Things which make Final Year more bearable

It has been far too long. However, I began this blog as a means of recording my year abroad, and the experiences I had or observations I made in California. Since coming back to England, it has been very difficult to adjust my understanding of this blog to a new context, what I have come to call “The Post-Year Abroad Hangover”. Returning after such a phenomenal experience was always going to be hard. There are so many people and things that I miss in the Golden State. This is only compounded by how challenging the Final Year  of university is.

However, rather than get bogged down in these sobering thoughts, I decided it would be more positive and healthy to look at some of the things which, for me at least, are making Final Year just that little bit more bearable.

Hopefully, if there are any other finalists out there feeling a little blue, who happen to read this, it might make them feel a little bit more positive too.

Here are the things which, for me, make Final Year that much more bearable:

A Huge Wall Planner

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This faces me as I sit at my desk in my room. It’s big, it’s right in my face, and it’s almost impossible to ignore. Which is perfect. It really helps me to visualise the coming weeks, know what lies ahead, and prepare accordingly. I would recommend buying one of these to any university student, not just final years. You can get really cheap ones from Amazon or other online stores. I paid a little bit more, but the planner was larger, which is what I was looking for.

Photos, lots of photos (and a flag…)

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I have surrounded said wall planner with photos or postcards of my family, friends, and places I have visited. When I’m buried in some horrendously dense (or scientific, which is perhaps even more vile for a history student) political theory or petty historiographical disagreement, it’s lovely to be able to look up from it all, see these images, and smile. Never fails to lighten my mood. (Note how the Beverly Hills postcard is upside down- could not be a more fitting summary of my time spent there!)

DSC_0913 I have a picture of Ashley right by my side too, who also never fails to make me smile. But enough of the soppyness. On a less mushy note, I also have a customised mousemat with a picture of my cat on it as well. Anya is far too plump to ever catch a real mouse, unless it’s nearly dead anyway. So I would like to think this is a small consolation for her, in her woefully inadequate huntress skills. DSC_0915Before I left California, I got all my wonderful friends to sign a state flag, which now hangs on my wall (shhh, don’t tell my Resident Tutor or Warwick Accommodation…) Credit for this idea goes to Ashley, who did the same thing after her year in Brasil. Hers is much more packed than mine! It’s not a photo, but the messages are special to me. Things like this are great for lightening the burden of the Final Year, especially after a year abroad.

Communication Apps

Seriously, having a smart phone really is a wonderful blessing. Useful apps allow me to communicate with my girlfriend, my friends scattered across the globe, and those who aren’t, in dynamic ways. Here is my list of must-download communication apps:

  • Whatsapp: text internationally send voice recordings and pictures for free (at least for the first year of use anyway).
  • Viber: similar to the above, but it actually lets you make calls too, as long as you have internet.
  • Google Hangouts: again, a messaging platform that allows you to send photos for free, engage in group conversations, and to make video calls.
  • Snapchat: fun and entertaining means of sending pictures, which can be as silly or sublime as you choose to make them. The possibilities are vast.
  • Skype: does it really need a description? A lifesaver in terms of free communication, whether that be national or international.

Healthy Eating + Regular Exercise = Happy Finalist

I know everyone bangs on about how beneficial a good diet and regular exercise is. But in your final year, you NEED a means of de-stressing and you MUST stay healthy. Still, I know that exercise isn’t for everyone, and in some cases, it can actually stress people out rather than alleviate it. But if this is the case, perhaps you haven’t found the right type of exercise for you? Try a new sport, take a zumba class, get off the bus two stops early, whatever it is. Having some form of exercise in your life really helps. It can provide a welcome break between study sessions, it helps you sleep, and benefits your long term health.

Same goes for a healthy diet. Why not break up the afternoon of studying with a cereal bar and a glass of water? This will stave off hunger until dinner, and allow you to stay in the library that little bit longer. Or maybe a mug of green tea and a banana? Energising, anti-oxidising, and cancer fighting, all in one snack!

On the subject of healthy eating…

Cous-Cous

Bear with me on this one. Students seem to default to pizza, Pot Noodles, or pasta as a quick and easy meal. Which they are, I’m not denying this. However, cous-cous is very quick to make, much healthier, and very tasty as well. Boil the kettle, crumble half a stock cube into a bowl of cous-cous. Add the boiling water. Bang, the carb section of your meal is sorted. And no naughty potatoes or pasta in sight. No saucepans to wash up either. Which is always a bonus. Combine it with a simple vegetable mix with a tin of tomatoes; houmous; or perhaps a tin of tuna and some sweet chilli sauce: voila, you have a very satisfying meal! Or, put it in a tupperware and hey presto: you have a healthy lunch without boring sandwiches as well.

Source: BBC Good Food

Cooking CAN be a chore. But with simple, fast, tasty components like cous-cous, meal preparation doesn’t have to be another dreaded task.

Living on Campus

I know this isn’t for everyone. Returning to campus and reliving first year couldn’t be more off-putting for some. But for me, this was an excellent option. I was relieved to have the opportunity to organise campus accommodation during my year abroad. It meant I didn’t have to coordinate renting a property from thousands of miles away, potentially without ever even visiting it. Plus it means I don’t have to get the bus to campus everyday. I can roll out of bed and be at the gym, the library, or any given lecture or seminar within a ten minute walk. If a book I REALLY need becomes available at a strange hour, I can get to the library and secure it much sooner, and with less hassle, than if I lived a 20-30 minute bus ride away.

During final year you have a lot to prioritise and many tasks to be juggling. For me, proximity to campus has made achieving all of this much easier, and for that reason I am very glad I chose to live on campus for my final year.

CARPE DIEM

Don’t forget, your final year of university has huge potential to be, wait for it, ENJOYABLE. University offers a wealth of activities, societies, events and social potential. Take a trip hiking the Three Peaks. Go to a beer festival. Play 5-a-side football. Not only are these opportunities prolific, they can actually be pretty cheap. Societies subsidise trips, universities host events for free, you have a rail card for one more year (at least)! As long as you keep a good balance between work and play, and don’t lose sight of your degree- the potential to “go out with a bang” are fantastic!

There IS Light at the End of the Tunnel

The Future is scary. Job prospects are bleak, CV writing is a mysterious art, and the KFC Graduate Scheme might not offer you the comfort you’re seeking. This is unavoidably true.

However, The Future is also exciting. When I feel crushed by the weight of the impending real world, or existentially pessimistic at the thought of a career, I remind myself that things don’t need to be as bleak as I’m making them out to be.

It’s a new phase of your life. You get to take charge of the future in new ways. People do get jobs after university, and keeping in touch with my friends who have already graduated serves as an excellent reminder of this fact. Whether you go on to post-graduate studies, a flurry of internshhips, travel, a job, or whatever: you’ve completed and achieved something. And that’s worth remembering.

Still, if you don’t want to be as abstract and wishy-washy as that, then be more grounded. Think: come June 2014, you might have sat your LAST EVER EXAM. Think: as you hand in your dissertation, you may NEVER HAVE TO WRITE AN ESSAY AGAIN. You might never need to footnote again! And if they aren’t somewhat exciting prospects, I don’t know what are.

So overall, I just want to say: don’t let Final Year get you down. It is tough. There is a lot to do. But if it’s getting to you, pause. Take a breath. Try and see things differently. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but I genuinely believe there are lots of things that can make your Final Year more bearable. Who knows. You could even say enjoyable.

Football Observations

College work has been snowballing recently, and I haven’t had much opportunity to sit and write another blog post. However, with the work ethic at UCSB, you work hard in the week and party at the weekend, go hiking, socialise, go to the beach, whatever your imagination and funds permit really. Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely accurate at the moment. The prospects of entire days to just crack on with the history book I have to read, the first Spanish test I have to prepare for, or the first essay I have to write for my Public History class, on top of my required reading, are too sensible to avoid I’m afraid. People who just see UCSB as a party school couldn’t be more wrong. As much as people party hard here, they’ve also had to work hard and attain good results to get here. I’m glad to be at a college that has the best of both worlds. Nevertheless, I thought I’d take some time out from that and write about a matter very close to my heart. Football.

For any American readers, by this I refer to the sport where you actually use your feet more than once in every 10-15 plays. And no, I will NOT use the “S” word in this blog (except in the tags, reluctantly). Exponentially more offensive than his four-letter counterpart, I feel myself wince a little bit inside every time this small language barrier forces my hand and makes me use it.

I have been to two UCSB football games, played some “scrimmages” (kickabouts for English readers) and taken part in my first intramural game. Based on those, there are a few things I have noticed about the beautiful game stateside.

  1. I have been pleasantly surprised at the attendance for our first team UCSB football games. There must be a good few thousand fans at our home games. This is much higher attendance than the average university game back home. Admittedly, I am a firm believer in away fans demonstrating just how fervent fans are as well as home fans. Back home, it’s all well and good having a near 30,000 capacity, and not being able to sell all your tickets for away games *cough* West Brom *cough* However, I do not think there are as many opportunities or instances of a large contingent of UCSB students travelling away. I suppose this is to do with travelling all over the country/state when school is on. However, the attendance at UCSB home games is unavoidably admirable.
  2. Moreover, the fans are very fervent and have a charming tradition: throughout the match fans throw tortillas onto the pitch! This is because our mascot is a gaucho and logically food being thrown onto the pitch is the best way to celebrate a goal being scored… clearly. Either way, it’s very funny and gives the UCSB fans some character which I’m sure is quite memorable for visiting teams.

Tortillas on the pitch.

Our mascot, the UCSB Gaucho.

4. Now, as much as the team spirit is great here, the chants are abysmal. I have heard maybe 3/4 songs at the games. One of the most common has to be “OLE, ole, ole, ole…. GAUCHOS, GAUCHOS.” Simple but clear I suppose. More complicated, tuneful (relatively speaking, obviously, an English football crowd is never truly melodious) chants have yet to surface this side of the Pond.

5.  I have never seen any, but apparently at football games here, you have fans from opposing teams sitting together, with no separation whatsoever?!?! This would be suicidal back home. I find this quite hard to understand, but after speaking to other UCSB students, it quickly became clear that there aren’t such violent relationships between sports fans in the USA compared to England, particularly for football fans. English readers: can you imagine the Manchester United vs Manchester City / Liverpool vs Manchester United / Tottenham vs Arsenal  games with both sets of fans sitting together?! It would be an absolute bloodbath.

6.  The style of football here is quite different too. I would say, generally, there is a tendency for attacking players to try and walk the ball into the goal. They seem to be trying to score the goal of the season with every run. Which, as is to be expected with such individualistic style in an inherently team-based game, doesn’t often pan out. Quite often the vocal Canary fan inside me is screaming “PASS THE BLOODY BALL YOU MUPPET!” However, as I’m among the home fans and critical encouragement doesn’t seem as common among fans here, I have to swallow my words, wince, but keep my trap shut.

7. If there is a draw at the end of 90 minutes for the primary UCSB team, here they have an extra two halves of 10 minutes. This isn’t reserved for special situations, like in a European tournament or the World Cup-type event, this is just how everyday UCSB games work. I spoke to one UCSB fan near me at the first game, after expressing wonderment to Giles, and the American student told me that he felt that Americans don’t like tie games. If teams have played through 90 minutes, and you still don’t know who is the better team, they would rather continuing play until you can eventually establish the victor. I had to smirk to myself, as the rules seem to have been changed, purely because some Americans can’t deal with a game where there are no winners or losers. Talk about American Exceptionalism!

8. Finally, fans over here take a much more relaxed approach to viewing the beautiful game. People will wander in and out throughout the game, some staying for the entirety, others catching just one half, others arriving 20/40/60 minutes into the game. My personal opinion would be that if you’re there to support your team, and support them properly, you need to be there for the full entirety of the game, through thick and thin. None of this, “Oh we’re 3-1 down at 79 minutes, we might as well head to the car to get a head start on the other fans leaving the game.”

In summary, I am enjoying the football scene over here. However, I have to keep checking myself, and reminding myself that I have been an avid football fan and season ticket holder for going on 14 years now. What I’m used to is very different from the reality over here. Moreover, England is one of the true homes of the beautiful game, with a rich culture of football. It’s very hard to beat, and unfortunately America just isn’t a superpower in this instance. Nevertheless, it is interesting to visit another country where football is a minor sport when compared to baseball, basketball, hockey and, of course, AMERICAN Football. Still, I am pleased that there is at least some football culture here, and not a bad one at that.

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!

Diary of a Gym Monkey #2

Well, it’s been a while since my last gym-related post, and as I’ve been cracking on with it for just over a month now, I though an update was in order!

It’s still working really well, and I’m getting into the swing of the exercises much more now. Also, I’ve hit upon the right weights, and am getting to the stage where I’m considering upping them for certain exercises, which is fantastic. This can be seen in my weight gain- I’ve put on about 4lbs since starting the programme, increasing my weight from 11st 1lb, to 11st 5lbs. That’s about 72kg or 159lbs. This is the heaviest I have been in a while, and I’m really pleased to be seeing results. Previously, I had been hitting a barrier at about 11st 3lbs, and not being able to go beyond it. Breaking this plateau is a real achievement for me, and I’m very pleased with the progress. I’m not yet sure how much more weight I want to gain… depends if I can keep the gains lean. If I start losing definition, I’ll probably stop trying to gain the weight.

The only other major news in my exercise regime is that I have been much better with my cardio than in the early weeks of the progamme. I am much more committed to getting one cardio session for every three workouts (using the ratio of 2 ab sessions: 1 cardio session after each workout). I have been doing interval sprints on the treadmill, for 25 minutes per cardio session. this breaks down into 3 minutes 30 seconds of slow jogging/walking uphill on a steep incline, followed by 1 minute 30 of sprinting, on a flat incline. The advantages of this cardio approach are:

  1. it doesn’t take up too much time
  2. it compliments the intense nature of the workouts that precedes them
  3. it is well-suited to me if I wanted to get back into football, as it keeps my sprint speed up (if not my endurance…)
  4. it’s awesome for trimming any excess fat!

I have noticed the difference, feeling fitter and getting leaner too. Moreover, I have recently acquired a secondhand road bike, which will encourage me to get out and about even more, improving my cardio further.

I have used it a couple of times, and am keen to persist with it as I am still getting used to the drop-handles. It’s much lighter than my other bike, which is still a very decent mountain bike, but this is more suitable for the road and longer distances. The only problems I’ve had, due to my inexperience on road bikes, is that I’m not yet used to the way you lean forwards more, and tilt your head upwards. Currently it’s causing me a bit of neck pain, but as I become more accustomed to the different riding style, I’m sure that will go away. I cycled to the gym this morning, and did the 5 minutes drive in about 10-12 minutes, which I was pretty chuffed with! That’s probably faster than my Nan would drive it…!

So, all in all, things are still going strong! If you’re reading this and starting a new exercise regime, or have decided to bring fitness into your life too, please feel free to leave a comment and let me know how your project is going too!

Refocused

Some of you who have read my blog before may have realised, I’m a bit of a gym monkey, and enjoy sport (football mostly). Up until yesterday, things had been pretty low with the whole exam slog. Last night I had a terrible night sleep, and I’m almost adamant that it was to do with the fact I haven’t been exercising as regularly as I usually do. This morning, I hit the gym and BAM, my concentration was about 100 times better while revising, and it felt like I was actually absorbing the information, rather than just looking at it. Moreover, I know that I’ll sleep well tonight, which is excellent given that I have an exam tomorrow.

I have this theory that exercise is one of the best things you can make time for in your life. I know it’s not for everyone but for me, it has so many benefits:

  1. I sleep SO much better when exercising regularly, and hard.
  2. When it’s out of my system, I have so much more energy (paradoxically) and drive to be productive that day.
  3. You have to love the endorphin high after decent exercise.
  4. I love the sense of accomplishment when I know I’ve had a good workout, hit new targets, or reached established goals.

I recently saw a pretty amazing video about a guy’s body transformation over one year, and it has inspired me to get myself a new set of goals and more motivation. As much as I’ve been a gym member for about 4-5 years now, and during that time (at my most dedicated) I have gone a max of 4-5 times per week, I’ve not ever truly trained hard with some ultimate goal or whatever in mind. With the prospect of several free days between the end of my exams and going home, and a summer that would otherwise largely consist of working and saving for California, I am going to use those few weeks to really focus and work hard.

I thought this blog would be a great place to chart my progress. When I get back home to my local gym, I plan to get a new programme and fresh approach, so I would be able to record that and see if I have any noticeable gains. So this is a kind of “watch-this-space” post. My plan is follows:

  1. Record my initial weight, diet, programme and body shape after my last exam, as the initial start point.
  2. Then just use this blog as some kind of regular progress check, say every week.
  3. Hopefully I’ll be able to see improvement!

At the moment, my rough (to-be-honed) goals are:

  1. Get fitter (I have been criminally ignoring cardio recently) so I can hopefully deal with the temperature difference between here and California better, permitting me to play football and run outside more comfortably.
  2. Get a beach body suitable for Santa Barbara and California in detail. Disclaimer- In advance of any haters or trolls here, do one. I couldn’t care less if you see that as a vanity project, it’s human nature to want to look your best, deal with it. And even if you don’t see it that way, that’s your personal choice, and this is mine, so I’m glad we’ve got that cleared up.
  3. Improve my overall technique.
  4. Explore new workout approaches, techniques and exercises (timings, reps, speed etc).

It’s amazing how much the thought of this project has given me inspiration, it makes the end of the exams even more appealing! I’m excited to get under way with it, and I hope going virtual with it will give me more encouragement to keep on top of it! Bring it on.