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.

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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!