Category Archives: School

End of my second academic year

It is my last night in London.

I have counted down since forever to my eventual return on the 26th of May, which happens to be tomorrow. When HT and I first separated we texted each other, and one of those messages from him was “259 days more!” I cried as I read his handwritten letter and re-read that message. How unrealistic it was, I told myself. How were we going to last? How many couples have I seen breaking up? What makes the both of us think that “our love is different” compared to the many others who thought the same way when they initially parted? I was so cynical and I honestly do not think my worries were unfounded. On some nights in London I really constantly questioned myself why. It seemed easier emotionally last academic year when I was single. I am however really glad that my “emotional mechanism” is able to shut those thoughts out as soon as they are formed, and despite some reunion jitters I really cannot wait to see HT in 3D again after 6 months.

Today I wore short sleeves out having been blessed with an amazing sunny weather, temperatures reaching up to 28 degrees in the afternoon. I saw a glimpse of London in summer — the streets littered with people wearing sleeveless dresses and holding Starbucks frappucinos, green spaces filled with people with picnic mats holding their sandwich lunches and… simply the increased density of people on the streets even though it is only Thursday. I never got to experience these sights last year and I am indeed really lucky because I do not think I will ever get a chance to experience London summer in full, given that I will always be back in Singapore for VA.

Now that it’s still 9.15pm and sunny I have concluded that today has been an absolutely perfect day. Today I sent off my 7 boxes early in the morning and now I face an empty room and kitchen… it looked similar to what I saw when I first arrived in this room. The rate at which time passes scares me very very much. I remember posting on what you would call a “private Instagram” (which has now disappeared) a perspective of London from Goodge Street when I first arrived for the second time and commenting how scarily unfamiliar the familiar London was. Or the scarily familiar unfamiliar London. It was 7am on a Sunday morning when I wheeled my luggage out of the tube station and saw how cloudy and gloomy the morning was. I thought back on my Sunday mornings at home and I remembered my noisy family, my irritating siblings and the sunny hot weather in Singapore. It was painful to stomach the fact that I would be here alone for 9 months again, especially when I was painfully separated from HT during what I would also call our honeymoon period. I also remember my first night here when my dining/study table was in a different position of the room, when I set off the smoke alarm from cooking instant noodles from a tiny pot (resulting in water spilling all over the induction hob), when I slept on unfamiliar sheets and when I had nothing in this new home to call my own. I managed to Skype HT when he was sailing, and despite not being able to see his face I went to sleep with great ease. It was nice that he tried doing that to help me settle down better.

Slightly more than 8 months have passed since then and I have done many many things. I have not accomplished as much academically as I would like to, and I say this only because I know I can achieve better. I have however, enjoyed myself a lot more this year. I ate a lot better, made an effort to actively seek for entertainment and did many more things that I enjoyed. I ventured to areas even off-London (eg. New Malden) just to have a legit Korean BBQ meal and good bingsu. I went to 梁静茹’s concert, although it may have been more perfect if I managed to obtain tickets for Jay Chou’s concert. Notable trips are Bristol with RV, Thursley Common for a field trip, Mallorca for a field trip, Lake District and Paris with HT, Switzerland with Weixuan and Edina, the UCLSS Ski Trip at the French Alps, Durham to meet Xinci, Italy with my siblings, Amsterdam with Dilys and Weixuan, and lastly the killer Seven Sisters hike with Dilys and Weixuan as of late. I watched Wicked and Phantom of the Opera again, I watched The Kite Runner, and I also watched The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time before their final stage in June. Wicked costed £29.50 this time because I queued in the morning for day seats which led me to a seat all the way at the front; the last time I paid £17.50 I was sitting at the last row of the musical! Seats are important in keeping me awake and stall seats really provide the best musical experience. I am increasingly of the opinion that money saving habits can only kick in successfully with familiarity, how would I have understood the concept of day seats in the past? I snuck into the UCL Korean Culture Society and attended weekly intermediate Korean lessons every Wednesday and Friday. Despite the attendance declining from the start I never dreaded the 6pm lessons when I often had to leave home the second time in the day for school, and especially enjoyed it more towards the end when the teachers started recognising us. I hope to improve enough over summer to find myself in the advanced language class next academic year.

I have lived very well this year although my bank account has certainly been bleeding more than last year. I remain thankful to the scholarship and the organisation for this financial independence. Last year I used to tell people that I did not have much friends in London, but this statement does not hold anymore. I really had an active social life, a social life that would not have been possible if my phone were to be spoilt like what happened last year. I forged stronger friendships and saw myself laughing a lot more this year. I made it a point to enjoy London for what it has to offer, the food, the sights and simply the way of life. I am liking London more and more as I approach the possible end of my three years here and it saddens me that the dream I had worked and put in everything for may come to an abrupt end soon. Although I think I Skype rather regularly I never thought it took away time from my personal life, I tried to make it a point to lead less of a virtual life especially if we were to “have a lifetime ahead”, as quoted from HT.

I am excited to leave the house for the airport 5 hours in advance tomorrow, to wheel my luggage and struggle to carry it up and down flights of stairs on the tube. It says a lot about the girl I have grown to become; I think I can say with confidence that she is a better version of myself. Other than growing to be even more independent I think I have grown to be more empathetic, kinder and more sensitive. On this note, I will continue to figure out and actively work on my character flaws. This summer I also hope to obtain my COC, because it would say a lot about my lack of attitude/aptitude if I still do not. I also want to work hard on my dissertation because an excellent dissertation project would show how much I have learnt this year from the endless coursework submissions, repeated data collection/analysis/discussion, and show the markers how capable I am of independent learning. Next academic year too, I hope to actively work on my academic weaknesses. I still believe that everything is a choice, and I hope to strive harder to make that active choice for academic excellence.

After tonight I would have no more “sleeps in London” until late September, so goodbye Collingwood House. See you after summer 🙂

:(

I miss you terribly terribly terribly much all of a sudden. I know we are left with only 20 days but it doesn’t seem to get by any easier 😦 20 more days more and I can run into your arms to cry and laugh again. Honestly quite sick of myself thinking about you too……… can’t wait to be physically reunited again.

You have been such a blessing.

Still quite sour from my terribly done examination paper from Tuesday. I guess it sucked more because I knew I enjoyed the module. Maybe the most, out of the 8 this year. We really learnt beyond the scope of what a Geography student is really exposed to and the professors were so good. I suppose when you enjoy something you really want to do well in it.

I fear doing badly in the rest of the papers and subsequently using my grades as a determinant as to how much I enjoyed the module. So before I take the rest of the examinations and receive my potentially terrible grades back I am going to have to remind myself that the best decision I made this year was to take a majority of Physical Geography modules. I came into UCL with a preference for Human Geography modules, because that was exactly where my interest lied when I was in JC.  But I ended up slanting towards Physical Geography because despite my sub-par performance for the Environmental Change module last year I thought it was the only one that stretched me way beyond my comfort zone. There has been no regret at all ever since, despite the fact that I go to class and sit alone now.

I loved the field trips this year. I loved all the professors and how keen they were in making us identify species on the field, and how they excitedly demonstrated all the coring techniques while rowing around on a sea boat.

I loved the modules and I enjoyed completing every single coursework simply I learnt so much each time. I started off with lots of hate for STELLA because it was so complicated, but after getting through the initiation and familiarisation with the software I was so amazed by its outputs. Everything we had done in our coursework was in direct relevance to climate change projection and modelling that I had always mentioned about in my essays in passing, even in JC. I disliked Hydrology when I was in JC simply because it was pure memory work and so crazily intense — this academic year I have had the honour of being taught by Julian and Richard, both leading academics in the field of groundwater abstraction, subsidence and of course, climate change impacts on water resources. When they were doing their PhDs with crazily beautifully constructed diagrams and location maps I wasn’t even born yet. Their papers are always so well-written and I am continually impressed by the originality and detail that goes into each scientific paper they compose individually. On a separate note I loved the diatom and ostracods practical session by Viv and it felt like I was brought back to secondary school when I placed ostracods on a glass test slide to examine and identify it through a microscope. Except that this was extremely relevant to the field on palaeoclimatology, especially as we were concurrently working on the statistics coursework for diatom reconstruction of acidification values.

I also managed to learn a bit of Environmental Biology when I memorised details about homozygotes and heterozygotes and their differing fitness levels, and the evidence of sympatric speciation through an examination of the molecular phylogenetics within the Monostroma latissimum species. Before I left for studies this academic year HT once asked me whether I knew what Drosophila was. It was a pleasant surprise when I saw this very term flipping through the Ecology textbook that our module was based on.

I have really enjoyed how the year has put together subjects that I studied for in the past — especially in greater relation to Chemistry within the Hydrology module. I want to remind myself that I truly enjoyed what I learnt this year and I will not define my growth academically by the numbers I see eventually.

Results

I was in a very pensive mood yesterday after the examinations and all I wanted was to get away from that examination hall seating a few hundreds of people. I was so down, so upset and so afraid.

Context:

70+ First class mark. If you are a real Singaporean you’d be trying hard to be here.

60-69 Second upper class mark (2:1)

50-59 Second lower class mark (2:2)

I’d received unsatisfactory grades throughout the course of my entire degree. I remember them. I guess no one really reads my blog so hopefully it won’t become discussed in my course like what happened to other people in high school…

In my first year, my first ever assignment received an overall mark 55. Then a 62. Then a 72… hey are things becoming better now? Then a 64. Ouch.

I stopped aiming. Only two modules were graded anyway, and most of the examination modules were not. Overall I got 2 Firsts for my 8 modules, 5 2:1s and a last 2:2. I even laughed about the last one — I got 25 for an essay because I was writing a “right answer to the wrong question”. Who the hell gets 25/100 for an essay?!

There were tons of coursework submissions this year. 4 due on the 10th of January, 1 due on the 8th of Feb, 1 due on the 3rd of March, 1 due on the 22nd of March, 1 due on the 24th of March, and 1 due on the 24th of April.

For the January batch of coursework, I had gotten 68, 67, 66 and 54.

December to January was difficult. It was lots of learning of softwares in greater depth: R, ArcMap, MatLab, STELLA, all of which I had zero clue about.

During the whole December break I was also travelling excessively, and prior to the 3-week break, HT was here. I really had no time for coursework and I saw those as my priorities. Getting marks in the range of 66-68 was therefore quite pleasant for me, I would (and could) just work harder during the exam.

 54 was definitely my fault, I left myself with 24 hours for that coursework. When I submitted it through Turnitin at 11am I knew I was thoroughly screwed — my figures weren’t composed properly, I had hardly come up with proper location maps, and I hadn’t even linked my Discussion section to my Results section. I am just glad I passed for my horrendous submission, I was mostly upset because this was 90% and there was no way I was salvaging it. I also had some sort of coursework fatigue from having finished 3 prior to this and I was sick and tired of learning and using a new software. It requires time for familiarisation as well and I had no time for that this time.

I moved on from those 4 coursework assignments… to embark the 5 in Term 3. The results are coming back. I received 75. Then 80. Then 72 even when I pasted two of the same figures by mistake in my work… are things getting better? Am I on my way? I must be getting the hang of things now! I tried to read so much more beyond the recommended literature to get beyond the band of 66-68. Maybe they really want originality. I really am improving! I worked out my marks and coursework percentages here and there and found out that to possibly secure a first class eventually, I would have to play safe and get at least 5 to 6 modules with a First this year. I was not confident of getting a First for my dissertation in my final year — I know it won’t be that easy.

But yesterday I received a mark of 67 and I felt like I was going back to square one all over again. Another bye to a possible first-class mark. No, eventually there had been no improvement. Yesterday, too, I had not gotten lucky with the questions for a module I thought I could bag a First for. I told myself: I only needed one good essay and one mediocre essay to get a 70 overall. I prepared for 5 topics, and only one worked in my favour. How unlucky was I? Really unlucky. Most people prepared only 4, or less if you are not bothered about this exam. Essentially, I prepared a mediocre essay and another piece of shit, because the wording for the question I prepared for was really convoluted as well. Examiners probably saw that it would be a popular question. I felt like crying midway through writing my second essay. I was cooking up shit and I knew I was giving more marks away with every line I was writing.

I feel sad from the weight of my personal expectations. I don’t want to feel burdened over every unsatisfactory grade or terrible examination. I cannot be like this my whole life, there are so many more examinations I have to take and so many tests I must put myself through. How can I ever be happy this way?

“The part of me that only thinks being the best is acceptable needs to take a chill pill and realize that if I give something my best effort and end up with an average result that is perfectly fine and will only lead to a happier and healthier me. I will keep trying to do my best, but if an exam or a lacrosse game does not go as well as I had hoped, I am not going to ruminate on my mistakes. I will learn to use the bad as a life experience and move on. I will find peace in realizing that being average is okay, but I will take pride in knowing I will never lead an average life. I have long ago stopped expecting perfection from those around me, and now far more importantly, I will stop demanding perfection from myself.”

I will continue to strive, but I will stop being bitter about myself. I will remind myself that the leader(s) I respect the most had less than stellar academic achievements, but was/were extremely hardworking and charismatic. These “idols” of mine might even stab me if I told them about my woes.

I feel much better today after the lousy morning and terrible examination yesterday. I knew I was not going to do further studying after the shitty afternoon paper yesterday, and all I wanted to do was to go home and lie on my bed and Skype. We ended up watching a movie, and after that I slept at 10.30pm. Which means HT stayed up all the way till 5.30am to accompany me to save my shitty day. Thank you very much, so much love for you smiling to sleep last night :’) Thank you for never dissing my opinions even though you are less concerned about results and grades than anyone else. In my darkest of days I am glad you are always there, even though you are not physically present. I know I am in a much better position than people sleeping beside a familiar stranger, and I will be thankful for that. I try to steer clear of talking about HT too much because I think I should lead a proper life myself, but today I am so glad to have a boyfriend. Hehehehehehehe.

Mallorca, Spain

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I blogged previously about dreading the trip and everything that comes along with it, but I must say my worries were pretty much unfounded because the field work trip was amazing. Much more than Sitges and Barcelona last year, for both the balance of workload and the time off to ourselves. The people doing Physical Geography were much keen and nicer too.

Of course, although the trip revolved around coastal and wetland work that may put someone off, it was also more enjoyable this time given that we got to choose our preferred projects. The groups we formed were much smaller, and we had much more personal engagements with the professors who would otherwise be busy on a typical working day. It sounds really nerdy but you are truly more keen to learn when you surround yourself with like-minded people, and really enthusiastic professors who would kneel and squat by you to help you out with your difficulties.

I am honestly truly having withdrawals from the trip. I miss the lab, I miss the wetland that I would never return to again because it requires a research permit, I miss the daily breakfast and dinner buffets at the hotel. Free flow of smoked salmon, steamed salmon, squid, sliced roast pork/duck, nutella crepes, seafood paella, fresh tuna, assorted cakes, sorbets and ice cream… oh god I can really go on and on. I gained at least 2kg from the trip no matter which time of the day I weigh myself and I must say I have absolutely no regrets binging and over-eating on the trip because the food was that excellent — it is worth a month of eating low-calorie food just to keep the scales down. 🙂

Academic work

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This picture shows the wetland: it was extremely inaccessible. We had to get a car, park somewhere and walk for about 10 minutes through undisturbed wildlife, carrying the extremely heavy dhingy (in my opinion).

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Here are photos of us on the boat where we worked on our lake bathymetry (underwater equivalent of topography) research project! Here I am holding the wading rod for measuring the water depths hehe.

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Carrying the dhingy on my back because I decided to act hero, thank god it did not aggravate my back injury even though I am seen here arching my back an neck in the most injury-prone angle ever.

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At the lab where we were most of the time, working on our presentations, MatLab, ArcGIS, sorting and sieving through our sediment samples and measuring the turbidity of water samples we collected.

Meals

Because they were the highlight of the trip, I must say. Here’s the limited dinner spread and one of my most well-taken servings of food, because I often take multiple plates with the food all over the place hahahaha. I must be a nightmare of a customer because they have to do so much washing.

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Here’s my favourite:

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Missing my free flow crepes (I had it every single morning!), sugar and cinnamon churros and the most well done omelettes.

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My final pictures of the trip, which really shows how beautiful the place was.

I look forward to the next Physical Geography trip in Year 3, let’s hope these trips get better as the years pass. I think this one’s hard to beat though, because the professors and technicians that came along were excellent. JRT has really got to be my favourite lecturer now, he has officially championed the place of favourite lecturer in my heart after RT hahahaha. Very coincidentally, both of them are doing the same module, that I have thankfully taken after a long deliberation. Yes.

Here’s to salad, cereal and milk (only) for the next 12 hours — because after these 12 hours, I would probably be permanently smiling at the fact that HT will be right beside me. I’ve been excitedly counting down the hours to his arrival because his plane has taken off from Singapore, and I am finding it difficult to focus on any proper work. Let’s hope this will not affect my work attitude adversely, but even if it does… I make my own choices. Reciprocation is important and I honestly have nothing more to be thankful about. What more than for all the sacrifices you made, and me being a knowing party with my slight understanding of how difficult it is to take (such a long) leave. All the arguments you got yourself into and trouble just to make this visit happen, just to honour your word that you would visit me at least once a year to make this LDR work. It will be a right choice; you are the right choice.

Thursley Common

I am doing a module on Ecological Patterns and Processes, about half the module is assessed by coursework which would require a trip to Thursley Common, a National Nature Reserve, to check out the species involved.

I dreaded it a little more than I should because of the need to wear waterproof pants and wellies, implying the need to get wet and muddy like we did back in Barcelona. But I oddly enjoyed getting myself into the mud picking up caluna vulgaris(es) and erica tetralix(es) from their roots.

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Now imagine stepping into that.

It was also nice to look up to a picturesque landscape that looked like the default background of a windows computer.

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It’s amazing how a simple day with blue skies, lush greenery (among which I peed due to the lack of toilets he he) and species identification can bring you smiling all the way home. Even though we were stuck in terrible London traffic on the way back.

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Thursley Common was beautiful.

37 days to London

In the morning I was looking about looking for fire fighting procedures, intending to watch YouTube videos about knot-tying, about flashovers…

As usual I got distracted by Facebook scrolling and I saw my ex-flatmate posting a picture of Trafalgar Square in London. I can’t believe I’ve actually lived and breathed that place for 9 months. 9 months is actually a really long time — in these 9 months I learnt and was imparted so much that it has for the better of me completely moulded my own perspectives about life and how I treat people in my life.

Occasionally I miss London, combing Oxford street and city-hopping. Walking through glitzy streets with large billboards advertising musicals and walking about the familiar Chinatown before embarking on the 30-minute walk home without a mobile phone. Walking to the swimming pool 30-minute away, doing a 1-hour swim in the cold outdoor pool and reaching Schafer House feeling all satisfied, ready for dinner and my nightly Korean online lessons. In those months I led my life all by myself and I truly enjoyed that sort of independence; I suppose not everyone has the privilege to be in such control of their own lives at a relatively tender age of 19.

In those 9 months I gained a sort of lesson I’d never be able to impart or share, and for that lesson I’d do it all over again. I’d do the move to go abroad, I’d go through all the difficulties that broke me down again and again as a person in 2015 and I’d always be thankful for what I have received thus far. Even with what I know now about missing all the people I love or have come to love over here.

Moving out of Schafer House

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I have finally packed my 8 months of life into these 6 boxes. Here’s to wearing the same set of T-shirt and FBTs for the next 36 hours. I am really excited to reach home and see the familiar Changi Airport control tower as the plane lands, but I’m also having a flurry of mixed emotions at the same time. I can’t believe time has flown by so fast once again. The days pass so slowly, but the weeks and months pass ever so quickly.

I will always remember my first day moving into Schafer House because it was honestly a pretty rude shock to the UK university experience. Although the contract for the flat started on 19th September, I moved in only on the 20th because I wanted my parents to send me off to the airport — explaining my late arrival (and implicating poor Weixuan in my decisions). Corridors were therefore already lined with people and alcohol, partying with loud music.

As I dragged my 32kg suitcase to my building (Block C) I freaked out realising… that there’s no lift. I took more than 5 minutes to singlehandedly lift my suitcase to the 3rd floor with my hand carry luggages… and there were already (tons of) people partying in my flat. My new flatmates leapt out to welcome me, introducing themselves to me as I looked totally lost with my thousands of luggages and my inability to enter my room as I continued fumbling with my keys. I was not exactly ready to socialise at that point in time because I just wanted to rest after the tiring flight, awkwardly addressing myself as Ping and not knowing how to sustain a conversation with them; they had probably done up all their self-introductions to one another prior to meeting this lone Asian. Everyone was already acquainted by my point of arrival and I wasn’t sure how to squeeze myself into that table they were playing cards on… of course with alcohol. For some context of my alcoholism or the lack thereof, I flush on cider so that’s how pathetic I am. With loud music blasting in the background, I took a total of 3 to 4 hours to unpack and beautify my room, while my flatmates continued with their partying and probably moved to the club after their session of pre-drinking.

That was the start of being alone and while it was exciting, it got really difficult at times. Although Aloysius willingly came over for dinner most of the nights, I opted to snap out of that routine to properly get my life in order — I did not want myself to be dependent on anyone anymore. I was looking through all my Tumblr posts and there were many word posts ranging from “homesick” to “homesick again”. When the sky gets darker, the night truly gets harder, except that it happens much earlier in cold and long winter nights. Nostalgia can literally kill when sunset occurs at 4pm and you spend much of the day alone in your own room in darkness. For a Christmas baby who should love the holiday season associated with “jolly good times” I am so much more thankful for summer and longer days.

For the entire freshers’ week, alcohol events were constantly ongoing. Schafer House reeked of alcohol for the entire week, consisting of drunk alcoholics and freshers in clubbing attire. Unsurprisingly, I retreated into my room every single time being the true Asian I am, and ended up very much detached from the whole freshers’ scene. I just could not embrace the drinking culture which is obviously rampant in UK universities. You gradually have an “acquired taste” for alcohol in the words of my seniors, but till now I haven’t really been able to appreciate it.

(Sidetrack: Flatmates are talking about how much they enjoyed “last night”, something I never said this whole academic year).

So gradually I found myself things to do and stopped wasting time on thestudentroom reading about how to meet new people if I could not drink alcohol, if I were not close to my flatmates and if I were not invited to parties. I laughed over how Flatmate #2 brought her boyfriend home every Friday and engaged in Christian Grey inspired sex, to the point of recording voice clips of her terribly load moaning like DUDE can you keep it down. You don’t truly understand who and what exactly I was neighbouring until you have heard it. I laughed at the balls of Flatmate #1 when she pasted a note on Flatmate #2’s cupboard asking her to freaking wash her dishes to “respect” the rest of us. I talked to Flatmate #5 on an occasion to find out that her aunt and uncle were also in the Navy, she laughed when relating how he was involved in a ship crash… In months to come, Flatmate #2 and Flatmate #4 would also leave Schafer House as they leave university for personal reasons, only to be replaced by two new flatmates who were already in Year 3. Student accommodation can be scarily transient: one day they are there, and the next moment someone different would occupy the same room. I did not even get the chance to bid them goodbye.

It was also in this tiny heck of a room that I started becoming drawn to Korean culture again (in UK, wow HP), wishing to pick up the Korean language along with the rest of the world; I also started experimenting with new dishes as I watched countless cooking videos. During the Spring term I managed to set into place a daily schedule which was religiously led up till the examination period (ironically), charted weekly to-do lists and weekly meal plans. I ran thrice a week in the mornings of Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday/Sunday depending on when I was free, did one online Korean lesson every two days, and played the piano for at least 15 minutes every single day on top of academic commitments in the form of readings and looming deadlines. I am honestly quite surprised by the level of discipline I had just to have more productive days, I was getting sick and tired of long winter nights of doing shit.

As of tomorrow I would be bidding goodbye to this room after Flatmate #2 and Flatmate #4, which has served me well, given me good ideas, sparked off motivations for new forms of learning and fed me really well with the occasional sleepovers and group dinners. Solitude is precious and it has given me a lot of time to think and reflect on myself, my past experiences and anyone or anything I have been thoroughly unhappy with, especially as my block is separate from the larger blocks. I truly appreciate this alone time I know I will never get back home, but I think I still prefer the noisy family.

Bye Schafer House, thank you for the past 8 months 🙂