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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Post-Exam Freedom!

At. Last. FREEDOM! I cannot begin to tell you how good it has felt over the last couple of days to have finished all my exams. To me, it seems that the general consensus among my friends at Warwick and other students at the moment is: Relief at finishing > Concern over how well exams went. Which isn’t really a bad thing, unless you know it’s gone disastrously… and then… well… what’s done is done and there’s not much point doing yourself in over it. Finishing just feels too damn good after weeks of preparation and stress to worry too much about the results. Save that for the couple of days before your results are released, if you have to.

Also, I am now in the process of sorting out my room mate for my year abroad, at the INCREDIBLE Tropicana Del Norte, where I will be lucky enough to live next year. Giles  and I agreed to try and sort out sharing a room, but this is still unconfirmed and being worked on (for those of you who missed his previous cameo in an earlier post, he’s my course mate who’s from Warwick and also coming to UCSB next year). It seems like we may have to share with strangers as lots of people seemed to grab single spaces in double rooms very early on, so there were none left by the time we tried to sort it. However, some of these have now disappeared, so who knows. Giles is going to hate me so much for this, but this nugget of a photo is comedy gold. Here’s the buffoon himself:

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Mr. Giles Herring- my year abroad partner-in-crime. Expect more photos of this nature of one or both of us as the year goes on. I bloody hope so personally, who wants boring photos. To be honest, I reckon it’s the mad ones which are really memorable anyway.

I have to say though, now that I’ve finished exams, there are some aspects to the examination process which I think are pretty poorly administered. Take, for example, my last exam. It’s a US politics module, and it has been really enjoyable. The subject matter has given us a better understanding of the monolith that is American politics, but more importantly, the lecturer and seminar tutor have really made it easy to approach. Even for someone like myself, who had never studied politics in any shape or form prior to taking the module. Nevertheless, I was assessed in a 50/50 split, between a 3000 word essay and an exam. The essay bit I was fine with, the exam, not so much. The exam, if taken as 50% of the module like I did, is two questions in an hour and a half. 45 minutes per question, but let’s be realistic (taking planning and reading into consideration) and say that the maximum writing time per question is 40 minutes. 80 minutes to represent a year’s worth of studying. That’s all the time we have to demonstrate our knowledge on topics as complex as the political culture in the US, as massive as the US Congress, or as elusive as the impact of religion on political processes. Moreover, when you think about that exam as a percentage of our degree, it’s even more incredible. That exam constitutes 5% of my degree, assessed by 80 minutes of frantic scrawling. It may not seem like much, but 5% isn’t something to be sniffed at in the broader picture of the degree as a whole. Especially when, like I said, you’re attempting to wrestle a cogent argument on such sweeping, large and complicated topics.

On the other hand, you could argue that it forces you to be quick-thinking and responsive, and able to coherently cover the questions in a succinct manner. Or, more realistically, you try and predict what question will come up, identify likely areas, study the recurring aspects to the topics, and even go as far as having ready-prepared essay plans memorised for specific questions. How is that assessing us?! To paraphrase one bloke I overheard in a student pub, where’s the thinking involved in that? In my opinion, you could suggest that it’s testing memory, not knowledge.

Please don’t get me wrong though, I am not particularly slating that specific module, because it seems applicable to many other exams at university, not just the US politics module. Nor am I bemoaning the system, I just think that assessment needs to be tweaked so as to be more representative of the year’s work as a whole body. Perhaps we could have more frequent, lower percentage, examinations throughout the year- four 25% exams throughout the year, or a 40% essay and two 30% exams, spaced accordingly to the course topics.

Still, I’m just spitballing here, and noting this opinion as it has become apparent to me after finishing up my second year at university. Which is still a fantastic idea in itself, and the new freedom has been a blast so far. I’m sure the novelty will wear off 4-5 weeks into summer, when I’m back into a regular work routine at my little job in a beach cafe and driving my parents bonkers with erratic and excessive eating habits (I eat like a horse and I love the magically refilling fridge that comes with returning home). Well. The idea of finishing second year is fantastic… until I think that I have now completed half of my degree… and am halfway towards actually… having to… get……

…. a job.

Aaaargh!