What the prospectus won’t tell you

I’ve heard time and time again that university are the best years of your life, but I really don’t think that’s true in all cases. Especially not mine. I mean sure, if you’ve been through twelve years of school education, with homework, uniform, parents evenings etc and go straight to uni, you don’t have much to compare it to. But I didn’t do that…

I took a gap yah

Looking back on the past four years, yes they’ve been good. I’ve made a great set of friends, travelled to different places, learnt a lot and developed as a person. But it could have been better and there are little ways that uni has let me down, ways that I’ve only realised now but looking back they’ve been there all along.

  • No support for year out students – Coming back to the UK after a year overseas was tough, I’d been back from Chile for about three weeks before uni started. After spending a year in a small, isolated, religious village where everybody knows your name, the last thing I wanted to do was to go to a huge club with hundreds of people I didn’t know, who would be drinking excessively. There were some activities that didn’t involve drinking, but they were not advertised well at all and as I “hadn’t joined in with Freshers Week”, I felt it was harder to integrate with people in halls.
  • No compulsory sports – in China, students have to take sports classes alongside their degree. I think this is great to promote healthy living amongst students and would give students the opportunity to make new friends without having to necessarily buy gym or sports society membership. If sport was compulsory, I probably would have ended up joining the Triathlon club before I did.
  • Not enough stash – I went to the SU shop today to buy a UoN vest top, but they only had XL sizes left and they said they weren’t going to order any more in. I also had problems when ordering my tri club hoody, and only got it in March, despite wanting one since October.
    I want stash
  • No grad ball – The committee decided to make our graduation ball an exclusive event, so despite 9000 students graduating this year, only 2000 tickets were available, at a pretty expensive price of £70. Consequently, I haven’t been to a single university ball in these past four years.
  • Not so anonymous marking – Departments generally use anonymous marking so no bias is used when marking students work, obviously this doesn’t apply to oral exams. But sometimes it isn’t anonymous, for example you have to state your degree course on your hand in sheet and for one of my modules I was the only Spanish and Chinese student taking it…the module convenor knew this. Then after handing in ‘anonymous’ coursework, the marker says that if I’d taken my piece to him before handing it in, I might have got a better mark – cos that’s really anonymous isn’t it!

Maybe I’m blaming other people too much as it’s easy to blame an organisation or another person when things don’t turn out the way we want them too. Sure, I could have been braver and gone out on Freshers week, joined a sports team in first year, bought my stash earlier, queued from 3am to get a grad ball ticket or gone to see my teacher but the fact remains that I didn’t. I was too shy, too nervous, too scared. And that’s effected my grades, social life and emotions.

But looking back, I don’t regret not going out on Freshers week and I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed a grad ball where 80% of the people I’d want to be there wouldn’t actually be. So do I even have the right to complain?

I just wish things were more clear and transparent from the beginning. For one module there wasn’t even a mark scheme. I’m glad I’m almost done with it!

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Coursework

It’s that time of the academic year when all students seem to be fretting about ‘deadlines’. Different modules require coursework to be submitted either the week before we break up for the Christmas holidays, or the week we return. It’s a stressful time of year as although we’ve all had over a month (or the whole semester in some cases) to complete however many thousand words it is this time, we all seem to leave it until later.

I've got time
I’ve got time

I’m trying to time my library loans cleverly so that nobody requests the books before I leave for the Christmas break and I’ve also put requests in on a few books, hoping to get them for the last week of term and over the holiday. Despite the huge amount of e-books available online, millions of academic books haven’t been converted into digital format yet, so it’s still a matter of students reserving library books and rushing to read the short loan books, which are due back the following day.

The whole concept of academic coursework is still quite surreal to me, you get given a question asking you to discuss the theme of love in someone’s poetry: to discuss the theme, you have to read other academics’ books to get ideas (not necessarily the poem), but you can’t write these ideas in your essay, as that would be plagiarism, instead you have to paraphrase or edit the author’s words and reference it. To me, everytime I use a reference, it feels like I’m cheating and copying someone else’s work, but this is how to write coursework and as a secondary school teacher once told me,

It’s not about knowing the subject, it’s about playing the game and knowing how to win.

Despite this being my third year of writing references into my essays, it hasn’t got any easier. I now know the difference between Harvard referencing and using footnotes, but I would still have to google how to use each method if I was to do it by hand. Through the Her Campus bloggers network, I was introduced to RefME, a website and app that helps to create and store references and it’s saved me so much time when writing my essay.

If the book has a barcode, you scan the barcode with your phone and the app automatically registers the reference into whichever referencing style you are using. If (like the readings I’ve been using) don’t have a barcode or is an electronic journal, you can enter the names, dates, page numbers etc manually and the website still puts all the information together in the correct order and style. You can also save all the references by category, so I’ve made separate sections for each essay I have to write. It’s such a great app and website, I’m surprised at how easy the interface is to use and how long it’s taken for somebody to develop something like this. I will definitely be using it throughout the year for my other essays. To sign up, click here and then activate your account by following the instructions in your email, even if you use it for one essay, it will save you having to look up which part of the reference is in italics, as it does it all for you!

Actually, thinking about it… my other two academic coursework essays are both due in after Christmas. Wow. That’s a relief, as I struggle with coursework. My other three pieces of coursework following that are creative writing in Spanish, so no need for references there. I think coursework is stressful for all students but when it’s written up, formatted correctly and you use the machine to stamp the date on the hard copy, it’s such a relief. Luckily, I am better than Spongebob at writing essays.

Spongebob writing an essay

 

It’s not about taking part

Yesterday I took part in the BUCS Duathlon at Castle Combe, as part of the University of Nottingham triathlon club. It was a great day and probably the highlight of my November, a month where I’ve been applying for jobs, researching for essays and cramming as many Chinese characters into my head as possible.

What I like most about sport, is how it disconnects you from a connected world of mobile phones, laptops and music players. For an hour or two, I can get away from all of that and just concentrate on myself, my own thoughts and wonders. Like how do you pronounce the Combe in Castle Combe, (com as in .com or coom as in coombe abbey?).

I remember very clearly the first long distance race I did, in the military compound in La Palma. It was a 2.5km circuit course which involved running up and down mounds, scrambling up some rocks at one part and the extreme part referred to the blazing sun and lack of shade.

Cross Militar Extreme 2013
Cross Militar Extreme 2013

You had to complete four laps and on my third lap, I was pretty red in the face. I’d only started training a few weeks before and it was my first time running at 28°C. I stopped for water and one of the Red Cross ladies touched my forehead and told me I had heatstroke. I told her I didn’t, I was just hot and wanted to carry on with the race. She wouldn’t let me and patted me on the back saying

Don’t worry, the most important thing is _______?

I filled in the missing word by saying “terminar” (finishing). She wasn’t best pleased, so asked again, trying to get me to say “participar” (taking part) but I refused. Yes I was hot and red, but I could finish this race, I was fit. I started crying, as per usual when I don’t get my way and want the sympathy vote. She relented and got a man to walk around the course with me, saying I wasn’t allowed to run. This guy took two 2l bottles of water and proceeded to throw them over my head, back and face… soaking me and my mp3 player. I was determined to finish and managed to ditch him at the end of the third lap when he ran out of water and I ran the final lap, anxious to get to the finish line, take my England flag and run with it to the finish line.

And that’s exactly what I did.

You can see my leg glistening from the water I'd had thrown on me
You can see my leg glistening from the water I’d had thrown on me

There’s no way to describe that feeling after an hour or so of racing to see the blow up arch and your team mates cheering you on as you cross the finish line. People often say “It’s not about winning, it’s about taking part” well I disagree totally.

For me, taking part would be no fun if I wasn’t surrounded by supportive people and my team. In every race I’ve ever done, there has always been a team behind, alongside and in front of me. It’s the team spirit and good human nature and sportsmanship that keeps me going, keeps my feet in the pedals and my mind on track. Here is a list of things that are important to me on race days, more important than winning or taking part:

  • It’s about picking up my race number and feeling pride in myself and my number
  • It’s wearing the same kit as my team mates (and face paint too)
  • It’s not about my team mates overtaking me, it’s about them telling me “keep going” and me finding that I have enough breath to shout “you too” back to them
  • It’s the people who aren’t racing, who cheer me on and say my name
  • It’s about getting to a point in the race where I’m alone in the forest, or the track and although my legs are hurting (and nobody would see if I stopped for a break), having the self-motivation to carry on and keep running
  • It’s when I think I’m all burned out, but I see the finish line and find that extra energy within to go for the sprint finish
  • It’s realising that I am capable of great things, as is everyone if they put their mind to it.

I had such a great day on Sunday, it made me realise that I’ve missed racing a lot. I started doing trail running on my year abroad in Spain and had to stop in China because of the air quality and it’s affect on my lungs. But now I’m back in Britain, with a great team surrounding me, I’m ready to take on the challenge of training for a sprint triathlon next year and achieving a dream I thought never possible.

Castle Combe Duathlon Finisher
Castle Combe Duathlon Finisher

A special thanks to all the members of the University of Nottingham Triathlon club and committee, especially the president Ben and women’s captain Jess.

Final Year, Freshers Week

It’s my final year at university and this has been my first few days back on campus since leaving in June 2013 for my year abroad. It’s really surreal being back, it feels like I’ve been away forever yet never left at the same time.

No clue

Firstly, I felt like a fresher again. I have a timetable of introductory lectures and welcome meetings dotted across campus. I couldn’t remember where the Pope building was or how long it would take to get there so I arrived a little late to the first meeting about Lengua III. I remember in first year it took me about 20 minutes to find the hopper bus to get from Jubilee to Uni Park, then I had to wait for another 15 minutes as a full hopper bus had just left. I was worried I’d get some kind of detention for arriving late but when I turned up they gave me some sheets and it was fine.

As I’ve moved house this year I’ve also been trying to figure out the quickest way to university as there are about four different routes I can take. The first time I tried to cut through the hospital I got very lost to a point where I was stopped by three doctors in white coats asking me where I was going. They also didn’t know how to get to the medical school so I spent fifteen minutes trying to find the bridge that crosses over the ring road to Uni Park.

I went to Freshers Fayre a couple of times to pick up some sweets, pens and freebies but they weren’t as good as my first year. The best freebie I got was probably a £5 bus card, oh and the baa bar chemistry style shot glass isn’t bad either. But there were no highlighters, stress balls or chocolate…or maybe I went too late and others had already taken all the good things.

As usual I talked to loads of societies and have signed up to the mailing list of about fifteen societies – Omani, Mexican, Hispanic, Flair, Indian Dance, Asian, Food, Contemporary China, Triathlon, Impact Magazine, Stop Aids, Taiwan, Pub Quiz, Feminists, Womens Network, Capoeira, CSSA, Buddhist, East African, ABACUS and Belly Dance…oh wait that’s twenty one societies. We’ll see after the first month how many I actually join and pay the membership of. I think I’ll be really busy this year, but I was in second year and I still managed to get everything done that I wanted. Maybe I’m taking on too much but I’d rather join lots of societies and have the option to drop in and out and do different things each week rather than just go to one society every week and have no variety in my social life.

My first exam is already in the diary and it’s Spanish Grammar. I’m a little nervous as I haven’t been speaking Spanish for a while but I live with a Mexican and a Spaniard this year so I can practice at home. I’ve found though that when I talk about China in Spanish, Chinese words automatically come to my mind and jump at me like a pop up advert making it hard to concentrate on speaking Spanish. But if I speak about Spain in Chinese there’s no problem there…I’ll have to work on that over the next few weeks.

Mulan