Culture and Languages · Film and Television · History

Learning French… And Learning History 

Being mixed race, and having spent the largest part of my childhood living abroad as an expatriate, I have always regarded it as a great shame that English is the only language that I can speak. Yes, I can largely understand my mum’s language when she speaks it with my grandma, but I cannot speak it confidently. So, this summer, one of my aims is to improve my language skills. Having a French GCSE, French seemed to be the most accessible language to start with this summer, although I would like to gradually expand my list of languages over the years.

There are many positive testimonies to using television programmes and films to learn new languages and this is the approach that I am taking. Following a quick Google search, I became aware of a programme called Extra – a sitcom that is designed to teach students either French, German, Spanish or English. However, after watching four episodes of Extra, I concluded that I was not getting much from this show, as the level of French was appropriate to complete beginners, which I am not. And thank goodness I’m not – that would be a bit embarrassing after eight years of French lessons at school!

Deciding to move on from Extra, I noticed a French television show called Un Village Français. The description sounded amazing: a programme set in a Nazi occupied village of Frace, that promised to appeal to those with an interest in History. The French was described as being of an “intermediate” level and so I decided to give it a go.

Would this be the programme that propelled me straight to fluent French speaker standard? 

Possibly not. If there were no subtitles, I probably wouldn’t even be able to identify which words were the characters names.

However… I am not giving up on the belief that my French is improving, as I become increasingly exposed to the language and to the accent. Moreover, I have become almost immediately engrossed in the show itself. I have just finished Season One and cannot wait to begin Season Two. Each season, with the exception of the first two, follows one year of Nazi occupation, beginning with the Nazis’ arrival in the first episode. It addresses the impact of Nazi rule on civilian life in France and seeks to eradicate the common portrayal of “good” characters and “bad” characters, by blurring the lines between the two, as a result of the strain of the war.

By the end of the first episode of Un Village Français, I must admit that I found myself in tears. Whilst my mum has commented that this is more of a reflection on me than the show – and I’m not entirely disagreeing! – something must be said for a programme that has the capacity to create such emotional investment within just forty short minutes. So, whilst I can’t vouch for the show resulting in any improvement in my French, I can certainly say that I have found an incredibly captivating new show to binge watch. C’est fantastique! 🇫🇷

Advertisements
Culture and Languages · Experiences · Health and Food

Ramadan Reflections ☪

Provided that I have successfully figured out how to schedule blog posts and this publishes when I hope that it will, we will have just come to the end of the month of Ramadan. Unlike last year, when I was unfortunately unable to fast, this year I have been absolutely determined to do so. Thus, this Eid has approached with renewed importance, as it marks the end of the challenging, yet enormously rewarding, month.

So… my reflections as of Wednesday 21st June, aka the 26th fast, at 2:11 pm:

Hunger: The obvious starting point when it comes to everything to do with fasting. Well, I would love say that the hunger has decreased and that fasting has become second nature, but it wouldn’t be true. I have just calculated that there are seven hours (and eleven minutes) to go until iftar and, honestly, I’m instantly regretting have worked that out, because that is a LOT of time. Unlike in Bahrain, when fasts would finish at about 6pm, or in winter here, where I assume it is even earlier, during the long summer days sunset is not until well after 9pm. Hence, 16+ hour-long fasts and the fact that my stomach feels like it is going to implode!

Strength and perseverance: But, the amazing thing is that it won’t implode! Even on the longest day of the year (i.e. today… brilliant…) fasting is more than manageable. And, if it wasn’t, well then I would end my fast – just as I had to one day last week, due to a bad stomach ache.  Whilst it is important to push oneself, it is just as important to be sensible and know one’s own boundaries.  However, it is certainly nice to find out that your capacity is bigger than you think. As I was unable to fast last year, to say I was concerned about fasting this Ramadan would be an understatement. But here I am, almost at the end of the month, and I feel fine! Despite the undeniable hunger at the end of the day, half an hour into iftar this feeling is reduced to a distant memory. Thus, even when fasting has felt most difficult, being strong and persevering has never been in vain, and has only added to the sense of personal achievement.

Productivity and solitude: Admittedly, some days this month have been characterised by pure sluggishness, particularly in the hot weather. On the whole though, this month has been an opportunity to take time to do things that often get overlooked. For example, I have finished reading three books this month – The Bell Jar, Heart of Darkness and Sumitra’s Story – something that I have simply not been able to find the time to do during the busy academic year. However, almost on the opposite end of productivity and achieving things are those equally important moments of calm. Indeed, Ramadan has provided many such moments (particularly due to my whole family’s new tendency to nap of an afternoon). Without the constant buzz of the television or headphones in my ears, silence*, stillness and solitude has provided a welcome change from the chaos of day-to-day life. *Just a shame about next door’s building work really… win some lose some.

Challenge and achievement: Certainly, this has been a challenging month. More so than the absence of food, going hours without water during the hottest and longest days of the year has been particularly testing. However, for me personally, the biggest challenge that this month has brought is that of not knowing how to fill my time. Indeed, as well as not eating and drinking, I have also refrained from watching tv and listening to music during the daylight hours. As for socialising, even for things that I technically ‘could’ do, when you haven’t eaten for ten hours already, you don’t really want to do much more than lie on the sofa. But, this challenge has been important, as it has forced me to find other ways to fill my time; and it has also made me evaluate how much I tend to eat just for something to do, rather than out of actual hunger! Over all however, fasting this month – both of food and entertainment – has been a great personal achievement, and an undoubtedly rewarding experience.

Experiences · University

Saying Goodbye to First Year

Here we are, at the end of my first year of university. My last exam was almost a whole month ago and I have since been home, to York and Durham to visit school friends and back to uni for my end of year ball (see photos!), to pack my stuff and say goodbye to halls and to First Year. Hence, prepare for what could quite possibly be a pretty long post!

Reflections on the year as a whole: Undoubtedly, moving to university was one of the biggest changes of my life to date. Leaving behind my family and all my friends, I relocated to an unknown city approximately 120 miles away from my home. As I was not writing this blog at that point, I have no written account of the first few days, week and months of my university experience, but even if I had, I’m not sure that I would have been able to have summarised it. I think most Freshers would be in agreement that those first few days and weeks were nerve-wracking, scary and unfamiliar. I was lucky to have several people from my school, including one of my good friends, attending the same university as me, so I was not completely without people I knew but, nonetheless, in halls and in lectures, I was forced to reach out of my comfort zone and make all new friends. And I am very glad that I did, because I have made some amazing friends this year! To say that the whole experience was epitomised by nerves and fear would be completely inaccurate – thank goodness! On a different note, those first few days were incredibly exciting: I was lucky to get on well with my flat and to make close friends in my course quickly; there was certainly excitement in new-found independence; and in many respects, living in halls proved to be an amazing experience and one that stopped feeling unfamiliar surprisingly quickly. We had a formal dinner on the second weekend of term and I remember us all commenting on how funny it was that we had only known each other two weeks, because it had felt much longer. Looking past those first weeks, for me the university experience got increasingly better throughout the year. As someone who much prefers familiar settings, whilst the first term seemed, at times, disconcertingly unsettled, by the second semester I felt at home. It was during the second term that I became much closer to all of my friends, both my flat and the others and it was during this term that I realised how much I loved my new city. Coming home now, I was much more sad to leave than I had been earlier in the year. Over all, First Year has been an amazing year. I have been lucky enough to meet and become close to many new people; I have visited new cities, such as Leeds, Durham and Swansea, and have had some fantastic weekends with uni and home friends alike in these cities; and I have been beyond lucky enough to go to uni only 12 miles from my best friend’s uni, which has certainly made my year all the more great. And, of course, I have learnt lots and lots of History!

On saying goodbye to halls: Unlike most things, halls is something that I will not be returning to after the summer, so is one of very few closed doors that First Year has concluded with. I doubt that many people can say that their experience in halls was not a large part of their experience of First Year, as they provided nothing less than our first home away from home. It was in my hall that I begun university life, when I was dropped off last September. And it was my room, at the corner of the top floor of F Block, that I returned to every evening and woke up in every morning. Being in a catered hall certainly made a large difference to my university experience. It brought much of my block, and certainly my flat, to become, to put it bluntly, instantly dependent on each other for someone to sit with at meals, and that inevitably brought us closer. I remember that on the first day of uni, my block sat outside on the quad together, in a sad excuse for a circle, and made a whatsapp group chat that somehow ended up including a couple of add ons from other blocks in that we were led to believe were in our block even though they were not! In a weird way, that group actually remained relatively intact. To think that I will not be living with anyone that I currently live with, as I am living out with people predominantly from my course next year, is a very weird thought. Nothing quite bonds you with a group of people like groggy eight a.m. breakfasts, even more horrendous four a.m. fire alarms with all twenty or so of us huddled together in our pyjamas, and slightly embarrassing weekends where one of the girls in my flat would come in to collect me to go to breakfast and I would still be asleep. (Oops, these are all related to my inability to wake up in the morning). Thankfully, all students live quite near each other next year so we will still see each other but, nonetheless, knowing that I will never return to my little room, or be able to barge into the rooms of any of my flatmates whenever I am bored, is a very weird thought!

On coming home for the summer: As I mentioned earlier, I was sad to leave university this term, more so than ever. But, I certainly cannot deny that I am happy to be home. Coming home from university is weird because, unlike school holidays, the friends that you have spent the whole year with are scattered across the country. However, two of my close friends from uni are coming to stay next month, which is exciting. In addition, one of my closest friends from my old school is coming to visit, which I cannot wait for! Above all however, it is so nice to be home with all my family and to be back with all my home friends. We all agreed that uni holidays were just not long enough to see everyone that you wanted to see properly, so it is amazing to have such a long stretch ahead to spend with everybody from home.

To finish, here are some photos (not my own) from The Founders’ Ball – an amazing way to end an amazing year…

Arts

“The Bell Jar hung, suspended a few feet above my head.”

“…I was open to the circulating air.”

On an appropriately dull and dreary day of early June, I turned off the reality tv show that I had been embarrassingly engrossed in all morning and finally settled down with my copy of The Bell Jar, a book that I have been intending to read for at least the last four years. Here are my thoughts on it, full of innumerable spoilers – so keep reading at your own discretion.

I must admit, for the first half of the book, my dominant emotion was the feeling of being spectacularly underwhelmed. Whilst I am certainly not denying that I was enjoying the book, I certainly struggled to understand how it gained such high praise. To me, the narrative of Esther’s summer in New York, the account of fancy dinners with the magazine editor and of her exciting friend and the predictable entourage of boys that followed suit seemed just that: predictable. For me, the premise of The Bell Jar was no more captivating than many other American novels and seemed almost generic in style; remnant of both those regarded as classics, such as Breakfast of Tiffany’s and, likewise, not too dissimilar to Gossip Girl and other modern works, which are certainly not renowned for their literary brilliance. To be frank, the much quoted “I was supposed to be having the time of my life” summed up how I felt towards the first half of The Bell Jar quite nicely.

That said, the second half of my book did raise my opinion of the much loved book. The exploration of Esther’s descent into increasingly deeper depression was portrayed subtly and skilfully, and her experiences with various doctors and hospitals could not help but captivate any reader, even those, like me, that had been skeptical originally. Further, the suicide of not Esther but Joan was something that I particularly appreciated as a plot devise as, although Joan was quite a minor character, it was not the death that we had been expecting, thus adding a sadder, more poignant layer to the story as a whole.

As a reader, I found myself hooked towards the end of the book in the way that I had perhaps not been at the beginning. Whilst I am still unsure on whether I would rate The Bell Jar quite as highly as some of the reviews I have seen, I would certainly say that it was a book that left a lingering note of sadness, which was, indeed, the beauty of the novel and Plath’s writing.