Posts Tagged ‘reading’

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!

How to occupy your summer holidays whilst at uni

What shall I do this summer?

This is a question I asked myself towards the end of my first year, and again now, halfway through my second year. At university, summer breaks are long (around 3 months!) which is obviously a lot of time to fill. Some choose to work, others go on holiday and some students just go home and don’t do anything at all. I thought I’d talk you through a few options, in case you, like me, want to occupy your summer doing something productive!

1) Get an Internship – this is the primary thing on my mind at the moment. As a second year student, I’m aware that time is quickly running out at uni and I’m beginning to worry slightly about what I’m going to do in the future. I don’t think that it’s generally enough anymore to just get a degree when you’re looking to qualify yourself for your future prospective career. You need experience in that field! You need to know if you’re going to like it, and you need something under your belt to show a future employer that you’re keen, you’re experienced and they should hire you. Universities themselves can offer may opportunities for summer work experience, but theres also plenty online at your fingertips too. I’ve even started doing an internship during term-time as well, just as an extra boost to my CV.

2) Work – Students are renowned for not being the MOST financially stable, so working over summer and actually earning some money for yourself (so you aren’t so dependent on your overdraft or mum and dad) is never a bad idea. I actually spent the summer after finishing my first year doing a summer working season in the French Alps. Although working a season doesn’t mean you earn the most money, it does offer the opportunity to meet a tonne of new people, work abroad (!!!) and it keeps you busy. I thoroughly enjoyed last summer and I would always always recommend to anyone to do the same/or a similar thing, I think it taught me so much about myself (cliche, I know, but true), and it did allow me to start my second year of uni with a bit of extra cash and a bunch of new friends from all over the country. But alternatively, you could just work at home (which admittedly, would make you earn more money) and make paying your own bills the next year a whole lot easier!

3) Find a New Hobby – Summer is the perfect time to find something new to get yourself stuck into. It’s three months, without the stress of uni and the freedom to do whatever you like. So get stuck in and enjoy yourself! Theres nothing worse than coming back and not having any stories to tell your new friends!

4) Go on Holiday – as important as I think it is to be productive in your summer break, it is also important to relax too! You’ve spent the last however-many months in the library or in your little uni room working your socks off, so do take a well deserved break to detox, relax and have fun.

5) Use it as an Opportunity to Read Ahead – Through summer it’s very easy to forget uni exists and to be honest, forget everything you learnt the year prior, so maybe spend an hour or so a week just reading through old notes, reading ahead for next years modules, or just reminding yourself of a few key concepts to help yourself for the next term.

But more importantly – have fun!

I hope if you’re looking for something to do this summer these have been helpful, if anyone has any more suggestions, please leave them in the comments. Or alternatively, if you have any questions for me about anything I’ve mentioned here, please go ahead and ask in the comments too!

Billie 🙂

Back to reality

Over Christmas I had a really nice break, did a bit of reading, went on holiday and also had a couple assignments too. However, when I came back from Christmas, just like any time when you’re away from work for a while, things got a little bit crazy.

For my course, I had a module pack to pick up, which I needed to complete the first week of reading. I had already done a bit of pre-reading for the first week back – I had read two novels over Christmas, one for my Writing Modern London module and a brand new module for this semester, British Culture in the 1950s. In my blog about self study, I spoke a bit about how it’s wise to read ahead, especially if you know you’re going to have a lot of work to do or you have a lot of reading for that week.

Film Society’s 2 Co-Presidents. Myself (left) and Gemma (right)

I mentioned in another previous blog that I’m co-president of Film Society with my housemate and fellow film loving friend, Gemma. We also had a lot of work to do for film society, as we had the second round of welcome week for all the new students joining Queen Mary coming up. That was pretty hectic too, as we had leaflets to print out, and the fair ran from 2-6, on the day of our first screening. This involved a lot of dashing about and last minute changes, but we pulled it off okay in the end!

The somewhat chaotic Welcome Back Fair

The somewhat chaotic Welcome Back Fair

I also had to begin writing my dissertation, a scary prospect for most. In case you don’t know, a dissertation is a large piece of writing (mine has to be 10,000 words) on pretty much any topic (as long as it’s to do with English!) of my choice. My supervisor, who is someone who helps me through the process, is trying to get me to write it as soon as possible, so I have plenty of time to edit it and look it over. I had to write a first draft of my introduction over the Christmas break too, to hand in when I got back. Although it took me a week longer than I said, I also got that done and now have the next chapter to begin. I’m feeling more confident about the project as a whole now, and am not freaking out too much about the fact it’s due in May!

On top of all of this, there was also the next issue of The Print due, and trying to settle back into a life where my mum doesn’t cook all of my meals and wash all my clothes.

Overall, although there was a lot to do, the work is manageable. I like to make lists of all the things I have to do so I have things to tick off. I feel more productive and this helps me complete all of my other tasks. Other things I’ve found that work are breaking up larger tasks with smaller ones or doing something fun in between, like organising my notes whilst watching a TV show I enjoy. Sometimes things can feel overwhelming but everyone else is in the same boat, and all my housemates have as much work to do as I do. Luckily we own a VHS player and about thirty classic Disney movies so we can all unwind together.

I’m getting back into the swing of university now, so I’m getting back into a regular work schedule again. Plus, even though sometimes work can be hard, I’m really going to miss it. I’m seriously considering the masters degree I wrote about in my previous post. I’ve been doing a bit more research, which shows you that work is never too overwhelming. My best advice is to stay motivated, and if this all sounds a little scary, trust me – these are all skills you develop during school and university. Time management and balancing your work becomes the norm, they’re talents that you can never stop getting better at.

Studying English

I spoke a little before about the best bits of studying English at university – the trips and all the choice, but in this post I wanted to talk a little about what an average teaching session is like. Over my university years they have changed a little bit – in first year the lectures were all really big, because everyone takes the same modules (specific topics for teaching). So, for example, everyone studied Shakespeare and so we had huge lectures that everyone attended, where a lecturer (like a teacher) stood at the front and told us all about the topic, play or book for that week. After that we had an hour seminar where everyone discussed the points brought up in the lecture and any other points you might have thought of yourself whilst reading. In seminars your seminar leader might also assign you a mini task, like reading through a bit of the play and talking about it in groups. This all changes again in second year as everyone gets to pick their modules, and there are so many options that the lectures become a lot smaller. The seminar groups however tend to stay the same size – roughly between 10 and 20 to a class. Then in third year it all changes again! Most of the time you don’t get any lectures at all, and instead you get a two hour seminar. It means that lots more of the work is down to you, so when you read the texts you have to think about possible points you could raise in the seminar and any questions you might have.

I’m going to describe what my ‘Writing Modern London’ teaching session on Monday was like, as it gives a sort of example as to what all this really means!

The reading for the week, image courtesy of:

The reading for the week, image courtesy of:

Above is an image of the reading for the week. We normally have a week to read the texts for the following week, however if you have a lot to do or are really prepared, it’s advised to read ahead so you don’t get behind. As it was a fairly short novel, only about 150 pages, we were also advised to start our reading for next week – a novel called ‘Absolute Beginners’ as that is about 350 pages. The lecturer and seminar leader expects you to do the reading so you can understand the content but also contribute in the seminar afterwards. Also in our coursework, we are usually expected to write on quite a number of the books, so it’s best to be prepared.

For ‘Writing Modern London’, we usually have a double seminar, and sometimes we have a lecture and seminar, however this week it was a lecture followed by a seminar. We sat in a fairly large room, as there is about 30-40 of us on this module, and our lecturer delivered her presentation. Normally this a combination of them talking, powerpoint slides and sometimes small video clips. This lecture opened with us watching a clip of some of the people who emigrated to Britain from Trinidad in the 1940s and ’50s. It served as a good opener as the book ‘The Lonely Londoners’ is all about people from Jamaica and Trinidad who came over to Britain. It was really interesting and we looked at a lot of history, and then the lecturer linked that back to the book. The lecturer also linked all of her presentation back to the overall theme of the module – London, and during this we all made notes. She then also told us a bit about the book for next week as the two books are quite similar.

The notes I took during the lecture.

The notes I took during the lecture.

Sometimes you’ll need to write down quite a lot all at once, so it’s quite demanding and you always have to be listening. Afterwards we had a seminar where we began by discussing a few of the themes from the lecture and then were given a task. We have an assignment coming up where we have to relate some critical literature to a few of the novels we have read, so our seminar leader gave us a task to prepare us for this. We were given an extract and then we split into pairs and talked about how it related to a section of the book. Everyone then gave feedback and we made notes about it and talked as a group through all of these.

Our seminar handout, with my annotated notes.

Our seminar handout, with my annotated notes.

After this, we are left to go through our notes at home as it’s always best to read them again to make sure you remember as much as possible.

This kind of learning is very different from school. Quite often you have to get involved and contribute a lot more and a lot of what you get out of the module is down to you. As a said in my previous post, this is all about organisation and as you go through university this is something you get used to – don’t worry, they won’t throw you in the deep end!

Self Study

As I mentioned last week, university classes started up again after all the fun of Welcome Week. I remember in my first year that this came as a relief, as preparing for classes was something I had become used to at school, and I particularly enjoyed preparation for English class as that meant a lot of reading – something I enjoy. What took the most adjusting to however was exactly how much university relies on this form of ‘self study’. I have a lot less help than I got in school and instead of having my days full of lessons, I now spend most of my time doing my own work.

Of course, English is a subject that relies a lot more on me doing my own reading than a lot of other subjects, as that’s what our teaching mainly relies on. So if you were to do a science-based subject you would be likely to do less reading, but a lot more practical work or research instead. For English this reading is not only essential for our own understanding, but also our participation. We will either have a lecture, which is where a lecturer (like a teacher) will stand at the front of a large class and talk to us, teaching us key concepts about the reading. If we don’t do the reading then these key concepts won’t mean anything to us and are likely to be very confusing. Alternatively if we don’t do the reading and we have a seminar (this is a group learning session where we discuss what we learnt from the lecture or what we learnt from the reading ourselves) then we won’t be able to participate, wasting this learning opportunity.

Seeing as this is my third year (final year), the reading has been a lot heavier than in previous years and this has taken a lot of adjusting to. This isn’t something to be worried about though! First year tends to ease you into this new form of learning so it’s not too much to take in at once and the following years tend to build up the work as you go on. Over the three years (or more, depending on your degree) you learn and build on new skills that help you deal with the increasing workload.

To give you all an example of the amount and kind of reading I have to do, I’ve taken some pictures of my reading from the first three weeks:

Module Pack and Plato's Republic - my reading for Week 1

Module Pack and Plato’s Republic – my reading for Week 1

In the first week I had a lot of Module Pack reading, and one novel. Module Packs are given to us by the university with a collection of shorter extracts or articles inside and generally we are given a few of these a week instead of novels. We are also sometimes given some online reading to do, and this is also a similar length to the shorter Module Pack extracts or essays.

More Module Pack reading, finishing The Republic and another novel

More Module Pack reading, finishing The Republic and another novel

My second week of reading had some more Module Pack reading and a new novel. However, seeing as the novel from last week – The Republic by Plato, was quite dense, we were given two weeks to complete this reading. As you can see, the reading isn’t that unmanageable, it’s just a question of dedicating sufficient time to complete all of it. It also relies on a lot of pre-planning – looking up the reading lists in advance, making sure I have access to the texts and maybe starting some of the reading early so I don’t leave myself with too much to do. A good example of this is in my third week reading, pictured below:

3 Novels - a very heavy reading week

3 Novels – a very heavy reading week

This was over double the reading of the previous week, so I had to make sure I managed my time well enough to finish the previous week’s reading early so I could start this week’s reading early.

This is the key skill I think university teaches you, no matter what subject you end up studying – self study; two of the main parts of this being time management and organisation. For me, this revolves almost entirely around my reading. I have to make sure I’ve completed it in time, but also give myself time to do other things like assignments and also to have some time off, maybe participating in one of the society activities I talked about last week. But like I said before, this isn’t anything to worry about too much. You start to pick up skills like organisation and time management at school, and university simply provides the perfect environment for improving these skills. It’s made me a more independent person and I know that after university these skills will prove to be invaluable.

Back to School, Plus My Trip to Oxford

Lately, I haven’t been writing new blog posts, so hopefully I find the time in these next few weeks to update what I’ve been doing during my time in the UK. My winter break was quite interesting, and I’ll have to make a post about that later, but for now, I’d like to share my experience returning back to school after a month of holiday (or vacation, as Americans call it).

Since I’m an English major, my modules in Queen Mary don’t require final exams like the modules for sciences, etc. (Whereas, in America, most of the English courses I took had final exams at the end of the quarter. Some even had multiple choice exams!). Instead, all my modules required 2000-3000 word essays due about two weeks before the second semester. Writing these essays was stressful, especially since there’s a difference between the expectations of British courses and American courses, and it took a while for me to notice and adjust to these differences, but now that I’ve finished a full semester at Queen Mary, I have a better understanding of how to prepare myself for this new semester.

For example, I found that keeping up with my course readings was the most important thing to do. As a study abroad student, it’s easy to get distracted and make excuses for putting off readings, but with the few contact hours we get, it really is essential to come to class prepared and ready to discuss the material.

Another important thing is to go over the secondary material that professors suggest looking over. Many of the final essays I wrote last semester required the use of secondary sources, so it’s better to go over these throughout the school year, rather than spending a chunk of time sifting through multiple sources in order to find the relevant ones for your essay.

And while we’re on the topic of academics, here are some pictures of my trip to Oxford last semester:


While we were in Oxford, there was a small march going on for the events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri this past Fall. It’s nice to see solidarity in the UK for an event of such significance in America.


View of Sheldonian Theatre from University Church of St. Mary the Virgin

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Magdalen College

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Christ Church


Ashmolean Museum


It’s actually very inspiring to go to a city that’s known for its education. According to my tour guide, Oxford is the oldest university in the UK. Isn’t it awing to think about the number of significant people who were educated there?

In terms of seeing Oxford as a tourist, you can’t go wrong visiting any of the buildings of the university, but my favorite was the tower in University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. From atop the tower, you can get a great view of the university, but the swirling steps are a bit  narrow and steep, and it was really crowded with a bunch of people going up and down the stairs. I’m usually afraid of heights, but going up to the tower was fine for me, so I would definitely recommend it for anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of physical exertion.

After our tour, an acquaintance said to me, “When I’m older, my children have to come to school here.”

Yes, hopefully mine too (I say this half-jokingly). But until then, I have a handful of readings and a full semester ahead of me to distract me from these hopes….

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