March 18, 2016

Typically, there are 2 types of people that take a gap year or ‘a year out’.

Type A: has just arrived home from an amazing ‘gap yah’ (in true Matt Lacey fashion – if you’re not sure what I mean, watch this video). Type A has been busy taking selfies next to the Eiffel Tower, riding on elephants and helping build villages in deprived third-world communities. They have an enviable tan and an insightful world view, albeit they are mosquito bitten, significantly poorer and known to make occasional obnoxious comments deemed annoying and comical to Type B.

Type B: has worked their fingers to the bone for the year, earning as much money as possible.

The two types are renowned for mocking each other. Type B will play the ‘real’ world experience card and in their defence, they are kind of right. I confess, that I am a type A myself, but in my defence, I worked ridiculous hours to be able to afford it and therefore I feel that I can sympathise with Type B.

On my gap year!

On my gap year!

Either way, whatever ‘type’ you are, you are not so different from your counter-part. You’ve probably let out a short sharp exhalation after reading that but hear me out! It is likely that neither of you have picked up a pen, skim read a textbook or typed an essay in a long, long  time. University felt so far away a year ago, but now it’s here. ‘This pen feels weird’, ‘how do I reference?’, ‘What is an essay?’ These thoughts are likely to be zooming around your head at full speed.

Below, you will find a step-by-step guide on how to drive over these speed humps without crashing!

  1. Invest in the stationery

It’s time to reacquaint yourself with some old friends: W.H. Smith, The Works, Ryman, Paperchase and Amazon. Most offer various promotions in September, but I know from experience that Ryman, Paperchase and Amazon offer great student discounts. Get your pencil case in order, buy some files, plastic wallets, sticky notes and notepads. Do not be a cheap-skate when it comes to paper, make sure your notepads have a high gsm. You don’t want a mind-map, which you’ve spent hours creating, on paper as fragile as your motivation levels. Some people use one large notepad for everything and separate things later, whilst others have one notepad per module topic. Also, if you’re ever stuck, the Student Union shops across the campuses have stationary bits. When you have all the equipment necessary to study you’re likely to feel prepared, organised and ready for the term. Also, you’ll feel obliged to use all the stuff, because you’ve spent money on it.

  1. Don’t worry if – Bang! And the slide is gone!

Some lecturers are better than others at this. It is not a criticism per say, more of a personal preference regarding reading pace. Note-taking in a lectures is a unique skill that takes times to master, so do not panic if you are desperately scribbling notes as you watch the slide disappear and feel your heart sink. Create some abbreviations e.g. Wuthering Heights = WH, and only pick out the absolutely critical words or sentences from the PowerPoint. The real analysis is usually in what your lecturer is saying. They often try to describe complicated theories, in a way you can understand, so pay closer attention to that rather than the slides. Don’t freak out you will get better at note-taking as the term progresses! Alternatively, take an audio recording and listen to it again when you need too.

  1. Get down to the dirty work

You are about to start your first essay in a year. You struggle to sit still in one spot for more than 10 minutes, either staring at that photo of you next to the Taj Mahal, or remembering the days when you jumped for joy on pay-day. Either way, you’re wishing you could be anywhere in the world but here. Make sure you have printed copies of your module handbooks and assessment criteria. Familiarise yourself with the latter, that is what you will be marked on!

Some people work in silence but personally I like to hear something, so I play an album by an artist I’m not familiar with. I have background noise, but I’m not tempted to dance and sing along. Find the revision or planning technique that works for you. Think mind-maps, lists, posters, sticky notes, highlighting etc. I was never quite sure what technique worked for me, it takes practice! Mind maps with different colours are often my first point of call. And for the love of God if you find something interesting, write down the page number and the name of the book – you think you’ll find this treasure chest of information again but you won’t! That chest will be buried on a lost island.

Take regular breaks. When writer’s block hits you like a ton of bricks, I found that getting out of the house and taking a stroll around Roath Park, for example, gave me a clear head and a sense of calm. I still do it now. Being a wanderer, and a country bumpkin, sometimes I need to get out of the house and even out of the city. Return to your work later or the following day and read through what you’ve written. You’ll be able to see what your writing is really trying to get at. You might keep some, you might scrap some, it’s completely normal and often the best thing you could have done.

Part of my walk home

Part of my walk home

Whether you are a gap year nomad or a noble worker, I hope the advice above helps in some way. It can be hard to settle into university life; but for the travel-lover, there are still adventures to be found, off-campus; you can easily explore the surrounding area, like St. Fagans, Castle Coch and the Brecon Beacons.

Alternatively, if you miss being a breadwinner, there are plenty of flexible jobs across the city, such as bar work, promo work and opportunities in retail. Student services can help you find such opportunities to fit around your studies and they also provide fantastic workshops on how to write CV’s and how to prepare for job interviews. In summary, whichever type you think you are, it is still possible to have a little bit of what you fancy while you study at university, I promise!