Friday, 3 December 2010

My First Term at Uni (University of Essex - autumn 2005)




Well, it's almost Christmas and I've almost completed my first term at University! There’s been many ups and many downs, but I'm now enjoying the ride so much that I don't actually want to get off.

Freshers week was a flurry of activity and panic, ……followed by more activity and more panic as it finally sunk in that I'm now an undergraduate…..a ‘proper’ student!

The daily walk to campus takes me past the kiddies nursery, and all the delightful little grey squirrels that scurry around within sight of the delighted pre-schoolers. I strongly suspect that the fluffy ones have been deliberately placed there to distract people from the rigours of 'cardiac hill'. Walking along the path between the huge accommodation towers takes sure footedness due to near hurricane conditions. Thank goodness I have a truckload of academic books in my bag as ballast or I'd end up doing a Mary Poppins.

On a particularly sunny afternoon I decided to treat myself to a wander around the very beautiful lake, only to realise that my trainers were a magnet for goose poo. Another thing about geese is that they don’t observe library etiquette. Whilst reading a ‘fascinating’ chapter on statistics at a table overlooking the lake one day, I soon discovered that the gaggle of feathered hooligans outside were far more distracting than my fellow scholars inside.

Volunteering to help out in the sociology resource room was an excellent idea of mine, as it gives me access to loads of research material, and I can check my e-mails in peace without dozens of teenagers yakking on mobile phones a few feet away.

I've been to the campus art gallery twice now, once to see some Mexican artwork and then to see some unnervingly familiar photographs of youngsters growing up in the 1970's….labelled “historical!”.
Hmmmm…….a bit too close for comfort.

Through gritted teeth I braved the antiquated paternoster lift in library, and decided that the stairs are not so bad after all. I’ve never been a fan of ski-lifts, and find it unnatural that you should have to judge when to hop on and off an apparatus that never stops…..especially when it’s no bigger than a small wardrobe and appears to vanish before your very eyes…..reappearing seconds later to offload confused-looking people who you never witnessed entering the contraption.

I’ve become addicted to the delicious, fresh-baked, cheese scones from The Blues CafĂ© and really must wean myself off them before I break the zip on my jeans. The second-hand bookshop gets rather snug on occasions and just a few more scones will put me in danger of becoming trapped. However, I seem to have lost the ability to request a cappuccino without the words “and scone” tumbling out of my mouth as if I have a weird food-orientated version of tourettes syndrome.

I treated myself to a University t-shirt and a hoodie, so that if any of my long-suffering friends, relatives or neighbours don't already know that I'm at Uni, they can’t fail to see the fact emblazoned on my chest.

Discovering the wonderfully calming aquariums in the lobby of the biological sciences department was a stroke of luck. Who needs prozac when you can spend 10 minutes in the warm, enjoying the aquatic antics of neon tetras?

Mondo's on Wednesday lunchtimes has acoustic musicians performing free of charge, which is a great way to chill out over a cappuccino (minus the scone).

The dark cloud hanging over my head (a.k.a.Beginners Italian) still hovers, but I'm learning to deal with my pessimism (lots of fish-watching). My difficulties with this subject are entirely my own fault. The ability to order a pizza for two during a city break to Turin does not mean that I’m bi-lingual, nor does it mean I’m gifted with languages. The phrase 'It’s better to say nothing and everyone think you a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt' has never seemed so apt.

Computers play a vital role in the running of the university, and obsessive checking of e-mails is actively encouraged (God forbid anyone should actually engage in conversation the old fashioned way). Every so often it’s compulsory to change your on screen password. This should be a simple enough task, but security-gone-mad dictates that you need to use a combination of upper and lower case, numbers and / or funny symbols, and no word that appears in the Oxford English Dictionary may be used as any part of your 8 digit creation! After half an hour of rejected attempts you’ll end up with something that no sane person could ever remember. For someone with a morbid fear of algebra (letters and numbers-induced panic) this was a particularly stressful exercise that I don’t relish repeating every few weeks.

An e-mail, out of the blue, offering me a Dangoor Scholarship was a huge boost to my morale…. and my dwindling bank balance. It's amazing what being offered £1,000 will do once you pick yourself up off the floor. The presentation was all very posh and proper, with nice cakes and party balloons. Group photographs were duly taken and I’m now to be seen grinning like a Cheshire cat on the back of the December issue of the campus glossy magazine. (Proudly displaying the aforementioned hoodie).

I e-mailed the student union with an idea about reflective armbands for students, so that traffic on the nearby A133 stands a sporting chance of spotting them before running them over, and have now been informed that the bands that I suggested will soon be on sale in the student union shop in square three. If there's a new craze involving glow-in-the-dark students in January I shall take full responsibility.

Essay deadlines have been and gone. Zero tolerance became something of a mantra on campus, almost to the point of major irritation.

I didn’t enjoy the statistics test the first time around, so to learn that there was to be an encore, due to the ineptitude of one particular lecturer, didn’t go down very well. There's only so much fish-watching you can do! 

S.H.A.G week was an interesting concept. (Sexual Health Awareness and Guidance week, not some 60’s style love-in).  I must thank the student union for my banana-flavoured condoms!

I’ve recently joined the Italian Society. My academic reasoning is that it will enable me to improve my linguistic skills by chatting to native speakers. My non-academic reasoning has something to do with the words "pasta" and "wine tasting" on their flyers. 

My jacket is looking rather jolly with a variety of coloured ribbons I’ve acquired from a variety of campus campaigns.

Due to navigational ineptitude, I still carry a rather battered map of the campus around with me at all times. Last minute changes of venue render me panic-stricken, as I have absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever.

After receiving an e-mail from the student union advertising that volunteers are required for the advice centre, I took myself along to square 3 and filled out an application form. I was duly invited to a meeting and subsequently an interview. I now have to play the very familiar waiting game to discover the outcome.

The tree in square 3 is looking very sparkly. It’d be rather cheery to have a roast chestnuts stand somewhere nearby. Merry Christmas!

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