say to yourself “Well I need the energy to get through tomorrow, might as well load up at breakfast!!”
  • As my lobster-esque room mate is realising today, you have to be careful with the sun. Even just walking around between classes contributes to any sunburn you accumulate, and being wary of it doesn’t come naturally to pasty English boys such as Giles and myself.

So, as you can probably tell, I am having an absolutely incredible time, and am loving every minute I’m spending here. I know it sounds corny, but I do feel so lucky to be here, and it’s only just beginning!

Let the good times keep rolling!

Early morning photos

As I promised yesterday, I went out early this morning to catch some photos of the coast at sunrise. My body clock has been messed up, so yesterday evening, my 6pm nap turned into 5/6 hours of solid sleep. Not cool, given I’d planned to go out and have my first brewski at Imogen’s house (look at me speaking the lingo). That meant I was awake at midnight, and was for a good couple of hours. Calvin was in the same boat, but unluckily for him, he had an exam at 9am to look forward to. Long and short of it is, here are some early morning photos off the coast of IV. I haven’t touched any of these photos with editing software, by the way. The light and the camera were all I needed today. It would have felt wrong to change these. Enjoy.

Anacapa Hall, my home for a few days.

The beaches have a lot of seaweed, but I couldn’t really give a hoot.

I kind of like the glare in this one, I know photography connoisseurs will sneer. Let ’em.

Sunrise over the mountains that are just set back off the coast all along this stretch of the American coast.

However: Mountains = Tectonic Plates. Tectonic plates = earthquakes. Earthquakes = Tsunamis. Just don’t tell my Mum.

Campus Point.

This is where I first got goosebumps on my jog yesterday morning. I was struggling to compute such an amazing running route.

Pier, sunrise, boat. Clichéd but what can you do.

I saw my first pelican yesterday. Actually, I saw three with Imogen, flying in formation, like a squadron or something. This was as close as I could get to any this morning, with full zoom on. Before taking this photo, there had been about treble this amount of pelicans, but most of them flew away. These guys must be the hard ones that have nerves of steel, as far as birds go.

Talking of firsts, here’s the first racoon I have ever encountered. This little critter was positively brazen compared to the pelicans, I was about 2 feet away from him when I took this. They’re bigger than you expect them to be, must be the rich pickings in IV. This one was the size of a small-ish dog.

Another one of the sunrise, sorry. But just look at it…

California Prelude: Dordogne

I have created a new page for the photography from my most recent holiday in France. This was the last major part of my summer holiday before jetting off to California, and it was a lovely vacation. Now it’s done though, I’m itching to get down to Heathrow, and I imagine these last 8 days will crawl by. Go and take a peek!

https://wanderingcanary.wordpress.com/dordogne-days/

California Countdown

I had meant to write a post exactly 4 weeks before I fly out to California, but I was away from home and a computer, so that scuppered my good intentions. It seemed like a good time to talk about how I was feeling, what was happening with the year abroad etc. So now I’m writing this post with LESS than 4 weeks till take off, which is crazy. I know this time will flash by, and that’s equally exciting as it is scary. Quite a few of my course mates are now at their respective universities across the Pond, and I’m getting twitchy to start my own journey and experience.

The anticipation for my time in California has definitely intensified in the last week or 10 days. That feeling has been there all summer, and it’s been a process of balancing this and meeting people/ spending time with and visiting family/ sorting out formalities for the year abroad/ working to earn some money. So it has been a strange summer really, juggling all that has made me feel I can’t get it all done, see everyone I wanted to, do everything I had planned. But I’ve done all I could given that I was being pulled in various different directions, and that’s just how it is. The only major concern I have with regards to the summer is that with work (I have had two jobs this summer, my regular work at a beach cafe, and recently some extra work doing some labouring with a stone mason to renovate a house as he knows I have done physical work like that before) I haven’t had the chance to meet some people at all yet, and others I haven’t seen as much as I’d like to. I’m worried I’ll lose contact with some of them, but hopefully the last few weeks and the opportunities that Facebook/Skype offer will remedy that.

However, summer isn’t over yet, and I still have a lot left to look forward to: a family holiday in the Dordogne, a childhood friend’s 21st birthday, a farewell party which I’m only just starting to organise, and other bits and bobs. Moreover, I have been speaking to another Warwick student who is going to UCSB as well (who also happens to be in the Dordogne at the moment, not far from where I’ll be, how freaky is that!? Small world), and she seems really motivated and positive about it all, which is fantastic. She’s going to be arriving earlier than me as well, so at least I’ll have a tour guide who’s already been through exactly what I will be going through in those first few days of adjustment. I hope it goes smoothly, without major hiccups, for all of us!

There’s not really much left for me to do at the moment, and my to-do list includes:

  • Get the address for the nearest T-Mobile branch in Isla Vista/Santa Barbara, so I can sort a stateside rolling contract ASAP when I land.
  • Get the address of the “Student Hotel” at UCSB which will be my immediate crash pad before moving into Tropicana Del Norte.
  • Google some of the main locations in and around the campus Isla Vista that I will need to know about: supermarkets, ATMs, the health centre etc.
  • Exchange some sterling into dollars for those (most probably expensive) first few days, where taxis and takeaways will be the name of the game.
  • Double check the forms and identification etc I’ll need for entering the States. There has been some talk on a Facebook group for British students studying in the US about horror stories where incoming students haven’t gotten the Visa page of their passport stamped, and have faced frustrating legal problems because of this small error by the airport staff.
  • See if any of my reading lists have been released (so far, only two of my 4 classes have released them) so I can try and get them cheaply before flying across, to save myself some hassle in the States.

Basically they are just final checks that need seeing to, so I’m as prepared as I can be. I know a lot of my course mates are much more pragmatic than that, and some of my friends are going over without having sorted accommodation, and plan to wing it a lot more than myself. Admittedly, some of them (those going to Argentina, for example) haven’t really had much of a choice, but I still admire them for undertaking all that! I have to feel as prepared as I possibly could be, otherwise I freak out a little. Not that I envisage that I can foresee every tiny development or unexpected twist, and I’ll deal with them as they arise. However, I don’t think being organised before big events like this is a bad thing, by any stretch of the imagination!

But overall, it’s an exciting time. The beach, the surfing, the weather, the parties, new people, new cities, and new classes all await me. 25 days left to go. California, prepare yourself!