Tales of a Fresher

As my week has come to an end, and the weekend opened up, the list of what I want to report back on keeps growing. I could only wish that I had attached a semi-permanent go-pro camera onto my chest, in hopes that this would give you all a better picture of my London life outside of what I can share in writing. Alas, you’re going to get to see my life through the (hopefully clean) window I can create with words.

This past week has been filled with welcome events, induction classes, and a fresher’s fair. Yes, I do consider myself a fresher, although a post-grad. It’s an odd feeling, calling myself what we might consider the equivalent of a “freshman”. However, I’m not sure these two terms are the most synonymous, as post-grads aren’t as hesitant to call themselves freshers, where the meaning of this word does not carry the meaning of (as “freshman” does”), “Innocently naïve young but eager and energy-filled first-year student”. I believe “fresher” to mean, quite simply, “new”.

To start the tale of my life as a fresher I was able to attend the post-graduate (and fresher) boat party this past Tuesday. The name pretty much describes what the event was: a party, but on a boat. We didn’t have the most luxurious of boats, but what I would call fabulously functional. The boat was two floors, where the upper floor was half-covered, half-open to the elements. Earlier in the night, we all congregated towards the back of the boat, where we could watch the sun set on some of London’s most iconic buildings. As the night went on, we migrated to the dance floor and danced to some of the most cliché (but fun) music from my middle school years (e.g. Apple Bottom Jeans (mom you would have loved this one), the Back Street Boys, songs from Grease, Hall and Oates, and others). The bottom of the boat was carpeted and left some more silence for conversation and relaxation, something postgrads seem to enjoy more than crazily dancing on a rocking dance floor. (Dancing to “La Macarena” is significantly harder when mid-way through the sequence, one has to throw his arms out to balance himself.)

One glorious thing about being a fresher at a largely international institution such as UCL is the eagerness people have for initiating conversation and friendship. At events like these, it’s considered socially acceptable (and welcomed) to butt into conversations at will, introduce yourself, and keep on with the conversation. This method of making friends has led me to meet a ton of new people, those from the UK, Mexico, Switzerland, France, Greece, Italy, Canada, Spain, Venezuela, Jordan, and Brazil. UCL houses so many graduate students from around the world, and I think I’ve met more students from countries around the world and less the UK, which I believe is truly amazing.

On Wednesday, I was able to meet all the people in my course (the word “course” is synonymous with “program” or “degree” in the U.S.). As I was already told by my director, we are a small (but mighty, I might argue) number of people in my course (around 25, I think). Among us are students coming from pure philosophy backgrounds, medical students (having finished their degrees or taking a gap year mid-degree), professionals who have already worked in the policy realm, and a couple physicians who wish to take a little more of a philosophical or critical view to their work and profession. We started the day with the course around 2 PM with a short explanation of the “who, what, where, when, why” of the program and followed up with more logistical questions of the day.

After this, we went out to some coffee for a little while, which opened up the initial “first meeting” tensions over coffee and tea. I started talking to a friend named Oli, who comes from a background in medicine. Someone had gotten a matcha latte, and I turned to Oli to talk about tea, especially matcha. My comments were somewhat like this, “Right, so matcha’s a pretty cool thing. Most of what we drink is commercial matcha, not really the best quality but priced well so we don’t have to pay much for it. The ceremonial matcha can go for about US$80 per gram, which is crazy.” Oli went on to ask how I got to know much about matcha tea, and from there my passion about coffee (and *I guess* tea) was discovered. Perhaps I use coffee and tea as a fallback when I’m nervous about meeting people. Alternatively, I’m just super passionate about coffee. I’m for the latter.

We then went on to an introduction and walk-through of the Wellcome Library. I think my initial experience and time with the Wellcome Library merits a separate blog post, so I’ll leave you with a simple request to google the Wellcome Trust and the Wellcome Library, knowing that being on this course at UCL gives me full access to the library’s resources.

True to English fashion, we all went out to the pub for conversation and getting to know each other in the course after the library tour. I wasn’t expecting this to be officially listed in the induction program, but it was, which was a bit surprising to me. However I’ve come to quickly learn that the English follow up so many events (professional or not) with the pub. The pub isn’t seen as a place to go blow off steam or sulk away with a beer in hand, rather it’s a place for lively and intelligible conversation following what was just learned after an intense seminar or talk.

Skipping over a few days, I just finished with a full morning of attending the fresher’s fair, very similar to the event we call “Festifall” at U-M. The UCL campus was stuffed full of students, booths, and (extremely) enthusiastic members of the various societies (in lieu of our word “club”) at UCL. Despite what I believed my actions would be, I ended up succumbing to the welcoming words of way too many societies and signed up for about 12 too many society’ email lists. I guess this is a way to truly figure out if I’m interested in a society – if I can truly withstand the barrage of emails in the coming week from any one society, that’ll be the society for me.

Here’s a (tentative) list of what I want to do outside of classes. I only say tentative because I’m unsure of what my class schedule will allow. I keep hearing this ominous rumor that one-year master’s students are usually locked away in the library all day, inundated with reading and writing that keeps them from doing much outside of work. I’m choosing to selectively filter out these messages and planning on letting myself have a little fun while I’m here.

For extra-curricular societies, I plan to participate in…

  • Jazz Society and big band
  • Writing for Pi Magazine or the Cheese Grater magazine (both are student publications). This may or may not be influenced by my recent viewing of the life of Rory Gilmore.
  • Running with UCL RAX (standing for Running, Athletics and Cross Country)
  • Dancing with the UCL Salsa Society

This might be a bit ambitious, especially because I also volunteered as a representative for my course to the university in all items “bureaucratic”. I’ve also signed up for Spanish evening classes, but all of the club events that I plan on doing miraculously don’t conflict with my Spanish class. Just keep in mind, friends, that I will be putting school first, of course, and extra-curricular activities at a (very close) second while I’m here.

I’m going to leave you with a list of the courses that I’ve decided to take, sans descriptions. Another post (that’s two I’ve told you to wait for), will describe my rationale behind each course decision!

Term 1:

  • Advanced Graduate Studies in the Philosophy of Mind
  • Contemporary Political Philosophy: Authority, Obligation and Democracy
  • Illness: An Introduction to Health Humanities
  • The Philosophy, Politics and Economics of Health

Term 2:

  • Politics and Ethics
  • Global Justice and Health
  • Key Principles of Health Economics
  • Health Policy and Reform
  • Planning to audit the course called: Madness: An Introduction to Health Humanities

All, of course, following with a dissertation!

Thanks for reading, friends. Formal classes start this coming week, so wish me luck!


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