Saturday, 29 August 2015

FOT is back! My first year as a language student at University

Hi,     Remember me?

That guy who used to post on here?

Well... I'm back!

For those who actually enjoyed reading 'Fraser On Tour!', I cordially apologise for the complete inactivity of the blog over this past year. My freshers year at University turned out to be a lot more busy and hectic than I'd really planned for and thus lead to FOT slipping further and further down my long list of priorities. To make amends, I intend to provide you all with a summary of everything I've managed to get up to over the past 12 months or so with the hope of being completely up to date in time for my return to Southampton in a few weeks time. There really is a lot for me to talk about and share with you and this will be the first of a few posts so I can do it all justice. Prepare yourself as I naively dip my toe back into the pool of words, random images and terrible jokes that is my blog.

Here goes nothing.

So last time I made a post telling you all about the end of my summer in the USA. That was on the eve of my freshers week and the next day I moved into my room in Connaught halls, my home from home for a year, to begin an awesome action-packed week. I must say, I do actually kind of enjoy meeting new people for the first time and doing the whole charade of asking generic get-to-know-you questions of which there were plenty of those and my halls' community feel created quite a welcoming atmosphere. Besides all the obligatory settling in stuff, as with pretty much all freshers' weeks, there were plenty of nigths out and partying. So I don't have to go into too much detail, here's some evidence of that.

Me with my block mates before Freshers Ball

Once all the excitement of freshers week had died down, it was time to get cracking with the actual reason why we all go to University: studying. Academically, my course has been enjoyable albeit difficult to adjust to. I have embarked on a course in BA Modern Languages which entails 4 years of studying including a year abroad in my third year. In the course, I study French and Spanish from Post A-Level standard as well as starting a new language from scratch (Accelerated* Portuguese) and an elective content module per semester (I chose a French history module during first semester and a module called Intercultural Communication in the Modern World during the second). Despite holding some degree of interest in each of the classes I was taking, I must admit that I really struggled to stay on top all them throughout the year. I'd describe it all as a great balancing act which can be especially difficult with languages when there's so much extra-curricular work to do to help improve them as skills as well as general studying. Having taken a year out of the studying environment, my work ethic had all but vanished. During my gap year, the only thing I had to do that was anything similar to academic work (besides my TEFL course which was very easy) was writing this blog which I could work on and post on at anytime I liked regardless of quality so going from having so little responsibility and then returning to homework, coursework deadlines and exams was particularly difficult for me. My first year's grades don't count towards my overall degree and all I needed was 40% in my assessments to pass the year which further encouraged my study apathy and made the distractions of nights out, sports and facebook all that more appealing. That all being said, I did manage to get to grips with everything in the end and managed to get the grades I needed to pass the year. I made plenty of mistakes and didn't study as well as I could've done but I've gone through that learning curve now and will be much better for it going into second year. More organised and prepared than before.

*=by Accelerated Portuguese, I mean I'm learning the language at a faster rate than I did with French or Spanish. In this first year, I've gone from being a complete beginner to roughly AS-level standard in the language. That's arguably a pretty big jump to take!

Besides frequenting the vast variety of clubs and bars that Southampton has to offer (mostly Jesters, SoBar and the Hobbit) I spent much of my first year busying myself with activities outside of my studies. First year is when you're supposed to try out new things and get involved with as many clubs and societies as you can before your course completely takes over your life and I definitely wanted to make sure I used this time to do just that. From all the amazing clubs and societies offered up at the Bunfight, I decided to commit to three sports teams for the year: Swimming, Touch Rugby and Quidditch. These clubs took up the majority of my spare time throughout the year (especially Quidditch, but I'll tell you all about that at another point in time) and have proved to be a great way for me to meet new people from across the University and further afield, stay in shape and make friends and let's be honest, drink a lot.

To summarise, my first year as a language student at University has been exactly as I described my course really- Enjoyable but difficult to adjust to. I really enjoy the university lifestyle and all the freedom that comes with it but it does come at a price, and I'm not referring to the £9000 tuition fees I'm paying a year to attend. Being a good student really revolves around handling all the extra independence granted to you and organising your time well. This ranges from doing the small everyday chores such as washing-up, cleaning and laundry to waking yourself up in the morning, cooking and motivating yourself to study- All things my parents especially helped me with during my GCSEs and A-Levels. At the end of the day, I still enjoy learning my three languages and having seen my sister graduate from Southampton with the same degree (and with first class honours!), I am much more determined now than I was a year ago to get my own degree but also to enjoy the experience along the way as much as I can. It's now the end of the summer and I am actually really excited to get back to Southampton. Going into second year, I am moving into a new house with some new people who I can't wait to meet, I'm starting a new part-time job as a Swimming instructor plus I am a freshers rep for my halls so there's plenty of new challenges and experiences lined up for the next 12 months. Let's hope it all turns out alright I suppose!

Well that's been some kind of summary of my year. Hope you've enjoyed it. I have at least another 2 posts lined up for you before term starts again so keep an eye out for those and I will do the best I can to deliver them to you.



Saturday, 20 September 2014

Back to Irregularity

Hey Everyone,

I'm happy to tell you that I'm back in the UK and well after a truly excellent summer in America. Currently I'm sat in the kitchen of my sister Imogen's new Uni house in Southampton before moving into my halls of residence tomorrow morning.

But how did I get to this position? What has happened between now and when I left Chicago?

Answer: This.

Just before noon on Sunday 14th September, my Uncle John took me to the Greyhound bus station in the centre of Chicago where we parted ways and I went to board my bus to Washington DC. Now before we could leave the 'Windy City', there were problems with the transmission on the first bus so we had to wait another hour for a new one which also didn't work then a little after that we finally had a functioning bus. 2 hours after we were supposed to have left. Once we were on the road things were going ok until we got to Toledo, OH when a drunk guy wandered onto the bus, unchecked for a ticket by the driver, and proceeded to try and smoke on the bus-breaking the law. The drunkard was escorted off the bus at our next stop and we continued onward to Cleveland, Ohio where we had to wait for 2 hours while the bus was given maintenance work. It was midnight by the time we arrived in Cleveland and by this point I became very restless, uncomfortable and anxious due to the unsettled nature of the journey so far which felt like absolute hell at the time. Back on the road at 2AM for another 2 hour stint to Pittsburgh, PA ,where the bus stopped for another hour, then we drove on through the Appalachian mountains into Maryland (we passed within 10 miles of camp at one point actually!) then onto Baltimore before arriving in DC just after 12PM. Over 24 hours since I'd left Chicago. I was so relieved to be off that bus after what was a long, tiring and hellish journey which I regard as probably one of my worst experiences all summer.

Not long after arriving in DC, I checked into my hostel to dump my bags and freshen up as well as have a quick nap before heading out for my evening activity. On my previous visit to DC, me and my camp friends had seen pretty much everything there was to see however there was one more thing left on my list. That evening I went out for a walk around the various memorials and monuments on the national mall. I started around 7PM so I could take in the sunset over the city before going on to see everything all lit up. Under the lights, all the monuments and memorials seemed that bit more impressive and I really enjoyed reading the various quotes written around them especially the Franklin D Roosevelt (my favourite US President) and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials. I ended the night with a meal in the Hard Rock Café for one last burger before leaving the US. I still felt a bit ill from the bus ride but nonetheless it was a great way to spend my final night in the country.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Inside it

View over the Tidal Basin

FDR Memorial

MLK Memorial

Back at Lincoln

I had a slow start to the next day before boarding my 6:44PM flight from DC to Philadelphia (I got a great view of the sunset from my window seat as seen below) then boarding my flight from Philadelphia to Manchester an hour and a bit later. It was a very short flight home, only 6 hours, in which I spent my time watching the new 300 and X-Men films as well as Bad Neighbours and a bit of the new Amazing Spiderman film. All films I'd missed while travelling this year! I then arrived home back in Manchester just after 8AM where Mum met me at the airport to take me home. American summer = over
Gap Year = over
Bye bye DC! Bye Bye America!
In reference to the title, coming home this time has been a bit different cos I wasn't sticking around for very long. Since I've been back at the UK, all my energy and focus has gone into getting myself ready for University. My past 3 days have been all about shopping, tidying up my room at home and packing my life away to take off to my new home at University. It's been a frantic and stressful few days however amongst all the madness I did find time to finish my gap year collage. Basically, during this past year I've been collecting all sorts of pieces of crap from the places I've been (e.g. Tickets, Maps, leaflets etc.) so I thought instead of binning them, it would be a good idea to cut them up, add a few photos and make something that would act as the ultimate souvenir for my year of travelling. I'll attach a photo of it to the end of this post. I may not have really had time to see any of my friends from back home but I'm glad I got that done.

 So now I'm in Southampton on the eve of starting University life. I can't tell you how long I've been waiting for this moment. Ok, at least a year! I've always thought that University is an environment that I would thrive in so I guess now we'll see if that's the case.

Freshers 2014-Let's Do This!

Voila! My finished collage, should make for an excellent decoration for my wall in my new student room



Thursday, 18 September 2014

U N I- Why I Chose Southampton

With the conclusion of my summer in America, there also comes the end of my Gap Year. In just a few short days time, I will be moving down south to start my studies at the University of Southampton. Seeing as I'm so close to starting at University, I thought I'd do a post explaining why and how I came to making Southampton my first choice.

The Course and Reputation

At Southampton, I'm going to take a BA Modern Languages degree (French + Spanish with Portuguese from scratch). At the time I was applying to University, Southampton was located very high up in may University league tables for Languages-even reaching 3rd on the Guardian's table behind Oxford and Cambridge. As a member of the prestigious Russell Group, Southampton is a highly respected institute where I expect to be getting the best education available for my subject area.

The Place/Location

Southampton is a medium sized city on the south coast of England. There is a strong student population and culture there and based on what I've experienced of the place so far I find this quite appealing in comparison to living just outside of Manchester for over 10 years.  For me, a change of scene is all part of the Uni experience plus being in the south I hope to lose the Northern twinge that has crept into my accent over the years!

Distance from where I live in Stockport to Southampton, it's pretty far away!

Clubs and Societies

From what I gathered through word-of-mouth, I don't get the impression Southampton has the best student union in the country. However, there are tonnes of sports teams and various different societies to keep me busy when I'm not studying. As a swimmer, one of the big things for me when applying to University was making sure whether I went there would be a good team for me to join and sure enough, Southampton certainly does. My sister Imogen has been a member of the club during her time at Southampton and has even taken me to train with them and go out on a social so I know first hand exactly what they are like. Very much a work hard-play hard attitude. Can't wait to get back into training and meeting some new swimmers!

Inside knowledge

I'm not going to lie, having my sister Imogen already being a student there has been very useful for me. We've both studied the same and similar subjects throughout our years of education so when I decided I was interested in doing a Modern Languages degree it was great to know someone with so much useful information to share with me. I've learnt much more about my course, the education and student life through my sister than I could've got from any University prospectus and although she's probably not too keen on the idea, I think it will be great to spend a year at University together.

How I chose Southampton

When it came to accepting my offers, one thing I found useful to do was to make a table like the above image in Microsoft Excel. I put down all the criteria I considered important in choosing a University and ranked all 5 of my Uni choices in each of those categories with the best receiving 5 points and the worse receiving just 1. It's safe to say Southampton came out on top with Birmingham in second so it made sense to put Southampton as my first choice and Birmingham as my insurance.

So, there you have it. That is why I am going to Southampton. Please bare in mind, these are all my opinions prior to attending the University and for all I know I may live to regret these decisions in later years but I sure hope I've made the right calls. I'm sure I'll find out soon enough!

At University, I imagine I'll be much busier than I have been this past year therefore I'm probably not going to blogging as regularly as once a week. However, I will try to complete at least one post per month to keep things ticking over.



Sunday, 14 September 2014

My kind of town, Chicago is

Hello dedicated readers!

I am currently writing to you on my last night in Chicago. My bags are all packed and at 12 noon tomorrow I shall be embarking on my 19 hour bus ride from here to Washington DC before flying home on Tuesday evening. I've been staying with my Auntie Cathy and Uncle John in Chicago (Naperville to be precise) for 2 and a half weeks now. Lately I've been on a pretty low budget so for much of my time here I've just spent my days around the house not doing particularly much. However, I have still done quite a bit so I shall tell you about the more exciting stuff I've been doing.

I arrived on late on Wednesday 27th August then the next day I went into the centre of Chicago to meet up with Tom, a good friend of mine from camp. We had a great day together seeing some sights like Millennium Park and the Magnificent mile as well as tasting my first bit of Chicago cuisine-an Italian beef sub. We went to the beach on Oak Street to do a bit of sunbathing by the clear blue water of Lake Michigan and after a while we decided to go for a swim in the lake. This is when our day turned sour. When we left the water and returned to where we were sitting, Tom instantly noticed his bag was missing! We searched the beach but couldn't find it anywhere. Suspected someone had stolen it, we had to go to the nearest police station to file a police report. Luckily, we managed to cancel all Tom's credit cards but he was still annoyed to lose his bag, most of his clothes, camera and his phone. Tom's friend Kat arrived to pick us up and we all went out together for dinner. Tom and Kat are big foodies so we ended going to a Senegalese restaurant (another new experience for me) just north of the city where we had a rather delicious meal. On the way back into the city, we stopped by the Baha'i temple. The Baha'i religion isn't very big but the temple was very large and exquisite. Truly a great sight to see, especially as it was all lit up. That concluded a rather action packed first day in Chicago.

Dat skyline, wow

Italian Beef sub

Cloud Gate selfie

Tom and I with the Cloud Gate in the background

On Oak Street Beach

Senegalese food

Yassa Guinar, so tasty

Baha'i Temple

Tom and I met up once more in the city the following day to take an architecture tour around some of Chicago's many iconic buildings. Although I'm still not quite convinced it was worth the $25 I paid for it, the tour was still interesting and allowed us to spend more time together. Tom was on his way to England the next morning so we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. That evening, I joined Uncle John for a meal in the city before we headed to US Cellular Field to watch my first Major League Baseball match- the Chicago White Sox vs the Detroit Tigers. The Sox lost heavily (7-1) but I still had an enjoyable time soaking up the atmosphere of the ball game and it was quite amusing cos it was Star Wars evening meaning there were lots of people dressed up including a guy in a Chewbacca suit who threw the ceremonial first pitch.

getting my kicks on route 66

Architecture tour

Off to the ball game

Chewbacca's pitch

Final score

Fast forward to the next Tuesday which was my next day of sightseeing in the city centre. I had a long day of walking around the city from the Oak Street Beach right down to Soldier Field (home of the Chicago's NFL team the Chicago Bears). A real highlight of the day was when I went to the top floor of the John Hancock building for a 360 view of Chicago from 1000 feat up. It was quite a clear day so you could see for miles on end and really appreciate how large a city Chicago is. I also went to Navy Pier which I found a bit too commercial for my liking but it was still good to walk along while boats sailed past.

view from the top of the John Hancock building

view from the bottom of the building

Navy Pier

Can-struction competition in the Merchandise Mart building

The next evening, we had a meal with some of Uncle John and Auntie Cathy's friends in the city so in the late afternoon I went into the city with Michael and Daniya (who'd followed me over from California as they were in town to go to a wedding and to see family and friends). While Daniya did some work and we waited for the others to arrive for the meal, Michael and I went for a walk around the nearby zoo in Lincoln Park. There wasn't a great deal to see as it was the end of the day but we still managed to see a few animals including Lions, Tigers, Seals, Monkeys and several species of birds. Not bad for a free zoo! The meal that night was in a place called The Red Lion. An English-style pub with the same name as a pub in the village where my Mum and Uncle grew up. The food was surprisingly good and it was great to have some home comforts such as Shepherds Pie and Fish & Chips that I had been deprived of for most of my time in America.

Moving onto last Saturday. The three of us took a day trip out to Starved Rock National Park on the Illinois River to do a bit of walking. It was a very nice day for it and you could get great views of the river from high up in the trees. In the evening, we returned back to Naperville for a meal at another restuarant to mark Michael and Daniya's last night with us.

Auntie Cathy, me and Uncle John

HOW! found this on the way back in the town of Ottawa (Illinois, not Canada)

Much of my final week here has been dedicated to sleeping, exercise and driving Uncle John and Auntie Cathy's little car around Naperville-my first driving experience in America and my first experience driving an automatic car. However, on Thursday I went into Chicago for one final day of sightseeing. This included a trip to the Chicago History Museum, which I found very interesting, as well as sampling a Chicago style hot dog at Portillo's for lunch and a trip to the Chicago Sports Museum-a bit gimmicky but still entertaining nonetheless.

Sears Tower

stumbled upon some Nascars by the NBC studios

Chicago History Museum

Abraham Lincoln's death bed

Chicago is

Chicago Style Hot dog

In the Chicago Sports museum, this is the size of Michael Jordan's hand compared to mine, crazy!

the original hoverboard and almanac used in Back To The Future 2. In the film they travel to 21st October (my birthday next year) and there's shot showing that Chicago Cubs win the World Series. Not long now till we found out if they're right!

bust of Harry Caray (famous baseball broadcaster)

Last night, I had the ultimate Chicago culinary experience when we went out for a meal to Lou Minalti's to try a real Chicago Deep Dish Pizza-arguably Chicago's most famous food. It was super delicious, incredibly filling and definitely very different in taste and texture to a regular pizza.

Chicago Deep-dish Pizza in Lou Minalti's

And that brings us up to now! Although I've had a few rather uneventful days here, I have really enjoyed my time here with my Uncle and Aunt having finally visited after the years of invitations to do so. They have been incredibly hospitable and I'm really grateful to them. As a city, I like Chicago quite a bit. It's got a lot of history and is quite a happening place in terms of arts and culture. I'd say out of all the places I've been to in the US, it's probably not as good as New York, San Francisco or DC but it's certainly up there.

Ok, not long until my mammoth coach journey begins. The next time you here from me on here I will probably be in DC or back home but I'm sure it won't be too long.

As great as this summer has been, I'm excited to be back home in the UK soon. 3 days to go!