Category Archives: University

My university experiences, advice to students and more.

Lifestyle | Making life-changing decisions and taking risks

imageI wrote this on A level results day, a whopping eight years after I collected my own results and found out I was going to my first choice university to study English. After all the hard work I put in, my dreams had come true and I couldn’t wait to start my new life. Now eight years later, I can’t believe where my life has taken me – never could I have known that the next few years would see me interning at a fashion magazine, writing a column for a newspaper, gaining a 2.1 BA Hons, changing my career plans and becoming a journalist, working for six different newspapers, becoming the editor of an online festival magazine, starting a blog that would later win an award and feature in an industry magazine, travel round the world solo working with brands that are household names. It’s been a whirlwind few years and I can’t believe half the stuff I’ve done in that time, but that’s just my point, none of the students who have just collected their results have any real idea of what an amazing point they are at. Their whole world is about to change and they have no concept of what lies ahead. It’s exciting and terrifying, my favourite combination of feelings.

Anyone who has made a big decision in their life whether to do with relationships, careers, or even travel, will understand the feeling. That moment when you’re about to take the leap from all you have ever experienced into the unknown, but have no idea what will happen next. As a traveler and a bit of a risk-taker, I’ve experienced this feeling a lot – when I quit my job, when I broke off my nine-year relationship and traveled to the other side of the world solo. All of these moments have been absolutely terrifying and have filled me with a heart-stopping fear, but underneath the fear was excitement for what would come next. For a new challenge and a new way of life, for new people, sights and sounds. I remember sitting in the airport when it finally hit me that I had quite literally quit everything I knew to go to the other side of the world, by myself. It was nuts and totally overwhelming, I can’t deny a few tears were shed as I read the messages from family and friends, but then my flight was called. I pulled myself together, downed my wine and headed to the gate, and the rest is history.imageI’m currently in Berlin on my second solo trip, this time heading around Europe. But before I left I was getting that feeling again, like this little time in my life is over. I’m only off for a month but it’s the end of my time here at home and the start of something new, a whole new trip and a whole new way of travelling. I seem to get this overwhelming feeling that I need to leave every now and again, it plagues me, I never know when it will hit. Sometimes I can be perfectly happy in a place for six months, other times it creeps up on me after a few days, but when it hits I know I have to get gone. That it’s time for a new adventure. A lot of my friends aren’t travelers but they’ve experienced the same feeling – that desperation for a career change or eagerness to get out of a relationship that has gone sour. One of my friends has always had a “cut and run” theory that I share with her, when her gut instinct tells her she’s not happy she cuts her losses in relationships and gets gone. Another has found her passions overwhelmingly taking her away from her career and pushing her towards self-employment – a scary prospect but the most exciting thing to ever happen to her career-wise.

My point is we all have that thing that sets us tightrope walking along the very fine line between completely terrified and beyond bloody excited. But it’s whether we take that leap of faith that everything in front of us is just as magical as what lies behind, that is what decides our course in life. I read this quote the other day:

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” — Azar Nafisi

It just seemed so perfect for describing this feeling, the fear that you will never again experience this moment – I know I’ve had it a lot when I’ve formed incredible bonds with groups of people along my travels. That fear that by letting go of that perfect moment things will never be the same again. But more importantly, because every decision you make is shaping you as a person, everything changes you as a person. My decision to quit my job, relationship and life as I knew it changed me. Travel changed me. Just like the relationships and career choices of my friends have changed them. We are all learning and growing with every step we take in this world and it can be scary to let go of everything we know, but it’s only by doing that and leaping into the unknown that some of the best experiences of our lives will happen. So here it is, if you’re standing on the pinnacle of a life-changing decision, afraid that you will lose something precious, just take a second and think about what you could gain. By deciding to take the leap and grow as a person, you open yourself up to so many more incredible experiences – trust me, I’m a poster girl for this. Go for it and stop worrying, you have so much more to gain than you ever could lose.

Have you made a life-changing decision? How did you push yourself to take a risk? What is the scariest choice you’ve had to make?

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How UNiDAYS can give you the best training for backpacker life

imageThere’s no denying that for many, their student days conjure up memories of wayyyy too many cheap baked bean cans, far too many hungover lectures and amazing memories that will last a lifetime. My university life was no different – it was something I had been looking forward to for years: a chance to get away from all I knew, to study something I was passionate about and to live as wild and freely as my bank balance would allow. That first taste of freedom is the make-or-break moment for many and while some will flounder in the face of independence, spending every penny of their student loan in the first few weeks and scraping by for the next three years. Others thrive, finally given the space and time to live the way they deem fit, growing as an individual into the person they always had the potential to become. It’s a fantastic opportunity for teenagers to learn some serious life skills because so many at that age have been molly-coddled with no real work experience or life skills.

Now I would never say that university is right for everyone, especially when there are so many different paths these days that can help get you into the career of your choice. But there is one lifestyle that I think student life could really help prepare you for – backpacking. Travelling has been my life for almost 18 months and the whole experience has really opened my eyes to the different types of young travellers out there – from the very youngest at barely 18-years-old, to the mid-twenties and beyond. It’s amazing how difficult it becomes to read people as they are travelling – but once you remove many travellers from the “real world” their life experience and confidence just soars. I’ve been astonished to find how much I have in common with students who are barely out of university, and it has made me respect their maturity in new ways. Seeing their bravery in boarding that plane to the other side of the world, I wonder if I could have done it at their age and whether I would have had the same experiences.imageLooking back, I was always an independent person, someone who was always looking for opportunities to strike out on her own. But it was when I went away to study that I finally came into my own, being wholly independent was amazing and gave me the space I needed to grow as an individual, to really take control of my life. Student life gave me an amazing basis for becoming a traveller – it taught me to be independent and strong, yet flexible around others. It taught me the standard at which I want to live my life and a respect for how that measures up to the standards of others. It taught me basic skills like money management and the value of money, it taught me how to organise EVERYTHING for myself and others. It taught me time management and ways of having it all – of balancing my studies and personal life. It taught me to be creative – with everything. It taught me to be brave and to put myself out there in terms of my career and life opportunities. It taught me that life waits for no-one and you have to make the most of every second. UNiDAYS are life-changing in so many ways and I wouldn’t trade mine for the world. Not when it was those student days that prepared me for the world.

Talking to friends who are just beginning their studies, I can’t help but reminisce about the amazing memories I hold of my university days. Of those incredible friendships you build along the way, of the opportunities that await on every corner, the chances to excel both in your studies and extracurriculars. I remember the impassioned lectures, the fiesty discussions in seminars and the keen eye of the lecturers as they watched your ideas develop in front of them. The sporting events, the gigs, the events, the groups and all the rest. Those days where you had to get creative with baked beans because it was all you had left to eat, the nights you can’t remember and the times you’ll never forget. It all hopes your experience and changes your world without you even realising – but it’s these changes that set you on the right course to success in every aspect of your life. But it wouldn’t be student life without all the perks that come with it – I’ll never forget those student discounts! From £5 pizzas at Dominoes to free cheeseburgers at McDonalds, to that cheeky 10% off at all my favourite clothes shops – it was the dream!

If you’re just starting your studies then you should join the 7.2million students who are already signed up and saving with UNiDAYS – free to sign up it gives you access to the best range of student discounts online and in-store with all the leading brands. UNiDAYS is partnered with the biggest brands including the likes of THE ICONIC, Glue Store, ASOS, City Beach and Beginning Boutique. The free UNiDAYS App gives you instant access to student discount at home and on the move. When shopping in participating stores, just flash your UNiDAYS iD at the till point to redeem your discount. Save money on everything from the essentials to life’s little treats. Enter exclusive competitions and be the first to hear about exclusive student-only events, new store launch parties and much more. To find out more and sign up to start saving straight away – click here! Or find UNiDAYS on Facebook, Twitter (@UNiDAYS_AU) or Instagram (@UNiDAYS_AU).

What are your favourite student memories? Where did you study? What are your best tips for new students?

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The Eternal Battle: Qualifications vs. Experience

battleThis is a subject that comes up time and time again, and after receiving an email from friend a few weeks ago asking for some advice on how to get into journalism – I thought it might be about time I tackled this subject in a post. Everyone has a different opinion on whether qualifications or experience have the greater input into where you end up in life, and I know there are great examples for both sides – but I know so many students are left confused by which one they should be focusing on. When you’re at university, you’re constantly told you need to gain more experience but when you try to get some you are told you’re not qualified for the role. It’s an eternal battle and a vicious cycle – one that many students struggle to break. So which one should you be concentrating on?

Experience

I will always be a champion for the experience route, I may be an English Language and Communication and English Literature graduate, but I’ll be honest when I say that my degree has not really had much influence over where I have ended up. I loved studying for my degree because I was passionate about both subjects, and I would always argue that if you are passionate about something it is worth studying. But it is easy to think a degree will get you where you want to be when in actual fact they really won’t in many cases. While studying at university, I applied for work experience at national publication, More Magazine, where I spent two weeks working on the fashion desk, helping on photoshoots and so on… It wasn’t for me, but it gave me my first piece of worthwhile experience to add to my CV. Work experience at my local newspaper turned out to be the most valuable – after five days I had the front page and had been asked to write a weekly column. I also worked full time for a month with them (paid) before returning to university and was given a job upon graduating. Since graduating, I have also started writing for a festival news and reviews site, of which I was made the editor. It has not only given me great experience, but it looks fantastic on my CV and will help me in the future. Despite not being a fully-qualified journalist, I have worked in two journalistic roles since graduating three-four years ago all because of the experience I have gained. I know other fully qualified journalists who have put a lot of time into becoming qualified, but have been stuck with unpaid writing work or copy writing roles instead of journalism.

Of course, not everyone is trying to be a journalist. But this is something that will work in most professions – I have friends who work in retail, in marketing and advertising, in engineering and several who have become teachers. All of them have had to gain experience in their chosen fields before they were able to progress in their careers – it has just come in different forms. For one engineer, he was given experience and training as part of the course to become qualified for his role. For the retail worker, she started as a shop assistant and gained experience while working on the job, which allowed her to work her way up and become qualified as an office manager. All of the teachers had to gain experience of working in schools, mostly unpaid, alongside their PGSE studies so that they could finish their qualification. And those in marketing and advertising found their experience vital to gaining employment in bigger and better companies upon graduating – completing a placement year or few months while studying was a necessity. Of course, all of them also needed qualifications in one form or another, but their experience played a much larger part in their overall career path.

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Qualifications

In many fields, experience can be impossible to gain without having some kind of qualification beforehand. Journalism can be a tricky one, particularly if you are applying for work experience before studying for an NCTJ, because there is so much competition. I was lucky that I was given the opportunity to do work experience at the newspaper because I was the first in over five years to do so, and I wasn’t even studying journalism! But I know of many student journalists who have struggled to get experience without already being enrolled on a journalism course. If you know that you want to study journalism, it is a good idea to just go for it and study for your NCTJ because some papers are unwilling to take on work experience students when they do not have skills like shorthand, or a knowledge of media law. Don’t do a journalism degree! I can’t stress this enough – I know so many journalists who have done a degree and then have had to pay to study for a NCTJ afterwards because they haven’t fulfilled all of the criteria. If you want to study a degree as well, why not do like I did and study English or another humanities subject you have an interest in? Just bear in mind it is important, particularly if you want to work for a newspaper or news site, to be qualified. But also bear in mind, that there are lost of people out there who are working as journalists and freelance writers who are unqualified. It is not necessary to have a NCTJ, but it is a helpful addition to your CV and skills.

Don’t feel like I am down on qualifications and how useful or important they are. I have always taken them very seriously, whether they were GCSE’s or final exams at university, and I always think it is worth working towards having an official document saying you can do something – even if you have known you can do it for ages before. It is an achievement for yourself, and it also proves to the world that you can do something. Being officially qualified puts you ahead of the pack, if two people go for an office manager job and one has completed a managing course and the other hasn’t – the employer will probably favour the one who has. When a potential employer is just looking at your CV, having an extra qualification on there can mean the difference between a new job and the dole. It can also mean a huge difference between the rate of pay – having an extra qualification can mean you are entitled to thousands more a year overall. It can also mean being paid significantly less than someone who is doing exactly the same job as you – soul destroying. I would always recommend trying to get a well-rounded CV packed with experience and qualifications – both will play a part in getting you where you want to be.

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But which one is more important to you? For me it has to be experience – as much as I love and am proud of my degree, I have found my working experiences invaluable. My time spent working at the newspaper and the festivals site has changed what I want to do with my life and has given me the confidence, knowledge and skills to achieve that with or without the qualifications. I see them as an added bonus to my life, but not something that will hold me back or prevent me from achieving my career dreams. I know that it will be different for those working in different fields – but I would love to know about your experiences of different industries.

Do qualifications or experience mean more to you? Which has played a larger part in bringing you closer to your dream?

Ab Lucy sign off

10 awesome opportunities being a journalist has given me

580161_10151456511187617_100428838_nBeing a journalist hasn’t given some people the best reputation in the last couple of years, but that doesn’t mean that journalism is a bad career choice. If anything, I say that journalism has opened countless doors for me and has given me some awesome opportunities over the last few years. There are lots of amazing things about the job – you get to work with people which is perfect for social butterflies like myself, you get the chance to hear amazing stories first-hand and have the privilege of sharing them with the world, the trust that your readers and those sharing their stories place in you. There are a lot of tougher sides of the job as well, like having to write a tribute to one of your former best friends after a horrible accident, but that is why I think it is important to enjoy the good parts.488260_10151030389642617_308764103_nI know some don’t agree with getting freebies through journalism, but this is one of my favourite parts of the job – the privilege and extras that come with it. Journalism opens you up to a world of opportunities that you would never have had otherwise, and that is something I love about it.I know a fair few journalists who never really take advantage of the extras in the job, which personally I think is a shame considering how low paid so many journalists are. I know some won’t agree, but I tend to look at it as the tips a waitress would get. This is just a bonus to the job and, as a bit of a blagger, I don’t mind asking – I always figure if you don’t ask you don’t get. Which is clear from how many amazing things I have been lucky enough to gain – I always ask the question. So what have been my best blags and the top experiences my job has given me?

  1. My top has got to be weekend tickets to an incredible electronic dance music festival, Glade Festival, that was right on my doorstep. It was only my second festival and this experience really showed me how much I love festivals, plus it gave me a taste for reviewing and writing about festivals which then led to my work at This Festival Feeling.
  2. Close behind was tickets to Wyndstock – a Midsummer Ball, another festival, this time a more upmarket one with swing dancing, posh banquets and a fake fox-hunt – it was so much fun and again gave me a great opportunity to write about festivals. As did free tickets to the first Zoo Project Festival.
  3. I have just booked in to write a feature on a circus that is coming to town – how better to do it than to have a lesson from a Mexican high-wire expert who has been walking the wire since he was six-years-old and to interview him?
  4. Tickets to the theatre – I have pre-written and reviewed various shows at theatres across the area over the last few years. All brilliant experiences and, as a big theatre-lover, have helped me develop a working relationship with the various theatre groups because I have actually seen their work.
  5. Tickets to the ballet – a stunning night watching Swan Lake as a thanks for giving a series of write-ups to another theatre and free tickets to music events in the town.
  6. Taking on a new local bootcamp for a feature was brilliant fun and I got to take along a group of mates to get really muddy as we tried to complete an obstacle course and had a boxercise class.
  7. I’ve got another coming up – this one is Loopy Ball, which is also for a group of mates and it football but inside giant blow up balls – should be funny and I’m looking forward to it.
  8. Getting to interview and meet theatre, music and TV stars is an amazing bonus of the job and running the entertainment section, I’ve been pretty lucky.
  9. Priority screenings of the pantomime – I love a Christmas panto, and getting invited along, with my family in tow, to watch it before anyone else has is pretty good fun. Priority tickets are always a winner – running the entertainment section means I always know first when a great comedian or show is coming to town and I can usually reserve tickets.
  10. A fantastic Glamping trip with my girls as part of a review.

250010_10151043161977617_225305037_nOf course, we’re not all in it for the freebies, we do it for the love of the job and a passion for reporting news. But, being a journalist is a stressful job with constant deadlines, you work hard and if opportunities come up I don’t think we should be afraid to snap them up. Much like bloggers accepting gifts of review products. There’s plenty more I haven’t listed – so budding journalists, if anyone tells you that you are making a mistake with your career – why not ask them if their job gives them the chance to do all of these amazing things?

What’s the best freebie you’ve ever had through work? Are you thinking about going into journalism?

Ab Lucy sign off

Coping with feeling homesick at university

31753_410273967616_1446477_nSometimes university isn’t quite what you expected – perhaps you don’t make the friends you thought you would, or your accommodation isn’t the best. Or sometimes it all works out and you have the best university experience possible with great friends, a fantastic course and the best accommodation going. It can all turn out very differently depending on where you are, who you meet and how you do things – but one thing that can hit all of us at times is homesickness. Even the strongest, most independent individual can feel homesick at times and just want to catch the first train home to mum and their own bed. When Freshers Flu strikes, we all just want to curl up in a ball under the duvet and have our mum bring us chicken soup – so how do we deal with this when mum is hundreds of miles away?

Here’s my top tips for combating homesickness while at university:

  • Don’t be afraid to call home, your parents will love to hear from you but at the same time, make sure you are not calling every day. Sometimes indulging yourself is the worst thing you can do, so try limiting to once a week, or once every few days if you can’t cope.
  • Photos of your family, friends and pets on your walls are great for making your feel like they are with you and they make your walls look good.
  • Don’t just sit in your room crying and feeling sorry for yourself or you will never make any friends and you will feel even more homesick. Get busy – throw yourself into your course, join societies and generally keep yourself busy and moving. The busier you are, the less time you have to think about missing home and the more you will realise you can cope.
  • Spend time with your flatmates or other friends – put time into new friendships because these are the ones that will become your adopted family over the next three years.
  • Talk to friends, chances are they’ve felt the same as you at some point and you’ll both feel less alone for chatting about it.
  • Arrange for your family or friends to come and visit for a weekend – it will give you something to look forward to and you can have a huge catch up when you see them which means you are less likely to feel homesick in the meantime.
  • Likewise, arrange for a weekend when you will be going home to see everyone – make sure it is not every weekend, but once a month or so should be enough to make sure you feel less homesick.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to take along something that makes you feel comforted like an old teddy or blanket, it’s great for when you feel a bit down and you can always hide it in your wardrobe if you don’t want anyone to see it!

What helped ease your homesickness the most? Have you got any other top tips to share?

Ab Lucy sign off

Freshers Week: What do I need for starting uni?

togaI’ve read a lot of panicked Facebook and Twitter posts in the last week – fears about starting university in the coming weeks, not knowing what to expect as a Fresher, and the biggest worry of all seems to be what to pack and take with you. As someone who has graduated, but who still remembers her first day at university as clear as a whistle, I figured it was only right to give a little extra help to the graduates of tomorrow, by helping them work out what they need to take with them. Here’s my must-haves list:

  • The most important thing to have with you is any documentation for your new accommodation and course, make sure you have your passport or a photocopy, plus bank account details. All of these will be needed at one point or another and it is always useful to have them ready.
  • Cleaning products – if you’re staying in university accommodation, much as it will have been cleaned, you will want to give it a scrub down. I made sure to hoover everywhere, wiped down the surfaces and changed the bed cover. I’m not being OCD, once you see how some students live, you will be glad you did, if only to get certain “stains” off the bed.
  • Laptop and a printer, if you have one, these are very important and will become the lifeblood of your time at university – you will come to use them more than anything else you pack. Try and have a backup system or external hard-drive and use it! There’s nothing worse than losing your essay the night before it is due in.
  • Lots of plug extensions – usually the plus will be in a useful place in uni accommodation, but there are limited numbers of them and I found it really helped having an extension so I could have my TV, laptop, hair-dryer and straighteners all plugged in at once.
  • Slippers and flip-flops can make a world of difference to your life – you will spend a lot of time in your communal kitchen if you’re friends with your flatmates and you don’t want to be walking around barefoot if there is food on the floor etc. Likewise, if you share bathrooms, wear flip-flops if they look a bit grim – nobody wants to walk barefoot into a toilet shared with five blokes! Plus a cosy dressing gown is a must.
  • Food – so many people turn up without food when they are in self-catered accommodation. This is the best time to squeeze a food shop out of mum and dad when they are an emotional wreck. Plus it will set you up for a while if you do it right – buy big bags of pasta, pasta sauces, rice, some meat for the freezer, milk, bread, herbs and spices if you plan to actually cook, plus some goodies – always good to have a few teabags and biscuits stashed away for your new friends.
  • Cosy new bedding – treat yourself to some cute bedding (Primark do really nice sets) and cushions to make your room nice and cosy. You’ll spend a lot of time in there and you want it to be welcoming. Make sure you have a spare set for when you drunkenly spill wine all over your bed and can’t be bothered to wash it.
  • Clothes for every occasion, you should always have a smart outfit in case you have to give a presentation at university, plus slobs and regular clothes for uni. Don’t forget lots of outfits for nights out and of course, your fancy dress box. Good idea to check what fancy dress nights you will have in Freshers Week so you can get some outfits lines up ready.
  • Books – if you can get your reading list before starting, it is a good idea to get your books early so you can beat the crazy rush to the nearest Waterstones to university – try looking online on Amazon or Play.com – often they are much cheaper.
  • Photos of your family, friends, pets and boyfriend are a great way to decorate the usually bland walls of your university room, plus it’s nice to have them there if you’re feeling a bit homesick. Use Whitetack instead of Bluetack as some universities will dock your deposit for stains on the wall.
  • Washing basket, washing powder and fabric softener – often forgotten but so useful when you have to nip down to the laundrette and have something to carry your smalls in.
  • Toiletries – obviously all the standard ones, but don’t forget the things your mum usually stocks up on instead like hand soap, toothpaste, and of course you’ll need a couple of towels – a spare is great for when you can’t be bothered to do washing.
  • Alcohol – take some with you for the first few nights as the shops on campus are usually hideously overpriced and you might be too busy to head off campus to stock up.
  • Take folders, pens, highlighters and paper – so many people forget basic stationary but you will be going to lectures and seminars at some point and you will need something to take notes on.
  • Contraception and a first aid box – pack this full of painkillers, plasters, bandages, cold medication, Lemsip and anything else you think you might need. You WILL get ill – just accept it and be prepared for it. A hot water bottle is also nice for when you are feeling rough. Condoms – self-explanatory really, better to be prepared!
  • A great attitude! You are going to have a fantastic time at university, but it is a scary time. Don’t over think everything and let yourself worry – just go and enjoy it. The better your attitude and the more proactive you are about meeting your flatmates and joining clubs – the more friends you will have. If you sit in your room and cry because you are homesick, you will never meet anyone!

bunniesMost of all just remember to have fun, enjoy it, throw yourself into every moment, experience and night out – even if you don’t drink, it is a great way to meet people in those first few weeks when everyone will be out every night. Treat every person you meet like your new best friend – but you may well have a completely different group of friends by second year so don’t worry if you don’t really connect with some people.

What are your biggest fears about university? Has this list helped with your packing?

Ab Lucy sign off

20 things I miss about my university girls since graduating

1376653_10151647116042617_1190633507_nMy Facebook is littered with students who are starting to get excited about going back to uni, some who are just starting and those, like myself, who wish we could go back, if only for one awesome night. The countdown is starting, and after the bank holiday, there really isn’t long to go until the universities once again open their doors to the madness. Regular readers will know that I had a pretty awesome time at university, made some amazing friends and loved every second of studying – even those all-nighters in the library and the early starts! And I have to say, that although by the time I left I was rather more excited to get out in the world and start working, I would always love to go back and experience it all again – I wouldn’t do a single thing differently and would love every second.537692_10151316286472617_2146315577_nOne of the things I would particularly like the chance to experience again is living in such close quarters with all of my fabulous university friends. We had a group of around seven of us who spent most of our waking moments together throughout first and second year. By third year, we were spread across two houses just a few minutes walk from each other and some of us were even on the same courses! It was brilliant, especially for someone who previously had mainly boy mates  to experience being surrounded by so many like-minded girls who (sorry to quote Cyndi Lauper but…) “just wanna have fun!” We all had the same priorities, we all wanted to study hard and do well, but made sure we had plenty of time for lots of fun as well – these are the girls who would be up all hours studying and revising with me. But they are also the girls I was out pretty much every night with, the ones who came on Nando’s dates with me and the ones who came round for pizza and X Factor nights.44483_4513704356258_1775804307_nIt was always great to have a group of so many because you could always guarantee that no matter what you wanted to do, there was someone who was free to come along with you, there was always someone to get drunk with and there was always someone who could help you when you got stuck on coursework. It always really helped to have that support network when you were struggling because there was always someone around who could proofread your essays, test you before exams and to make sure you revise with promises of cocktails as a reward. Each summer, when we were all torn apart for three or four months, and now between each reunion I’m always thinking about all the silly and fun things I miss about my beauties. Trust me there are quite a few, but the things I miss most are the qualities that make this friendship and sets it apart from other friendships I share.484151_10150856430996922_726419521_n20 Things I Miss About My University Girls:

  1. Having someone there all the timeI was so used to having at least four of us in the house at all times, that meant someone was always awake to talk, snuggle or do shots with.
  2. Silly inside jokes were constant in our group, as in any other, and they still go on now, years after they stopped being funny for everyone else – but they certainly still make us giggle!
  3. Talking about EVERYTHINGwhether we wanted to or not and no matter how gross or graphic it got – there was always someone there to listen.
  4. Similar, but all the talk and comedy over sexit held hours of entertainment of talking in detail about funny experiences and in hilarious detail about the blokes involved, then giggling when seeing the boys like immature 12-year-olds.
  5. Cooking dinner after a night out, especially trying to fry eggs when drunk and basically just making a mess with lots of mayonnaise.
  6. Cooking and eating big dinners together like a little family before watching a film – all when sober.
  7. Being silly, tickle fights, spooning, snuggles in bed, pumpkin carving, baking and all the rest.
  8. Fancy dress! My girls and I always went all out for every single fancy dress occasion, and even some we made up ourselves – we’d do all the school girl nights, army girls, cops and robbers, Disney princesses and all the rest.
  9. My partners in crimenever have I met so many girls who were all up for causing carnage and as much naughty behaviour as I am – we had a good giggle and they were always there alongside me when I was causing mischief.
  10. Getting ready together for a big night out, or any night out, playing our music loud, dancing like muppets, making cocktails, choosing our outfits and all the rest.
  11. The ridiculous amount of time spent in the loo on nights outit was silly and drunken and we loved it – much as we tried to deny it it was a big part of our nights out!
  12. Dropping it like it’s hot every time we got into the club, busting hilarious moves and having the time of our lives – girls only.
  13. Eating rubbishI’m a hell of a lot healthier than back then, we loved a cheeky McDonalds, Nando’s, Dominoes, Indian… – but sneaking these foods with the girls was a lot of fun.
  14. Chasing spiders okay I don’t miss this quite so much, but we had a lot of laughs over trying to catch the enormous spiders that we found in our house.
  15. Being really gross  I won’t go into details because I don’t tell on my girls, but we’ve all been pretty gross at one point or another, and we’ve all seen each other in the worst drunken states possible, so we know how to cope with anything!
  16. Those all-nighters I’m not even talking about the nights out, I’m talking about the picnics we would make and take to the library, hauling our laptops and books over there to study, having short breaks where we just threw sweets into each others mouths.
  17. Fry-up Tuesdays a couple of us used to pop to the university cafe for a cheeky fry-up between lectures, that certainly perked us up after an early start!
  18. Running  was hilarious, we went as a group for a short time during the winter months and used to freeze ourselves to death before coming home for hot showers and dinner. After a while, I lost my running buddies, but it was funny while it lasted, with regular gasps of “I’m dying”.
  19. Making the most of our garden  with barbecues, nudie sunbathing and revising during the summer – as long as the spiders kept away we were happy.
  20. Nando’s  was our spiritual home between lectures, in the evenings and basically any time of day – we’d use any excuse to go and it was more than just chicken to us.

252526_10150200099145308_1070642_nSo what do you miss the most about your university mates when you’re on summer break, or since finishing? Why not share below and add to the list?

Ab Lucy sign off

Why the friends you make at university often last for life

6It’s been a full three years now since I finished university. That’s 36 months since we packed up our shot glasses, binned all those piles of notes and said a tearful goodbye. It was a hard goodbye for my group, most of us had been together from the very beginning of first year and we were very close. We shared everything, from drunken nights out, to stresses over exams, to boyfriend troubles and across two houses, we even lived together. There was no escape, and yes we annoyed the hell out of each other at times, but there was also a lot of love there and I knew these girls would always have my back.4Three years on and I was right to think that, because they still have my back and still mean the world to me. I’m lucky to have such a brilliant, beautiful, fun and smart bunch of girls as my friends and I love that no matter how far life takes us away from each other, we always know where to turn when we are in trouble or need advice. These girls have helped me through some of the hardest times, and have celebrated with me through some of the best – but the fact that they have been there throughout is something that means a lot. When you leave university, particularly when you are scattered across the country, it is hard to keep in touch. You all get jobs, have partners, set up new homes and generally live very separate lives. It takes a certain amount of effort in order to maintain the friendship, and yet at the same time, you all have to be happy to often not speak for months and then catch up loads over a weekend. I love that with these girls, we are all so close that when we see each other after a long time has passed, that feels like we have never parted ways.2So why is a friendship forged at university such a different one to those from back home? Well in many ways they are much the same, but the fact that you are thrown in with complete strangers and forced to live together from the start always forges a different kind of intimacy that you often won’t have with those from back home. But what is it about these friendships that make them so long-lasting?

  1. The sheer relief, after all those fears of what your flatmates will be like, of finding someone normal, who doesn’t smell and doesn’t listen to ridiculous music all night. Often you are all so grateful for finding someone you can relate to and want to be friends with that I think it brings you even closer together. Particularly if you are surrounded by odd, smelly or just plain noisy flatmates.
  2. It may sound cliché but discovering who you are is a big part of university. You are growing up a lot in a short space of time and the people you do that with do, in their own way, help to mould you as a person. This has a lasting effect and I certainly think I have learnt a lot from my flatmates.
  3. Life happens, it doesn’t just stop while you are at university, and sometimes some not so nice stuff can happen while you are away from the comfort of family and friends. A death in the family, bad grades, illness, boyfriend troubles – it all affects us and who is there to pick up the pieces? These are the ones who will be there to listen, will get you out and about again, or offer advice.
  4. The lifestyle is a huge part of university – I’m talking nights out, student events, pub nights, clubs and societies, the whole lot. The group you bond with are often ones you end up doing a lot with and it means these friends end up being a huge part of your life. It also means making a lot of memories together and who can resist catching up on old times?
  5. Coping with the workload is harder for some, but we all feel the stresses of coursework and dissertations at some point. Pulling those all-nighters in the library, panicking the night before an exam, getting together for a last minute revision session are all big parts of your learning and sometimes your flatmates may also double up as course buddies. This can be great because you will automatically have someone there you can ask advice and for help.

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Of course it isn’t all sunshine and roses for everyone, and I know a few people who have hated the “friends” they made in first year. I know of times when people have struggled to make friends because of circumstances or things have turned and they’ve found themselves alone. It is horrible when things like this happen, and knowing these stories makes me all the more grateful that I met such a fantastic bunch of like-minded girls. Yes we all have our similarities, and that is what brought us together, but we also have our differences and I think that is what has made this a lasting friendship. Last weekend, we had our most recent reunion and once again it was like no time had passed. A weekend spent in Camden, where one of the girls is now living, wandering around the market, sitting on a roof terrace and then dancing the night away with plenty of cocktails. Just what we all needed – plenty of chance to catch up on all the amazing things everyone is doing and enough time to plan another meet-up.

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Why do you think you have such long-lasting friendships with those you meet at university? And do you still meet up with your pals from uni or have you guys drifted apart?

Life at university – the good, the bad and the ugly

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When it comes to university, I will never write anyone off. Even those who are the least academic people around can find a perfect course for them, perhaps with more practical work, and can find it a fantastic experience. The big question is whether it is in fact a truly valuable experience for the individual, and while I think the life experience you gain is immeasurable, often the money and time involved can mean the experience is worth somewhat less in the long run. For me, university was something I had been set on from a young age. Not because of my education, family or upbringing, but because I wanted to study, I loved to learn and I needed a degree in order to achieve my life goals. Plus I really wanted the experience, I wanted to get away from my town, I wanted to move out and look after myself, to gain independence. This was the perfect opportunity and I know that many who are currently looking, researching and making final choices will feel the same.

What I want to do is to make you aware that university is not a doddle, it is hard work for a minimum of three years of living away from home, working while studying and surviving on meagre loans and it can be lonely at times. But at the same time, you will meet the best friends, have the most bizarre experiences and finally have a chance to follow and indulge your true passions. So many people I know are preparing to sit their exams and are trying to make huge decisions about the next three years of their life and where they want to spend it. For me, I was lucky and this was easy – I walked on the campus and instantly fell in love with it. When I read about the courses and met the professors it only further cemented my decision and I am so glad I stuck with it despite my university asking for the lowest number of UCAS points out of each of my offers.

There is a lot to think about when making your decision and it is easy to be blinded by the thought of parties, living in a city, and studying with or following your friends. By writing this, I hope to give prospective university students into the slightly less exciting and fun sides of university just to try and balance out all the amazing fun you will be hearing about. Don’t by any means take this as a negative view of university because it really was the best three years of my life so far and I would encourage anyone to take the opportunity, I just think it is important to make an informed decision. Here’s what happens when things aren’t all sunshine and roses at university:uni1

  • Sometimes things don’t go right. You might not get the place at the university of your choice, you might not get on to the course you wanted or you might not get into the good accommodation. So what happens then? Well, I have a friend who was forced into a hotel for the first few months of university after an accommodation cock-up and she ended up struggling to meet people or make friends. She hated her time at university and found it difficult later on to find housemates for second and third year.
  • Your course might not be the one you wanted. I know a lot of people who switched courses during the first few months because they decided it wasn’t for them. There are always options available – my course allowed us to take on modules from any course in the Humanities sector, it was my choice to focus on English.
  • You might end up in the good accommodation, but with the smelliest and dirtiest people around. We had a particularly smelly individual living in ours who refused to clean his room or wash his plates in the kitchen even when they grew mould in three colours. It was gross, but we found ways around it, piled his stuff outside his room until he got the hint and locked it in one cupboard.
  • You are going to be poor. Being a student in first year I was living in my overdraft from the first week and I had friends who had more than one overdraft as well as their loans. Accept it from the start and be realistic about what you spend your money on. When you get your loan, work out what you have to spend each week and decide whether you can live off this. If you can’t – you need to think about getting a part-time job. This is easy, work in retail, at a bar, in the student union, with the marketing team or even in a supermarket. There’s loads of options available and around universities work is always flexible to suit university students.
  • Sometimes, you and your “friends” will not get on. I was incredibly lucky and the girls I met in my first week in my own flat turned out to be some of the best friends I have ever had. I lived with them throughout university and still see them all regularly after finishing. But if you don’t get on with them, things can often turn nasty in such close living and study quarters and university can become a very lonely place. Do yourself a favour and get out, join clubs or work on the newspaper, meet people on nights out and make the most of every second. Sitting at home alone will only make things worse.
  • The workload could be a shock. After putting in a lot of extra work at A Level, I found I was very prepared for the workload at university, but I know many that weren’t. If you are not one for independent study and reading, you might find it a bit of a culture shock to be expected to do so much on your own. You need to adapt and fast or you will end up behind. Stay organised and keep on top of things because you can quickly feel like you are drowning. Study with friends on your course and talk about difficult bits with them, they may be able to offer help. Don’t be afraid to speak to your tutor and to ask for advice – they certainly get paid enough to help you!
  • You might not be great at taking care of yourself. Whether we are talking personal safety and not walking home alone at night or we’re talking about doing the washing up, cooking and washing your clothes. For those pampered by mum at home, it can be a real surprise to see how much is involved and it can seem crazy to those who have never cooked or cleaned. But this is an amazing opportunity to learn and become capable. I was lucky and knew how to look after myself, but one of my flatmates was scared to cook, another had been pampered by mummy who still sent pack-ups, and another had never used a washing machine. Learn from each other, get your friends to teach you and realise that you will live a hell of a lot better and save a lot more money if you have these vital skills.

uni4Don’t let this put you off – university is amazing. It is so much fun and really does help set you up for life if you make the most of it and grab every opportunity. Just be prepared and aware that it isn’t sunshine and smiles 24/7, and that sometimes you might be homesick and lonely but that is okay. It isn’t right for everyone, but it could also be the best thing you ever do, and it certainly whizzes by in no time at all. I have a friend who studied abroad for a year, left behind her university friends and made a whole load of new ones. She is now travelling the world and staying with all of her international friends along the way. If that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will! Of course, I would never argue that university is the only option and I know that for many it isn’t, but having the opportunity is amazing and making that decision over what is the right choice for you, is one of the biggest decisions of your life at 18.

What was your best university experience? Planning to go, what are you most worried about?

Lacking inspiration? Take a break and find your mojo

4815205632_632ee48a71_zWriters all over the world will know exactly what I mean when I say that sometimes you just lose all inspiration. Even those who are not writers often reach points in their life when they simply don’t know which way to turn, or where to begin and just lose interest all together. Times like this are difficult, particularly if it affects your work or home life because this lack of motivation can be contagious. Writer’s block can be a killer, especially for bloggers when it takes them away from their hobby – the one thing that often helps them unwind. So what do you do when you’re all out of words? Here are my top tips for getting your writing mojo back again:

  1. Stop trying to force it – if you keep trying to put words on the page they will just get worse and worse. Give your brain, and your hands, the break they want.
  2. Get away from the screen – it’s not good for us to sit at a screen for hours on end. Give your eyes a break and head outside for fresh air and sunshine, try visiting somewhere new or head to the coast. I always feel inspired after a walk by the sea.
  3. Catch up with friends – if you write a lifestyle blog, why not see what issues your friends are facing and see if that inspires you for a new post. I find my friends and family are a great influence for my posts.
  4. Break your routine – need some new inspiration? Then find something new. Go somewhere different for your morning coffee, cycle to work instead of getting the bus, go for a walk along the river on your lunch break instead of shopping. You get the idea, do something unusual for you and you might find the subject of your new post.
  5. Get away – travel can be a great inspiration for posts, if you have the time and funds, why not book a holiday? If you don’t, why not a weekend away, visit friends or just go on a day trip to somewhere you’ve never been before.
  6. Try something new – why not start a new exercise class or learn something new – you could try that recipe you always wanted to. Doing something different is new and exciting, plus it will distract you from the pressure of writing, you could even meet new people who might inspire you to write.
  7. Delete the drafts – sometimes you will start to write the same essay or blog post several times, often all ending up in a crumpled heap in the bin. But some of us find it hard to delete these posts and start again from fresh, instead trying to re-energise the same tired introductions. If you’re feeling tied down by these drafts, why not delete them all and start afresh, you can use the same ideas but attack them in a different way.
  8. Don’t over-think it – often writers are also big thinkers and spend a lot of time in their own heads – I know I do – and this can actually harm the writing process at times. Don’t let yourself over-think the piece you are writing because you can easily overcomplicate the post when actually readers crave simplicity.
  9. Read, watch, listen to everything – one of the best ways to be provoked into writing is to experience the world around us, listen to music and read books, blogs, newspapers or anything you can get your hands on and watch television or films. All of these can raise big issues and questions for you to react to, you could offer reviews or you could just share your findings with your readers in recommendations.
  10. Invest in your creative space – for writers, especially freelance and bloggers, their desk and work area is very important to them. It is the place they often spend most time in and do their most creative work, so why are they often so boring and uninspiring? Invest in the space around you, choose a good desk and chair then fill the area with images and items that inspire you or prompt you to write.

Hope these tips have helped you as they have helped me in the past, especially when desperately trying to get over another roadblock in an essay at university. But they apply well to all writers, whether blogs, freelance, media, journalists or students.

Have you got any other suggestions? Leave me a comment and share them below.

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