Blake's View, Course, Study

The Final Run

I suspect like many students, I thought this day would never come. Not quite graduation, but getting pretty close to it; this is my final ever week of lectures and seminars at university.

It isn’t the time yet for a full reflection on university, considering that I have two essays, a 4,000 word project and of course the good ol’ dissertation to hand in very, very soon. However, to know that this is my last official week of university is a gasp-worthy moment. To say those words, “the final week”, is really quite strange. For a moment, it feels as if the floor has dissolved under my feet, and I’m floating in an out-of-body-experience type moment. It doesn’t seem possible.

All I can say to anyone considering a degree is that, on the first day you step into a lecture, it seems you have a long way to go. When you’re studying furiously for an assignment you should have started weeks ago, it feels as if the workload will never end.

I’m here, nearing the end of that journey. It does end, and much too quickly.
I’ll give it one last burst of energy.
This is the final run.

Blake's View, Free time, Nightlife, The city

Christmas and New Year (and time for a change?)

Christmas has been and gone, and now I’m sitting back at my laptop at the end of Boxing Day feeling bloated, slightly woozy and exasperated. Of course it was a pleasant Christmas spent with close family, and I can’t complain with the numerous presents I received (though I didn’t ask for much!)
With the festive distraction now fading into another memory, my thoughts return to the year ahead – and I cannot believe I have so little time left until my degree is over!

This is my final Christmas as an undergraduate, and in many ways the final year in life as I’ve always known it. In a lot of respects, 2013 has been a year of final family memories for me. As relatives get older and I make steps forward in my own life, I find myself feeling more excited about my own independent life, and a little sad to let the old traditions go.

No matter how hard you try, it seems impossible to rekindle the magic effect Christmas can have as a child. That’s not to say I don’t try! I’m sure we all have Christmas traditions we like to stick to.
Mine include a Christmas Eve cycle with an old school pal, plus the many other things which make Christmas come alive – decorating the tree, advent calendars, making a Christmas cake, opening stockings and setting fire to the Christmas pudding. This year I also baked gingerbread and attempted to make mulled wine with my girlfriend!

What I’ve realised is that tradition is great, up to a point. It’s great when it gives you a warm feeling inside. Yet sometimes I hide behind tradition and routines. Perhaps in doing so, some of the festive spirit of spontaneity is lost. Breaking a tradition can often create more memories than it would if the same thing was repeated year after year.

I say this not to bring anyone down or to suggest that I had a bad time, but simply because I’m finally recognising that by next year I will have left university and be on my own path. I’m very excited, but also very nervous. The thought of losing familiar routines, created over 22 years of existence, is a daunting prospect. The one thing I’ve always attempted to do is to keep to traditions, and yet I now realise that a change once in a while is never a bad thing.

Perhaps next Christmas will be exactly the same as this year’s – I wouldn’t complain if it is. But if things are different, then I must remind myself that a change is generally good.

I hope you had a very Merry Christmas!
May 2014 be a great year! Change is coming, whether I like it or not.

Blake's View, Clubs and societies, Course, Study

Blake’s View: American Studies Year 2

Yesterday, I took my final exam, meaning that I now draw to a close 2 whole years of University. To be honest, I never thought 2 years would go so quickly. This Second Year has been a  whole new experience for me, and I’ve found myself having a lot of fun! Last September seems only a heartbeat away, yet I’ve done so much since then. To keep you informed about my course, please find below a run-down of the units I’ve taken this year in American Studies, with a personal overview at the end.

Race, Slavery and Emancipation (half year unit: compulsory)

Focussing on the stories and experiences of slaves in the Caribbean, North and South America. We studied how and why  slavery differed, how slaves rebelled, and how they secured their freedom, plus slavery’s legacy today.

 US Government and Politics (half year unit: compulsory)

Analysing the structure of the American political system, and looking into how it deals with current social issues in the USA, including hot topics such as: healthcare reform, media bias, the Tea Party, abortion, gay marriage, and gun control.

 US Foreign Policy (full year unit: compulsory)

The unit started in the late 1800s and worked its way each week through the Presidents of the United States and the major challenges of foreign policy faced in their terms of office. A very informative look at the different styles of the Presidents, and how their ideologies linked to their handling of foreign policy matters, which also affected the USA’s domestic affairs.

Democratisation in Latin America (full year unit: compulsory)

Looking at a range of South American countries, we saw how states emerged from times of military rule and dictatorial repression to become the democratic countries we recognise today, such as Argentina, Brazil and Chile. What influenced the paths they took following democratisation, and what were the major challenges? Other topics included the “pink-tide” of liberal social reforms, the problems faced by Cuba’s aging socialism, analysis of the system of ‘illiberal democracy’, and the continuing fight in Peru between government forces and the FARC.

Key Issues in Development (full year unit: optional)

A varied unit covering a multitude of development topics which influence developing nations: agricultural policy, infrastructure, empowering women, social enterprise, development aid, the role of NGOs, and political structure.

 Japanese (full year unit: optional)

I continued learning Japanese: speaking, reading, writing and listening, which I took last year as an additional unit. Very enjoyable because of the small class from which I’ve met a great bunch of friends. Japanese isn’t easy to learn, but at least I tried!

A Final Overview of the Year!

Race, Slavery and Emancipation broadened my perspective of the strange reality of slavery and its legacy. My understanding of slavery was challenged, and I realised what a long process it was to freedom. Many of the racial prejudices which still affect us now were created and embedded at this time. Slavery certainly isn’t a subject confined to the history books as it still has relevance in the modern age.

Government and Politics brought to life many of the issues and debates in the current political sphere of the USA. It highlights how the UK and USA differ greatly on some issues, and the hard-line approach many Americans take on abortion and gun-control continues to amaze me. Sometimes the debates seem genuinely comical (before you realise that they are being serious).

Foreign Policy really brought to life the different Presidents, and I feel I got to understand their characters a lot better, so they are more than just a name or a portrait. It was also great to learn about the USA’s foreign policy over the last century, and how America has shaped the world we live in today.

Democratisation in LA continued our learning from the First Year, and I particularly liked the group project where we created our own political party to stand in an election following authoritarian rule. I was the Finance Minister for the fictional Argentinian Liberal Party, standing for election in 1983. I had a great group, and the project really immersed me in the concerns and problems of this transition to democracy.

Key Issues in Development was a diverse unit and at the end I felt it started to come together, as I realised how all these different factors contribute to development. I also understood the need to question what ‘development’ even is and how we measure it. I particularly liked one of our assessments, which was to create our own index to measure a specific form of development. I feel this was a very practical task and a good learning experience for anyone looking to work in the development sector.

Japanese was a personal choice, though I am extremely pleased I did it. My Japanese skills have surely improved. Yet more importantly, I would recommend studying a language just because of the great people you get to meet. I made a bunch of friends from different courses and also got to meet many native Japanese students, which broadened my view of the world.

Blake's View, Clubs and societies, Course, Free time, Island Experience, Nightlife, Sport, Travels

Blake’s View: It’s Not What You Know

They say it’s not what you know in life, but who you know.

It might seem strangely ironic coming from a University student, but the greatest thing I’ve learned so far is the truth of this statement!

Reading Richard’s recent post ‘Friends will be Friends’ really got me thinking.

You see, like my fellow blogger, I had never really ‘met’ anyone who was not British before. Sure, I had been on holiday to foreign lands. But all the friends I had ever had were British. It seemed likely to continue that way for ever.

Yet, one of the best things about University for me has been meeting new people, people who in my average life I would never have had reason to meet. By joining societies, learning a new language and participating in extracurricular activities, I now have friends from far-flung corners of my own country, as well as a variety of places in Europe, Africa and Asia.

People will tell you that University is all about studying, gaining ‘life skills’ or just getting the certificate to improve your prospects of employment. Certainly these were the main reasons in my mind when I convinced myself to give a University degree a second chance. In fact, they’re all good things about University.

But if you look a little deeper, you start to realise that University provides a meeting ground for a wide range of individuals, with different backgrounds, beliefs and abilities. If you make the effort to join a society, take up a sport or learn a language, you will find that you encounter an amazing array of new people. People who, under normal circumstances, you may never have met.

In the future, the friends I have made here will allow me to have new experiences, visit new places, and learn new things. I’ve really enjoyed studying the Americas in my course. But the best thing I will take away with me will be the friends I have made, the happy memories they have provided, and some fantastic opportunities for the future.

Blake's View, Clubs and societies, Course, Free time, Island Experience, Nightlife, The city

Blake’s View: New Friends in Old Photographs

I’ve been studying Japanese since I started my degree. In the first year I took it as an optional unit, and this year I’m studying for credit. I remember last year, about February time, I was quite stressed out. Exams and essay deadlines were looming. It isn’t much different this year. There’s loads to do!

At that time, a group of Japanese students joined us in our Japanese classes for a few weeks, and some photographs were taken. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Other things were on my mind.

Twelve months later, and the Japanese have once again been and left town. I took a look at the fresh snaps taken this year, and I started to reminisce about the images from one year ago.

Looking back at myself, not only do I see a change in my clothes and haircut, but I sense an even greater change has taken place below the surface. That was Blake 20.0, and now I’m Blake 21.0. It’s a weird feeling, but it feels good that I have changed.

That past time seems cloudy, hazy – more like a dream. It makes me think about all the things that were my concerns then. Many of them are probably the same – getting assignments finished, making plans for the summer, and feeling like there isn’t enough time to relax. Even if the situations are similar, the way I react to them is undoubtedly different, because of all I’ve learned during the year.

Yet I was further surprised as I scrolled through the year-old photos. I saw the faces of people who I now meet on a regular basis – in Japanese class, and socially (such as at our recent visit to London). At the time, these people were unknown to me – just faces in the crowd, strangers. Now, I am lucky enough to call some of those people my friends. So I realise that new friends are all around us, even if we don’t know it.

It makes me think of the future. When I look at my current photographs in one year’s time, how much will I have changed again? Will I still remember who I was, how I was feeling and all my concerns about the present? What about in ten years, or in fifty years?

And what about those faces in the photographs – will they still be my friends, or will they have returned to the realm of obscurity from which they came? Time keeps moving on.

Blake's View, Course, Free time, Study

Blake’s View: A Rainy Wednesday Afternoon

Last week, as the rain lashed and the wind gusted outside, a dry tavern provided the perfect space as a friend and I pondered a frustrating question: Why had we decided to spend more than three additional years in higher education?

Perhaps this is a question you might be asking yourself. Although to some the benefits of a degree are obvious, others might rightly ask why one would pay to spend further years in education and out of work. This is especially true for students such as us, who have no definite plans to be doctors or lawyers or any other such profession which directly requires a degree.

Some initial ideas sprang to mind: our friends and classmates were doing it, so it only seemed natural to do the same; our parents encouraged us to continue in education and so did our teachers. But why? Why did those around us encourage us to carry on? Many would say that University is worthwhile for the social experience, and although this may be true, the social experience was not the primary draw for us.

We then fell upon the often claimed financial statistics – conventional wisdom says that graduates will earn more money than non-graduates. This may also be true, but as my comrade pointed out, this is offset as time spent in education prevents one from taking a full time job – thus one forgoes the opportunity for earning during that time. Then you have to factor in living expenses, tuition fees, travel and many other costs besides. So even if a graduate does earn more, they must first accept that their financial situation is likely to start in the red.

Nonetheless, over a lifetime perhaps the graduate will still make more cash. But still, was this the real reason? Some of the best known business tycoons are not academics, so clearly financial success is not guaranteed by a degree.

Outside the confines of the tavern, the ominous clouds didn’t appear to be shifting. “We should be at work!” we both joked as we remained at our wooden table, draining our pints. And then a strange thought occurred to us. A good understanding of the world, decent career prospects and a good salary were all important to us – but perhaps there was something simpler.

We realised that what a degree would give us was greater options for the future. Maybe we weren’t going to be doctors or lawyers, but a degree would allow us to work as academics or as teachers, which are positions we would both consider. Also, degree qualification could allow greater career progression in any employment, and it would facilitate our travels of the world. For us, higher education was about the lifestyle we wanted for ourselves. A freedom to go further in the world than a 9 – 5 routine. The freedom to have greater choice in our careers. And most importantly, the freedom to be sat in a pub on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, with nothing better to do than enjoy a pint, some good company and the promise of a cold, wet walk along the coast.

Blake's View, Course

Blake’s view: Nobody likes 9am lectures

Do I have any complaints about the course? No, not really. Okay, nobody likes 9am lectures. Lectures and seminars are only an hour long, and sometimes I find myself wishing they were longer. The timetabling isn’t always great, which has left me with breaks of several hours. But no matter, I’ve filled in the gaps with studying, going to the University Library, reading, and going to the shops in Commercial Road, so it’s not a big problem. Park Building even has its own mini-library with books, magazines, DVD rental and TVs, plus there’s the Park Building café and several computer suits, so there’s plenty to do!

I genuinely enjoy attending lectures because I find them interesting. I came to this course knowing nothing about North or South America and I’ve already learned so much! I now know that Costa Rica doesn’t have a military, how new laws are passed in the US, that many Americans wanted George Washington to be their King, and that Chile is the only country to have elected a Communist government. Why is this important? Because now I can understand why Obama’s healthcare bill is causing so much commotion in the US, why Canadians play ice hockey and Cubans play baseball, and why President Hoover’s policies during the Great Depression didn’t work. By understanding the context of these countries, I can better evaluate what is happening in the present.

American Studies really has met my expectations. The lecturers have all been very friendly and have made an effort to get to know the students. Lecturers always stop and say hello if you pass in the corridor, which I don’t think you get on all courses.

The teacher is just as important as the subject, and the teaching has been excellent and the subject highly interesting. I made the right decision to return to university. Definitely.