Tag Archives: university

Life at university – the good, the bad and the ugly

uni2When it comes to university, I will never write anyone off. Even those who are the least academic people around can find a perfect course for them, perhaps with more practical work, and can find it a fantastic experience. The big question is whether it is in fact a truly valuable experience for the individual, and while I think the life experience you gain is immeasurable, often the money and time involved can mean the experience is worth somewhat less in the long run. For me, university was something I had been set on from a young age. Not because of my education, family or upbringing, but because I wanted to study, I loved to learn and I needed a degree in order to achieve my life goals. Plus I really wanted the experience, I wanted to get away from my town, I wanted to move out and look after myself, to gain independence. This was the perfect opportunity and I know that many who are currently looking, researching and making final choices will feel the same.

What I want to do is to make you aware that university is not a doddle, it is hard work for a minimum of three years of living away from home, working while studying and surviving on meagre loans and it can be lonely at times. But at the same time, you will meet the best friends, have the most bizarre experiences and finally have a chance to follow and indulge your true passions. So many people I know are preparing to sit their exams and are trying to make huge decisions about the next three years of their life and where they want to spend it. For me, I was lucky and this was easy – I walked on the campus and instantly fell in love with it. When I read about the courses and met the professors it only further cemented my decision and I am so glad I stuck with it despite my university asking for the lowest number of UCAS points out of each of my offers.

There is a lot to think about when making your decision and it is easy to be blinded by the thought of parties, living in a city, and studying with or following your friends. By writing this, I hope to give prospective university students into the slightly less exciting and fun sides of university just to try and balance out all the amazing fun you will be hearing about. Don’t by any means take this as a negative view of university because it really was the best three years of my life so far and I would encourage anyone to take the opportunity, I just think it is important to make an informed decision. Here’s what happens when things aren’t all sunshine and roses at university:uni1

  • Sometimes things don’t go right. You might not get the place at the university of your choice, you might not get on to the course you wanted or you might not get into the good accommodation. So what happens then? Well, I have a friend who was forced into a hotel for the first few months of university after an accommodation cock-up and she ended up struggling to meet people or make friends. She hated her time at university and found it difficult later on to find housemates for second and third year.
  • Your course might not be the one you wanted. I know a lot of people who switched courses during the first few months because they decided it wasn’t for them. There are always options available – my course allowed us to take on modules from any course in the Humanities sector, it was my choice to focus on English.
  • You might end up in the good accommodation, but with the smelliest and dirtiest people around. We had a particularly smelly individual living in ours who refused to clean his room or wash his plates in the kitchen even when they grew mould in three colours. It was gross, but we found ways around it, piled his stuff outside his room until he got the hint and locked it in one cupboard.
  • You are going to be poor. Being a student in first year I was living in my overdraft from the first week and I had friends who had more than one overdraft as well as their loans. Accept it from the start and be realistic about what you spend your money on. When you get your loan, work out what you have to spend each week and decide whether you can live off this. If you can’t – you need to think about getting a part-time job. This is easy, work in retail, at a bar, in the student union, with the marketing team or even in a supermarket. There’s loads of options available and around universities work is always flexible to suit university students.
  • Sometimes, you and your “friends” will not get on. I was incredibly lucky and the girls I met in my first week in my own flat turned out to be some of the best friends I have ever had. I lived with them throughout university and still see them all regularly after finishing. But if you don’t get on with them, things can often turn nasty in such close living and study quarters and university can become a very lonely place. Do yourself a favour and get out, join clubs or work on the newspaper, meet people on nights out and make the most of every second. Sitting at home alone will only make things worse.
  • The workload could be a shock. After putting in a lot of extra work at A Level, I found I was very prepared for the workload at university, but I know many that weren’t. If you are not one for independent study and reading, you might find it a bit of a culture shock to be expected to do so much on your own. You need to adapt and fast or you will end up behind. Stay organised and keep on top of things because you can quickly feel like you are drowning. Study with friends on your course and talk about difficult bits with them, they may be able to offer help. Don’t be afraid to speak to your tutor and to ask for advice – they certainly get paid enough to help you!
  • You might not be great at taking care of yourself. Whether we are talking personal safety and not walking home alone at night or we’re talking about doing the washing up, cooking and washing your clothes. For those pampered by mum at home, it can be a real surprise to see how much is involved and it can seem crazy to those who have never cooked or cleaned. But this is an amazing opportunity to learn and become capable. I was lucky and knew how to look after myself, but one of my flatmates was scared to cook, another had been pampered by mummy who still sent pack-ups, and another had never used a washing machine. Learn from each other, get your friends to teach you and realise that you will live a hell of a lot better and save a lot more money if you have these vital skills.

uni4Don’t let this put you off – university is amazing. It is so much fun and really does help set you up for life if you make the most of it and grab every opportunity. Just be prepared and aware that it isn’t sunshine and smiles 24/7, and that sometimes you might be homesick and lonely but that is okay. It isn’t right for everyone, but it could also be the best thing you ever do, and it certainly whizzes by in no time at all. I have a friend who studied abroad for a year, left behind her university friends and made a whole load of new ones. She is now travelling the world and staying with all of her international friends along the way. If that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will! Of course, I would never argue that university is the only option and I know that for many it isn’t, but having the opportunity is amazing and making that decision over what is the right choice for you, is one of the biggest decisions of your life at 18.

What was your best university experience? Planning to go, what are you most worried about?

World Book Day: Why do I love reading?

photo_1A post by Life of a Thinker posed the question – “Why do you read?” and it really got me thinking about my motivation for reading. What is it that I love so much about books and literature – to the point I chose to study for English Literature and Language A-levels before continuing to a degree? Liam’s post featured a quote by George Martin which explained it far better than I will be able to:

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

I couldn’t help but try to express my love of words through a quick comment on the post which was my feeble attempt at explaining why I love reading, and particularly fictional tales.

I think I might be addicted to reading – I can’t be happy unless I have one or more books on the go. I adore the escapism of it all, the crazy characters and feeling like I am learning and developing my own character through the experiences of those in the narrative. Reading is something I have loved all my life so it has become a way of life for me rather than just a hobby.

Today, I looked out of my window and over at the school field opposite where hundreds of children were running around like crazy while dressed up as their favourite fictional characters for World Book Day. I think it is great that the children have a special day for celebrating their favourite stories and exploring their love of reading – but it makes me a little sad that there has to be a specific day for this. Growing up, every day was World Book Day for me. I would spend hours reading stories by Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, fairytales and basically anything I could get my hands on. I would save my pocket money and insist my parents took me to the market where I would stock up on new books by my favourite authors at the second-hand book stall, only to have finished reading them by the following day.

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I continued to love reading throughout school and would always have read extra books on top of the recommended reading or set books for class – I know, what a geek. Later, I would get told off for not reading my textbooks because I was too busy reading my novels. When choosing my A-levels, it was a clear cut decision that two of them would be English Literature and English Language, and choosing to study both at university in a combined course was again, the easiest decision of my life.

photo_4I chose to study at the University of Hertfordshire because despite it asking for the lowest number of UCAS points, it actually offered the greatest range in reading topics and genres of fiction. I had the opportunity to study modules in fairy tales and dystopian fiction under great professors who were extremely respected in their field. My favourite English Literature module had to be dystopian literature because it finally gave me a wider understanding of why I enjoyed those end of the world books and films so much.

I loved the way that the authors had really let their imaginations run wild to create these unique and destructive worlds, many of them incredible far-seeing for their time and making specific comments on the current socio-political situations in the country of the authors, or across the world, at the time of writing. It was fascinating to read conflicting ideas across different texts – the most memorable of these being the chaos and violence of A Clockwork Orange compared with the control of 1984. Both fantastic novels and with George Orwell’s offering it was also interesting to study the language he creates alongside my language studies.

I loved the way that these stories always seemed to centre around a journey of some kind, usually that of the unhappy individual who is seeking freedom from the system around him. Searching for an escape – well can’t we all identify with this? The characters, despite those that on the surface appear unusual, all boil down to those basic representations of different sectors of society that are instantly recognisable and translate to our own culture. This makes the stories seem so relevant even now, despite some being published decades ago. I think that is something that makes these novels so important, that although fictional, they were written to make a specific point and comment on fears for future societies. It is interesting to read some of them years after initial publication and to see how accurate the author’s predictions were – take the reproductive technology, psychological manipulation and use of sleep learning in Brave New World.

photo_2I’ve loved reading these novels and having the opportunity to study them and the background, motivations and social commentary behind the story – it really helped me gain a deeper insight into both them and the lives of the authors. It also fuelled a fascination with this genre of fiction and led to me continuing to read sequels such as Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, and various other novels such as The Passage and The Twelve by Justin Cronin. I also found it very interesting when reading The Hunger Games series to look at it in the same way as the novels on the course – far more interesting to look at social and political motivations than at the love triangle between the main characters!

If you love reading and are looking for a new genre to try out, or you fancy trying out some different dystopian novels, I would seriously recommend the following books. They really changed the way I look at the world, and to me, that is the most important thing about reading.

  • A Clockwork Orange and 1984 are amazing read straight after each other – such contrasts between the different worlds.
  • Fahrenheit 451 is about a world where books are outlawed and must be burnt – a world any keen reader would be terrified of.
  • Anything by Margaret Atwood always has me hooked – The Handmaid’s Tale was the first I read, but Oryx and Crake, followed by Year of the Flood, really questioned my view of the world.
  • The Passage and The Twelve by Justin Cronin were very long reads but worth sticking with and finishing – two of my favourite books and total escapism.

Have you got any dystopian recommendations to share? Leave me a comment and tell me about your favourite reads.

 

Relationships: What’s it really like to have a boyfriend at university?

Photo by Francisco Osorio

Photo by Francisco Osorio

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d avoid the cheesy posts and instead offer some advice for young couples who are facing decisions over continuing a relationship at university. When I first received my acceptance letters, took those dreaded exams and realised I had got the results I wanted and needed to move on to the university life I had been dreaming about for the past two years of hard slog throughout A-levels. Everyone had been worried – my parents thought I wasn’t spending enough time on my work and revision because of my boyfriend and my friends were worried he would lead me astray. But I sure showed them when I got that A and three B’s – more than I needed to go to the University of Hertfordshire.

Again, my parents were worried about UoH being my first choice because it asked for a lot less UCAS points than I was predicted, even less than I received. I had chosen it based on the course content, the number of live researchers who would be my lecturers, the beautiful campus and accommodation, and of course the great feeling I had when looking around. I’ve always been one for going with my gut when decision-making, and from the second I walked on to the campus and looked around, I just knew this was the university for me. I refused to compromise this for courses that didn’t cover what I wanted to study and for accommodation that looked like a prison, and it worked well because I left with a 2.1 BA Hons in English Literature and Language and Communication.

Photo by Oleh Slobodeniuk

Photo by Oleh Slobodeniuk

But enough about all of that – this post is focusing on the fact that throughout all of my time at university, I stayed with my boyfriend while he lived and worked back at home. I have spoken to several girls since who were just heading off to university and just didn’t know how they would cope with having a boyfriend back at home while they studied – they didn’t know what it would be like. Just as I was asked for advice back then, I will give it again now.

University will test your relationship, probably beyond anything before this time. You will be madly in love with your boyfriend before you go and often can’t bear the thought of breaking up, but at the same time are ready for a whole new adventure – it’s a confusing time for many. For me, it was simple. I loved my boyfriend and wanted to stay with him regardless – I didn’t see why university would get in the way of that. Of course, distance plays a big part in this and I had chosen a university that was just two hours drive from my home town (not chosen because of boyfriend, just coincidence). But if you really want to make it work, it won’t matter the distance.

Becoming an independent woman:

You need to remember that you will be experiencing a whole new world of living away, new-found independence and freedom, making new friends, discovering new passions, keeping up with your course and lots and lots of partying. Your new schedule may not have space for boyfriend time at first with all of the nights out and busy days associated with Fresher’s Week (ours turned into a month). So you have to remember that your other half might find it a bit difficult at first – not only are you off having a new adventure without him, but you suddenly might not have much time for them. It is important to make the effort to keep them updated and make them feel a part of it as well, you wouldn’t like it if they disappeared off to get drunk with strangers for two weeks without speaking to you.

Photo by Elizabeth K

Photo by Elizabeth K

Time-management is the key

A lot of this first month of university (and the rest) is spent getting pretty drunk and the lectures often take up a lot less of your time with more work expected in your own time – often this time is spent in bed, hungover and watching rubbish TV. I know there is a lot of other work thrown in, otherwise how did I get that 2.1? But my point is that your schedules could end up the opposite of each other – I got to a point where I was up all night, either partying or in the library and would sleep most of the day when I wasn’t in lectures – I just seemed to work better at night. This was difficult when my boyfriend was at home working shifts at an engineering company because often I would want to drunk call him after a night out or text him all night but couldn’t because that would wake him up, likewise, he would text in the day but I would be asleep or in lectures. You need to find your own balance that will work for you as a couple.

Don’t forget the importance of alone time

One huge benefit of going to university is having your own space, perhaps you were both living with parents at home and struggled to get time to yourselves. Suddenly, you have your own room in a block of people that won’t disturb you – you can go off for dinner, or cook your own, lay in bed all day and watch movies or do whatever you want. This freedom is great after being interrupted every five minutes at home. Make the most of this time. We had it easier because my university was quite quiet at weekends with many people going home to work in London, so my boyfriend could come up and visit and often we would have the whole flat to ourselves. Likewise, I made sure to come home and visit both him and my family – in my third year I had a car at university so I could nip home at a moments notice, or likewise he could come to visit me without relying on the trains.

Photo by LetMeBeYourSwearWord

Photo by LetMeBeYourSwearWord

Temptation

This is the main one I get asked about. Yes, there is a lot of temptation at university, especially if you like sweaty blokes who are wearing too much aftershave and have been daring their mates to down dirty pints without being sick on themselves. Not really my type thanks. For some girls, they might feel they are being left out of all the drunken snogging and sleeping around that comes with Freshers but what are you really missing out on other than the Walk of Shame while dressed as Superwoman (as one of my friends had to do) and a bout of chlamydia? It is possible to go to university and not sleep with everyone, it is possible to go on a night out and go home with your girls and a greasy burger, it is possible to spend a night in your own bed. There are a lot of girls out there who get drunk and just need some affection – this was the tough bit, being drunk and wanting to call your boyfriend because you miss him, but not being able to because he’s got work in two hours. But you deal with it and move on. There’s a hell of a lot of other stuff going on that you don’t need to concern yourself with all of this – but if you are tempted, them be sure to end the relationship before making a big mistake and hurting your partner.

Put simply – it is possible to have a happy, loving, long-distance relationship while at university. It isn’t always easy, but in the end it is more valuable than any one night stand. You will have wobbles and strops over seeing each other and missing each other, but you will also have amazing times that you will never forget and you will end up a lot stronger for it. My main advice is to be sure of what you want before you go but don’t be afraid to change your mind when you actually experience university life – choose what is best for you. If you think it is worth it, it probably is. I was two years into my relationship when I went to university and now we are coming up to our eighth anniversary.

Have you been faced with a big decision over whether to break off a relationship or stay together at university? What did you choose?

Here’s to raising a glass with the girls

1555534_10153670109485084_46650904_nToday I was supposed to be travelling down to London for another reunion with my beautiful ex-housemates and amazing friends from university to celebrate a birthday. Sadly, I couldn’t make the trip because it clashed with another friend’s leaving do before she heads off to Australia for the year. I miss my House of Boobs girls so much and was gutted to have to miss this reunion – the first one I have missed! So here are some pictures from the last reunion as a tribute to my beauts and a promise I will not miss the next reunion!!

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The benefits of moving home after graduation

After months of studying for exams and stressing over revision, they’re finally over and you can breathe a deep sigh of relief. But what happens next? The dream is that you get that 2.1 or first class honours, you scoop the job of your dreams in the big city and move into a fabulous house or apartment with some friends. The reality is somewhat different.

So many more graduates than ever before are being forced to move back in with their parents after graduation because of the lack of jobs and it can seem like a huge slap in the face after studying for a degree that you thought was going to open doors for you. Put simply, a degree just isn’t enough any more, you need heaps of experience and plenty more to set you apart from the crowds flocking to each interview. There will always be those people who walk out of university into a top job and secure the gorgeous flat and live an amazing life, but for the rest of us, there is a little bit more hard work involved. So if  your CV just isn’t enough to set you apart, or you just cannot afford to live out on such a small wage and you are forced to move home, don’t worry! Moving back in with the rents is not the end of your social life, it is not a step back and it does not mean you are a loser.

You may not believe it at first, but as someone who moved back in with the rents after graduating, and who has lived back there now for two years, I am here to tell you it can actually be a huge opportunity! Here’s just some of my top reasons why:

Cash

Living with your parents gives you the opportunity to save some serious cash, either by living rent free or by bargaining your rent down to a minimal amount. I was very lucky and my parents don’t really need the rent money so they have put it aside for me to use as a deposit for a house when I move out. Either way, you will be paying a lot less than you would if you were renting a place, that is, unless your parents are really tight! You should make this your first thought and whether you are working in a great job, or just an in-between job for some cash, be thinking long-term. You will be wanting to move out or go travelling within a year or two and you will need some dollar to do it. Be sensible with your money and start putting some away into a high interest savings account or ISA as soon as you get your wages so that you can make some serious savings.

Be Young

Now on the flip-side of saving cash – spend it and live big! This is the last time in your life you will be able to be young, free and think only of yourself, at least until you are retired! You can spend money on great holidays, gigs, clothes you’ll never wear and you don’t have to worry about paying rent, mortgages, looking after children or the rest. It’s time to do all those things you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the money to do, or haven’t been old enough or had a long enough break from education. I’ve spent all money, other than my savings, on travelling to Malta, Croatia, Ireland, to festivals across the country, gigs and all sorts. I’ve had the best two years living life like a girl in her twenties should be, instead of worrying about bills and making ends meet like those who are living out.

Enjoy It

At first it will seem like hell, moving back will see your parents revert to worrying about you and checking up on you because you will be right in front of them. Give them a break, they’ve just had three years off from worrying about you and now you’ve turned up on their doorstep again! You will be just as annoying as them and while you feel smothered, they will feel like you have a bad attitude and are taking advantage of their home by using it like a hotel. Make sure to spend time with them, be polite and offer to do jobs like the ironing etc. All this will sweeten them up and will get them off your back in the long run, plus you really owe it to them when they are cleaning up after you, providing you with home-cooked meals etc. They will soon get used to you being an adult in their house and the will start to respect your boundaries. It will take time for all of you to find your groove, but after a while you will start to become like house mates rather than parents and children. My family and I now have a great balance but it sure was hard at first to lose all my freedom.

Take Opportunities

This will be a great opportunity for those who haven’t secured a job to take advantage of internships and work experience that you wouldn’t have been able to afford to do if living out and supporting yourself in your own home. You could apply for extra training, for example, I started studying for my journalism diploma before I started full time work. You could even get involved in some volunteering, which looks great on your CV and gives great experience that will be recognised by future employers. Lay the seeds, get involved in companies you would like to work for. Even if they have no vacancies, make contact, put the time in and ask them for work experience and advice. By doing this you could end up as a first choice if they suddenly need extra workers or to replace someone who leaves abruptly. If you really can’t find work and it seems hopeless, try starting a new project such as a blog or website that you can build into something bigger, or get involved with one that is already established by offering your services for free. Follow your hobby, I followed mine and ended up the editor of a festival review site (I now get my pick of the festival tickets!).

It will be hard for a while, but moving back home can give you a great opportunity to brace yourself for the real world and to let you live somewhere in the limbo between being a teenager and an adult, none of the responsibility but a little more of the freedom. Don’t mope about and feel sorry for yourself, use the situation to your advantage and do what you need to do to save money, get that dream job and move on to a place of your own.

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Childhood sweethearts: Me and my beau

I don’t often write about my relationship – perhaps this is why it has survived so well through our teenage years and until now despite the demons that are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blogging… But now I just feel it is time to introduce one of the most important people in my life to my readers.

I met Mark when I was just 16, we met through our sixth form where we both ended up in the same groups for our Gold Duke of Edinburgh and CSLA Leadership courses. At first, we didn’t really get on, in fact he really bloody annoyed me! But after a lot of winding each other up and flirting, we finally went on a date and as they say the rest is history! The funny thing is that at the time I had just been on a date with one of his pals – I think that was what sparked him into making a move to be honest, but I’m glad he did because by that point he was all I could think about.

We were together all through sixth form and despite several people warning me about Mark, I had never met a funnier, sweeter, more romantic guy. We were crazy about each other, still are, and spent all of our time together. Despite skipping a few lessons to spend with him instead, I still made it out with an A and 3 B’s! But then came the real test – it was always on the cards. I had been dead set on my own plan of going to university as soon as I finished school and I couldn’t wait. I chose the University of Hertfordshire, and unlike many I refused to make this decision based on my relationship – I simply loved the university and the course.

I’ve been asked by many people in the last few years about how we coped, and I’ve since bumped into old school friends who were amazed we had survived university – but I never saw it as much of an obstacle. I don’t know if perhaps it was just because we were so crazy about each other, but still more mature, that we realised we had the rest of our lives to be together and that being apart for a short time didn’t matter! He came to visit nearly every other weekend, sometimes we had a longer break, but we spoke every day while he worked at home as an engineer.

In my second year I lived at home (mainly because I was only in university twice a week and I wanted to work as well) so we were back in each other’s lives full time. Finally last year was amazing – I was so busy with work and revision, but still had time to party. He was driving and training to see me, and I had my car at university so I could easily hop in and be home two hours later. It was a great set-up and we never gave each other any reason to be jealous because there was no need!

Coming home was a struggle because we were used to living without each other, but we soon fell back into a routine and the last two summers we spent touring round festivals and travelling to Malta and Croatia. We always have the best time with each other and have never let a relationship stop us from living life to the absolute full like some couples do – we still want to go raving and dancing all night long. Sure we have our nights snuggled up in bed watching a good DVD, but neither of us can stand doing that all the time! And why go raving with others when only we can keep up with each other?

I hope there are some other couples out there like us – all the ones we know seem to be quite tame in comparison. But I’m grateful just to have my best friend and to still feel like this six-and-a-half years later! And looking forward to raving together again this weekend at Sub Focus.

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Reunited and reliving those precious memories of university

After a long six months, the House of Boobs girls (as we were nicknamed at University of Hertfordshire) were finally reunited for a weekend of catching up, drinking champagne and cocktails, eating copious amounts of chips and dip, and most of all, making enough memories to tide us over until the next meet-up.

After living together and spending nearly all of our time together over the three years of university – supporting each other through the course stresses and deadlines, cheering each other up over boy trouble, staying up into the wee hours with drunken tears, celebrating each other’s achievements and having each others’ backs on every night out. We’ve been through a hell of a lot together over the years and we’ve all come out of it stronger than ever. Boys truly have come and gone in that time, as have jobs and other friends – but the one thing that has stayed constant is that we are all – without fail – always there for each other no matter what.

After arriving in a village near Chelmsford, Essex, at one of my former housemate’s house, we unpacked the mountains of stuff we had brought along, tucked into a delicious dinner and had a quick catch up before heading upstairs to get ready. We all glammed up in our high heels and fabulous outfits – my top is from Missguided and skirt from Ark – and after a couple of glasses of wine and making sure we had all remembered our ID’s, we clambered into the cars and headed out to Leigh-On-Sea.

Our destination was a bar called Bellinis, which was quite small but served great cocktails! To be honest, we could have been anywhere and I wouldn’t have noticed what was going on around us – we were all having so much fun dancing like loons, drinking Jam Doughnut shots and laughing, a lot! It was amazing to be surrounded by the girls again, because they are all the type of women who I wish existed everywhere – none of them will ever put you down or say a bad word about you if they have your back. It was so nice to be surrounded by such supportive friends who were nothing but happy to hear everyone’s news and celebrate everything going on in their lives. It is rare to find a group of girls who honestly act this way, who don’t put each other down, and I am proud to have friends like these.

I have such fabulous friends. Nearly all of them are in very happy, loving relationships with great guys (not something that they could boast in university!) and the ones who are not are confident and happy in going solo. Some are nearly finished battling through their PGCEs and are now teaching classes of little ones, while another is working in Asos marketing department, another travels to Germany and America regularly for work. Another is heading off travelling around South-East Asia and Australia at the end of the year and another is working as a para-legal and loving it. I am proud of everything they have achieved and have yet to.

Am really looking forward to the next meet-up and hopefully we won’t have long to wait. The main DJ from our old student union is holding a huge reunion party so hopefully we will all make it along to that.