Long-distance study: the things I have learned

Since February I have been studying a Politics course long-distance to South Africa. Having done my three year undergraduate course in Politics and English in Cape Town, I always knew I would have to do an extra years study at the end to receive my honours. In South Africa a three year degree only gives you a Bachelors degree. Initially I was planning on staying at the University of Cape Town to finish my degree, but that became increasingly unlikely as Lekai and I began planning our lives together. So I moved home and started my studies in February through the University of South Africa.

It’s not been the easiest experience in my life, but I think all experiences, good or bad, difficult or easy, happy or sad, can teach us something, so here are some of the things I have learnt:

1. I am definitely a people person: studying along three days a week has at times made me a little crazy. Some days on Lekai’s return home from work I am literally so hyper and excited to see him that I think I speak nonsense and jump up and down for at least the first 10 minutes of his welcome home.

2. I am self-disciplined: or so I am told by most people who I describe my course to. There are no friends to compare your work with, or make you panic when you haven’t been working hard enough, there is no structure to the day unless you make it yourself, and there is no where to be, apart from at your desk.

3. Working from home is not good for the waist line: with the kitchen just a stroll away, it can seem like a great idea (at the time) to head to the kitchen for a study break and have a snack, and unless I persuade myself to go for a jog (which is becoming harder to do over the winter months) then you get hardly any exercise in the day.

4. Self-control is an amazing app: having said I have good self-discipline, that only goes so far when you are ploughing your way through an 8,000 word assignment. Self-control, which I actually discovered during my undergrad is an app that blocks any websites you tell it to, for any length of time you tell it to between an 30mins and 24hours. This means that distractions like Facebook, checking the news and youtube are curbed.

5. Watching Ellen Degeneres on youtube makes for great study breaks: during my breaks I tend to watch clips of Ellen Degeneres. Before this year I had never really watched much of her stuff, but her interesting guests, and funny quips have lightened my mood in some of my darker study moments.

6. Having one contact really helps: I met a girl in one of the uni forums who was keen to do some form of virtual study group. We ‘met’ at the beginning of this year and have been whatsapping non-stop since. It’s so great to have just one person who I can moan to about studying who can really empathise, but also for both of us to have someone to panic with!

I hope that this little list might be of use to those currently doing long-distance or thinking of starting long-distance studying, and also as an insight to those I know of what this little part of my life is like.

Back to the blog…

So, it’s been just under a year since I last wrote. I don’t think I can say I have been missed by the blogosphere, but recently I have felt a pang of a need to start writing again. This might be because my dissertation deadline is drawing closer and closer and I am fed up of writing what other people think (no I am not plagiarising) and want to write freely without having to add a reference every few words.

Life has changed rather a lot since this time last year. In November I left sunny Cape Town, to return to my family and wonderful, then boyfriend, who soon became my fianceé and who is now my husband of nearly three months. I also graduated from UCT in December last year, and since February have been doing my Honours through the University of South Africa. Long distance learning has turned out to be rather difficult, not because of the work, but because of the way you feel so alone in your studying.

First photo as an engaged woman!!

First photo as an engaged woman!!

 

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Last few days in Cape T

However, although studying hasn’t been great, I can quite honestly say this past year has been the best of my life. Though leaving Cape Town and settling back into life in London was tough at times, having made such great friends in Cape Town, I have loved seeing that my friendships with those far away have been maintained, and some of them have even grown stronger.

 

I have started working for a church in Harrow, which although at times has been challenging, the challenge is one I feel God has called me to, and so is exciting at the same time. Returning to family and getting to see more of them has been really precious.

But most of all, marrying the love of my life has been amazing. Having struggled, although learnt a lot, through three years of long distance, it’s such a privilege to be able to set up home with the man I love. I really believe marriage is such a beautiful invention of God. Having seen both of our parents stay together through thick and thin, and both having reached their 25th wedding anniversaries, we have seen marriages that have reflected God’s hope for couples. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with Lekai, aware that there may be seasons of pain and struggles, as well as hope and joy, knowing that we have God by our side.

Signing the registers with our parents as witnesses.

Signing the registers with our parents as witnesses.

Banning the beat

As I read the artilce: ‘Mali: no rhythm or reason as militants declare war on music’ on The Guardian website, my heart sank. Music and rhythm are a massive part of the Mali culture, Imageand the right to create music is being taken away from them. Imagine that, being banned from playing or listening to music.

It got me thinking again of what music means, why such a story is so sad and why I reacted the way I did. I concluded that it’s because music is such a strong expression. It not only speaks lyrically, but the rhythm and the tune give deeper meaning to the words than if they were just spoken.

Music is both an expression of joy, happiness and hope, but equally can express pain, suffering and fear. It is one of the ways that I find release. Often in a moment of difficulty, I will grab my guitar, sit on my bed, and write a song. And it’s no coincidence that in life’s celebrations we choose to dance, even in the UK where we often shy away from such public displays of joy, it is mandatory to dance at weddings.

To take music away from a people is therefore heartbreaking. It removes a key part of culture, it removes a key aspect of our human desire, to make and interact with musicand ultimately it removes joy. As the writer of the article says, “that is the bland reality dawning on this once joy-filled land.”

Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

WOW… what rubbish!

I don’t know about you, but I can remember instances in my life, defining moments, where words were spoken and hearts were broken. I am sure that each of us, when we look back, in the darkest corners of our minds, find words that have hurt us, words that have defined how we see ourselves.

In the same way, I am sure we can all remember the most encouraging words that have been spoken over us. We treasure those words, who spoke them, and where they were spoken to us. It often seems to be our natural reaction to grow and improve in the areas that we have been encouraged in.

So, we’ve established words do affect us, but how do we deal with them? Firstly, we need to come to a point where we take hold of who we truly are, we need to acknowledge our strengths (and celebrate them) and our weaknesses (and deal with them). We should be able to welcome constructive criticism, but not allow it to become destructive criticism.

Secondly, we need to recognise the power that words have; that our words can have. I often think of the encouragements I have had in my life, the times when someone has really stepped out to tell me something good they have seen me doing, and it has almost defined who I have become in some ways. Sometimes I will think something good about someone, but then I don’t remember, or don’t think to encourage them in that. So many times, if we realised the power of our words, we could make such a difference.

The same is true for the cutting words that we have heard in our lives. The sad truth is, we have probably done the same to someone else. We must be so careful how we deal with criticising others, that we don’t let anger blind us to others’ feelings.

Sorry if this post sounded a bit preachy, these are just my thoughts on the topic. I’m looking forward to seeing your comments, whether you agree or disagree.

 

The Joy of Music

So my Mum came out from the UK on Sunday, and she came bearing gifts, one of which was from my delightful boyfriend, a pair of amazingly good headphones.

He’s a musician, and having studied quite a lot about the production of music, has a  desire for all people to listen to music ‘properly.’ For a long time I have been without decent headphones, and normally just listen to my music out of my laptop speakers… I really think this has been breaking his heart… now I understand why.

On Sunday evening, I curled up in bed, plugged in my headphones, opened iTunes and BOOM, it was like I had discovered a new rainbow with a hundred new colours. It was like the difference between nestle chocolate and lindt chocolate (need I say more). Songs that I had loved, I discovered were even more amazing. Powerful songs which bring me to tears… well I was weeping!

The difference made by these headphones made me realise, or remember again, how powerful music can be. How it has a way of speaking to our most inner being. How it can put us in a great mood, or how it can break our hearts. How it can remind us of a special moment in time or how it can soothe us when in a difficult place.

So if you haven’t already… go and buy yourself a decent pair of headphones.

And so I come crawling back…

Yes, it has been a while… over a year to precise. Don’t think I have been sorely missed, but I have started to crave the freedom of writing for my own blog.

So what has happened since I last wrote, a lot! In short, I have been the news editor of my university newspaper, VARSITY, since last October, I have started learning Mandarin, my sister got engaged recently, I have decided to move back to the UK in November, and I am graduating at the end of this year. Oooh, and I turned 21!

Part of the reason I am starting to write again is because I want to learn to be a bit less formal in my writing. Obviously over the past year I have developed my news style, but now I want to turn my attention to be a bit more opinionated and chatty, something that I don’t seem to struggle with in my day to day life.

So I realise this first post isn’t really that interesting, but it’s more a note to say I AM BACK and it’s hopefully the first of many posts. It also serves as a reminder to myself of why I am getting back into this. 

 

Beautiful Blenheim on a (British) summers day!

A beautiful day out in a beautiful place, with a beautiful person!

Examinations!

OK, so I haven’t written for a while for two reasons.

1) I have exams at the moment which have been taking up 110% of my time.

2) In case you didn’t know this actually was a class project for a media seminar I was taking. I am really glad they encouraged us to blog, we had to write at least 2 posts a week, which I tried to keep on top of. Anyway the project is over and I have my grade, so the incentive to write has kind of been lagging!

So here I am back again, to try and find something in my mind which isn’t about neopatrimonial states (politics exam yesterday) or editorial cartoons (last weeks media exam) which may interest someone, somewhere in the world! Hmm… well actually I am just going to write about a few interesting facts/opinions which I have learnt over the last couple of weeks of revision.

  • Although in the West we are consumed by media (not that Cape Town is in ‘the West’ but it is rather westernised), we often think of the world as being made into a global village by the media, that everyone can know everyone else’s business by going online and googling. However, when one thinks about it, only a tiny percentage of the world actually have media, there are billions of people who have never been online. This is called the digital divide and it is another way in which the world shows its inequality.
  • In ‘the West’ we see democracy as an ideal and as the best way to live, we are often extremely sympathetic to those living without a democracy. However it is eye opening to understand that for some cultures, they believe in democracy we have too much freedom, that our culture has been ruined because of the freedoms we ‘enjoy.’ They also believe that too much freedom of the press can lead to a unstable government. I know there are many authoritarian regimes where people would much rather have a democratic state, however there are some states which have no desire for democracy.
Well they’re two little things I learnt that I found interesting… the rest would probably not interest many people!

Bandwidth… bane of my life!

South Africans reading that title will completely understand what I mean… Brits… not so much. On my arrival to Cape Town, bandwidth was a word that I had never needed to utter in my entire 18 years of living. However, in the last two years of my life, I have made up for my previous non-use of the term.

As I stepped into this new life in Cape Town, behind me I left many close friends and family, and my boyfriend. I naively thought that when I got to Cape Town, keeping in contact with everyone would be a doddle. With modern technology these days it is, after all, made so easy for us… we now live in a global village. I thought that for me and my boyfriend our skype dates would be a delightful concoction of voice and video, that we would practically be in the same room! However, sadly I was wrong, in South Africa you pay for the amount of bandwidth you use, this is measured in megabytes and gigabytes. For example, a 2 hour skype conversation (without video) would use about 70MB’s of internet. When I first arrived at the university res/halls where I was to call home last year, I was told that I would get 500MB’s of internet per month… this was not wireless either, I had to have my computer plugged into the wall! To me this meant less than 15hours of skype a month, if that is all I did with my internet. I did actually cry at one point… it just seemed like life in Cape Town was going to be more impossible than I had first thought.

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