It’ll be in my backpack.

TOP PICK

 Swiftly beating my (dismally unreliable) second-hand mountain bike, and narrowly trumping pretty pink flask that facilitates excessive tea consumption, my #1 student item is my backpack.

My current backpack has carried all my junk across continents and around islands. It’s carried unnecessarily heavy books at three different universities, and completely necessary make-up/snacks emergency changes of shoes etc. on day trips, weekend trips, and ‘so what if I take my backpack on a date’ trips. Let’s face it, nothing else will hold enough snacks to get me through the day without permanently damaging my skeletal system; and I’m talking about you here, handbag.

 Backpacks subtly-hint-for-Christmas, backpacks to replace your old one, or simply backpacks to reinvigorate your backpack… cupboard.

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backpacks

hype

Hype
Av. Price £24.99

Their prints are wacky and totally fabulous and I absolutely love the crazy range available for the neat £25 price tag. All hail the king of backpack bargains. But you certainly won’t be finding these little numbers anywhere on the highstreet – and certainly not in the kitsch haven that is Exeter University. Check their online store.

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herschel co

Herschel Co.
Stockists: Urban Outfitters / Route One / Surfdome

Herschel Co’s bags are the prettiest candy and print palette. I love their super tall, slim cut that makes them perfect for even those cursed with a 15″ laptop, and their outer fabric is nice and stiff which makes them less… squished than the squatter Hype bags. They’ve got the essential padded straps – which boy do you appreciate after a long day at the library – and did I mention how pretty they are?

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 Mi-Pac 
£22-40
Stockists: ASOS / Urban Outfitters / Route One

Mi-Pac has a very, very wide range of prints: from the classics with contrast-pop outer pockets (LOVE) to the neat prints that have the perfect amount of pattern, without being… offensive (Hype). The thick, tan bottom helps survive the wear-and-tear of everyday student life, the straps are padded. A present the grandparents would understand.

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Easkpak

EastPak
Padded Pak'R £40 / Out of Office £50 / Pinnacle £70

EastPak is everywhere on campus, but it certainly isn’t cheap if you’re looking for something to fit a mammoth 15″ screen laptop. The upside is, their patent padded straps and back are super comfy once worn in; I’ve tried my housemates and was thiiiiis close to updating my own to an EastPak special. And hey there 30 YEAR guarantee.

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Final tip of the day, if you can’t find what you’re looking for with these mainstream brands, why not give Etsy a go? An international selling platform for independent artists, craftsmen, and small businesses, it has loads of original and one-off pieces that are worth a look if you’re particular about your backpack.

That’s about all the geeking out about backpacks I think I can handle in one evening. My own backpack and I will be up bright and early tomorrow morning for another trip to campus!

Till next time,

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Year Abroad: Matrimony and Meals

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夫妻店 ”
(fūqīdiàn)

Lunches and dinners here in Shanghai aren’t like anything I’ve had before, and that’s not just because they’re incredibly cheap at anything from 6-16RMB – 60p or £1.60 to us Brits.

DAYTIME

Although the university has supplied us with University E-Cards that allow us to load money and eat from the canteen just three minutes from our dorms or classrooms, the massive queues, lack of English and strangly institutional feel to the metal food trays prove more than little overwhelming, and most days at the start of term we exchange students opt for the street-food stalls that flock around Fudan’s East and North gates. But it’s not just any old type of stall that swoops in on a wooden cart, fully equipt with electric motor and gas cylinder, come eleven twenty sharp on weekdays: it’s 夫妻店 (fūqīdiàn). That’s to say, it’s the swift-cuisine operation that is the Husband Wife Stall. This is real matrimonial harmony. Watch and learn…

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For lunch, it’s quick queues by the blistering heat of the wok, and the blinding sun as we get our fast, flash-fried meals from a travelling stall run by husband and wife tag teams. They work together with intricate movements of plastic-bag tying, vegetable tossing, and terrifying trust as the searing wok passes over the wife’s hands – and it’s fascinating to watch. I have my favourite stalls now at lunch and dinner – ie. those who understand that the wimpy foreigner only wants: “一點ㄦ辣”- and my lunch time topping combinations range across 金针菇 (golden needle mushrooms), 花生 (peanut), 白菜 (cabbage),紅蘿蔔/胡萝卜 (carrot), 香腸 (chinese sausage), 雞/牛/豬 肉 (chicken, beef or pork), with a choice of noodles ranging from 米麵 (rice vermicelli), 河粉 (thick, flat rice noodles), 炒飯 (fried rice) to 麵 (wheat noodles).

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Fudan University Street Food: 夫妻店

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And here’s the result!

We sit under the shade of the entirely decorative front porch to Fudan University’s tall twin-towered Guanghua building, hiding from the blazing heat and making decorative sweat patches on the concrete, as we make a hasty consumption of lunch in our 1135-1235 lunch break. Believe me, by this stage in the day after an 8AM start (which, I’m sorry, but no-ones brain is ever ready for) there are characters bursting out my ears and my stomach’s ravenously hungry.

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NIGHTTIME

At night, the north gate to Fudan University Campus takes on a whole new persona as the stalls that rolled out in the afternoon from around 5PM-6PM return from their hiding place for the moonlight shift. It’s steaming pots, grilled skewers, and deep fried goodness that wafts across the street to the Fudan University International Dormitories and on the tipsy walk home from our local, Helens, and under glaring filaments we pick our poison from the stock on show. Thankfully, I had a rough stint of disagreement with my stomach in Egypt as a child, and since then have been resilient in the face of certain gastronomical disaster, but never say never…

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If the couples make a killing in small change by day, by night its a brother duo that sell Chinese Stewed Pork Pittas that are raking in the students with a delicious, slow-cooked meat sandwich which is assembled with the systematic tekkers of automated art. There’s skill to equal the nosiness of that cleaver, and personally, I think the bread brother is definitely underrated with his doughmanship. I’m not sure if it’s proper Chinese vocabulary, but these days with LOL in the Oxford English Dictionary, who’s to argue with me; it’s 兄弟店 (Xiōngdì diàn) FTW at dinner time. That’s a Brother’s Stall to you and me.

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It’s tough competition at nighttime for the couples, for sisters to friends, brothers to bored looking individuals. This community that springs with forty watt brightness out of the night is a tight group of congee-sellers, barbecuers and flash-friers that work steadily through the wee hours with as much heckling and cajoling as the 10PM Friday pub quiz. It’s a life of day-to-day physical labour of the kind that is seldom seen nowadays in the U.K., but boy, do these folk do it with a sense of aplomb.

That’s how I want my dinners.

Fudan University Street Food: 夫妻店 Shanghai China

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Charlotte xx

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Year Abroad: You queue, I queue… We all queue

queuing

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If there’s just one thing that is vividly imprinted on my memory from the first week here at Fudan University, Shanghai, it’s that the administration, bureaucracy, moving into dorms, even at the local gargantuan Walmart, everything involves a lot of queuing. I mean, there’s queuing, and then there’s this kind of ‘snaking in looping circles for dizzying hours around a small space’-queuing.

Here’s the queuing break-down:

Day #1
Registering with accommodation
Getting my room key-card (x2)
Paying for compulsory China PingAn insurance
Dinner…

Day #2
Course registration,
Certifying my insurance,
Certifying my entrance letter,
Visa introduction letter,
Checking my application,
Date for physical examination
Walmart super queue…

Day #3
Physical Exam (x2)
Placement online test,
Applying for IC/Bank card

Day #4
Placement oral test

Day #5
Campus Ecard photo

Boy am I glad when the days of relentless and restless ‘have-I-got-my-documents’ queuing grinds to a happy halt towards the end of the week! It’s certainly a stressful set of hours to encounter upon reaching a new country, and I’m only put at ease when I finally get to the introductory exchange student talks and get all these crazy lines explained to me: there are nearly 24 billion people in Shanghai, be prepared to wait where ever you go. Logical. It’s the most calming words I’ve heard since I queued past immigration, and does a lot to ease the semi-frightened frustration of the introductory process.

The first week blows past like freshers week in a U.K. university: in a blur of stressed applications, endlessly checking what other people have done (“You’ve done what form??”), awkward queuing introductions ( The line “…Sure is a long queue,” gets old real quick) and the evening rush to do everything with every new person you meet.

More on the socialising later.

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WELCOME TO FUDAN UNIVERSITY

As expected in a city with a population of nearly 24 million, everything is done on a larger scale, from the enormous, tree-lined streets (I kid not) of the Handan campus where the foreign dormitories are situated, to the impressive, 35 floored, column-fronted Guanghua Twin Towers where the Chinese language classes take place, to the 15min bike journey from one side of campus to another – Fudan is mind-bogglingly large.

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I’m given a taste of reality of what I’m embarking on when all the foreign students are invited to the Fudan 2013 Foreign Students Welcome Ceremony, in the plush, red-seated, cool of the Guanghua auditorium. Each of the heads of office and two past students give welcome talks, and I’m suddenly overcome with the realisation that I’m studying here for a year.

Their Chinese speeches suddenly forces a lump into my throat; slap me for the soppy cliché, but the words really do radiate sincerity, and at the very least, are spoken at a comfortable pace for my still-struggling ears. For those of us whose Chinese is up to the challenge, it’s a wonderful set of talks, which loose some of their clarity and sense of genuine kindness in translation, and I can only image how daunting it sounds to the beginners in the audience…

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Fudan University International Student Opening Ceremony Welcome Ceremony

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We go through the laborious task of listening to (understandably) serious-toned school rules and visa control in varying degrees of English fluency, but by the end of the hour and a half we’re released, bursting over the daring, thick cream carpet and though the heavy doors towards our released schedules like crazed animals – no queuing whatsoever.

I’ve been placed in F3, in bands of Chinese language ranging from A-I with five classes a week: Listening (听力), Writing(寫作), Speaking(口语) Intensive Reading(精读) and Extensive Reading(泛读).

I’ve got this cute little timetable starting the next week:

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OH BOY! I am looking forward to four 8AM starts a week!

Wish me luck, folks. I’ll need it.

Charlotte xx

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She Interns: The Desk Life

 

Shirt: £6, Beijing Silk Market
Jeans: £13.50*, Topshop , Sale
Bag: £22.50*, Urban Outfitters Sale
Jumper: £12.99, Missguided.com
Shoes: £10, Primark

TOTAL OUTFIT:  £64.99
*+ 10% student discount

THE DESK LIFE

The first day’s done and dusted, and there is one thing of which I am absolutely certain: I am not used to sitting at a desk. My eyes watered, my head pounded, my back ached and boy, was my butt numb; it seemed like everything of my physical body was pitching revolution at being confined to a chair for a measly six hours.

I have an immense respect for the 9-5ers. In hindsight of my working past, I’ve been extremely lucky to have worked very active jobs running photosets, shop-assistanting, acting as cater-waiter, art and english teacher, costume assistant, MUA and model… all roles free to spontaneity and standing perpendicular to the ground. That’s not to say I haven’t interned before; this week counts as my fourth set of work experience to date, but it’s only now that I’m realising the similarity these experiences actually have to academic life –  they always said university prepares you for the working world, but who knew they’d be right? That body-numb feeling is one that I’ve only felt otherwise in essay-crisis mode, a period of life that I slip in and out of with ease at University. My body may be numb, but (and let’s not linger on that particular pun) my brain is buzzing.

THE WORK LIFE

There’s a glossy sheen to everything on the PR floor, from the thick acrylic surfaces and shocking pink curtains to the original Terry Bradley (again, cerise) on the wall. It’s not a literal sheen, although perspiration wouldn’t be surprising from solid objects at the temperatures Belfast is reaching this week, but a shimmer that perhaps can only be felt by a bambi-eyed intern. The shimmer of a ‘real-life’ working office, of purpose and efficiency that made me feel goggly, left-handed (I’m not) and flustered as I tried my best not to bumble about my white desk in the open plan office – where everything is visible, especially ‘here’s-the-new-one’ bag-rustling and chair fumbling.

Reality, however, has never been a better friend. Blast FM is nattering on in the background, there’s chatter of a healthy gossip to business ratio that breaks the working silence, and after my first couple of questions (which are always the hardest) the real day started with basic tasks. I got to see the work for three big clients, pitching in for the research behind two written articles and having a sneaky peek at a fashion editorial that gave me some serious goosepimples. To close up the day, I got given a writing feature – to my type-happy delight – for a certain big newspaper, and nearly burned my retinas concentrating on it until 5PM jumped in and I felt a rush of home-time exhilaration.

 Today I donned my intern shoes, tappled out some real-life work and clipped out at 5PM feeling like a genuine, wooden-heeled office-girl – and I loved it!

Let’s hope my butt survives tomorrow.

Goodnight.

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The 'Welcome Home' Mat
Made it through Day #1, team!

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Beijing, TUESC: Tsinghua Get-In

‘Get-In‘: [theatre speak] the theatre term for the precious few hours a company have to get into a theatre, get their props and costumes in, actors prepped with routine and ready for the rehearsals and big show.
[everyday slang] get stuck in, wa-hoo!

Cue Tsinghua Get-In.

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We’ve made it to China, we’ve been picked up by four lovely first year students who shepherd our post-nausea wracked bodies (ok, well that only applies to me) into a Tsinghua levied little bus, 小巴士 (xiǎo bāshì), for the journey to the University.

There were several of us student-teachers on the KLM flight into Beijing, and it’s with not just a little curiosity that we survey each other from across the aisles of the plane seats; for the most part I succeed in having some introductory chat with students from London, Nottingham and even little Exeter and for the latter part I’m focusing on keeping the contents of my stomach from the interior of the plane.

UNPACK

The University bundles us into our dorms, and it’s not till the next day that we get assigned to our teaching groups and classes.

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The camp is split up to mirror the political structure of China’s provinces; pretty neat the camp functions as a state TSINGHUA, where each of the letters represent a province  T to A in which the student are split into classes according to English ability top class red to bottom purple.

I’m teaching Blue G with my fellow teacher Stefan from University of Florida (Go Gators!) and Jennifer, an Applied Lingistics Major from University of Georgia, with helpers Lauren an Alpha Chi Omega from Baylor and Jeff from University of Chicago.

I’m over-run with Americans and I forsee dustbin/trashcan-esque problems.

But all jokes aside, I can’t wait to get teaching with the team!

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DORM LIFE

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Here’s a sneaky peek at my relatively luxurious room at Tsinghua University Summer Camp. Tiled floor? Check. Hard Chinese-style bed? Check. TV with only Chinese channels? Check. Washing hung up in the window already? Double-check. I am so acclimatised to Asia you’d think I was half Asian… (I am.)

I am not however, Asian enough to fathom sharing a dorm with six to eight other students, with a curfew of 1030PM as the local students here at Tsinghua do.

The British half of me recoils at the thought of lack of privacy; I was never a boarding school student, never a stay-at-summer-camp kind of girl. I like the relative freedom British student Dorms have, and certainly by comparison, the Chinese University style seems both foreign, militant and daunting. However, the students here say that there are upsides to sharing: the community spirit, the group mentality and the quick bonding of friendships. I don’t think I’m ready for China-style dorms just yet…

Some of the Western volunteers complain at the sparseness of the rooms.
I’m silently thinking we’re being seriously spoilt.

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Can’t wait for teaching to commence!

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