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Electoral Difficulties of a Different Kind

8 Mar

 

“Imagine living in a country where elections are held every few months because elected representatives keep resigning en masse. Imagine an electorate which purposely elects imbeciles to government. Imagine a country which cannot be effectively governed because of an obstructive deadlock in the legislature. Would you believe that these were regular occurrences in Malta around 110 years ago?”

This is the introduction of an article I wrote for insiteronline.com. It goes into the political situation in Malta of around a century ago – and why we might perhaps should be grateful for the situation nowadays, even if we’re lying in a pile of leaflets, SMSes and emails from PN and PL, and our heads ache after countless weeks of political debates and campaigns.

I’m trying to put my Master’s into good use! I hope you enjoy it. Read it here.

New beginnings, festival songs, and the awesomeness of Grenouille.

19 Oct

Would you believe that this was my fifth time writing a beginning-of-the-academic-year article for The Insiter? Madness, I know. I have become a bit of a nanna in the Insiteworld and, along with this long Insite career, I have also accumulated quite a few years as a university student, whether that’s in Malta, Iceland, or the United Kingdom (as I’m sure you’ve realised if you’ve been a reader for a few months or so). This might indicate that I am slightly wiser than many University of Malta students, but do not be fooled: I still struggle with speaking in front of a large group of students during lectures and seminars, and my tenuous relationship with deadlines continues. However, my long years as a student have certainly endowed me with an enhanced understanding of what really matters while receiving a tertiary education, and this is summarised quite succinctly in the Thought of the Month below. Firstly though, I share my top books and songs of the summer.

Books of the Month

I spent most of the last few weeks diligently thrashing out 20,000 words for my Master’s dissertation, so most of the books I was obsessed with had painfully boring titles such as In Defence of Naval Supremacy and The British Seaborne Empire. However, I discovered a couple of true gems earlier this summer, which I believe are Must Reads.

Firstly, there’s The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, which won this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction. It is a beautifully-written novel set in Ancient Greece, echoing Homer’s Iliad. Don’t let this put you off: the story is steeped in emotion and excitement, and you will not be able to put it down. The main focus of the book is on the budding relationship between Patroclus and Achilles; it is probably the most genuine love story I have ever read.

The second book which really caught my attention was Perfume by Patrick Süskind. This novel blew me away with its captivating exploration of the sense of smell. It is described as ‘the story of a murderer’, but the bulk of the book does not deal with murder at all. The story traces the life of Grenouille, a curious man with an unmatched sense of smell, who discovers a scent purer than anything he had ever come across before. From start to finish, this book is a masterpiece, and I cannot imagine how much richer it must be in German (the original language of publication).

Music of the Month

Having lived in England for the entire “summer” (it’s not really summer: it rained a lot and I wore scarves on most days), I really felt the fun vibes of the Olympics, Paralympics, and some pretty wonderful festivals, even if I did not attend any this year. Therefore, my stand-out songs for this month are: I Will Wait (Mumford & Sons), Times Like These (Foo Fighters), and To Kingdom Come (Passion Pit).

Thought of the Month

The beginning of a new academic year (especially if you are a fresher) is always the perfect time for new habits and activities. Organise all you need for every study-unit and their respective assessments (with red marks on your calendar for assignment deadlines or exam dates), and start reading up on every subject by the end of October.

Equally as important: get involved in extra-curricular university life, whether that means campaigning for the LGBT Society, writing a couple of articles for insiteronline.com, or whipping your hair back and forth at an SDM party. So make sure to get out there, and make your life interesting!

(This article originally appeared in the first edition of The Insiter, Vol. 13.)

5 Exam-time Survival Tips

11 May

The joy of doing a Master’s degree like mine is that exams (that is, traditional, written ones) are pretty much non-existent. Instead, my days are filled with worrying about assignments, presentations, and (I shudder at the mere thought) my final dissertation.

However, luckily for you, dear reader, is that this is the only year since I was three in which I haven’t had to sit for regular written examinations. All those exams add up, and that makes me quite well-versed in the art of scary exams, particularly those at university level. In addition, after year upon year of taking exams every few months, I have compiled a respectable list of ways in which to bear each unsettling season of stress and cramming.

The following are a few of my very best tips for surviving revision and exam time.

YOUR IDEAL ENVIRONMENT

Create a designated study space, and treat it as such. So when you’re working, you’re sitting in your spot, dutifully studying and absorbing knowledge. When you’re not studying, make sure to get away from your study space, even at mealtimes. This clear distinction will help you associate that space with proper focus and productive studying. It also means that you can eat your lunch in prettier locations, such as by the sea or on a park bench.

Alternatively, ignore what I just said about staying in your study spot exclusively while you’re working, and change location regularly. You probably will not have time for relaxed days out when you’re in study-mode, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot incorporate your studying with being outdoors or in a favourite place. I did some of my most productive studying last year while at the Għanafest, and while that can be very distracting for some people, I revelled in the different environment (as well as nibbling on a fresh maqrut every now and then).

FUEL YOURSELF

Study snacks! These are imperative. Try to stick to healthier options, but feel free to indulge in a little of your favourite guilty pleasure. I made sure to stock up on lots of a certain hazelnut spread during last year’s June exams…

PLAN POST-EXAM FUN

Use your breaks to plan what you’re going to do once exams are over. Maybe it’s a trip to a music festival abroad, a weekend of camping, or even just the obligatory celebratory swim right after your last exam. Ice-cold alcoholic beverages: optional.

ALL NIGHTERS ARE A BAD IDEA!

There should be absolutely no all-nighters when it comes to exams. Please. Don’t do it. They will mess up your whole week, and you will just kick yourself afterwards. I have tried and tested this a few times, and even if I managed to squeeze some more information into my brain thanks to those extra few hours, I always find myself napping on the paper halfway through the exam and getting an atrocious mark.

EFFECTIVE STUDY METHODS

Try out as many study methods as you can, and find the right one for you. My favourites are condensing my notes as much as possible (and then reading and re-reading these short summaries), and explaining the topics to another person (ideally a classmate, because then you would also be helping out the other person! Win-win).

Also, search online for ‘focus guaranteed’ playlists. You’ll find a selection of never-ending soundtracks which will seamlessly accompany your studying and help you to concentrate on the task at hand.

Most importantly: remember that as a student, it’s your job to learn, as well as an opportunity, so approach studying and revising with as happy a mind-set as you can. There may be a few exams here and there that will feel like complete time-wasters, but on the whole, there is always something new that you will find worth extracting from each subject. It can get very tough and stressful, but get organised ASAP, and try and have fun absorbing all that delicious new knowledge. Best of luck!

(This article originally appeared on www.insiteronline.com on 26 April 2012.)

Gift ideas (and Christmas glee)

24 Dec

It’s that time of year again. Shops are bursting with red and green goodies, food seems to have that extra spice (usually cinnamon), and the air starts to get noticeably colder. Christmastime isn’t only about holidays, food and presents though, it also marks the nearing to the end of the year, and that certainly causes everyone to dwell upon the previous twelve months that have just flown by. A little self-reflection always comes highly recommended, and this year it’s an even more exciting time for me since I’m spending most of Christmastime in the United Kingdom.

Since arriving in September, all the stationery shops here have had massive Christmas card sections, so for me it seems like Christmastime has long been kicked off. What’s more, it’s undoubtedly colder here in Durham than it is in Malta, and that’s put me in an even cosier Christmas mood. Even as I’m writing this article, I’m getting even more delighted that Christmas is so near. Here lights have been lit in all the streets, a little Santa house has been erected on one of the shopping streets, and restaurants all have ‘Christmas bookings being taken’ signs. Supermarkets are completely heaving with Christmas goodies: mince pies, Christmas cake, decorations, and all the baubles and twinkly lights I could have ever dreamed of. I recently went on a road trip down south, and when I popped into Oxford I couldn’t resist purchasing a pack of absolutely beautiful Christmas cards adorned with luscious cloth-bound Christmas books on their fronts.

Even though it’s ever so atmospheric here, I cannot wait to get home to Malta for Christmas, and be with my friends and family (and cat!). I also cannot wait to see the look on everyone’s face as I hand over their presents, because for me, a big part of this season is picking out the perfect gifts for all the special people in my life. Here are a few ideas that might help with your Christmas lists.

  • Stationery – yes, I’m a bit of a stationery junkie, but this sort of gift can be practical, pretty, and very thoughtful. A leather-bound diary for your father, a flowery pencil box for your younger sister, or a set of adorable notebooks for your best friend. Useful and beautiful at the same time.
  • Food – this is always a winner. Some nice wine, a huge box of delicious chocolates, cute jars full of candy… who doesn’t like receiving some yummy treats that they probably wouldn’t have bought for themselves? Do discretely check if they have any allergies or dietary preferences before you buy certain things though.
  • Subscriptions – I bought my best friend a monthly subscription for her favourite film-related glossy magazine last Christmas, and it proved to be quite a successful gift (that kept on giving!). Find out what the person’s hobbies and interests are and you’re bound to find something that suits them (such as National Geographic, Intelligent Life, Vogue, or The Economist).
  • Homemade goodies – gingerbread men, a patchwork blanket (if you’re really committed and patient), or handmade beauty products like bath salts or a lemon-and-sugar scrub. There are countless things you can make with just a little effort and a Google search.
  • And don’t forget: presentation is key! Don’t just plonk your gift in an old plastic bag. Put some thought in it. You don’t even have to spend any extra money. Recycle some old wrapping paper, or use newspapers and magazines. Tie it all up in some shiny ribbon, and stick a card along with the gift (with a meaningful message of goodwill and cheer).

Enjoy present shopping (or making), good luck with all the deadlines that have a habit of creeping up around this time, and have a very merry Christmas.

(This article originally appeared in the third edition of The Insiter, Vol. 12.)

How to thrive and survive while studying abroad (and a bit about underwater hockey and other weird/wonderful student societies)

8 Nov

A few days ago I popped over to the Durham University Freshers’ Fair (sort of like Freshers’ Week stands at UoM). The amount of flyers and freebies I received were more or less on par with those I have gotten in Malta, but the array of societies and associations that were on display completely blew my mind. It’s not just regular societies like ELSA or the student newspaper, but dynamic (and thriving) clubs for snowboarding, folk, lacrosse, freefalling, dodgeball, playing Assassins… I could go on for quite a while. There were also some really obscure ones like ethnographic film, croquet, hill walking, and a chocolate society.

Since there’s so much on offer, I’m looking forward to attend some yoga, pilates, and meditation sessions, as well as possibly dabbling in some theatre and writing in some student publications. This will all be apart from the giant challenge and commitment that is my Master’s, obviously. Ashamedly, I did join the Eurovision society, but being Maltese, I intuitively felt that it would be expected of me. Or maybe I just wanted to be a part of the madness.

My favourite society has to be the Durham University Happiness society, which sends daily emails bursting with positivity and, well, happiness! There are also college-specific societies here which add to a friendly community feeling, and ensure that there’s always something going on to get involved in.

My first few weeks in the UK have been very pleasant, and I’ve settled in rather well. Many Maltese students are venturing abroad for their studies or travels, and are bound to be faced with the need to immerse themselves in a new culture, even if it’s another European country where they drive on the “right” side of the road. Therefore the following are a few tips which I found particularly valuable over the last few weeks.

  • Attend all the “introductory” stuff – induction meetings, the first lecture of each module, freshers’/international students’ meetings… It’s where all the vital information will be laid out for you (and where you can ask any niggling questions).
  • Get your bearings ASAP – not just with regard to university buildings, but also check out where the cheapest, closest grocery store is located, find out if there are any shortcuts to make your commute shorter, and pinpoint your nearest bus stops (as well as their names). Take note of a couple of taxi numbers too.
  • Introduce yourself to as many people as possible. I’ve only been here for a couple of weeks, but it’s already the case that I can’t walk through the centre without meeting at least two people whom I’ve previously met and spoken to here. You’ll meet the most fascinating people, I promise. (For example, at an international students’ party I met a German guy who actively participates in underwater hockey.)
  • Check out the facilities that are available to you. Large, foreign universities may be able to offer more facilities than you’re used to at UoM. For example, I’m lucky enough to have a few glorious libraries with lots of study rooms and computer labs, and I’m currently writing this article in a dedicated postgraduate student study hall (with a secret access code, a kitchenette and everything!).
  • Embrace the differences between Malta and your new home. I’m currently coming to terms with the ridiculous weather (cold! rainy! cold-and-rainy!), the joys of grocery shopping, and the large amount of intelligent, international students I’m getting to meet.

Generally, just stay safe and take advantage of all the activities and facilities in your beautiful, new environment. Your life is about to change, forever, and it’s going to be (for the most part) utterly fantastic.

(This article originally appeared in the second edition of The Insiter, Vol. 12.)

New beginnings (and how to be a good ship)

13 Oct

What a whirlwind of a year. Whether you’ve just started university, or whether you’ve been at the University of Malta for quite some time, it’s bound to be true that the past year has been full of challenges, testing situations, and the odd moments of euphoric glee. That’s certainly accurate in my case.

After four years in the law course, I decided to take a gap year to follow my heart. This involved upping and leaving the country to move to Durham, in the United Kingdom, where I’m currently reading for an MA in Modern History. Quite a turnaround, I know.

Upon taking this huge decision, I felt a certain reinvigoration which had been lacking in the previous four years. I finally stopped feeling tied down and uninspired, and instead could truly enjoy my studies and projects. I felt my priorities shifting, and as the months passed, I could feel my future opening up before me, with all its uncertainty, newness and scariness. It sounds cliché, but I felt alive.

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon this quotation by a fascinating lady called Grace Murray Hopper: “A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are made for.”

Forcing ourselves to get out of our comfort zones is what shapes us as human beings and it’s what living is really all about. You don’t necessarily have to be drastic, but you can implement little changes to your lifestyle and mindset which will create a cacophony of colour and change the way you look at things forever. Simply strive to push the boundaries of your everyday routine and mix things up; whether it’s in the way you dress, where you go, or how you deal with things.

It’s going to be an exhilarating year, and I can’t wait to share the best bits with you, the lovely readers of The Insiter. Hold on tightly, it’s going to be a bit of a bumpy ride. But for now, a few tips for the uninitiated at the UoM, which might even prove to be useful for the more seasoned student:

  • Get enough of sleep and remember to eat breakfast so you can start your UoM career on the right foot. You’ll feel less overwhelmed if you’re rested and have some fuel in your belly.

  • Lists and plans are your friend. From your very first lecture, you’re going to be bombarded with information, so get yourself a little notebook or prepare a text file on your laptop to be able to take it all down as soon as possible. Also, if you’ve barely ever been on campus before, I highly recommend you carry a little campus map to make life easier.

  • Get involved. There is a pleasant abundance of student organisations at university, so you’re bound to find the perfect one for you, and if you don’t, set up your own.

  • Ask for help. Yes, it might be scary and nerve-wracking, but when you’re feeling lost or confused, ask for guidance from fellow classmates, lecturers, older students, the library staff, or even the lovely people at the Counselling Unit.

  • Tackle student stress from Day 1. Being a full-time student is not always a walk in the park. Work hard and play hard. Make sure you eat healthily, get yourself organised, find time for exercise and at least one extra-curricular activity, and jot down a few goals and aims to give you perspective throughout the year.

With the right frame of mind, it’s easy to have a great year. I’m sure there will be quite a few difficult moments along the way, but they’ll pass, making way for happier times. I’m definitely excited. Let’s do this!

(This article originally appeared in the first edition of The Insiter, Vol. 12.)

Tips for surviving the woeful activity of assignment-ing

18 May

It’s that time of the semester again, when you receive a barrage of emails from your faculty with big, bright assignment titles for you to diligently attend to. I am not a fan of writing assignments at university, especially ones for my law course, and I am particularly not fond of group assignments.

Luckily, the one I was working on a couple of weeks ago was solely with my best friend, so that made the process much more bearable. Plus, the topic we dealt with was somewhat within my own academic interests. It was a Wednesday, and at what felt like the break of dawn, I was off to meet my friend and assignment-partner at the library. We ended up ditching the (way too busy) library, and settled in a cafeteria. The research we had done separately paid off, because we soon had a semi-structured plan of our assignment. We split the work, thanked God for the blessing that is Google Docs, and will soon be combining our efforts and finalising the actual finished product.

A few days ago I had another essay to write, by myself this time, and the deadline was pretty tight. Attempts at completing this 2000-word essay in one go failed miserably, and it took me 6 whole days to painfully cough up the words. The (minimal) research I had done wasn’t very helpful or inspiring, and merely quoting legal provisions was making me second-guess every point I was making. I managed to sort out my shoddy piece of work on the final day by rehashing the entire thing and following a few of these tips:

  1. Start early. This doesn’t mean you need to have your essay done a month in advance. Simply do a bit of research, go over relevant lecture notes, and maybe thumb through a book or two. Ideally, this is to be done within a day or two after receiving the assignment title.
  1. Formulate a plan. There are many approaches you can take when writing assignments, but one obligatory step is having some sort of structured outline. Type or write out a list of points and fiddle with the order they’ll be in and approximately how many words you’ll devote to each one. With a list addict like myself, this is no problem at all, and I can whip up a plan for anything in no time. However, even if you’re not very accustomed to making lists, simply put down a few rough ideas and start from there.
  1. Have a strong introduction and conclusion, with clearly defined points in between. The introductory and concluding paragraphs of your work are incredibly important. The introduction should clearly convey the focus of the essay as well as explain key concepts, and the conclusion is there to confidently put forward all that you’ve evaluated and to tie up the main arguments. Naturally, the substantial part of the assignment has to be top-notch too. Stick to a structure, give examples, and make use of linking sentences.
  1. Have a thesis which you’re confident about. Be able to sum up your main argument in a sentence or two. Ensure that this can be backed up with as many sources as you can gather.
  1. The final touches can “make or break” an assignment. Proofread your work thoroughly; maybe by asking someone else to look over it. Look for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and that all footnotes and references are as they should be. Make sure the format of your assignment allows for a well-presented, legible piece of work. Maybe slip your assignment in a sleek folder. Double check any forms your faculty might require you to place at the front of your assignment, and create a cover page clearly indicating your name, ID, course, assignment title and study-unit code.

With a touch of motivation and a good mindset, assignments can be finished relatively painlessly and efficiently. Just don’t let their deadlines creep up on you or you’ll inevitably end up with low grades and ridiculous amounts of stress. Otherwise, you’re geared up to present a stellar assignment. Also, never forget a fundamental part of the assignment-writing process: rewarding yourself with a cookie (or its equivalent) when it’s finally done. You deserve it. Good luck.

(This article originally appeared (in a slightly shortened version) in the sixth edition of The Insiter, Vol. 11.)