Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Guess who's back (back again?)

Third Year, and its pros/cons

*quick note on photos, I haven't got a digital camera at the moment, so I'm waiting to finish up with my current disposable one before I can get it developed. Hence I don't own any of the photos in the following post, they have been shamefully taken from friends' Facebook pages!

Ok, so this term has been tough. There are quite a few parallels with first year, to be honest;

a) the return of the feeling that you actually have no idea what you're doing
b) the tendency to return to familiar friends/ things rather than try to find new ones (although this isn't entirely true, obviously)
c) the desire to go home and cry about how much work you have to do can be overwhelming 

Just kidding about that last point.

Well, kinda.

So I did actually find that the work/life balance was harder than it had been in 2nd year, or at least. the last half of second year, This basically has to do with the fact that I am spending more time solely on work this year, due to the fact that 100% of my degree is based on my 3rd year performance. There was also the added challenge of the fact that the day before term ended my new thesis supervisor casually informed me that I should probably be on the hunt for new primary sources, seeing as my current proposition probably wasn't steady enough to support 12,000 and original insight etc. I#m trying to tell myself that this isn't the same as starting from scratch but...it's hard to deny that it'll be a lot of work until it's handed in.
Yes, our sports field really does look like this when the sun sets. Problem?

It really is a return to first principles then, I feel like I have, in many ways, come full circle. Just as I felt like I was getting the hang of this whole uni thing, suddenly I feel like someone came along and took the bottom out of the swimming pool I was wading in.

For anyone reading this - don't be scared. The fact that I've worked the hardest I've ever worked during my final year of university is really unsurprising, It's like the fact that I'd always worked "the hardest I've ever worked" every year at school, as I went through GCSEs, AS levels, A2s etc. Although GCSEs were slightly different because there were just SO MANY exams that summer, about 25 hours in total if I remember correctly.

At least there's only 15 hours of exams next June, yay!

Christmas formal

Now for the positives, I had to get my kicks somewhere. Here are some of my highlights of the last term, so that when I look back on this post I don't think that I just spent the last eight weeks completely miserable;

> Movie nights with friends including a copious amount of sweet food. So simple. So satisfying.
> Watching The Imitation Game with flatmates, at the cinema. Yeah, I cried.
> Going to see a student performance of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (they did the same as the Golden Compass film really, covered all of the plot from Northern Lights and then half of The Subtle Knife). There was a fake snow machine and paper mache heads for the daemons. Need I say more.
> Seeing the Japanese studio Ghibli film The Wind Rises with subtitles. Shown in a lecture theatre, by good old-fashioned projection.
> College Christmas party. Chocolate fountain, photo booth and the chance to dress up whilst listening to live Christmas music.
> That time I was having a bad day and the Christmas tree was put up in the middle of the library quad (ditto the time that I was sick of work, checked my post and had received a chocolate bar from an anonymous friend - and all of the times I know for an actual fact that my friends hid chocolate in my kitchen cupboard!)
> The Christmas tree in kitchen quad that was decorated with food including lemon slices and chili peppers

NOT the food Christmas tree from my college, sadly. This is the big one outside Balliol, on Broad Street. 

I still managed to do some stuff outside of studying and having an (albeit infrequent) social life. This included a photoshoot for the new undergrad prospectus, helping to run a stall at Fresher's fair, volunteering in the museum that I know live opposite, and even a quick morning of office work for the department I often volunteer with at university.

Songs that got me through term:

Nope, definitely not a record of the latest trends, nor are they really modern classics. Just what I've found featured highly on my Youtube watch history.


John Legend - All of Me


MAGIC! - Rude


Kate Rusby - Village Green Preservation Society

That's all I can think of for now, I think this post is long enough. I might update again quickly after Christmas, but we'll see how it goes :)

Friday, 12 September 2014

All Roads Lead to Rome, well, except this one - Italy 2014

Over three years ago now I visited Venice for the first time. I even wrote a blog post about it; http://notesfromadaydreambeliever.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/venice-summer-2011.html . 

So I returned, with friends instead of family, and with the half-intention of carrying out research for my Special Subject paper next term. And of course, the overriding intention of having myself an Italian mini-break and a bit of September sunshine. Me and a friend from school visited Pisa, stayed in Florence and then spent the day in Venice (to meet my friend from university) before leaving Italy. Next term I'm taking a paper based on a comparative study of the Italian Renaissance in Venice & Florence, c.1475-1525.

It feels so odd. Arriving in Venice, across the water by train at Santa Lucrezia, both unfamiliar and oddly familiar (I was accompanied by a friend I've known for over 10 years, and meeting one of my closest uni friends, plus I've been to Venice 3 years ago, and so could still remember all of the landmarks).

Yet so much has changed, When I went to Venice the first time, it really was one of the last "family" holidays I went on, and it felt like it. I was (and still am!) so ready to explore the world on my own. I'd just got my AS results, and was about to start applying through UCAS to universities. I really felt like my independent life was about to take shape. 

Now I'm about to start third year. I realise that university has its ups and downs. Now I'm actually more anxious about the end of next year, and seriously beginning an independent life, away from undergraduate study, and possibly towards a full time job!

The Leaning tower, Florence.

Just kidding. Bet people in Pisa get annoyed about this one wonky building dominating their entire (well constructed I'm sure) city. Plus, you can hardly get near the thing without people trying to take selfies "holding" it up. Yet another problem, aside from the structural soundness of the building, which early modern architects failed to foresee...

The facade of Santa Maria Novella, Florence. Prime example of the Renaissance patronage system in action - just beyond the parameter of this photo is the Latin dedication to a Florentine merchant who paid for this work. As intended, his name has outlived him by centuries for this very reason.

Ironically, I decided not to photograph that part. All legacies have limits. 

Palace of the Signoria. A fun place to walk around and pretend to be Niccolo Machiavelli (if you're so inclined). 

(another) Medici horseback statue, with the Innocenti Foundling hospital in the background. Dark sky for dramatic effect. 

Venezia, view from main island. Strange to stand in the same place, almost exactly 3 years later. Maybe it's a sign that, in another three year's time, when I'll have left university (!) I'll be mysteriously called back again. 

Stood on the same bridge, took virtually the same photo. Ecclesiastes 1:9 "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." 

3 years ago, I went into the Doge's palace alone, as my mum and sister didn't want to join me. Inside, I was captivated by the art and architecture and finally started to believe that history was the subject I should be studying at university. I don't look back on that decision, even if it's constant work. Little did I know that in 3 year's time I would come back and look at these buildings anew (as in the Renaissance, in fact) for the purpose of final-year study.

Since I first went to this part of Italy I've been to the U.S.A and China by myself. I've also been living away from home for two years. In short, I could not have predicted the number of places I would go, the people I'd meet and the things I'd do. If the Renaissance (Florentine propaganda or not, according to post-structuralists, but that aside) is idealistically described as the re-construction of the self in relation to the past, then I think I'm starting to get it. Maybe. 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

When in China...

The Wanderer has returned! And she has photos (despite having to abandon a very worn out and much-loved, broken 5 year old Samsung digital camera in a Beijing hotel)! Camera, you served me well, and visited three continents. Phone camera, you are not as good in quality, but make up for it in perseverance, good job!
The campus at Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai. Complete with mountains, lakes, sub-tropical plants, butterflies and terrapins... 
 For the first two weeks of my time in China I was based on a university campus in Zhuhai, a Special Economic Area just across the water from Hong Kong, and obviously on the mainland. Zhuhai started in the 1980s as a state-funded commercial venture, attracting people from the cities to move south, where there is cleaner air and more space. Now, the city seems to function as a holiday destination for northern Chinese people, especially those from Beijing who might want to escape the smog. The city was developing rapidly, with new apartment blocks appearing all over the place. However, inside the bubble of the campus, I was much more preoccupied with the novelty of sitting back in a classroom, and having lectures. Not to mention the fantastic outdoor pool, surrounded by palm trees...
Traditional courtyard-style Cantonese restaurant in Zhuhai
The Chinese students, who were from both the Zhuhai and the Beijing campuses of Beijing Normal University, were incredible hosts, translating menus for those westerners who were useless at both Mandarin and Cantonese, and taking us to places filled with history, or just great food! At the restaurant pictured above, we had a morning tea of dim sum, little snacks which were mostly either sweet cakes, meat dumplings, and other vegetable dishes, all brought to the middle of the table for everyone to share. I'm not so keen on seafood, but the rice cakes, egg tarts and New Year cake were lovely, I could definitely get used to having cakes for breakfast!

Potted Bonsai tree!
 We went to the former home of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen is regarded as a "founding father" of the People's Republic of China, despite not being Communist. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen helped to facilitate the transition between China under the last emperor of the Qing (sometimes Ch'ing) dynasty in 1911, and the beginning of a new republic. Now, his home village is preserved, complete with a modern museum, and various artifacts.
Traditional lucky red lanterns hang on a doorway of the preserved village of the revolutionary leader Dr. Sun Yat-Sen
 The natural surroundings of the museum were nice, very green, with some of the buildings brightly painted. Yet, there was something distinctly eery about walking around a preserved village, as though there had been some kind of natural disaster and everyone had just got up and run without taking any of their belongings, never returning. Maybe I just have a morbid imagination...
Local temple
 The temple we visited in Zhuhai could be found by getting off the bus in (what seemed to be) the middle of nowhere. One of the students showed us how to correctly enter the temple (depending on your gender you put a different leg forward when stepping over the threshold) and also how to make offerings using incense. Fresh fruit was offered by statues as well as candles and ribbons with prayers written on them. I couldn't get over how colourful everything was, and how much gold there was, on jewellery, painted figures.
Catholic cathedral in Guangzhou 
 My group, compromising of five Chinese students, myself and a student from the University of Birmingham, went on a day trip to the provincial capital of Guangdong, called Guangzhou. Guangzhou has a modern shopping centre and train station, but it also has great street food (egg waffles!) and many reminders, that this city was once called Canton, home of the dialect of Cantonese, and with a European influence. In the 19th century there was a strong French presence in the area, in the same way that the British were able to hold some sway over Shanghai. As a result, we came across some very incongruous European-style architecture, in the middle of a bustling (and, it has to be said, quite dirty) modern Chinese city. The fast speed train got us to Guangzhou from Zhuhai in about 2 hours, but although Guangzhou still felt provincial, it was the first time that I'd seen foreigners since arriving in Zhuhai.
Temple of Heaven, Beijing
 After finishing our research in Zhuhai (where we looked at the training of student volunteers, and carried out interviews in English and Mandarin) we got the 21 hour train to Beijing. Oh my. The train, the train. There were no doors on the compartments (hard sleeper) and 6 beds in a cabin. Craziness. The lights automatically shut out at 10pm, and at 7am someone came round and opened all the curtains, and let in the bright sunlight. I lived off mainly biscuits and crisps, unfortunately, and just before we reached Beijing, the train ran out of water, and so the toilets didn't flush, nor did the sinks function. Yet, this was still the best train ride of my life.

The international students outraged and entertained the Chinese students by playing hours of "truth or dare" and parading down the train corridor and into different compartments performing various stunts. We sat, 4-to-a-bed and discussed life, our feet dangling over the railings. We stared out of the window, and watched the scenery switch from peaceful fishing lakes, and blue mountains, lit by lanterns, to industrial development on the scale of Pandemonium in Milton's Paradise Lost. By the time we arrived n Beijing, it was like entering the New World, full of more people, wealth and history than had been seen before.
The Great Wall at Mutianyu 
 We only actually had 5 days at the Beijing campus whilst we were still on the internship. We attended some more lectures, mainly concerning the history of the University, its current study programmes and modern Chinese politics, which was fascinating, We presented our projects and some academic staff walked around to examine display posters showing our research findings. We looked at the museums contained on campus, and tried some northern Chinese food in the canteens. Before we'd blinked, it was time for the Closing ceremony, with a video of the past 3 weeks, and speeches in Chinese and English. Representatives from both the Chinese and UK universities presented, and certificates were handed out. After saying goodbye and exchanging gifts, everyone parted ways, and our independent travelling began!

One of the most memorable things we did in Beijing (or technically outside of the city, towards some mountains) was to climb the Great Wall at Mutianyu. It's less crowded than the section of the Wall at Badaling, and was well worth the complicated bus-minibus/ taxi journey, though we ended up on a very slow bus on the way back! Anyway, it rained slightly on the day we went, which was good for washing away tourists (being British, we stuck to our guns and had whole sections of the Wall to ourselves as a reward!) but bad because it meant that we couldn't go on the toboggan slide back down, which would have been awesome. Luckily the cable-car made for a good substitute.
Goldfish Market, Tung Choi Street, Hong Kong. Goldfish are seen as being lucky, and able to bring luck into a household. Apparently if something bad happens to the fish, it's good, because it means it didn't happen to you!
 I spent a total of 10 days sight-seeing in Beijing after the official end of the internship. I saw most of the main sites, and thoroughly enjoyed them, but I won't go through them all on here. The metro system is efficient, though crowded, and in general, the food is tasteful and good value for money. My friend and I got used to locating the busy shopping streets, and then walking down a side street or two until we found somewhere that let us sit out on the street and eat. My favourite dishes were spicy pot-fried sliced potato, and of course, Peking duck, either in pancakes with plum sauce and cucumber, or just in slices with rice. There was also this good green bean and aubergine dish which we had in a couple of different places. At this point, my suitcase broke, and I brought a new one from a shop on Qiamen street. Oh, and we visited the Pearl Market several times to buy souvenirs for family & friends. Haggling was pretty intense, and there was this one stall I refused to walk past because this woman scared me so much, she was very persistent!
Hennessy Road, Hong Kong, the youth hostel that I stayed in was on the left hand side, and my room was on the 6th floor
 After Beijing, I headed to Hong Kong. I've made it sound simple, but there was actually 13 hours of delays, and a night at the airport involved, including 4 hours of queuing to get onto another flights, at about 3am-7am (stupid tropical storms!). Enough about that, I got there eventually!

The glorious thing about Hong Kong is that you can nearly always be understood in English, and that it is comfortably western (goodbye squat toilets!) whilst still being definitely exotic to a westerner, and appealing in that way. The combination of shopping districts, neon lights and bamboo scaffolding made me think "Asian New York" at first, but Hong Kong is so much more than that.
Temple on Lantau island
 Lantau island was the place where I spent most of my time in Hong Kong, despite staying in Causeway Bay, and despite the fact that the MTR system stops at Tung Chung, on the north of the island. A personal highlight of my whole trip was the day that I went with a group of people from the youth hostel, and we got the ferry to Lantau, then a public bus, then hiked up and beyond a nature trail, until... we reached a waterfall with an infinity pool!
Infinity pool on Lantau island - NOT my photo!

The view from the peak we hiked up on Lantau island, overlooking a beach, again NOT my photo, sadly :(
Statues by the Big Buddha
Ngong Ping, Lantau island is also home to the centre of Hong Kong's Buddhism. The Giant Buddha has become one of Hong Kong's newest and most popular tourist attractions. It's the biggest bronze outdoor statue of the Buddha in the world, and it was completed in 1993. It's called the "Tian Tan Buddha" (named after the model it was based on, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, see above), and it symbolises peace and harmony between man and the natural world.

The walk up to the Big Buddha, Lantau island
 Stunning outlook on a day this sunny and clear, but also scorching hot! I had to stop several times on the stairs on the way up and down, but at least I got a chance to properly take in the scenery.
International landmark signpost! Reminded me of my sister, and myself in NYC, this time last year...

Neon street lights in Wan Chai
 This was another thing I liked about Hong Kong. It felt pretty safe to walk around central areas at night, even when I was by myself. There were always so many shops open, and people everywhere, that the place didn't really seem to go quiet until the early hours of the morning, where as in Beijing the metro stations definitely closed earlier. There was a huge choice of markets to visit, Stanley Market, the Ladies' market, the Temple Street night market, and also the day markets, like the Goldfish and Flower market (pictured above) which were fun to walk around.
Probably the most famous view in Hong Kong, Victoria Harbour at night
Final favourite thing of the trip (I promise!). Sitting on the promenade by the clock tower (the former Canton railway tower) and waiting for the sun to go down to take photos of the harbour. There were a lot of families around, and, inevitably, foreign tourists (who am I to criticise on that front?) but I just have this memory of this one old man, sat by himself on the railings, looking out at the water, and muttering, as though he couldn't believe all of the bright lights and boats. Perhaps he remembers the same place 40 or 50 years ago, maybe he doesn't like all of the crowds and the cameras. Or maybe he's just an old man who likes looking at the view, and comes there every night. I don't know, but it was somehow refreshing to see him there.

So there you have it, that's what I've been up to for the past 5 weeks. I can't summarise in a sentence how eye-opening this trip was, and to say that it was "life changing" in a lot of ways is cliche, but still true. My overwhelming impression was of the enormous variety of experiences to be had in China, and that things are far less homogeneous up close, compared to how they are viewed in the west. I think what will stay with me the longest is the kindness shown to us foreigners by the Chinese students who were willing to speak to us about anything, and show us the things that were beyond words. It was a completely out-of-this-world welcome which consequently developed into genuine friendship, and certainly this is something that I think we should all consider sharing, wherever and whoever we are today,  

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

What She Did Next, April - June 2014

View from the Old Bodelian library, towards the Radcliffe Camera. Upper floor reading room, my favourite place to work, probably. 
I confess that I've stolen many of these photos (but not all of them!) from my Facebook. I just don't have that many good photos of Oxford, and in a city this beautiful, there's a limit to what you can physically photograph in a single term! I'll add captions as we go, and if I haven't stated that a particular photo is mine, then presume it isn't, and I won't try to take credit for it! 

Main quad of Teddy (St. Edmund) Hall, where I've had tutorials this term.
Oxford looks fantastic in the sunshine, it attracts tourists like a honey-trap. Literally, a sandstone-formed honey-trap. All that glistens is not gold, however...
Main quad facing medieval cottages, Worcester college.
It's strange. This term I had no exams, and being 2nd year, everyone told me that I was in for the summer of a lifetime, a blissful world of eternal sunshine compared to that of the Freshers doing Prelims, and certainly a world away from the furious work ethic of the Finalists. On the one hand, I blame myself for buying into the hype, but on the other, I'll admit that I was statistically unlucky, but also that some elements of the stress I experienced were my fault, due to the fact that I often internalise stuff, and get overwhelmed, probably too easily.
Towards main quad from Nuffield lawn, Worcester college. 
Work wasn't the problem. I mean, it wasn't great, but that was because of how much time my mind was wasting dwelling on other things. The main things being my upcoming trip to China, which still has a few vital necessities to be sorted (insurance, health forms, final arrival arrangements) and, more seriously, the fact that several of my friends became quite seriously mentally ill. I don't want to make the tone of this blog post overly dark, and I feel very much as though I've now "been there and got the t-shirt" as far as the past 6 weeks or so are concerned. It was difficult (and naturally a thousand times worse for them) but I hope, in the long run, that experiencing stuff like this at the age of 20, and learning from the experience, should equip me for scenarios of a similar nature that may well occur in my future.

Ultimately, isn't that what university is supposed to be about; not just the French Wars of Religion, or the Court of Henry VIII, it's about stress, knowing how to help others, and stay afloat yourself, and taking moments to yourself so that you have happy memories to return to when needed.
St. Hugh's college
That's enough about that for now. This isn't a blog about student mental health issues, I just thought that it was an important point to raise, rather than describing my university life falsely, through a montage of sunny landscapes and concise captions. Some things are beyond the lines.

Anyway, above is a photo of where I did one of the Easter Residentials that I worked on with part of the Widening Participation programmes at Oxford. It was a fantastic experience, I got to stay in a different college for a few days, see a different part of town, meet new Oxford Uni students and of course many more secondary school students from around Oxford, who were revising for their GCSEs. The Easter residentials I worked on were some of the highlights of my vacation, and I seriously think that working with other people, and thinking that you're making a positive impact on their life, is one of the greatest cures for personal anxieties and worries.
Corpus Christi college's Tortoise fair! This is actually my photo.
A great afternoon out, based on an old college tradition - tortoise racing! So glad I got to see this (well not actually see much, because look at the crowd and consider that I'm only 5"2...) because it's such an "Oxford" thing. My friends at home could hardly believe the event description! It was lovely to get out of college and explore somewhere new, and I even got to hold a tortoise - who wouldn't be pleased with that?
OxHoli, Hindu festival of colour, Merton sports field, by St. Catherine's college. This is my photo from a safe distance!
OxHoli. Coloured powder, meets cheap white clothing, and lots of water, usually fired out of plastic water guns, or (in the case of me and my friends) just mixed into the cups of powder to make a wonderful, rainbow-coloured sludge to chuck at people. Such amazing stress relief. Things got messy, so much so that my clothes from that day (including shoes) remain in a carrier bag under my bed...it also took 3 hair washes for my hair to feel normal again.
Oxford Botanical garden, sadly not my photo!
This place is my great escape. I feel slightly guilty when I slip off here by myself, but it really is a great place to be alone, if that doesn't sound weird (esp. if you're a fan of His Dark Materials). Plus if you're an Oxford student, you get in for free! Can't beat that smug feeling of sailing past lines of tourists...
Punting by Magdalen bridge! I've been punting here, but actually in a boat, so I didn't take this one either :P
Punting is great (you get wetter than you think, even if you're not paddling/ punting). I was consumed by exam fever last year and so didn't get to go. This year I saw sense and insisted that we did. Willows, ducklings, people doing bridge stunts. Singing in a round, and exploring abandoned furniture discarded on a river bank. It was pretty special.
Zoom the tortoise! Tortoise fair, my picture, (such good quality)  woop!
You know why I like tortoises? Because they're decades old, and they just get on with life. Stuff changes, but they change very little, or if they do, they're constantly adapting so they only appear the same. We could all learn from that. Also, the amount of salad that they eat is commendable.
Corpus Christi college, front quad, decorated for the fair, reminded me of the festival/ dance scene in Disney's Tangled
Another image, that of The History Boys in which one of the boys visits the college when called to Oxford for interview, thinking it to be the former college of his favourite teacher. I remember seeing that film for the first time 2 years ago, when I was caught in the terrible limbo between sitting my A2s and getting my results.

I feel as though this post has been sufficiently long enough to explain my absence, well, if you add the 9 essays and 1 presentation I also prepared in the last 8 weeks, as well as two trips to London to sort my Chinese visa. Let's not even count the number of lectures & classes on top of that.That's pretty much it, I can only hint at the rest, as is the nature of rambling blogs about life.

One regret of term - not getting to play croquet. Me and some friends were originally entered into a university-wide competition, but due to issues with equipment and scheduling matches, it never happened. Next year Oxford, next year I'll come prepared...

PS, a reminder, my sister's blog link is; http://i-like-to-be-in-america.blogspot.co.uk/ . She's currently in her 2nd or 3rd week of being an adventure camp counselor in New York state, U.S.A :)

Monday, 31 March 2014

What She Did, January - March 2014

The Radcliffe Camera, also the History Faculty library, and where I seem to spend a good deal of my waking life  in Oxford
The cameras, the books, the tourists. There's only one RadCam. There's even bicycles in the foreground, and if you look closely, my friends and I are standing in the doorway of the old entrance, dressed in our Midway costumes. Midway is the celebration held in Oxford college (sometimes called "Halfway hall") to remind you that you're now halfway through your degree. Time to start thinking about life in the Outside, and the future and stuff. Scary.

Actually, it's a really fun day, especially at my college where people make their own costumes and have photos taken in fancy dress as well as formal. In addition, you get a great meal in the evening - see below!
Everyone's favourite members of college...
College in spring is fantastic. It looks so much better than winter, it feels so much better than winter, and you don't have all the swarms of tourists that crowd into college from May/June time...
The cast of an Italian farce, "The Servant of Two Masters", performed by JCR students
Student drama! As well as Cuppers, the annual inter-collegiate drama competition, there are constant performances going on in Oxford colleges. Often low-budget (which means low ticket price!) student drama is ever enthusiastic and a great way to de-stress or just procrastinate.
I turned 20!
Halfway to forty. Or, just a bit closer to 21. Slightly unnerving, because in my mind, your 20s are when most people's lives start really taking shape. By thirty most people have had serious jobs, serious relationships, serious cars/ houses/ bills, serious everything. Seems I have a lot to look forward to.
Breaking Bad blue pancakes. The blue actually a rum glaze that had been used to ice the cake for a mutual friend, who'd just been awarded a Blue, an award given by Oxford and Cambridge to sportspeople who compete and win against each other in the annual Varsity competition. Tasted great, and so "Oxford"!
Escaping to Christchurch meadows

How I spend my sunny Sunday afternoons...
Great scenery, relaxed atmosphere. I'd finished practically all of my work for the term, and so decided that taking photos of the meadows and surrounding gardens was a worthy way to spend an afternoon out of college, and even (slightly) out of town. I love the fact that despite living less than 10 minutes from central Oxford, we can still walk to places as spectacular as this.
Midway Formal dinner!
As I said! Students are still in their fancy dress costumes from earlier, and we enjoyed a four course meal (there's a cheese and biscuit course after the dessert) with port at the end. Speeches are made, people are fined, and many photos are taken.
Varsity fencing, which takes places in the incredible setting of Examination Schools
Ok, so I'm cheating here, I didn't take this photo or watch the Varsity fencing. But this photo made me wish I did. Although most universities in the UK have a sporting rival (in fact, forget the UK, I think this is pretty universal) I'd say that Oxford vs. Cambridge is most epic. It's been going on for nearly 800 years (the Boat Race though, began in 1829) and students at both institutions are used to, and probably want to, be the best at everything. Plus, look at the backdrop for these sporting events, it's insane!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

20 Things To Do Before You're 20

So there's been this article circulating on my Facebook newsfeed for some days now,"23 Things To Do Instead Of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23". Bare in mind that my Facebook is mainly populated by 18-21 year old people, and so this article has been re-posted, which is kind of awkward because some people on my Facebook are both engaged, and under the age of 23. Even the article itself, on the original blog (posted below) has triggered a huge war-of-words in the comments section.

From the blog Wander Onwards; http://wanderonwards.com/

Naturally, the main people commenting seem to be women who got engaged under or at the age of 23, and who are speaking about how they don't regret this life choice. The opposition seems to consist mainly of other women, who agree with the premise of the article. However, when I looked at the "to-do" list of the article itself, a couple of items struck me as unnecessary, or pretty childish behaviour for a 23 year old. As a result, I've produced an edited version.

"23 Things To Do Instead Of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23" (the article can be found at http://wanderonwards.com/2013/12/30/23-things-to-do-instead-of-getting-engaged-before-youre-23/)

1. Get a passport. - I agree with this. One of my friends was 18 and had never had a passport, and so as well as a load of paperwork he had to be interviewed in person to answer questions about himself and prove his own identity, which I can imagine was a bizarre and time-consuming experience.
2. Find your “thing." - Vague, but I agree with the idea, see below for more specific suggestions.
3. Make out with a stranger. Personal preference, obviously, but I'd rather not. Haven't you ever seen films when the "stranger" turns out to be someone you meet in the next few days, usually in a situation which involves you working for them?
4. Adopt a pet. - Fair enough, if you have the time and money, and are not living in university halls, why not.
5. Start a band. - If you want to.
6. Make a cake. Make a second cake. Have your cake and eat it too.- Fine, let them eat cake, but I'm surprised this made someone's top "23 things to do before you're 23" list. I mean, can't you do this before or after you're aged 23?
7. Get a tattoo. It’s more permanent than a marriage. - Isn't this exactly why you shouldn't rush into this? Personally I wouldn't, laser removal is expensive, and my tastes of what does and doesn't look good seem to change year on year at the moment. Even my clothes aren't the same style, and you can shed them easier than skin.
8. Explore a new religion. - this sounds fair enough. Although for those who don't feel inclined towards any religion, I'd supplement a kind of spirituality-based meditation.
9. Start a small business.- This could be cool. For an easier target, hold a car-boot sale (yard sale) and raise money by selling your unwanted, but still usable goods. Or sell lemonade from a stall outside your house.Think big.
10.Cut your hair.- I get my hair cut regularly, but I presume this means cut it yourself? Well, I cut my fringe myself, that can count.
11. Date two people at once and see how long it takes to blow up in your face. - great idea, I'm sure hurting people deliberately (hey, if they question it just show them this list you're working through...) is a fantastic way to get through life. Oh, wait, you'd hate it if this were role-reversal, and you were the one being cheated on for the sake of "experimenting".
12. Build something with your hands.- Fair enough. Though I'm counting myself out of this one. The last thing I attempted to make with my hands was a wooden box in which all of the edges are not straight, nor are they even.
13. Accomplish a Pinterest project. - I agree with the sentiment of this, but there's so many more options - see below.
14. Join the Peace Corps. - only applicable if you're an American citizen.
15. Disappoint your parents. - Again, why aim to hurt people intentionally? Part of growing up is learning how to deal with people you've disappointed, and believe me, you'll disappoint your parents, whether that's by running away from home, drinking too much, or just forgetting to do the hovering, is up to you. Just don't set out to do it, it's far less forgivable.
16. Watch GIRLS, over and over again. - Ok, so I don't know what this is. Maybe this one is fine. Then again, maybe not. Why should I watch whole seasons of actors pretending to live lives which in reality even they don't lead, when in reality I could be pursuing a real, unscripted life of my own?
17. Eat a jar of Nutella in one sitting. - I am not opposed to Nutella.
18. Make strangers feel uncomfortable in public places. - Why? Do you like being uncomfortable in public places? Strange suggestion.
19. Sign up for CrossFit. - Again, I don't know what this is. Substitute with something from the list below.
20. Hangout naked in front of a window. - This is illegal in some countries. Also, there could be children inside? How do you know who's window it is?
21. Write your feelings down in a blog. - Guilty as charged. See all around.
22. Be selfish. - Or, attempt to be a decent person. See volunteering suggestions below.
23. Come with me to the Philippines for Chinese New Year. - Ok, I'm not being very fair here, this is clearly something personal relating to the blog author, but I won't be taking up the suggestion, regardless.

Here are my own substitutes for the above list...
1. Volunteer close to where you live.

There's a community project, a library, a school, there's something, somewhere near you that you could be a part of, and really gain from the experience too. Volunteering can offer the chance to learn new skills, understand more about yourself, and the way that you interact with other people (e.g. what motivates you? How are other people motivated?) as well as the feeling that you've benefitted the lives of other people whilst helping yourself. In addition, volunteering in your home town is a good idea before you're 20 - because who knows where you'll choose to live after that! Here's a tool for those of you in the UK looking for something local.

There's also this site, which is an easy way to make a massive difference to a child's life. Plus you don't even have to leave your house (well, except to post the letter you write...) http://www.postpals.co.uk/ 
2. Attempt to gain some of work experience in another country, or at least, an area that you are unfamiliar with.
So this is good for some of the same reasons as the above, but in a new environment you'll be able to realise the cultural differences. From just a slightly different regional accent, or food preference in another area of your country, to a new continent, language and mainstream religion, go as far as you are able to (admittedly you'll probably have to save up before you go abroad for any length of time to work...)

My blog about interning in Washington D.C, last summer; http://nikitagoestotheothersideofthepond.blogspot.co.uk/

My sister's blog, on volunteering to teach English in Thailand;
3. Learn something in another language. You've probably done a language to GCSE level, many years ago. You could try to resurrect that, or learn something completely "out there" like Japanese. Mandarin is also becoming increasingly useful for those considering careers in finance, business and banking.

4. Start an artistic presence for yourself. This could be offline, like a journal, scrapbook, or a collage. Or it could be online. No, not those party photos on Facebook or those filtered photos you proudly post to Instagram. Start a Blog, or get a Polyvore or Pininterest or Tumblr account. These things are genuinely creative, with the scope to do something really original, or at least personal. Personally, I like the ability to draft and publish things in Polyvore, see http://nikigirl.polyvore.com/

“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”
5. Do something that 5 years ago you would have never considered doing - AND that you won't be able to do in 5 year's time.
Right, so I don't mean anything reckless or anything you think will make you seem more adult (if you're thinking that as you do something, it generally doesn't work, I've found). I mean something like stand for a position in a society you're part of, or take over running a group that you've attended for years. Run to stand as a council representative for your class/college/club. Something that shows that you recognise how much you've changed as a person.

 6. Write a list of questions for your future self;
- Where do you want to be living in 5 years time? Which country? What kind of house?
- What job would you like to be doing in 5 years time?
- Do you think you'll have any pets in 5 years time?
- What's your favourite colour at the moment?
- and your favourite type of food? etc.
In 5 years time, look back, laugh, write a corrected version (i.e, what actually happened) and then start again, maybe for another 10 year's time.

7. Get a pen/e-pal.

You don't have to move from in front of your computer, or your desk. It's a way to find out about how another person experiences and perceives life, at your own pace. It can also be a way of specifically learning about another culture or language. Plus it means that if you travel, you don't feel completely alone, if you know that your pen/e-pal is out there, somewhere on the same continent as you, even if you've never met.
8. Earn money in a minimum-wage job.
Be a papergirl/boy, or a waitress/waiter, or a tea-lady/ tea man(?), a cleaner, work behind a till in a shop. Or maybe even a lab technician, if you're feeling adventurous. Just see what it's like to work in a job that people rely on, but don't always respect as much as they should. It's not all about the big guys.

9. Study hard for a test and submit something before a deadline.

Then compare to a time that you handed in something late, or something you know was not your best work. You'll notice the difference, and so will your tutor. Now you know the worth of doing something well, and the justified pride it can bring, you're more likely to be more organised in the future, and if not, you'll understand what you missed out on.

10. Cook at least one meal from raw ingredients, potentially to share.

Note; beans on toast does not count. I'm still working on this one.