How I discovered the Open University.

I dropped out of University after one week.

Here, I talk about my story of how I came to study with the Open University. This article has been written for anyone who might be in a similar position as I once was, along with my experience, so far, with the Open University. It is also aimed at parents of high school students, mature students, and just about anyone who’s interested in the Open University. *Disclaimer: Though I have included some potentially recognisable photographs in this article, I have omitted from explicitly naming either of my previous institutions. My opinions by no means intend to encourage or deter anyone from applying there and should be taken as my own very personal experiences. If you want to make a reliable decision on a potential University option, the best way to go about it is to attend an Open Day in person. Finally, photo credits go to each of the individual sources, which I won’t disclose. Deep breath, here we go…

It began about two years ago, not long after I’d completed a foundation certificate in English Literature at a small college campus in London, that I suddenly fell very ill. Having made it out the other end of a turbulent year, which included losing my old friends and making new ones, commuting a long journey into London on the dreaded Underground, locating my timetabled rooms on a maze-like campus – and being late for a number of them, as well as memorising the contents of some very dense novels, I was relieved to have passed the year. Initially, I was unsure about my college, since was a last-minute decision but by the end of the year, I had come to love the leafy-green campus, with its charmingly old, yet arty hallways, the smell of coffee from the cosy café and small student population. Although I was now allowed entry onto the main course, the only problem was that I couldn’t stay on. Stepping up to the first year of full-time study whilst juggling caring responsibilities at home and commuting across the city would be simply impossible. Something had to give way and so I had successfully applied for another course at a college more close to home, the following autumn.

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This one had a much grander reputation and everything was much bigger. The subject blocks, especially the science area, had been heavily invested in. The student population was four times the size of my old place and for the first time, I became acutely aware of existing as a number in an automated money-making system, along with others who were taking out a £9,000/year loan. The corridors in the English department were spacious but dull. The seemingly endless stretch of grey floor tiles, complemented the low ceilings and white-washed, windowless walls, resulting in the appearance of an underground hospital. My first experience of the lecture hall was one that dwarfed me, as dozens of rows of tightly packed seats were designed to accommodate for two-hundred or more students at a time. The long, wooden tables were uncomfortably narrow and because so many of us were crammed in on a row, there was very little elbow room, especially for a leftie like me who failed to get an end seat. I became preoccupied with avoiding barging in on my neighbour’s personal space and resorted to scrawling ugly notes in my lap instead. It all felt incredibly impersonal. Whilst a sense of utter loss and overwhelming depression likely exacerbated my negative perception of the place, there is no doubt that these symptoms certainly fed off the helpless scenario. I started to wish I was back on my previous course. I had failed to fit in with the excessively confident females that dominated my tutor group and after a few days, hadn’t made a single friend. I didn’t belong here. The place seemed cold, highly competitive and unfriendly. Nor could I handle the excessive social interaction and shakey nerves, especially because I had (and still have) crippling social anxiety; a very personal and heavily disguised issue I’m bound by.

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I decided that I had to leave, no matter what. At the start of my first tutorial, when the class and tutor was busy re-arranging the tables, I carefully picked up my bag and coat and snuck out into the main corridor. I doubted anyone would notice, at least not immediately, as not only had the administrative chaos invalidated the register, but I was a minute statistic and hadn’t properly spoken to anyone here, save one member of the English department on a campus tour. So long as I pretended to be going somewhere, it was relatively unlikely I’d be stopped. Weaving in and out of postgrads and department staff, I strolled down the flights of stairs, to the ground floor as nonchalantly as I could, and out into the open air. Within a few minutes, I had crossed the concrete campus and made it outside the main entrance gates, never to return again. The following weeks were awful as I spent them breaking the news to my family, who were horrified, upset and disappointed, as well as informing the department of my intention and making financial arrangements for future enrolment on a different course. I also binned my hideously-photographed student ID, as I wouldn’t be needing that again. I was suddenly adrift and for the first time, actually outside the education system. It was entirely down to me, to regain a sense of stability in whatever way possible.  

The truth is, right from the moment of walking out of the English department, I knew in my head that my only feasible option would be to study on a distance-learning course, but I knew my family wouldn’t like the idea; you either commit to something properly or don’t bother doing it at all – was their logic. Nevertheless, I spent weeks searching the internet for online courses from bricks-and-mortar institutions, hoping that I could (somehow) pass the idea. Unfortunately, there are not many distance courses for an English student, nor are there many undergraduate options available, as most online courses only accommodate for postgrads. I finally came across the Open University, which is a well-known distance-learning, higher education provider in the United Kingdom. I was delighted to find out they did indeed run an English Literature course and in fact, there were numerous options like combining it with other subjects such as History, Philosophy or Music if I wanted to. I spent a while drawing up tables and making online enquiries (save social phone calls) over different options, before finally deciding on the one course that was best for me. The next problem was trying to convince my parents to support a student finance application for an OU course..! Rather than telling anyone immediately, I held off for months, letting any tensions die down before even suggesting the idea. After about six months, I anxiously took the opportunity to tell my mother when she was in one of her rare happy moods. I was surprised to find out that although she had studied at a London college, she had also completed a short training course with the OU twenty-odd years ago. She quite casually, though not enthusiastically, accepted the idea much to my disbelief and as a result, so did my dad. I wasted no more time, filling in the forms.

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Around early September, I received a large package, weighing about five kilograms, with the “Open University” printed on the top. And when I opened it to reveal the contents, I was quite genuinely blown away. Inside, were four thick textbooks, each in a different colour. These were accompanied by four corresponding DVD cases with multiple DVD-ROMs, DVDs and CDs inside. There were two quite heavy illustration books, filled with picture sources to refer to throughout the year, an assignment booklet with a list of essays to complete and finally, a student handbook to help me make sense of the seemingly impossible task which lay ahead. This was my first welcome to my first compulsory module, The Arts Past and Present. A wave of despair washed over me; I didn’t think I could possibly get through this alone and in the space of nine months, on a supposedly part-time basis too! After a sleepless night, I decided against wallowing in self-doubt. The next morning, I flicked through the advice given in the student handbook and added up the total number of pages across the four main textbooks, to work out how much I’d need to complete each day. I was soon on my way, and by the time the course kicked off, I was weeks in advance – very helpful! In week one, I was finally introduced, by email, to my tutor, who would be responsible for marking all my work. And by week nine, I entered my first ninety-minute online tutorial with one other student (the number improved the second time around), for which I was relieved didn’t require a webcam – just a set of headphones, a microphone and good internet access. The monthly essays start off quite short and gradually build up to higher word counts with more challenging questions. These are still entirely manageable though, as on an introductory module it’s assumed you’ve had little to no experience of higher-level education. The content of the textbooks has been consistently interesting and broad. You’re not expected to complete an essay on every chapter of the textbook, which is usually made up of around six separate sections and some essay tasks offer multiple options. I’ve also found that each textbook usually takes around two months study to complete and since starting, I’m now currently working through textbook three of four. Though you are not entirely alone, you are expected to keep on track and maintain your own study schedule (there is also an online weekly planner to help with this) and meet all assignment deadlines. Even this is quite flexible and for most essays, you can ask your tutor for an extension.

I’m pleased to have found the OU and it’s an entirely viable option for anyone struggles with the physical environment and psychological pressures of actually attending a University. If reputation is a concern, you can later apply to an RG institution for a postgrad course; some OU graduates have been gone on to study at Oxbridge. I thoroughly recommend it to any other school leavers, as it’s a well-respected institution with professionally-planned, high-quality materials. I only wish I hadn’t wasted two years after finishing school, yet to discover it in the first place!

I’ll be doing a follow-up post on some key facts and details on studying with Open University, so please do send or email me any questions you have.

Filling my days in Spring.

I decided to hitch a long drive to Chingford plain in Epping Forest …

Hello everyone and happy Monday! I hope everyone has been enjoying the fine weather, not to mention the Royal Wedding (which admittedly I slept through, being on a weekend.) Aside from reading books, I’ve been up to a few things this month…

 

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Days Out—— Since I’ve been stuck at home all week due to illness, I decided to hitch a long drive to Chingford plain, in Epping Forest – which is located on the outskirts of East London. The park is not far from the quaint high street which has a church, an antiquarian bookshop, a small Budgens and a Costa, a charity shop, an art studio, a primary school and a couple of cafes. It is also a mere 2-minute walk along Bury Road from Chingford station, on the Overground line. Up a steep hill, past the grazing cows adjacent to Chingford plain and golf course, is the local Tudor-built hunting lodge; perhaps unsurprisingly named after Queen Elisabeth II. The lodge also has two wooden deer displayed at the front. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to climb the hill this time around, but here is what the hunting lodge looks like. I’ve learnt since that it is open to the public for inside tours – free of charge!

Gardening—- It seems that the month of May is a time when the garden starts to fully reawaken! I’ve been making use of our old plastic egg crates for sowing a selection of poppy seeds before I decide to plant them out next month. If you read my recent post on plant purchasing, you may remember that I brought home a selection of Poppy seeds to experiment with. I recognise that the weather has been pretty changeable too, with some wild winds and showers, and so the mini greenhouse effect of the egg crate will keep the seeds warm and moderately watered.

 

Television & Film—- And finally, across two consecutive evenings, I watched the 2014 film ‘Testament of Youth’ on BBC iPlayer which is based on the published memoirs of Vera Brittain, a young woman who lived through the First World War. In the film, Vera is a young country woman who dreams of attending Oxford University to study English – which she delightedly achieves. However, when WW1 breaks out and her lover Roland Leighton and brother Edward Brittain enlist, her world is flipped on its head. The film stars a plethora of well-known actors, including Kit Harrington, Colin Morgan, Jonathan Bailey and Alicia Vikander. As a lover of history, I found the story incredibly moving and regard it very much to be a coming of age film. I’d definitely recommend a watch, whilst it’s currently on the iPlayer.

In factual television, I’ve been watching ‘Britain’s Most Historic Town’, presented by Professor Alice Roberts on Channel 4. In this series, Professor Roberts visits six historic toImage result for britain's most historic townwns across Britain and Northern Ireland, with each episode focussing on a particular period of British history. Britain is rich with historical secrets and in this series, Professor Roberts meets with local historians in order to find out how historic sites and monuments were shaped and developed by the social forces of their time. My favourite episode so far has been a visit to Tudor Norwich. Other episodes include Roman Chester, Viking York, Norman Winchester, Regency Cheltenham, and Victorian Belfast. And the entire series is currently available online… And just as I finish typing this, here comes the rain.

If you enjoyed this read, please leave a like and comment. If you’ve just chanced upon my blog – why not follow to receive regular posts, as well as book reviews! You can do so by clicking ‘follow’ next to my profile or by visiting the About Me page on my website.

‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry.

I truly felt lost within the mists of time.

Last month, I wrote a less than positive book review on Sarah’s Perry debut novel ‘After Me Comes The Flood’. Though, it was the upcoming author’s second novel ‘The Essex Serpent’, which I was actually introduced to first. Based on some stellar reviews, being shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and winning the Waterstones Book of the Year 2016, I was very much looking forward to getting stuck into the 417-page novel. Besides all that, Essex is where I’m from!

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Inside the front cover, with a William Morris design.

Tell Me About It ———–‘The Essex Serpent’ is set against the backdrop of 1890s Britain during a time of technical development and scientific endeavour. Cora Seaborne, recently widowed, has been liberated from an unhappy marriage to an unpleasant civil servant. Relieved of her duties and “stripped of code and convention” she seeks refuge in her late childhood memories and escapes the rigidity of the claustrophobic city for the wild and open landscape of the Essex county, in the Spring. In traditional feminist style, Cora doesn’t identify with the conventional expectations of a Victorian lady. Instead, the young ‘Mary Anning’ dresses for practicality and enjoys getting close to the mud and the raw beauty of the natural landscape. When Cora hears the folktale of the Essex Serpent which has apparently come to life and is abducting the locals of the Blackwater Estuary, she cannot resist investigating.

“There is strange news out of Essex…”

Writing Style———–I feel that there is a high level of intelligence to Sarah Perry’s writing as she has a wonderful gift for composing poetic and flowing descriptive passages of the Essex of her childhood (Sarah Perry did study Creative Writing at Royal Holloway); such as those of the marshes across the Essex coast and the sensoria of the wet woodlands. I truly felt lost within the mists of time and winds off the coast. There is also the beautiful prologue that explores the way in which time manifests itself in different ideas and abstract forms. It’s the kind of writing I aspire to achieve, though regrettably with only moderate success!

An original woodcut of the Essex Serpent. Credit: The Guardian.

Themes & Characters —————There are various themes which ‘snake’ their way throughout the narrative of the story. The most prominent character, the local parish priest, who is a person of faith but reluctant to surrender to superstition. Whereas Cora, a woman of science, is irresistibly drawn to folklore and fear-inducing rumour. Their burgeoning friendship as well as juxtaposing characteristics make for a delicate and intriguing relationship. The nature of faith and faith in nature intertwine throughout Perry’s novel, which has a strong respect for friendship and a humanity. I also appreciated Perry’s contemporary approach to a traditional social setting with her recognition of Cora’s son, Francis’s Autism, which would have undoubtedly gone undiagnosed in Victorian times

Thoughts?————– The Essex Serpent is compelling, though equally complex and again I felt the plot began to lose its way, which is a great shame. The story repeatedly jumped between characters and philosophical concepts, as opposed to focusing on the narrative and the mystery itself. About halfway through, long and winding passages filled with red herrings and abstract ideas overwhelmed the story, and I just couldn’t finish it! And so to me, the Essex Serpent remains a mystery. You could argue that this only fulfils the wistful beauty of the parish myth. However, ‘The Essex Serpent’ is an initially promising book with simply lost potential. Perhaps I’ll come back to ‘The Essex Serpent’ one day and even write a revised review!

Despite my personal difficulties with getting through the novel, I would still very much recommend it for its beautiful passages alone, with a 3.5-star rating. This paperback publication also includes a selection of thought-provoking questions for budding reading groups to prompt discussion, and there’s an interesting interview with Sarah Perry in the back. Have you read ‘The Essex Serpent’? Tell me your thoughts!

First published in 2017 by Serpent’s Tail.

Written by Sarah Perry, front cover design by Crow Books.

ISBN: 978-1781255452

 

 

Hello, there!

Hello to my intimate group of followers.

It seems I have been running this blog for little over a month and things are settling in quite well. There are currently nine of you who are actively following my blog; I’m so pleased you could join me! And I didn’t expect to achieve quite so much positivity this early on – it’s all relative 😉

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I thought it might be helpful to share a modest amount of personal info so you – or anyone can get a better concept of me as I blog. I’m nineteen, rolling on twenty in June (tragic). People I meet tend to say that I’m way older than my years, which probably comes as a result of numerous family stresses. We all have baggage, don’t we?

I’ve been experiencing some serious medical issues lately, which means I’m not at Uni. And this leads me on to the blog – my new hobby – since I’m predominantly housebound. For now, let’s just say I’m extremely introverted; I read a lot of books and I enjoy writing about them, I like gardening, baking (mostly sweet things), a country lass at heart, I tend to get fired up when it comes to Politics and the NHS, I enjoy popular television shows, and I spend pretty much 100% of my time with my family.

Thank goodness for the internet because since I don’t have any close friends, I would have otherwise become very lonely – which can still be the case sometimes, but hey-ho!

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