You know that expression that tells “you should stop to smell the flowers?” Well, I wish we had flowers now in good old Luxembourg, but it turns out we are covered in snow. So instead, I am smelling the snow and trying to devise a plan for the second half of this course year.
As every year, I had promised myself that I would try to open the books and study a bit through Christmas break, and as every year, I only managed to read five to ten pages of material in the two weeks out of the house. As expats, Christmas break is one of the few opportunities we have to gather with family and spend some time with them. This was The Little One’s first Christmas and everybody wanted to take part in it, so we had to make room for multiple family engagements.
To all of you who spent the holidays blissfully ignoring the subject guides like me, the New Year rings in the realisation that there are hardly 4 months to the final exams. As 2016 begins to fade into a glimmer and we are faced with a lot of catching up in terms of study goals, I would like to share some of my strategies for coping with post-holiday time crunch.
I recently graduated with a B.A. (Hons) in English from University of London, under the academic direction of Goldsmiths, University of London. This year I continued with University of London because I loved the flexibility, academic excellence and engaging courses. I am currently doing the Graduate Diploma in International Relations, a course developed by London School of Economics and Political Science. Due to the immense mobility of the degrees offered by UOLIP, I am able to study wherever in the world and whenever I choose while also continuing my work in dance and social work. This year I am living in Montreal, Canada and I am able to continue my studies while applying for postgraduate programmes for a 2017 intake at the same time.
Are you willing…. to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you? ….Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas! ~ Henry van Dyke
For many around the world, Christmas 2016 is about celebration and relaxing after a year of hard work. My Christmas season, as a UoL student, has more to it; catching up on whatever that I have missed on and keeping up to the workload that is on the way. I suspect it is the same with many of my fellow students.
I felt like a superhuman. I could be in multiple places at one time, engaged in various activities, and converse with more than one person at the same time. I felt that I was invincible.
Wouldn’t this make me the smartest person? Getting distinctions for my exams shouldn’t be difficult, right? Well, not quite. Recently, I noticed some significant changes in me. I had difficulty sustaining attention. When being spoken to, I often found my mind drifting away. You could be telling me about an unpleasant episode you had at work, with your neighbour or with your family, all in the hope that I, the listener, could empathise with you. Alas, I had a problem even remembering your antagonist’s name, much less the way he had caused you to be so upset.
This, without a doubt, was utterly disappointing. I wasn’t a superhuman after all.
It is no big secret what this “thing” is. I am quite sure that every one of you owns at least one, two, probably more.
I am one of those people sensitive to the amount of chaos around. If things are tidy and clean I find myself in good humor, but if things get out of hand, I turn into a grumpy, muttering Grinch. I know life can be messy: clothes running around, wrestling my dear dog into taking a bath, guests coming to visit, the garden getting out of hand now that all the leaves are off the trees… You tell me. However, I try not to let Chaos desecrate my haven of mental peace: my desk.
Having my own desk with an organized system is one of my non-negotiable needs. This space allows me to switch on to “study time”. When I sit there, my goal is to get in a mindset of focused mental activity, and knowing myself, if there are things scattered around I will not be able to concentrate on the task. Even if I am not distracted by the mess itself, my mind wanders more easily to issues unrelated to my studies.
Two sides to one story
When I wrote my first post I told you that my main concern as an studying mum was making space in my brain for knowledge when the ups and downs with The Little One were barely leaving any space available in said brain. After more than a month of daily study I think it is about time to make an evaluation.
In the past few weeks The Little One was going through the “adaptation period” at daycare. She had to get used to new people, new food, new patterns, new rules… And it was a lot to take. Interestingly, this adaptation period is also designed to help parents in coping with the difficult feelings of leaving their progeny in the care of someone unrelated to the family circle. My mind wandered off easily and I asked myself repeatedly if she would hate me for “abandoning” her like that.
I am excited. I have always wanted to learn creative writing. The English programme has a complete course on creative writing; I can learn how to write poetry, prose and stage plays. The reading list has Antigone, Waiting for Godot and The Odyssey (which I tried reading when I was younger, but gave up after a few pages). I have fellow students from China, Spain and Guyana. It was thrilling to meet them on the VLE and WhatsApp.
By now, I guess many of you are already panicking about the workload of this year. For me, it is usually around this time of the year when the sheer reality of the task sinks in and so I feel myself doing reckless things, like waking up in the middle of the night and considering going to my desk to put a few hours in the books when I should be sleeping. The problem with stress, apart from the unpleasantness of feeling at the edge of the abyss, is that it clouds our judgement and it is easy to slip and make wrong choices (like extending our reading list unnecessarily, sleeping less or second-guessing our elections)
If this is your case, in this post I aim to give a few pointers on how to avoid feeling stressed or how to cope with the feeling if you ever get to feel this way.
Nobody said that it is going to be easy. Anyone who grows up in a traditional education system would have the idea of pedagogy that naturally conjures up the picture of a classroom of students and a teacher. Nobody said that to acquire a degree through self-studying, without guidance, is going to be smooth sailing. However, no one has said that it is an impossible task either.
I believe that most of us in the UOL long distance program shoulder the same responsibilities: work, family and studies. As if to juggle these is not challenging enough, some of us have also taken the degree course without any additional help: we study without attending any local teaching institutions. A daunting task it is, but, we must not forget the one big perk that is attached to it – flexibility.
Five years ago, if someone had told me that I was going to live in Luxembourg and raise a baby girl while studying English with the UoL International Programmes, I probably would have laughed. Yet here I am: a Spaniard based in Luxembourg studying English and, yes, raising a baby at the same time (six months now and going strong!).
The truth is I studied to become a teacher back in Spain. I got my teaching degree there but life brought me to this little country and, after a while, I decided to enroll in the International Programmes to widen my knowledge in English. Continue reading