An American Grad in London

Sharing student life across the pond.

Short Post: Finding calm in the turmoil of exams

image

It’s a funny and unfortunate conundrum we all face when the term ends; as our stress levels rise and cortisol courses through our veins like a vicious and relentless venom, it slows us down just as we need to speed up, it fogs us when we strive for clarity the most.

Today as I was leaving Brunel, I found a small, quiet field tucked behind some bushes at the end petal-covered path that led the observant passerby to it. Standing in the open space I imagined myself the character of a Jane Austen novel, and the moment gave me the smallest bit of inspiration to carry on through my studies.

And for a split second I remembered why I came. It wasn’t to get a grade. It wasn’t to please my professors. It wasn’t to impress future employers, even. It was to feed the piece of my soul that thirsted for adventure and was starved for intellectual challenge. This is what our studies abroad do; they enrich our intellect, our character and our perspective.

My dear friends who are cortisol-ridden and mentally exhausted with me, during our exams let’s keep some peace of mind by remembering why we came. Maybe this is what will keep us tethered to the bigger picture when that tunnel vision takes over.

Unanswered questions: Why study in the UK?

image

As a Californian, I am often asked why I chose to leave the heartiest economy and sunniest state in the U.S. to migrate to London for a Masters degree. Well my friends, here are your answers in cold and bold type:

1. Travelling, duh! Travelling is one of the most eye opening and mind expanding experiences one can have in a life time. Immersing myself in a new cultural context while studying at one of the top Cross-Cultural Psychology programs in Europe seemed like a great way to give depth to the concepts I would learn.

2. One year programs. Grad school ain’t cheap, y’all. A quicker paced program means not only a quicker return to your field of work, but also reduces the holes you’re burning in your pockets.

3. More options. My particular field of study is a bit harder to come by in the states, so looking beyond the boundaries of the motherland was the best choice for me because it opened up my options.

4. The experience. You could call this a combo package of all the above, but the experience of being in a new environment and adjusting rapidly, all in an attempt to be successful in unfamiliar systems equips you with a set of skills you’re going to be hard pressed to gain through any other kind of experience.

5 Quick tips for making the most of Paris

image

Paris, with all its dazzling scenery, delicious food, and daunting history, also maintains the ability to burn holes in your pocket with its temptations. After a weekend getaway to the city of love, here are 5 tips to prepare for navigating through Paris:

1. Plan around the many free attractions Paris has to offer. You could dish extra dough to hit trending sites, but there is so much to pack in for free that it isn’t worth it. Sacre Coeur’s view exceeds that of the top of the Eiffel Tower,  and a picnic with market goods provides infinitely more romantic ambience than a lunch on the river (weather permitting!)

2. Markets and bakeries are your best dining options. Even the cheapest goods can be the best French food you’ll taste – our best lunch by far through the weekend was a €3 Quiche Lorraine!

3. Check out Groupon deals. We stayed at a 4-5 star hotel for 2 nights and it was  a steal. We were in a central location with easy access to trains, had rooftop views that included the Eiffel tower, and the deal included train tickets round trip!

4. Americans who don’t speak French- pack that thick skin. This is my second trip to Paris, and its no exaggeration to say that the majority of French really do hold a disdainful view of Americans. Even my best attempts to communicate in French had a police officer scoffing at me in his language. Though in my opinion police will be similarly abusive in any culture, this was a common theme in my interactions.

5. Download a map and loosely plan ahead. There’s no worse feeling then scrambling in a foreign culture. I made my desktop the map of Paris’s metro and perused TimeOut Paris for events and hot spots during my study breaks in the weeks leading up to our trip. This allowed us to feel lots of flexibility and freedom upon arriving as we had our fingers vaguely on the pulse of the local workings.

Bonus: Get outta that comfort zone! Don’t let the rude French stereotype or lack of foreign experience keep you from travelling. The experience is what equips you with these skills, and the experience of navigating a foreign culture equips you with skills to navigate the sometimes foreign happenings of life. In sum: minor discomfort leads to major gain!

Term 2 = Complete, but still a month of work!?

 

Image

So you’ve done it! You’ve successfully completed the last class of the last term of your Master’s degree. Now what?! DISNEYLAND IN PARIS?!

Hold your horses, because once again we come face to face with one of the many confusing differences between U.S. university systems and that of the U.K. Upon commencing the second term, much like with the end of the first term, you’re given another month-long “holiday” to rest, relax, rejoice, and- oh, wait, I mean work on papers and cram for exams.

With just one month to go, it’s time to write essays and “revise” for exams (as far as I’ve deduced this is the equivalent of studying, because most are written essays.) As a Master’s student, this is confounded with studying for your dissertation, working out scales and questionnaires, compiling ethics reviews. On top of these, if your bank account (like mine) is starting to resemble California’s Folsom Lake reservoir, then you’ll also be brushin’ up your CV and dustin’ off your grade-A interview skills. Insert panic attack here.

But as I’ve said before, these one-year Master’s programs are truly more of a marathon than a sprint. The key is to pace yourself, keep your short-term goals in mind and eventually, you’ll be dazzlin’ the corporate duds in your super expensive suit and tie.

Milestones of March

image

With marathon training for the race in June in full swing, I’ve knocked down some milestones with my running buddies this month. Amongst these was this mornings first big race: the Hillingdon Half Marathon, the first half marathon that Uxbridge has seen in ten years- and both the start line and finish line were on my home turf at Brunel University!

I managed to knock just under 15 minutes off my time from my last half marathon, as well as push through running it from start to end, with these basic running and planning tips:

1. Get a good nights sleep two nights before the race. If you’re anything like me, its not unlikely that you’ll get some pre-race jitters and lose a bit of sleep the night before, so let yourself sleep in as much as you can a couple days leading up to the race.

2. Carbo load intelligently. Do your research, but know that rice, chicken, fish, nuts, pastas and legumes are great sources of glycogen to pack your legs. Beware of wheats, whole grains, and ironically salads- too much fiber can cause issues you don’t wanna face during your race, so pack your veggies n’ vitamins in the week leading up to it.

3. Wake up 2-3 hours early. Get in a coffee or sports drink, lots of water and a small breakfast so you’re awake and energized at the start line.

Good job fellow Hillingdon halfers!

Gettin’ Cross-Cultural in the Classroom

ImageThroughout this year of blogging, I’ve shared the ups & downs, ins & outs that come with the life of a traveling student; I have yet, however, to focus much on what it was I came here for: a Master’s in Cross-Cultural Psychology. The program is one-of-a-kind, the largest and oldest in its field throughout Europe, nicely condensed into a one-year program – and is cross-cultural in more than simply the literature and research.

Pictured above is the majority of students with one of our recent visiting lecturers, Markku Verkasalo from the University of Helsinki, who shared with us his expertise as a photographer, his integration between his life’s work in photography and his research in Schwartz’s values, and his overall experiences as a professor in Finland. Then, he shared with us his wife’s fresh hand-picked “cloudberries.”

The body of students is small, giving the course a close-knit academic seminar feel. There is roughly 10 of us – mostly women (with the exception of Tom, who is missing in this photo) – all from different countries around the world. Germany, India, Finland, U.S., England, Romania, Japan and Canada (if you include the lecturers) are all represented in our cross-cultural family. We’ve shared candies, dishes, drinks, sayings, stories, jokes, habits, and arguably the most important- perspectives. Engaging in round-table discussions about the cross-cultural research we’re reviewing each week has been one of the most interesting, beneficial, and thought-provoking aspects of the program this year.

The field itself seems to be equally small – in its finicky teenage years, as it bloomed in the early 70s – which makes it both a frustratingly limited body of research, and an opportune area to challenge and advance the current work and bring in interdisciplinary perspectives. With dissertations on the horizon, however, the collective notion seems to be that this presents us more of an opportunity to expand and create our own academic pathways from the existing research paradigms rather then dwelling on our limits.

I gotta say, I’m proud to stand alongside this group of burgeoning cross-cultural psychologists and I have no doubts that the next Cross-Cultural Carl (Jung) is amongst our group. With the second term and the academic year coming to a rapid close, I am humbled to have worked with such a multi-faceted, intelligent group of women (and Tom!) and am looking forward to seeing what we cultivate with the knowledge we’ve gained together.

Friday Night at the 99

Image

 

A few weeks ago, a blog I had posted won me two tickets to one of London’s better kept secrets - 99 Club Comedy. I had heard great reviews and seen several Group-On deals cycling the internet for this club, so with a few hours to spare and no concrete plans, I spent this Friday night seeing what 99′s got to give.

The say first impressions are everything, and if this is true then I think 69 Club Comedy might be a more accurate name. The foyer and stairwell to this club gave me several flashbacks to San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair. (For those of you unfamiliar with this festival, lets just say that it’s referred to as the “grandaddy of all leather events.”)

The club was small and the seating was limited for those who purchase tickets at the door- we were left with far back row (risk: tall people, large heads and hard to hear), seats in front of the speaks (risk: walking around screaming HAH? WHAT? for the next week), or seats in the front row (risk: if you don’t see the risk here, please- go to a comedy show, try it, and report back.) We opted for the back row, drank some wine, made friends with the couple sitting next to us, mused about the terrifying lock-less bathroom stalls that reflect the Folsom-esque feel of the place and waited for the show to begin.

Once the stand-up began, though, 99 really did “stand-up” to its reputation. (Deh boom psh! …Okay, this is why I ain’t in the comedy business, y’all.) Two highlights of the night: Shane Kelty  (who does a bit of work for BBC4) kicked off the night with some bold political comedy that had me splitting sides. I can really appreciate a comedian who knows how to pull in the race conversation and put ignorance on blast. There was also an 84-year-old Jewish comedian (whose name I cannot remember nor find) who was, albeit a bit tongue-in-cheek, hilarious and full of wit!

The evening’s M.C. had us bent over in our seats from the get-go, but also is the main source of evidence for people (i.e. yours truly) who opt out of sitting in the front row. I’m still wondering for the “friends” he called out got that somethin’ he accused them of looking for by the end of the night…

All in all, great comedy spot for the price and a good chance to see some relatively recent up-and-comers before the hit the Russell Brand era of their careers!

Mixed Methods: Maintaining your motivation

Image

In research, the term “mixed methods” (also known as “multimethodology”) refers to a scientific approach that combines qualitative and quantitative data. Basically, it means mixing and match the tools you’ve got until you find a combination that best suits whatever subject it is you’re trying to learn more about. It’s like mixing and matching your lenses until you’ve got the right set in your microscope to properly see what’s underneath it, essentially.

When you’re training for a marathon, the approach is similar- each person is different, and because of this each training process is going to look different; different shoes, different habits, different daily programs, different cross-training, different diets. It’s all different. But it’s about finding what works for you, and more importantly for your body type.

The other night while I was out on one of my runs, I realised how much this applies to each of us in postgraduate coursework. Because working on your dissertation is more of a mental marathon than a sprint, it’s so important to find a routine that works, a schedule that suits you so you can pack in all the work that needs to get done while maintaining personal well-being and balance. In academia, this is tricky, because there isn’t much room for self-care or proper mental health practices.

To keep things mixed up in our running, my running buddies and I have registered for additional, smaller races and we often change the scenery of our distance-runs (which happen once each week). This gives us smaller milestones to work towards and mixes things up enough to keep training fun and exciting. Besides, life is about the journey more than the destination, right?

So here’s my mixed-method tip: supplement your education with things that are relevant and interesting. Remind yourself why you were interested in this subject to begin with. Sometime’s its easy to fall in line with what the professors are focusing on and forget what your specific interests are, but ultimately this degree defines our careers so it’s important to maintain a balance between both. Drop in on new lectures. Sign up for supplemental workshops. Go see speakers who pique your interest.

Keep yourself inspired by mixing it up and the marathon isn’t such a challenge!

Educational endurance: How a dissertation resembles a marathon.

This year, a couple of my flatmates and I made it our New Year’s resolution to sign up for the Tromsø Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromsø, Norway. We’ve been training 4+ days a week for 6 weeks now in preparation for the big day. The deeper into the regimen we get, the more I understand that training is not and can not be simply a matter of reaching your running quota for the week. It’s about mentally preparing, getting familiar with endurance, increasing long-term stamina, learning how to pace yourself, rearranging your schedule to adjust,  rearranging your diet to adjust- just to name a few.

It could be a matter of projection and opportune timing, but as our training progresses, I’m noticing several similarities between training for this marathon and preparing for dissertation work. The same aspects of your daily routine are affected. Students are attempting to grasp the concept of finishing a 15,000 word assignment that in some what contributes substantial work to their respective fields. As we progress, we’re learning how to break what can appear to be an unattainable goal into more manageable, doable, attainable tasks- much like my flatmates and I have done with our weekly marathon training schedule.

Here are some ways I’ve found it easier to break things down (in both worlds, really):

1. Timing is everything- so manage that sh*t! Being a U.S. student in the U.K. makes this process particularly overwhelming because I’m not yet adjusted to the independent study style of the education system here. One of the most important things I’ve learning in the 6 or so months that I’ve been here is that timing really is everything. Because there’s little to no structure in terms of what and when we should be studying, I’ve found it easier to break it down to a weekly basis. Thus, the infamous agenda- my planner, my daily organiser, my book of sanity without which I could not live. Each Sunday I sit down with this little baby and plan out and familiarise myself with the week ahead. It really helps to mentally prepare for the work to come and to keep me focused.

2. Food for thought is a real thing, yo. The five Y’s of your eating habits can really have an impact on your studying. The brain is a big, fat, super powerful and super active muscle that requires the proper nutrition to function properly. Packing in your daily dose of proteins, vitamins, proper carbs, etc. is a necessity if you want to be able to think clearly and effectively. If you’re tired, fatigued, spacing out more than normal, it could be that those 5 hours you spent cramming in the lab last night scarfing on homemade oreos was mayyyybe not such a good idea (I may or may not be referencing my own experience here…). Check out this super awesome BBC article that goes into more detail about what foods power up your bodacious brain.

3. Social butterfly? Make it a group thang. Most people who know me (or who have taken a 5 minute stroll through campus with me) know that I am amongst the most social of creatures. I am a textbook definition people-person, so interacting people is a daily must- much like a dose of caffeine. For those of you who can feel me on this, you know that independent study can be a challenge and it gets hard to keep perspective on the tasks at hand. Because of this, a few of my classmates and I have started meeting weekly regarding our dissertations to check in with each other, share ideas,  and get perspectives on things like methodology and theoretical connections. Creating a consistent study group is helpful for a variety of reasons; it keeps a sense of accountability to your classmates, it gives you some fresh perspective on the sh*t you’re so nose-deep in you can’t read straight anymore, and it satiates your social needs to an extent. It keeps the brain juices flowing. One tip: groups that serve an academic purpose like this are best kept at 4-5 members. Otherwise, the conversation becomes convoluted and ineffective.

4. Break it down like an earthquake. Sometimes, thinking about writing 15,000 words and conducting proper research to do it is an overwhelming goal to think about (and for that matter, running 26.2 miles). It helps to break it down step-by-step. Now I can’t give you specific advice on this because, to be frank, I kind of struggle with this myself- so instead listen to these dudes because they’ve got it down to an art. Overall, breaking down the time that you have, the work you’ll need to do, and how much time you spend doing it each week (targeting specific subjects and areas of work, so you don’t waste time each week trying to figure out what to focus on) will help you manage it on a week-by-week basis, instead of trying to grapple 4 months one day at a time. (Sidenote: this is true for both dissertation-doers and marathon-maniacs!)

Brunel’s One World Week

image

This week on campus Brunel held a week-long series of diverse fayres and activities called “One World Week.”

Societies all over campus, particularly national and religious societies, plan year-round for this event as its one of Brunel’s largest campus-wide events of the year. Events this year included an international food fayre, a variety of charity and volunteer-recruitment events, special speakers, cultural arts and dance activities, traditional musical performances representing a variety of countries, free hugs, martial arts taster sessions, and a ton more.

Because Brunel is such an international campus, this week-long plethora of festivities is a great opportunity to educate yourself on the cultural backgrounds represented across campus and get to know your fellow course mates in a different context.

So grab a hold of your chance to gain some super valuable cultural knowledge and go!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.