Breathing the London Air

Hal: Palace of Westminster Moving in to London, a bustling metropolitan city saturated with cultural differences and varied social backgrounds is to me an exciting challenge. During the first few weeks I moved in, I was busy with opening my student bank account, sorting out all the books that I need to purchase and decorating my room. Mingling with people here at first is difficult, especially when the kind of humour is different from where I come from – Indonesia! (If any of you wonder what and where on earth Indonesia is, it’s a tropical country home to Bali located in the Maritime of Southeast Asia.) The weather to me is a shock, perhaps more shocking than the cultural differences as the chilling wind stung my skin and made me shiver constantly. I underestimated the cold…I really did.

As a slightly socially awkward person, making friends and breaking the ice was tough. It took me time to find people I became comfortable with, and eventually spend time studying and playing around with.img_5232 Transitioning from school to university isn’t too rough if you keep this in mind – be open-minded! I’m glad to say, some first year modules supported the process of this transition, simultaneously refreshing your knowledge of the course that you are taking. Moreover, studies isn’t everything – you need your fun. I have joined the rowing club amongst the other hundreds of societies that the institution offer and I have been enjoying it to its fullest extent. Overall, eventually things get better over time and as the days and nights go by, Queen Mary and London feels more and more like home. Now I wonder what will London surprise me with next!

Awkward Hugs and Problematic Ovens

After pacing up and down the corridor a few more times, I looked down at my trembling hand to check my watch. I had been stood outside my flat mate’s door for roughly 4 and a half minutes. I lifted my arm once again, hoping that this time, I would have the courage to knock. Just before I could finally tap the door, it opened. I was now eye to eye with a stranger that I was going to have to live with for an entire year. Standing in his doorway, slightly perplexed as to why I was loitering directly outside his room, he introduced himself. Not thinking, I went straight for a hug. We’re now good friends.

The first week of university was a complete whirlwind of excitement intertwined with a little anxiety and a dash of homesickness. Moving from a small town in South Wales to the capital city was a shock to the system to say the least. Leaving a home with a supportive family and wonderful friends is always going to be difficult; especially when you realize after 3 days of living in halls that you have absolutely no idea how to work your own oven or iron your clothes. However, I’m so happy to be able to say that after 3 months I am well and truly settled and completely content with every aspect of my new life; and, after an hour on Facetime with my mother, I was able to resolve all my oven related issues.

After the craziness that was Freshers Week, I came face to face with an overwhelming realization. I know absolutely nothing. Or at least, very little.. As a Maths student I attend roughly 15 to 17 hours of lectures and tutorials a week, and in each of those hours, I would learn completely new concepts that I couldn’t have even imagined existed whilst sitting my A-levels. The jump is big, but I learnt to view it as an exciting challenge, rather than an impossible task. From learning the exam content to being introduced to some of Maths’ greatest problems; The Goldbach Conjecture, Fermat’s Last Theorem, The Riemann Hypothesis; I am more engrossed in Mathematics now than I have ever been.

Now that first semester is almost over, I am thrilled to be taking a well-earned break. As enjoyable and fascinating as it is, university can be difficult. Sometimes I think it’s important to remind myself that not long ago I was in a small school close to my house, which contained teachers who knew me well, friends who had known me my whole life and I was learning material that I was very comfortable with. I am very ready to unwind somewhere homely and familiar over the Christmas break but am happy to say I am thoroughly enjoying my first taste of the university experience.

Is reading a thing only girls do?

You may think of reading as something you do intuitively, but for some people, it is not a skill that comes naturally. Many males in particular are known to be unmotivated when it comes to reading according to news outlets such as the Guardian and BBC, and subsequently have poorer reading skills compared to females.
I am currently taking part on a new Widening Participation programme here at QMUL, called “Boys, Books and Blogging”, where I will be working with year 10 male students to read and discuss two books that have been selected for them. Below you can see the title of the two books I am currently discussing with the students:


Book 1: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom


Book 2: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Book 2: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

The sessions with the students will last 7 weeks, where I aim to encourage the boys to become more interested in reading and read more in general. The boys will also be discussing their approaches, attitudes and time management in regards to reading, and will write blog entries about their experience on the programme. They will also be going to see “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” at the theatre in December. These blogs will be published on the Widening Participation QMUL website. Here are some pictures that were taken this week:

Quiet reading time with some of the year 10 students

Image 1: Quiet reading time with some of the year 10 students.


Image 2: Great to see the boys engaging in the blog writing!

Student summarizing his thoughts so far on the book he selected.

Image 3: Student summarizing his thoughts so far on the book he’s reading. Brilliant !

Another student writing up his blog

Image 4: Another student writing up his blog !

Being part of this programme reminds me of when I was in year 10, where I also was not fond of reading. I discovered that reading what interests me most (whether that be football, robots, food and other topics), is much better than not reading at all. If you look at me now, I can’t get enough of reading and always find time to read especially on the bus journey to university. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Reading is a powerful tool, and one in which everyone must have a great grasp of in order to reach their full potential in life. Without reading, you are bound to come across problems as simple as reading a job application for a job you want. Don’t let that person be you!

Part-time Work

Like a lot of university students, I work part-time. Not only is it great to have a bit of extra spending money on top of my maintenance loan, I think working part time is a really good way to gain professional experience. Also, since I started working, I believe I got better with organising my time. I have to fit work around my studies, and the only way to do this is to manage my time efficiently. Time management is a key skill and I believe it will come in handy in the future, after university.

Nevertheless, always remember: your degree comes first. I would recommend that you find work that’s quite flexible so your education is not compromised in any way. Whatever you do, don’t overcommit at work because then you wouldn’t have enough time for studying and assignments, and might feel overwhelmed. You need to look after yourself first and foremost. You may want to work less during term time and work more during the holidays. This summer I made the monumental mistake of not working. I told myself: ‘I have finished my first year at university so I deserve a break’. I was bored after a week. By the time this realisation hit me, all jobs were gone. I think the best thing to do is apply as early and as widely as possible.

My friend, Dina and I at Campus Tour Training. We run Campus Tours so prospective students can get a better idea about what a university campus looks like.

My friend, Dina and I at Campus Tour Training. We run Campus Tours so prospective students can get a better idea about what a university campus looks like.

I have to admit, I have heard some horror stories from my friends about horrible bosses and rude customers, but fortunately for me, I have never experienced such distressing things. I have had admin jobs before – I am not going to bore you by writing about the exciting world of photocopying! My favourite jobs, by far, are my current roles as an Ambassador for the School of English and Drama (SED), and a Widening Participation Student Ambassador. I have gained a lot of transferable skills from being an Ambassador. It has increased my confidence, improved my communications skills and helped to make me a better team player. I have talked about my job as a SED Ambassador before in this blog, so I will tell you a bit more about Widening Participation.

My fellow Student Ambassadors - Dina and Hanya

My fellow Student Ambassadors – Dina and Hanya

Most, in fact I think it is all, universities in the UK have a Widening Participation Department. Statistically, if you: are someone whose parents did not attend Higher Education; are eligible for free school meals; have parents who are from non-professional occupations; have a disability; are a young carer; are estranged from your family, or have lived, or are currently living, in local authority care, you are less likely to apply to university. The aim of Widening Participation is to address this, and encourage young people from these social backgrounds to consider attending university.

My job as a Student Ambassador is to engage and interact with school students, and to provide an insight into university life. For instance, this summer, I helped run the Year 9 Humanities Summer School at Queen Mary. This was one of my favourite projects! A group of students from our local schools got to spend a week as a university student, attending lectures, workshops, and a theatre trip. My task was to supervise them throughout the day, as well as to take part in Q&A sessions – answering questions about student life. We run lots of events throughout the year, I am going to include a link to the Widening Participation website below so you can check out what we are all about.

Widening Participation at Queen Mary:




UpRising Leadership Programme, in partnership with Queen Mary – Dragons’ Den

UpRising, a nine-month leadership programme, was looking for 25 young people, aged between 19-25 who live or work in the borough of Tower Hamlets. The programme (that took place on Wednesday evenings) offered a first-hand view of how politics, businesses, the public sector and community organisations work together to shape our community through a series of workshops. All the UpRisers were given an opportunity to work in groups to design and deliver a social action campaign on issues that we were passionate about.

Based on our social action plan we chose to stand for Women in Technology – cliche right?! It’s actually not. We recognise that every woman is different, therefore, our aim is to increase awareness and empower BAME (Black, Asian, Minority and Ethnic) Women in Technology where there is currently little discussion on the topic. We were inspired by groups like ‘Women and Girls in IT’ and saw a niche on raising awareness for BAME women  in Tec sectors. Thus, we strive to facilitate an ongoing discussion of the increasing current predicament of underrepresented BAME women in Tec, we strive to redefine what ‘Women in Technology’ means in the 21st century and to expand it beyond the traditional notion of geeky men on computers all day.


Pitch day, Dragons Den


Ahh memories – when we all first met and all cohorts came together at the retreat.


We emphasize the fact that intersectionality, the interconnected nature of social categories which influence systems of society, for example, race, gender, class and ethnicity could influence social mobility, create barriers to promotion and cause unconscious biases – based on Kimberle Crenshaw (1989).  Therefore, we recognise that there is not one type of feminism that fits all, from one woman to another we have multi-layered facets as individuals. This makes us unique and should not be used to suppress us but to help us stand out. Additionally, we aim to extend on the G20 goals which pledged to get more than 100 million women into the global workforce by 2025 in order to improve gender equality in the workforce.














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I think we were all so excited to start presenting with all the adrenaline rush and once it was our time to showcase what we have been working on we could not wait.


One of the best experiences of UpRising would have to be meeting so many like-minded people, there was always a great atmosphere and energy in the room – never short of conversation and debates.


We were awarded runners-up – Yay! No but seriously, we never anticipated it nor did we think that we would be ready in time for the Dragons’ Den, but I am so proud of our group and so thankful to the UpRising team for giving us that added push and confidence. As well as forming networks with senior figures, we also built strong networks amongst our peer.

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Twitter – @empower_wit

Creative Assignments

I might have mentioned before that on my course we only have exams in first year, and then usually (there are modules that do have exams) it’s 100% coursework. Therefore, we end up with quite a lot of coursework to work through in the year, which might sound scary, but don’t worry, it’s not too bad! I’ve mentioned that one of the fun parts of my course was that we got to go on quite a few trips, but another fun part is the creative assignments we get to do.

In the past I’ve done scrapbooks, written a 3000 word creative article and even created my own Google Map. Recently I had an assignment due where I had to create a number of portfolio pieces, and there was the possibility for a creative element. Seeing as it was for my British Culture in the 1950s module, I decided the best way for me to do mine was by typing out each assignment on my typewriter. I wanted to make it look like a war file, like in the films, so I also bought a plain, brown cardboard folder.

My workspace

My workspace

I typed out all the pieces and also printed a few black-and-white photographs to stick in. It might sound like it took a while to create them all, but the assignment was actually fairly manageable. We had to do six pieces, around 400-600 words each, and one 1000 word essay piece. We were told at the start of the year though, so could do them one-by-one, each week. One of the weeks we also had to do a presentation, and we could use our notes and handouts as a piece. As each week was themed, we could divide up the pieces that way. I’d already typed them up on my laptop in advance, it was the physical typing on the typewriter that took up the majority of my time.

My pieces included a historical research piece, a personal story, a review, the obligatory 1000 word essay, a poem and my presentation notes. The variety was nice, and each piece involved a different element of challenge.

However, I have to say that I spent a lot longer on it than any other assignment I’ve done at uni. It took a very long time to individually type each one out, but really it was fairly enjoyable. It’s nice to get to do something different, especially when it’s an assignment that is worth a fairly large chunk of my final grade.

My typewriter, mid-assignment

My typewriter, mid-assignment

The chance to do a piece of creative writing is also fairly unusual in terms of university English courses. Not many universities offer a creative writing element, and it can be fairly encouraging when you’re assigned one. It breaks up the fairly standard, long essays and I tend to find I put a lot more thought into exactly what I’m writing, how it’s laid out, and what the idea behind it is.

The finished assignment

The finished assignment

Overall, it turned into a bit of a nightmare, I’ll admit. I ended up putting in so much effort, and spending so much time on it that I got very, very stressed. However, as soon as I realised that I was going to get it in on time, and everything was going to be fine, I was genuinely proud with what I’d produced. I had hand-typed every single piece, 16 A4 sheets, and put real effort into its presentation. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to do these creative pieces, they’ve been really fun but I wasn’t even aware they offered the opportunity when I came to Queen Mary.

One piece of advice I’d offer is that after first year, when you get to begin to choose your modules, ask at the module fair about whether there is the opportunity to do something creative. I wish I’d looked into it more, and it wasn’t until third year that I really began to check what sort of assignments each module offered.

Course Opportunities

I wrote a little before about some of the opportunities my course had offered me. Whether this was visiting The Globe or museums, there have been plenty of opportunities for a different learning experience.

Last week however, my Writing Modern London module offered a pretty unique and exciting opportunity to have our usual two hour seminar replaced with a one hour talk with the author of the reading for that week, where we would get the opportunity to ask her questions about the novel and our course.

At the start of the week I began reading the novel, and found that I could hardly put it down. It was ‘A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’ by Xiaolu Guo. It had a really interesting and different form as throughout the novel, the narrator is learning English. It starts off fairly broken, but as it goes on it gets more coherent. I really enjoyed it and finished it over the space of about twenty four hours, plus it was a bit different to a lot of the texts we had read.

Normally I don’t purchase a lot of the books on my course. They can be pretty expensive, particularly if we’re reading three novels a week, sometimes four in previous years. I have a lot of friends who get the reading on e-readers as a lot of the texts are free. Usually we get the reading lists far enough in advance to order any key texts, but the library usually stocks most of the reading too. We can also check Senate House library, as we have access to that because we’re part of the University of London. Plus, you can always check charity shops or contacts students selling their books online. In this case though, I wanted to buy the book in case I could get a chance to get it signed.

My signed copy!

My signed copy!

Overall, the talk was really enjoyable. Our seminar leader ran it and aimed most of the questions she asked at topics to do with our course. It was also a really helpful session because we also got to ask questions aimed at our final essays. Xiaolu Guo was so nice, and answered all of them really well. She gave us some really helpful insight and we learned a lot more than we might have done just from our own readings. After the lecture I told her how much I had enjoyed reading the book and how it had made me cry at the end. She was incredibly lovely and signed my copy. Then in the seminar we used some of the things she had talked about to frame our discussions.

It was a really different way of learning and we got to discuss the module in a whole new way. My course has allowed so many of these interesting and unique opportunities and I’m upset the whole thing is nearly over!

Student Media

I kick myself every time I think back to some of the experiences I missed out on in first year – in particular the ones to do with student media. I found myself intimidated at the meetings because I was too scared to talk about my own ideas and the thought of anyone reading my writing almost nauseated me.

I had this idea of writing an article about YouTubers on campus and had it all planned out. (It wasn’t until third year that I finally ended up writing it.)

My YouTube article, FINALLY written

My YouTube article, FINALLY written!

It wasn’t until the summer holidays, when I was approaching my second year, that I saw an advertisement for open positions on the editing team for QMessenger, the name of the university newspaper at the time. I applied for the Features Editor position because these were the sort of articles that I enjoyed reading and writing about the most. To be honest, I didn’t really think I’d get the position and was so surprised when I did. But I was also pleased. I’d done a lot of writing for my parish magazine back at home and I really relished the chance of writing for something again and seeing my articles in print.

When I got the job, the editor changed the name of the paper to The Print, gave the paper a fresh new look and changed a lot about it. It felt more inclusive now I was on the inside, and though I was still anxious about people I knew reading my work, I was ready to get something into print. I came forward with a lot of ideas and I got to do my first article with the editor. He wanted something on life on the canals, and the people who live on the boats opposite the uni. It was a great experience – we interviewed loads of interesting people, had the photographer take a lot of great pictures, and we even got showed how the canal locks worked. I got pretty carried away with writing the whole article and sent him a 2000 word draft. He came back, simply telling me ‘no’. It was way too long. After a big panic and a lot of collaboration in cutting it down, the article turned out really well and I’m still really proud of it.

After that I wrote a lot more articles for The Print and edited articles that other people sent in too. I then also started looking at doing other things for student media. The university also has a magazine, called CUB and I ended up doing a couple of articles for their final issue of the year. Me and my two house mates also started our own radio show called What’s Cooking on our student radio station, Quest. We run a weekly radio show (Mondays 8pm-9pm if you’re interested) and I also interviewed the musician Robbie Boyd for them. The culmination of all of this was the student media awards where I was nominated for CUB contributor of the year, and The Print’s own awards. I loved it and met so many interesting people as part of it.

Me and my friends at the Student Media Awards after party

Me and my friends at the Student Media Awards after party

In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I continued doing everything over into my third year too. I reapplied for my position as Features Editor and got it again, I even applied for a position with CUB and although I didn’t get it, I still contributed a number of articles. One of the highlights of this year was interviewing Newton Faulkner (!!!) for Quest Radio too. Despite this, there were opportunities I also missed out on last year. This year I finally attended the Student Media Conference and got to listen to industry professionals and alumni in media jobs talk about how to get into media. It was such an invaluable experience and I learnt so much.

Myself and Newton Faulkner after my interview

Myself and Newton Faulkner after my interview

I’ve loved doing so much stuff for student media and only wish I’d started earlier. I’d really recommend just going for it when you get to uni and taking all the opportunities you can get. You never know who you’ll meet or what opportunities you’ll get!

Choosing to go to university

Last week I watched a video starring some of my student ambassador friends, talking about their decision to go to university, and I realised I had never shared mine. There are lots of different choices that go into making that big decision, because generally, you’ll be spending three years or more studying just one subject, so you really need to make the right decision. Other factors include whether or not you want to stay at home, move away, live in a city, live on campus…there’s so much to think about. Just by watching the video, you’ll see what sort of different decisions everyone has to make – each story is different.

No one in my family had ever gone to university, so I was what you call ‘first generation’. However it meant that I didn’t have anyone close to ask what university was like for them. No one could tell me what the university experience really was, and so I had to find out for myself. I had always been interested in English – I loved reading from a young age and it was easily my favourite subject at school. I decided from quite early on that I wanted to go to university, it was just the getting there that seemed to be the hard part.

I did detailed research on UCAS, by searching ‘English’ and looking through each of the universities that offered it. I then made an Excel spreadsheet, (embarrassing but practical!) categorising them first into whether the grades were achievable and then whether I wanted to go there. My mum then took me to look around all the campuses – on ‘Open Days’. It was at this point that I had decided I wanted to be in London, having grown up in fairly rural areas – Cornwall and the Isle of Wight, the city seemed interesting, exciting and had buses that ran more than once an hour!

I decided on my universities of choice and took these to my form tutor to check through, but I hit an issue. She wanted me to apply for places with much lower grade boundaries. Although I tended to do reasonably well in exams, she thought I was putting too much pressure on myself. I had to discuss her and my parents what she thought, but felt sure I could handle the pressure. I knew that I wanted to go to university, but not for the sake of it. I was going to go to one I actually wanted to or not at all. Although it was quite a stressful time, I’m glad I had faith in myself.

After waiting for what seemed like forever, I got offered conditional places at all of my choices. I attended my interview at Queen Mary and though it was scary, I loved the campus and the location. It was exactly what I had been looking for – somewhere exciting and interesting, plus the course involved a lot of choice, and wasn’t as traditionally strict as other universities. Queen Mary had the highest entry requirements of my choices so yet again my form tutor had her concerns. She didn’t seem to understand that I didn’t just want to go to any uni, I wanted to go to one I had really set my heart on. So I had to meet with her and let her know that it was Queen Mary or nothing. If I didn’t get in, I’d come back and re-take. And I was genuinely prepared to do this. I wouldn’t let my mum buy me anything for university until I knew for sure because I was also nervous I wouldn’t get the grades required.

All my stuff packed for university. I only finished packing ten minutes before we left!

All my stuff packed for university. I only finished packing ten minutes before we left!

After this, my form tutor was very supportive, as was my mum and all of the other teachers at my school. They really helped me in trying to get the best grades I could. When it came round to results day I got up as early as possible to check whether I had got into university, and after UCAS crashed about a million times, I found out that I had. I was incredibly relieved, as was my whole family because they knew how much I wanted it. I rushed into school as quickly as possible to find my teachers and thank them. I found out that they had been just as anxious as me and had already looked at my results!

After that it was a rather panicked time of buying pots and pans and bedding, and the first year flew by. At Christmas I went back to my high school for our sixth form award ceremony, and was awarded the prize for English and also for perseverance. I’m so glad I stuck to the choice I genuinely wanted and didn’t back down. At the end of the day, the choice can only be yours, and as long as you do the research, you’ll know you’re making the right choice.

My first day in student accommodation, all unpacked.

My first day in student accommodation, all unpacked.

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