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Saturday, 8 August 2015

A-Z Guide of Going to University!

The day of A-Level results being released is slowly approaching, meaning thousands of students over the UK are hoping each day goes as slowly as our high school years went, dreading the day they go back to their college or sixth form to collect that envelope that pretty much defines their future. And then there's the dread of having to sort out university plans, regardless of whether you got into your first choice or not. Luckily, I went through the entire process two years ago (and survived!) so I'm gonna give you twenty six tips into getting through the next few weeks as you spread your metaphorical wings and fly the family nest.

Let's go..

A - Adventure! Going to university is an adventure in itself. Not a lot of people manage to go to university so make the most of it and grab every opportunity with both hands. Live life on the wild side for a few weeks before lectures start. I'm not talking about throwing yourself off a cliff attached to a bungee cord or robbing a bank before running from the police, jumping off a bridge onto a moving high speed train heading towards Birmingham and fighting off a pack of lethal ninjas with nothing more than a toothbrush and a packet of Lidl's hobnob biscuits. This is university - not a high budget Hollywood action film. Just something as simple as packing a lunch, leaving campus with your flatmates and getting lost on purpose. No matter what, don't use a map to find your way home. If needs be, find a police officer or even just a randomer on the street and ask them for directions. It's great fun and gives you so many memories to look back on when your time at university comes to an end *sobs*.

B - Bucket list. The first night I moved into Halls, I sat down with my new flatmates and we made a list of twenty things we wanted to do before lectures began, such as having a onesie party in the laundrette whilst we all did our washing, making friends with a complete stranger and hitting the Student Union Bar. It makes a great bonding session, even if you don't complete them all.

C - Change. Going to university is gonna be a huge change and can be really stressful. But try to enjoy it. You're growing up and gaining independence. This is your introduction to the real world. You're moving out of the family home where you've been in the shadow of your parents for the past eighteen years. Now is the time where you'll learn how to cook (or how to order Chinese takeout if you end up nearly obliterating the kitchen by trying to make a chicken stir fry), and how to carry sixteen carrier bags back from Tesco and still manage to unlock your front door without putting any of the bags down or, more importantly, breaking any bags. Now you hear people saying 'Oh, I found myself at university' and probably roll your eyes, but you really do find yourself at university. You won't understand now but give it a few months and you'll realise that you're different to when you first arrived with all your boxes, looking up at the building like a rabbit in headlights. Also, change in the money sense is great for the laundrette so make sure you have at least £5 in pound coins and £2 in 50p coins so you can do laundry at least once without having to go to the local shop and buying something just to get some coins.

D - Doorstop. This might sound like a really random tip but make sure you buy a doorstop if you're moving into Halls of Residence. One thing to remember is that a doorstop might only have one purpose, but it has two uses. The first use is keeping your door open in the first few weeks so you can get to known your flatmates and seem like a warm, friendly, approachable person. And the second use is the complete opposite to the first - keeping your door from being opened the rest of the year since your flatmates get way too confident with strolling into your room whenever they feel like it.

E - Effort. I know for the first few weeks I wouldn't leave my room without a full face of make-up and my best clothes on, looking like I was about to hit London Fashion Week. Then the day came when I did a cheeky dash from my room to the kitchen first thing in the morning before a lecture to make a cup of tea. And it happened. I ran into my flatmate whilst wearing my Monsters Inc onesie with no make-up on and bed hair. Then I realised the effort I put in before was wasted and I could have easily spent that hour that I used to use on getting ready to catch a few more z's in bed instead. Just be you. Good flatmates don't care what you look like, they just care if you're that person who leaves plates with a higher peak than Mount Everest in the kitchen sink before inspection.

F - Family on Facebook. Facebook might seem like a really good idea as it does make it so much easier to keep in contact with everyone back home but in reality, it can be quite a burden. The amount of times in my first year especially that I heard myself saying "you can't post that, I have my family on Facebook" or "OH MY GOD! WHY DID YOU POST THAT AS MY STATUS WHEN I STUPIDLY LEFT MY DOOR UNLOCKED?! MY FAMILY ARE GONNA SEE THAT AND THINK IT'S TRUE!!" So think about it before you have them on Facebook, and once you've finished thinking about it, think about it again. And if you decide to have them on Facebook, just make sure you don't leave any internet-enabled device unattended. Like I did. Several times. Stupidly.

G - Get ready for lectures. Whilst freshers is for having fun, make sure you do preparation for your course to properly begin. Read the materials you need to read, stock up on stationary, collect together any documents you need for orientation and enrolment, print out a copy of your timetable etc. etc. etc. After all, studying is sort of the reason why you're at university. But, a huge tip that'll save you possibly hundreds of pounds is do not buy all the textbooks recommended by the university. Within a week or so of attending lectures, you'll soon get to know the textbooks you need. And the ones you do need, if you can't borrow them from the library or get a free eBook from Google Books or Google Scholar, look on eBay. You'll save a few quid by doing that. Just try not to annotate the book - that way you can sell the book on at the end of your course and make a bit of the money that you spent on it back. You can thank me later.

H - Homesick. You'll feel homesick for definite. Even if you think you won't, you will. You'll miss everything about home, including your mum's constant nagging and your dad's annoying traits.  But there's three things I did that you can do if you feel homesick. Number one. Ring home and ask about your dog, chat to your mum about what's going on on the soaps (even if you don't care), listen to your dad moan about your siblings, wind your brother up about him still living at home, tease your sister over the fact she can't steal your clothes anymore.. They miss you more than you miss them, even if they don't admit it. Number two. Go talk to your housemates and admit that you're feeling homesick. They'll be feeling the exact same thing that you're feeling. It'll help you bond too. Number three. Explore campus, hit up the library and pick up some books from your reading list as God knows they'll all be taken out when lectures actually starts.

I - Invisible flatmates. Ok, so you've lived in your room in the Halls for a few weeks now and all the rooms in your flat are filled with equally as crazy people as you.. well, that is apart from one. There's that door in the corner that you've never seen open and never seen close, and you're not even sure that anybody lives in the room at all. The only tell tale sign that someone is habitating in the room is that things in the kitchen keep moving ever so often and in the middle of the night, you swear you hear a toilet flushing in the room, but you could be wrong.. Don't be that person. Whatever you do, under no circumstances, do not be that person.

J - Jenga. Or Monopoly. Or Kerplunk. And definitely a pack of cards. More importantly, a pack of cards. Take games like these with you. They make great alternatives to going out and spending your entire student loan in the clubs and pubs and bars and whatever else costs money that you don't have. Get some beers, spirits, mixers etc. in, and invite your new friends around for a night of board games with a twist. Make them into drinking games. Make them into championships with a leaderboard. Make them into war by saying the loser has the duty of cleaning the kitchen every week until you all move out. They're great fun and a great way of getting to know each other by doing something. Plus, you don't know somebody properly until you've seen them lose their shit over landing on Mayfair with a hotel.

K - Karaoke. Hit a karaoke bar as soon as you possibly can with your flatmates, especially if you're a shower singer. Then your flatmates won't be so shocked when you begin belting out a Whitney Houston classic and end up sounding like Nichole337 off YouTube. (Watch her videos if you haven't been blessed with her before. She is truly my idol.)

L - Letter. I never did this but as soon as I heard about it, I wished I did it. Write yourself a letter to be opened once you graduate. Jot down your feelings, your dreams and just random little things about life at that very moment so you can look back in three/four years after receiving your degree and remember what it was like to be a little undergraduate. Even better, do it with your new flatmates on the first night then at your graduation, meet up in a place that meant a lot to you all and read the letters out loud to one another for a group laugh (and cry).

M - Medicines! 'Freshers flu' is not a myth. It's real. It's very real. It's more real than Ian Beale playing Deal or No Deal whilst having a meal, petting a seal, only wearing teal. It's inevitable that every Fresher will get Freshers Flu, no matter how much you fight it. So stock up on flu medicines and supplies - lozenges, cough syrups, paracetamol, hot water bottles, snuggly blankets, movies that are great to sleep through. The paracetamol also doubles up to help when you suffer with hangovers (which are also a high possibility). Useful to take a little first aid kit if you are susceptible to falling over whilst drunk or rubbish at chopping vegetables. Oh, and if you don't get Freshers flu, please tell me your secret because I seem to get it every fricking semester.

N - Noise. Don't be that tosser that blasts their music first thing in the morning or last thing at night. We all love a good party, but be considerate of the neighbours. Otherwise you'll get notes written about you in the elevator and you can forget receiving a Christmas card.

O - Outgoing. You might be shy now, but university is the perfect place to push yourself out of your comfort zone. I know it's easier said than done but take baby steps. Maybe say 'hello' to your flatmates when you first arrive and leave your door open as you unpack. They'll approach you if you're too nervous to approach them. If you're feeling really brave, suggest going to the pub together or for a cheeky Nandos (two things all students can't resist). I first went to university being an unconfident, shy girl but I plucked up the courage and started conversations with my flatmates within a few minutes of arriving at my Halls, leaving my parents to unpack all my stuff *muahahahaha*. Now, I'm confidenter (if that's even a word..) and my flatmates wish I would stop starting conversations, especially when they're trying to watch Top Gear and I'm discussing what outfits Harry Styles looked bomb-ass in (the answer is anything and everything) or if I had to be called something else, what I'd be called (FYI, still unsure of this one, hence why I need to discuss it in depth).

P - Proud. Be proud of yourself. Don't be ashamed. You (presumably) worked your ass of to get the grades you needed for university and so you deserve to be proud of yourself for that. Just don't be that person who goes OTT on pride and boasts at every chance they get. "OH, YOU GOT THREE B'S? I GOT FOUR A'S. I JUST DIDN'T GO TO OXBRIDGE AS I DIDN'T WANT TO BE PERCEIVED AS A SNOB." No, the reason you didn't get accepted into Oxbridge was because nobody likes a cocky little twat (mind my French).

Q - Quite decent portable docking station. A portable docking station is quintessential if you wanna be quite a sociable person in the first few weeks. Music is a must at any flat party or even just a night of cooking with your flatmates. Where music plays, people are soon to follow. Just make sure you are considerate of other flats (i.e. invite them around if you're having a social gathering then you give them the option to join in instead of annoying them and causing a year-long feud). As with any of your personal belongings, make sure you remove it from your shared areas when you aren't there so it's less likely to be broken or stolen.

R - Relationships. Long distance relationships are do-able at university, but do not let them get in the way of your university life. University isn't just about the learning, it's about the social side too. Your friends will understand that your relationship is important but don't blow them off every single time for your partner. Don't be that person who ditches your new-found friends as they'll soon get bored with inviting you to things only for you to say 'no', they'll end up getting memories and inside jokes and you'll feel left out at the end of the day. Also, it's quite douchebaggy and they will dislike you because of it, even if they don't admit it. University friends really are the friends for life so don't miss out on the opportunity to meet new people then regret it down the line. Also, FYI, try not to get into relationships with your flatmates as when they come to an end, it makes life awkward for not only you and them but everyone else you live with.

S - Societies. Join them. The drinking ones. The course related one. The hobby ones. The religious ones. The 'what the actual fuck, that really exists?' ones. It's a great way to meet new people and gain more friends! Plus, some look amazing on CVs and graduate job applications (maybe not that Quidditch one that entailed you running about the sports hall once a semester, mounted on mops and hitting balloons through hula hoops that were suspended in the air by hockey sticks but.. I suppose you could always mention it briefly as it does show a potential employer dedication, hobbies, interests and social skills..) Oh, and don't sign up to ones you won't mind weekly emails off as societies do tend to bombard your inbox with constant notices.

T - Time. Make the most of every minute of the first few weeks before the hard work begins. And try to take as many photos you can (it's great to look back over in a few months to reminisce about your first weeks together and see how things have changed).

U - Use your student discount. My God. I cannot put more emphasis on this (apart from capital letters but then that just looks like I'm shouting and I don't want to be aggressive for this bit). In the beginning, God created three things: the heavens, the earth and student discount. Sign up for a NUS card and use it too! Almost every decent clothing store on the high street offers at least 10% off for students when you present a valid student card (must have a valid date on it). McDonalds offers free food (yeah, you heard me right.. FREE FOOD!) when you purchase a meal. Dominos even knocks 50% off the total price of everything on their menu for students. So run (while you can because between McDonalds' free food and Dominos' discount, you won't be able to run for much longer) and use the bejesus out of your discount before you graduate and realise how much you took it for granted. Loyalty cards are a definite too - Tesco Clubcard saved my life in my first year.

V - Vegetables. Oh, and fruit. Make sure you at least incorporate a few fruit and veg into your diet during freshers. They'll help you fight the notorious Freshers Flu and keep your mum from nagging (even send her a few cheeky selfies with them before you cook them to stop her nagging completely). Your body will appreciate it. And so will your mum.

W - Would You Rather. There are six words you will learn to hate throughout Freshers: 'Would You Rather' and 'Have You Ever'. Every drinking session you attend, there'll be that person who suggests playing them. You will learn that the quiet girl who you thought had mistaken the Halls of Residence for the local nunnery is actually a borderline sex pest and that the party animal who you have yet to see sober actually has a strong love for doing sudoko with a cup of tea. You will also learn that the French girl in the flat opposite yours has been arrested before for public indecency at a Doctor Who convention and the boy who lives in the room exactly above yours who once made it onto You've Been Framed for falling down a slide as a four year old.

X - X Factor. You've lasted an entire week in Halls (congrats, many don't as they smoke in their rooms, fire alarm goes off, building gets evacuated and then they get kicked out of university for failing to comply with the rules - tip: don't smoke in your room). But there's one thing bugging you. The X Factor is on and you have nobody to watch it with. Here's what you do. Go knock on your flatmates' doors and tell them (not ask, tell) that they are all watching the X Factor with you tonight. Spice things up a bit and invent a drinking game to play along with it. We did it once with taking a shot every time Louis Walsh said 'you could be the next big boyband' or every time the contestant began walking off the stage before Dermot had finished reading out the voting numbers and we were pretty much drunk half way through the program. It will soon become a weekly thing and it's a win-win situation - you get to watch The X Factor and your flatmates get pissed without having to deal with getting dressed up to go out and then having to be swarmed by nightclub promoters.

Y - Your own mini fridge. Having a fridge in your room is frowned upon by most Halls of Residence, but hey, live recklessly and buy a mini fridge. Food tends to go missing in a shared fridge (must be that invisible flatmate that you never knew existed since everyone is adamant they didn't scoff your strawberry yoghurt), plus it's handier for midnight snacks when it comes around to studying for finals.

Z - CoZy. Okay. I cheated with this one but what useable words actually begin with 'Z'? Your room in your Halls will not be cozy at all. Mine wasn't. It resembled a prison. Blue-wash walls with plaster showing in some places, that ugly blue carpet squares they use in classrooms and box-standard furniture. It's gonna be your home for the next year (at least) so you have to make sure it's all cozy and comfortable. Take blankets, cushions, posters, blu-tac to put the posters up, photo frames with photos of your friends and family from back home in them to help deal with the homesickness, teddies (nobody will judge you - they'll have teddies too), books, DVDs, fairy lights, lamps, plants, whatever you need to make the room feel homely. Even hit up a local IKEA with your flatmates to get nice homey items for the communal areas. We bought a whiteboard for our kitchen to write messages to each other on it (even though we had a group chat set up) and used the safety notices cork board in the dining area to put up pictures and funny quotes we'd all said. Do anything and everything you can, within reason, to make it feel like your home.

Now you know your alphabet, won't you sing along with me..

So I did it. I didn't actually think I'd be able to do that. But I really hope it helps if you are going to university this year (or next, or next, or next, or.. next..). Even if you don't take note of any of the twenty-six tips, just make sure you enjoy it. It's been the best two years of my life so far and I don't want my final one to end :(

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Internet Friends.

Through my childhood, I was always told ‘don’t talk to strangers’ and pretty much had the phrase ‘stranger danger’ branded into my brain by my parents and teachers. Then I went onto high school, and with the internet becoming more accessible to us teeny bops, we were always told those scary anecdotes of meeting up with strangers from the internet like the girl that met up with a girl she’d been talking to in the local shopping centre and finding out it was actually a fifty-year old paedophile or the boy that shared his address with a friend via MSN and ending up being stalked by some psychotic hacker or what other garbage the education system drivelled on about. And yes, while these may be true in some cases, I think it was just the school’s way of making out that the internet was a dangerous place simply because they didn’t realise how wonderful it actually could be. 

I didn’t start using the internet for anything other than researching homework projects until I was about twelve or thirteen when ‘Bebo’ was slowly becoming the new ‘MySpace’ and the last thing you’d say to your friends at the end of the school day was “MSN tonight?”. It gave me a whole new sort of social life. Before the internet, I had to beg my parents to let me top up my phone to get like a hundred texts which would last me about five minutes and then I’d be credit-less for the next month. And the only way I’d be able to talk to my friends since we lived in a huge town was by the landline, and that was just annoying because we really didn’t want our parents to be eavesdropping over who was ‘going out’ with who and who was ‘crushing’ on who. I mean, nobody was supposed to know that sort of life-changing information apart from us pre-teen gal pals. But MSN let us do it in secret, and it also gave us a life-line to ‘flirt’ with our crushes by appearing offline and then going back online constantly, causing a ripple of notifications to appear on their screen, reminding them that we were still alive and existed and sometimes we were lucky enough to get a message off them (usually it was to ask if we had any cool ‘emoticons’ with a dollar sign for every ’s’ or an upside down crucifix for a ’t’ that made it feel like every conversation was written in arabic) but the less about that the better. 

Then, at the prime age of thirteen, George Sampson won Britain’s Got Talent *swoon* and I discovered chatrooms dedicated to fangirling over him - unless your name is Judy, you cannot judge me. Before this, my only chance to share my love for this body-popping heartthrob was while swinging over the railings by the portacabin classrooms at lunchtime. But now, there were people who actually fangirled with me since before I was just fangirling in the presence of my friends who really couldn't care less about it. They knew what I was going on about. They knew what it felt like when he did that backflip into the water and.. they understood me! Growing up as a fangirl for Spice Girls then N’Sync and Boyzone and Backstreet Boys and the typical 90s boybands then S Club 7 and then S Club Juniors and then Gareth Gates and then Busted, I was always classed as the weird girl. I was that girl in primary school who used to make all her friends recreate dance routines that my favourite bands had performed on the Saturday morning television programmes. But now, I’d found my people! And it was great. I can remember sneaking onto my laptop in the middle of the night to chat with my newfound friends, fangirling that George was going to be in a movie or typing the lyrics to his singles (yes, he released singles and they were pretty fabulous) to everyone and having them type the next line back to me. It was amazing. They actually understood me and didn’t judge me or refuse to let me be the Frankie of S Club Juniors when we did our own One Step Closer dance routine at break or remind me that Busted had split up - it still hurts to this very day *sobs*. 

I even met up with a few of the friends that I had made through George Sampson - some I’m still in contact with to this very day, seven years later, and one who is still my best friend who I see as regularly as I possibly can. We shared our teenage years together, even though we lived hundreds of miles apart. I look back now and think of them with the same fondness as the friends I had made via school. I remember the memories I made with them the same amount as the memories I made with my school friends. Just because we couldn’t sit together at lunch or pass notes across the classroom to one another, it didn’t mean we didn’t have a typical teenage friendship. We used to text each other or go on MSN and tell each other about our crushes - I even remember texting one of my internet friends a few moments after I had had my first kiss. (HAHA, I SAID ‘HAD HAD’ AND IT MADE SENSE). We used to bicker about the slightest things, but we also used to have so many laughs: MSN webcams whilst we were doing homework or revising for our SATs, Skype calls on weekends as we watched X Factor and then decided to play ‘who can look the ugliest without the other one print screening and uploading to Bebo’.

And even now, I have friends I’ve met on the internet - most I consider my best friends as they’ve been a constant in my life with moving away to university. Knowing that no matter what, they’re always at the end of the phone to brighten up my day and make me feel better when life is getting a bit tough. You realise that distance really doesn’t matter when you grow up a bit and see that a train or a plane is nothing when true friendship is at the end of it (plus, with Netflix around these days, a train or a plane journey flies by - no pun intended). And I know for a fact that these friendships that I have now with people from all over the place are going to last a very long time. 

(Shoutout to Charlie and Aisha. I said I’d mention you and I did! Now please start laughing at all my jokes because, as internet best friends, that is what you’re supposed to do - a simple ‘lol’ will suffice. Also, thank-you for putting up with me and not blocking me after all these years because if I had to deal with me, I’d have blocked me from day one. LOVE YOU BOTH!)

There have been times where reality has got me down and all I had to do was sign into MSN or just send a simple tweet and my internet friends would pop up and make sure I was okay. Sometimes, it seemed like they cared more than my friends from school did. Sometimes, it seemed like they knew more about me than my friends from school did. Sometimes, it seemed like they understood me more than anybody in the world did. 

It just goes to show that people you meet on the internet aren’t always harmful. Obviously there are precautions you should take if you’re meeting up with internet friends such as letting people know where you’re going and who you’re going with, even taking someone with you; not giving out personal information over the internet like your address or bank details (in other words, using common sense). Children are taught about ‘stranger danger’ but at the end of the day, if you truly think about it, every person is a stranger to you until you meet them. You didn’t see your best friend for the first time and instantly know everything about them - they were a stranger to you. Same goes for internet friends. 

And maybe you don’t get the whole internet friends and think it’s quite sad that people can be friends with someone they’ve never met before, but maybe we think the same about you - maybe we think that it’s quite sad that you think you don’t have what it takes to maintain a friendship through phone calls or texts or seeing each other once a year or whatever and that you need to see your friends every day to be able to be friends with them. Nobody should judge each other on how people make friends because you don’t know the real reason why that person might find it easier to make friends through texts instead of in person. Some people aren’t lucky to be blessed with confidence or to be surrounded by people who want to be friends with them. I think the whole stamina behind internet friends is slowly changing towards it being a cool thing and I love it. I mean, having friends in exotic places on the other side of the planet and being so close that it’s like they live on the other side of the street to you.. that’s what the internet is for. Without sounding like an old O2 advert or like a Human Centipede enthusiast, we’re better connected. Plus, free holidays, aye-aye-aye! 

So high-five to all those internet friendships out there, making use of the internet in a positive way and kicking the social stigma of internet friends in the ass!