London Vignettes: The Challenges & the Joys of My First Semester at KU

The time I’ve spent living here in Kingston so far feels, in my memory, a lot longer than four months. I’ve written about this phenomenon to death already, so I understand why the beginning of the semester seems so distant. A year and a half of lockdown and furlough in the countryside felt like an inconsequential blur, whereas these four months in London are densely-packed with stimuli. New people, new places, new stresses, new experiences, you name it. My short time in London is bursting with color. It’s like it weighs heavier than the preceding 17 months combined.

It’s what I wanted, ultimately. To have a life that kept me busy. To be constantly challenged. The toughest challenge for me so far has been balancing everything: my studies, my job, my social life, my reading, my writing. I’ve wanted to factor in exercise- which I sorely need- into my life too, but I just haven’t found the time. It’s not that the time isn’t there necessarily- it’s that with everything else going on, I haven’t had the willpower, energy, or organization required to carve it into my schedule. And that’s the crux of my problem really. Time management. I’m shit at multitasking, but balancing my various priorities here is the only way I’m going to succeed.

One thing that’s really helped me- that I only started doing in November, upon the advice of my best mate Aaron (himself very busy studying at the University of Houston)- was to start working in the library, and not in my room. I thought it sounded good on paper, but once I actually started doing it, I was amazed at how much faster I got things done. One morning in the library is better than a whole day in my room. Plus, I might as well make use of the Town House while I can- my Master’s Degree only lasts one year after all, and the building is awesome. I actually get excited about how productive the place makes me.

This new routine has also massively improved my mental health. I’d noticed during the first half of the semester that I was happy on Mondays and Tuesdays when I have classes, and not so much the rest of the week. I know that makes me sound like an utter poindexter, but hear me out. Mornings are so important to how I feel in a day. On Mondays and Tuesdays, I have full days of classes. I might feel like ass the moment I wake up, but I ultimately feel better for having woken up early. Not only am I waking up early, but I’m waking up with a sense of purpose. I get the bus, grab my coffee, and spend the day learning about book publishing with people I really like. I only get to see these people on Mondays and Tuesdays before everyone returns to their busy London lives. In class we learn about how books are developed, manufactured, marketed, and consumed. Everything from typesetting to supply chains and buyer behavior to business structure. It’s juicy stuff. I’m not sure if this is a Master’s thing, a Publishing thing, or something else entirely, but my classmates are all articulate, intelligent, resourceful, and witty. They’re the kind of people I want to surround myself with.

All of this stood in contrast to my days off. While I didn’t wake up growling obscenities at my alarm, the lack of urgency made me feel worse in the long run. I would cocoon myself in my bedsheets, scroll through Tik Tok, before leisurely making a pot of coffee, firing up my PC, and watching some YouTube videos. I’d get less done, on top of feeling like shit for being stuck in my room all day. Worst of both worlds. Whereas when I begin my day by moving- I feel better. So upon getting Aaron’s advice I decided to extend the routine I took with going to class to the rest of the week: waking up early and getting on the bus, only instead of going to the John Galsworthy Building I’d hit up the Town House, iced cappuccino in hand, ready to work. I’d check the time at 1pm and be amazed that I’d done so much already, and that I now had so much time left in the day to either keep working or do whatever I liked.

Student artwork at the Town House

Hopefully, this schedule will continue to facilitate some of my favorite things from last semester. I was able to find joy in small moments- trying yoga for the first time with my roommates, going bowling together, going to a Korean food festival in New Malden, and so on and so forth. My roommate Suryakanti is quite the chef, and through her generosity I’ve experienced some authentic Indian cooking. Lentil curry and chipatis, black-eyed pea curry, masala rice, as well as an assortment of Indian candy she gave me in celebration of Diwali.

I’ve continued to go to The Victoria pub quiz each Wednesday, with more of our friends keen to join the Oven Enthusiasts. One time we came second because of that weird phenomenon where you forget something you know at the moment you actually need to use it. The question was to name the popular Italian brand of mineral water based in Lombardy. We had gotten all the other answers of the Wipeout Round correct and deduced that this last one began with an S and ended with an O. Of course, it was San Pellegrino, but despite all of us being familiar with the brand, we forgot its name in that crucial moment. We were kicking ourselves when Karl revealed the results, because we would have won the quiz if we had remembered it. Our team continued to perform well though, coming second twice more, and winning the quiz for a second time on the night of November 24th. Each time we win the quiz, we add a star to our logo, the way football teams do upon winning the Champions League. At the moment, the Oven Enthusiasts have two stars, just like Chelsea. As I said in my previous post, this little tradition is probably my favorite thing about my new life in London so far. My fellow Oven Enthusiasts are kind-hearted and entertaining in equal measure, and we have a good time together whether we end up getting celebratory cocktails with the winner’s voucher or migrating to Weatherspoons for consolatory pints and onion rings.

I also found the time to squeeze in a third trip to Central. On this occasion however, I wasn’t going to meet old friends, and neither was I going solo; I was doing so in the company of Minako, her French-Canadian bestie from UX Design, and her Costa Rican friend from undergrad that was visiting her for the weekend. We were an eclectic mix, all of us joined together through our individual friendships with Minako, but I felt like we clicked instantly. We grabbed lunch in Chinatown and discussed feminism, dating, and toxic masculinity. I opted for noodles in a seafood broth and a pot of chrysanthemum tea. We laughed at how open and confessional we were with each other, given that three of us hadn’t known each other very long.

“What happens in Chinatown stays in Chinatown,” I quipped stupidly. There certainly was something special about the place, and I was sorry to have to leave. We spent the rest of the afternoon rambling around Central, taking photos, checking out the National Gallery, and enjoying the ambiance.

Looking back, I’m amazed at how much time I’ve made for fun, which is important, I think. You have to prioritize these things the same way you do assignments or healthy eating. My time at KU so far has forced me to multi-task. I’m not killing it by any means though. Things definitely got better as the semester went on, as far as balance is concerned, but I’ve got a lot of improving to do before I get to where I want to be.

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