Friday, 2 December 2016

Not what I expected

In our third throwback post, ex-blogger and Modern History and Politics graduate Tayler Groom shares the unexpected challenges and adventures she's faced and experienced since graduating in 2014. 

It seems crazy to me that only two years has passed since I left Southampton - it feels like much longer! I can't say I'm doing what I thought I would be, two years on.

However, the older I get, the more I realise that when it comes to expectation and reality, the two rarely match up.

After graduation, I moved to London, where I spent a few months volunteering for different charities, before heading off to Nepal for six months with the International Citizen Service programme.

During that time, I led a team of 22 volunteers - half from the UK and half from Nepal - as they worked in communities in raising awareness of issues surrounding women's health, basic sanitation, mental health, climate change and waste management.

Me (centre) with some of our team outside our office in Lamjung, Nepal.

With Juliana & Krishna, two of my Nepali colleagues.

The experience was not without its challenges, and not necessarily for the reasons you'd expect. But it proved valuable to me personally as it made me realise I didn't have to travel to the other side of the world in order to have a positive impact through my work.

I came back to London to my current job, as Communications & PR Officer for Groundwork London. Groundwork specialises in environmental and social regeneration, working in some of the most deprived areas of the city to improve people's prospects, create better places and encourage greener living and working.

I get to work all over the city, on lots of different projects, so it's never boring (although it can get a little hectic working on three or four different sites in the same day!).

Just a few of the projects I’ve loved working on – a tree office in Hoxton Square, a visit from a Japanese television crew to one of our largest community gardens, and Silver Linings, which tackles social isolation in the over 50s. I’ve even ended up in the paper myself!

It's been a fantastic first 'real' job - I've learnt a lot about the role itself, and about what I want to do with the next few years of my life.

 It's also given me the flexibility to pursue projects outside of work, including One Small Something - a campaign I recently launched with some friends and colleagues to collect supplies and donations to take over to the Calais refugee camp.

I've also set my own business, making and selling gin sorbets. It's very new - we did our first couple of events last summer, and are in the process of lining up lots of things for summer 2017, so watch this space!

 My first few adventures with Sloshed – hopefully the first of many!

So, for the time being, I'm just taking lots of opportunities and seeing where life takes me. I'm not entirely sure where I'll be in five years’ time (nor do most people, as far as I'm aware!) but I've started to realise that that's okay.


Monday, 28 November 2016

Christmas on campus: Christmas Lights Switch On 2016

So, the days are getting shorter, temperatures are plummeting and that can only mean that Christmas is on its way!

Last week the University held its annual Christmas Lights Switch On, which is always the traditional curtain-raiser to the festive period. It’s the third one I’ve been to whilst at Southampton and even though we’re not quite done for the semester, it never fails to provide us with some much-needed Christmas cheer.

The event attracts masses of students, staff and local residents alike and has been running for about five years now. I remember back in my first year how excited I was, seeing the University community come together to see the Christmas lights being switched on, usually a month before the big day itself.

Last week no disappointment either. The Switch On always takes place on the Redbrick area which is the main hub of our campus on Highfield. The festive atmosphere is enhanced by Christmas carols and an excitable snow machine, plus the campus is a hive of activity with individual huts set up like a proper Christmas market, with societies promoting themselves or simply selling food to raise money for their respective societies.

The brass band helping to warm up the crowds

If that weren’t enough, you’ve also got a host of vans selling an array of quintessential fairground food that you just can’t do without, ranging from doughnuts to candy floss and much, much more. My family more than anyone else know that I just wouldn’t be able to turn down the opportunity to get fresh doughnuts, so I had to take my chance!

Of course, the pinnacle of the evening was the actual switching on of the lights at 6pm, when the button was pressed by Capital Radio’s South Coast presenters, Emma (an alumnus of the University!) and Tom, and suddenly, Highfield Campus was glowing resplendently in blue, draped across the trees.

 Moments before the Switch On!

The illuminations on campus

There’s just something about the lights which makes Highfield Campus look somewhat magical at night, though that’s not to say it doesn’t look great during the rest of the year!

For me, the run-up to Christmas is now well underway and is a period that I look forward to almost as much as the day itself, with all that expectancy.

Furthermore, last week’s event has made me all the more determined to get over to Winchester’s Christmas market in the coming weeks, especially given how renowned it is across the country. You can easily get over there by train or by bus if you can’t find anyone to drive you, plus the tickets for both options are surprisingly cheap. With an ice rink, mulled wine and cider as well as an array of international gastronomic treats, what’s not to love about a good old Christmas market?

 A Christmas event wouldn't be complete without a Christmas tree!

For anyone who didn’t get to see it the first time, you can still get to see the illuminations right up until the start of January. So don’t miss out on getting yourself into the festive spirit on campus!


Friday, 25 November 2016

Organisation 101

Getting organised for semester one exams may seem years in the future. Some might even have a problem with thinking about the possibility of an assignment next week.

However, I myself am an avid organiser, and in the run up to exam period, and in the midst of assignments, I wanted to share my top tips with you.

1. Break up your tasks into sizeable chunks

Don’t just write ‘study’ on your to-do list. If you made a plan of all your modules and the topics within them, you can then work towards making a study schedule in the lead up to the exam. I like to vary my days and have options of study in case I get stuck or get bored of the current thing I’m studying!

I like to get a year planner where I can write different topics each day (and use colours!) and then I can easily see my plan for the say, so I don’t waste time watching cat videos on YouTube.

2. Get a planner.

One of my favourites is the Palgrave Student Planner, which you can find in John Smiths Bookshop
on Highfield Campus. Alternatively, using iCal on Apple products or Google calendar where you can colour different subjects makes it easy to plan for deadlines and assignments.

I also really like the app ‘ToDoist’ which has a really beautiful interface, the option to add subjects and projects, deadlines and reminders etc., and you get points for completing tasks!

3. Write to-do lists.

I have a big obsession with writing lists; lists for everything from shopping, to assignments to do, for sections of the assignment I’m working on, sections of the sections… My best recommendation is to get a desk planner, or some kind of pad which you can scribble on. That way you can get all of your thoughts out of your head and onto paper.

This helps me to not feel swamped with thoughts, and then I won’t constantly feel like I’ve forgotten something (great success!)

4. Stay motivated and on track with work.

Make your study space work for you. Keep it clean and make sure all the supplies you need are within reach or won’t require much effort to get to.

I like to use Momentum, it's an add-on for Chrome which opens every time you open a new tab. It has a to-do list to remind you what needs doing, tells you the weather if you haven’t been outside in weeks, and also has a daily motivational message!

Remember, take breaks, get lots of sleep, have snacks on your workspace, and drink lots of water. You can do it!


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Jailbreak 2016

“36 hours. The sky’s the limit. Where will you end up?”

From Saturday 19th to Sunday 20th, I participated in Jailbreak 2016 with my best friend Claudia Pellegrino.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this unique and incredible event, Jailbreak is a charity hitchhike organised by The Union’s RAG (Raise and Give) team, whereby students endeavour to travel as far away from the University WITH NO MONEY in 36 hours!

Not only did this sound extremely thrilling, but it was in aid of three fantastic charities:

Action Against Hunger: providing life-saving care for malnourished children.

Alzheimer’s Society: A leading charity in the fight against Dementia - a brain disorder affecting over 850,000 people in the UK alone!

Group 170: a local Southampton-based family group from HCPT The Pilgrimage Trust who take takes disabled, sick and disadvantaged children on holidays.

Before the trip

The aim for each participant was to raise £50 through their JustGiving page. We absolutely smashed this target with a total of £223 before the big event! Between all 27 teams this year, we managed to fundraise over £5,000.

We wanted a themed hitchhike and decided we would dress up as Pocahontas and Little Red Riding Hood and call our team name Escape from Fairyland!

Signs made, Pocahontas and Little Red Riding Hood ready to go!

We had also rang and emailed around various airlines/ferry companies and secured two FREE return tickets from Portsmouth to Caen.


At 9am, the horn was blown and 27 teams sprinted off in different directions. We headed straight to Bassett Green where we spent an hour hitchhiking in the freezing cold in hope of a lift to Portsmouth. Although we were extremely unlucky, we bagged a ride to the City Centre with none other than an ex-Southampton Jailbreaker!

From there, we wandered around West Quay and Marlands doing bucket collections and raised enough money to fund a cheap bus to Portsmouth to catch our ferry!

At the ferry terminal we came across other Jailbreak teams and had a group photo together, before embarking on our 6-hour ferry ride to Caen! Despite the length of the ferry ride, we had a fantastic time enjoying coffee, chocolate and making friends with other passengers - we were even offered a ride to Croatia!

Having a romantic Titanic moment on the ferry!

We were extremely tired (and hungover in my case) by the time the ferry arrived at Caen. Fortunately, my friend picked us up and drove us 2 hours to stay at another friend’s house in Rouen.

It was a very surreal experience going back to the town where I had spent my semester abroad and I was over the moon to meet some of my friends again!


We had received free bus tickets from Flixbus from Quai du Havre, Rouen to Charles de Gaulle airport. Having awoken at 6am to catch our bus, we were extremely disheartened the bus did not show up. However, we met a lovely Algerian man who let us wait in his car until 10am with his friends - at which point it became apparent that no bus was coming.

Top Tip: Always keep snacks. Never trust French transport on Sundays.

Fortunately, his friend was leaving for Charles de Gaulle airport with his wife and they kindly offered us a lift! Unfortunately, it took over an hour longer than planned (due to some directional issues) and we were dropped off rather far from the airport and having to walk down an A road for a while until we hitchhiked another lift.

At the airport we spent hours asking airlines for free/discounted flights but were unlucky so we decided to catch a 4-hour train back to Caen.

Highlight of the trip: Arriving late and desperate to avoid sleeping at the Caen ferry terminal, we thought we might as well try our luck for a cheap hotel room...and managed to get a free hotel room and complimentary breakfast!

A delightful assortment of pain de mie, hot drinks, yoghurts and condiments!


Our last day of Jailbreak kickstarted with yet another missing bus. This seemed to be a common morning theme for us! After waiting for half an hour, we decided to bite the bullet and pay for an overpriced cab to get to the ferry terminal in time. We met another team at the terminal and headed back to Portsmouth.

Appropriate ferry cafe name!

Having returned to English soil, my friend came to pick us up and drop us home- special shout out to Sam for being stuck in traffic for 90 minutes on the way to pick us up!

And so concludes my Jailbreak experience! It was a very surreal, unique experience and honestly, one of the best weekends of my life!

It was also a fantastic opportunity to put my degree into practice and speak french throughout the weekend.

A massive thank you to everyone who helped us (tried to help us) along the way and to my amazing friend Claudia for putting up with me all weekend!

I hope this has more than convinced you to take part in Jailbreak 2017!


Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Christmas gift tips for students

Despite all the stress associated with buying Christmas gifts, it is amusing how the whole process of sorting Christmas gifts out always creeps up on us...and then you are sat there in the middle of December buying socks for your dad because you gave up on finding something else.

As a student it can be especially hard planning gifts - so here are some tips for the festive period which we are now entering.

Obviously you need some sort of budget and plan for how many people you are actually buying a present for. Lists are glorious to have and prove to be life savers every year.

Then it comes to actually deciding what to get everyone…


This is a gift idea that will suit every budget and will be appropriate for everyone from grandparents,  and parents to partners and best friends. The more pricey examples would be to get concert tickets, a little weekend trip or similar. The more budget friendly way could be a day out, dinner, museum tickets or cinema tickets. If you are a student and don’t have the chance to see someone as much anymore, this is a great, meaningful gift.

For Christmas I got a hotel night in London with my best friend for when she was coming over to Southampton to see me and we had the best time. It was the perfect gift because we are so far apart and only see each other a few times every year.

Homemade things! 

No, I’m not taking about the drawing you made in school that you gave your mum and dad for Christmas 10 years ago (although I’m sure parents still love to receive these types of gifts).

This could be an album, a framed photo or a homemade cup. It could also be several small gifts. The nicest thing is obviously the thought and time that goes into making something for someone, which I’m sure is a winner with grandparents and parents.

I’d love to show a picture of my masterpiece of a coffee mug I made my mum for Christmas 15 years ago in school; she still loves it so much, but it is unfortunately in Norway.


You might think this is a gift more suited towards females, but this is a gift I dare to say will go down well with everyone – because everyone needs a bit of pampering sometimes, right? A gift card for a massage or manicure, makeup, skincare or simply a new fancy shaving set for your boyfriend, brother or dad. I can’t see anyone not being happy with any of these and this is a great way of giving something most people don’t always take time out or allow themselves to do.

Magazine subscription, books or something similar! 

A year's subscription of someone’s favourite magazine or a gift card for iTunes, Spotify or similar are definitely winners regardless who the gift is for.

I hope this guide is helpful when planning for Christmas gifts and remember, f nothing seems tempting, you can never have too many white t-shirts or socks!


Monday, 21 November 2016

Careers season 101

I don’t know about you, but this month I have been bombarded with career information! From emails about fairs to department-specific guest lectures, I have never felt so pressed to consider my place in the real world.

Consequently, I decided I would share some of the useful employability-related events I have recently attended, hosted by the Careers and Employability team at the University - and encourage that you consider these if you have not done so already!

Guest Speakers

I frequently receive emails from my faculty about upcoming guest lectures but I rarely attend - not because they aren’t interesting but purely because I can never seem to squeeze them in alongside my other extra-curricular activities and contact hours.

However, I would highly recommend you going to specific career-related talks that your faculty arrange, whatever year you’re currently in! Two weeks ago I decided to attend a talk about joining the civil service. I walked in the room thinking civil servants are basically all James Bond and left deciding that is the career I am determined to pursue! Now I am currently in the midst of applying for their Summer Diversity Internship Scheme to gain a taster of what it would be like to work for the government.

CV Drop In

I had heard about this service since first year and kept intending to update and print my CV to bring into the Careers Service, but never got round to it. In fact, I did finally get round to it after I had submitted my Masters applications (not the best idea in hindsight). The drop-in service appointment lasted 10 minutes and was enough to skim over and discuss my CV. As a follow up from the CV drop in, I booked into a 30-minute career meeting to discuss my future plans in further depth.

Top Tip: Take advantage of this service before you submit any university, placement or job applications!

Careers Appointment

Heads Up: The Careers team are extremely busy so it can take up to two weeks to get a slot! However, it is definitely worth the wait as it is reassuring to discuss future plans with a professional who is very helpful at providing information and guiding you in the career path you wish to pursue.

Business Fair

With over 95 exhibitors, this is one of the most popular events in the careers calendar.

Top Tip: Always check the event page on Facebook nearer to the event date as there is likely to be a link to purchase tickets/book spaces by then!

Having booked in advance, I attended the fair with a close friend of mine. Given that she is interested in law and accountancy whilst I am interested in international development, there were only few companies that were of mutual interest to us! Nevertheless, this turned out to be advantageous to us given that both of us chatted with companies we would have never considered otherwise.

Another Top Tip: Look up the list of employers attending the fair in advance so that you have time to prepare questions for any organisations you are keen for!

Opportunities Fair

This event was extremely different to the Business Fair – it was much smaller in size and had a real focus on what the University of Southampton itself provides. Nevertheless, it was a great opportunity to learn more about schemes such as the Excel Placement Programme and Business Innovation Programme and chat to the staff as well as previous participants.

To conclude this post, can we just take a moment to appreciate the Careers and Employability team? Outside of university, these kinds of opportunities would only be available for a substantial fee.

We really are fortunate to have such a great service here at the University and it would be a shame if students did not make the most of it.


Thursday, 17 November 2016

Part 3: After my Year Abroad

After completing my Year Abroad in France way back in June, the first thing I knew I wanted to do was revive some of the Erasmus culture when I came back to Southampton - by joining the Erasmus Society! It’s proved to be a great decision so far.

At the Erasmus introductory white T-shirt party

I’m one of this year’s buddy coordinators for the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) at Southampton, along with my excellent fellow coordinators, Désirée and Jodie. Essentially, the three of us have the difficult task of matching up the best part of 400 students, so that international and UK students can get to meet one another and practise speaking whichever language/s they want.

The word ‘difficult’ is quite probably the understatement of the century here, as our decisions are bound to make some people delighted whilst others will feel more disappointed.

Back in early October, we sent out a quick survey asking people about their interests and subjects as well as the preferred nationality of their potential ‘buddies’. The response was incredible; much better than we had ever imagined, so our job was even more challenging!

There are 18 of us on the committee, which is one of the largest contingents at the University. So far this year, we’ve promoted ourselves at the Bunfight, set up trips to Oxford and Bath Christmas markets and organised introductory and Halloween parties. As we’re in charge of the buddy scheme, we create meet ups but the initiative is very much down to the amount of effort the buddies put in.

 My committee polo t-shirt!

Now more than ever, I realise just how important and rewarding such a scheme is, especially having just returned from a year abroad myself. At the start, it can be extremely daunting as you never know whether you’ll like the country, be able to make friends and manage the dreaded language barrier.

The buddy scheme is so relevant in establishing a bond between home and international students, rather than allowing cliques to grow, and showing that everyone who studies and works here is a valued part of our community. I think this is very important, especially with recent political events (Brexit being one of many!).

For all the Modern Languages students at Southampton learning French, Spanish, German - you name it - there will be just as many Erasmus and international students looking to improve their English with a native speaker. Another really great thing about it is that it’s not exclusively for language students – anyone can join in!

One of the Language Exchange events at the Bridge

We’re equally fortunate to have a multitude of language events where people can chill out and chat with people of all nationalities from diverse backgrounds, even if it’s just down the pub or on campus. After all, people often say they speak a language more fluently after a drink or two!

Nowadays, there’s a Language Exchange every Tuesday evening at Bridge on campus which always has a warm, friendly atmosphere, plus the French Society, Spanish and Portuguese Society (SLAPS) and German Society all run weekly cafés in nearby Portswood.

There really is no shortage of language opportunities here at Southampton!