Leaving home: coping with nerves and homesickness

Leaving home is never easy. You may have spent numerous waking hours hoping to get out of the family home and live independently but that doesn’t mean that homesickness or nerves can kick in.

Homesickness is hard to define but probably affects more people than you would think. We love our homes (even when we say we don’t) and to suddenly spend time away from your comforts and the routine that you’re used to can be difficult. In fact it is estimated that nearly half of students at university will suffer from homesickness and nerves.

It is not a sign of weakness. In fact it is hugely natural and is a feeling that will pass in time.

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Firstly if you are unsure what your accommodation will be like and that makes your nervous then take a look at the website and the 360 degree room tours: http://www.essex.ac.uk/accommodation/residences/default.aspx

Next, at Essex you are able to get in contact with your future flatmates in advance of moving in day. Once you’ve got your room details you can join the accommodation’s Facebook and announce who you are and where you’re staying and let your new flatmates get in touch and introduce themselves. Follow the website, click on the accommodation then scroll down to the Facebook groups: http://www.essex.ac.uk/accommodation/residences/default.aspx

Make your new room homely. When you move in it will be a blank canvas, so consider bringing or eventually buying things that will make it feel like home to you. Of course make sure you don’t break the rules as to what you can and can’t bring to the university, but certainly try and add a touch of your personality to your room. Remember you may potentially be spending a fair amount of time in your room so make sure it feels comfortable to you.

Additionally:

  • Try talking to others about your concerns- they may be able to offer help and advice.
  • Avoid “over-contacting” home. It may be tempting to contact home but during the first few weeks when homesickness kicks in contacting home can actual make you feel worse, so try not to do it too much at first.
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Sometimes calling home is not the best option when you’re homesick (c) shmoop.com

  • Get a routine- having a new routine can help to quickly banish those nerves and feelings of homesickness.
  • Join a society- in addition to your routine, joining an on campus club or society will put you in the company of other students and is a great way to meet friends as well as taking part in the things you enjoy.

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY: remember it will eventually pass, so don’t let it ruin your experience. It is natural to be nervous of the new and the unknown but soon it will become familiar to you.

How to Make Friends Before You Even Get to Uni

A lot of people worry about making friends at uni. Most of the time you’re moving away to a place where you know nobody and you’ll be living with people you’ve never even met before. This can seem quite scary, but there are ways to meet and chat to people before you even get to uni.

People from your sixth form

When I put Essex as my firm choice on UCAS no one else at my sixth form I knew had put it as a choice. I asked around to see if anyone I knew, knew someone that had. Eventually I found out that someone in my history class had also applied to Essex! Previously I had never even spoken to this person, but we had a chat about all things uni and Essex and now when I run into them on campus, I always make sure I say hi! It might seem like a bit of a cop out to make friends going to your uni at your sixth form, but it’s nice to know someone in a similar situation to you and of course, there are the other ways to make friends too.

The Student Room

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If you have never heard of The Student Room, it can be an extremely helpful website for all things, well, student! The University of Essex has its own forum page here. Loads of people will be posting the unis that they’re going to and asking people what courses they’re doing. The Essex forum page has threads with people asking who else will be on their course or if they’re living in the same accommodation. It’s a great place to find lots of other people going to Essex, doing your course, or living near you. It’s also very helpful for info about the social life at Essex, and things like what to bring to uni. Whilst you don’t need an account to read the forums, you do if you want to contribute to the chat.

Facebook

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The University of Essex is all over Facebook! There is the general freshers’ page which is run by the Students’ Union, there’s individual pages for each accommodation and there’s departmental pages too. The freshers page has thousands of members as most new students, as well as existing students will join it. It’s a great place to ask general questions about life at Essex, especially as you know you’ll be answered by students who have been in your position. It’s also great for meeting students who might be commuters, mature students or postgraduates.

Open days and Visit days

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When you come to our Essex open days, it’s not only useful to learn about the basics of uni life, it’s also a great opportunity to get to know some other potential students. Strike up a conversation on a tour – you might just end up going to uni with that person! Applicant days, once you have an offer from Essex, are also an excellent way to meet people who are on your course. Your future lecturers will also be giving taster sessions which will give you a chance to get a real feel for the academic side of university.

With all these ways to make friends before uni, keep in my mind that you’ll still meet plenty more people once you actually move in and start lectures, so go forth and make friends!

A letter to EU and International students: leaving home and arriving in Colchester

Dear EU and International students,

I am sure you are very excited to join our international family of students and staff, but there may also be some nerves kicking in at the thought of leaving your home and the country you have grown up in. It wasn’t long ago that I was getting ready to leave my home to start University here. I remember I was so scared – all the way from applying for the course to taking the bus to the University in October was terrifying. But when I actually arrived and saw all the freshers and all the people that greeted us and helped us, I felt so relieved. It may sound strange to you, but seeing all those people, all the nationalities and cultures, and all the chaos that goes along with the first day, I just felt this sense of belonging because I knew that everyone felt that the same way as I did; the university was here to help us in any way they could, so that we all felt as at home here as possible. In just the first week, we had like three international student socials! It was held in The Hex and you could meet fellow students from all over the world.

During Welcome Week, there are loads of events put on, everything from disco nights and introductory lectures to people putting stalls up in the squares to get to know the freshers.

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But the most famous of all events during Welcome Week is the Fresher’s Fair. It is THE event of the week. You go to the squares, or should I say squeeze yourself to the fresher’s fair, because there are so many people it’s unbelievable. Across the 5 squares, you will see nothing else than stalls everywhere and just loads…like LOADS of people. Each stall represents a different organisation, society or sports club. That includes stalls from, for example, the Red Cross, the Rugby Team all the way to the Romanian Society. Meaning if by any chance you are struggling to find friends, just join a society, team or organisation and there you go! 20 to 50 instant friends! Also, if you are not into any sport or activity society, you can join societies of your own nationality! And if by any chance (a very small chance I might add) there is not a society for yours, you can always create one.

If you have doubts even after all I have told you, don’t worry. I have the ultimate ace up my sleeve…we are the 15th most international university in the WORLD. Not even in England, in the whole wide WORLD!

Lastly and most importantly, please remember that if you feel anxious or even scared, there are thousands of people feeling just like you and they are heading to Essex just like you. We are here for you and ready to help you in any way, shape or form. We are all one family.

Yours truly,

Dragos

Getting Uni Ready

Getting ready to move out of home and into uni can be pretty daunting. I know for me moving out of the home I’d lived in for 18 years was pretty scary. I had never really cooked anything and left all the washing up to my mum. I pretty much had no idea how to fend for myself, but despite this I adapted really quickly to my new environment – though that’s not to say I ever became a Gordon Ramsay level chef (pasta was my speciality)! So to save you the pain of scrubbing burnt rice off the bottom of a pan, or accidentally dying your white clothes grey in the wash, here are  a few things you can do to help with the transition to uni before you even get there!

Learn to cook a few recipes

As easy as it is, you can’t live off chips and chicken nuggets forever (sadly). Making your own meals can be really satisfying; I felt quite proud of myself the first time I successfully made a roast dinner! Before you go to uni, it can be quite helpful to learn some cheap recipes and there’s loads of student cookbooks out there to help. My favourite meals to make have to be spaghetti bolognese and cottage pie. They can be pretty easy to make and if you cook them in bulk too then you can portion them out to save time and money later on. You might have a few mishaps on the way to becoming a culinary master, I dropped my delicious looking cottage pie on the floor the first time I made it, but don’t let that put you off from cooking from scratch! Take a look here for some recipe inspiration!

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Think about budgeting

Odds are that if you’ve lived with your family all your life you’ve never really had to budget. It does seem quite nice at the beginning of term to have that student loan money appear in your bank account and often it can be hard to resist the temptation to treat yourself to those new shoes or clothes you wanted. By all means, treat yourself, but budget responsibly to make sure you have enough money for the essentials. There are a lot of expenses to think about such as your rent, food shopping, and let’s be realistic, the inevitable nights out. It can initially be quite difficult to balance the essential expenses with the things that you want. After a few food shops though, you’ll probably end up realising the things that you are spending on that you don’t really need. I couldn’t believe how expensive some foods were that I always just taken for granted (I’m looking at you, cheese!)

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Read clothes labels!

This one might seem a bit trivial but clothes labels are there for a reason. If you don’t wash your own clothes at home then you’re probably not familiar with what those weird little symbols mean. There were quite a few times in my first year that my flatmates would come back from the launderette with shrunken jeans and pink tops that used to be white. These mishaps can usually be avoided if you know how to wash your clothes. Take note of the  picture below. After shrinking some of my favourite clothes, I found out where I was going wrong!

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These tips aren’t the be all and end all of what you need to know for uni. You will find yourself learning from experience and work out what’s best to do once you get there, but hopefully this blog will just help you on your way! Good luck 🙂

Trying to make the work/life balancing act work… I still don’t know the answer!

When I was in first year, a course mate in the year above me described how “second year is just like riding a bicycle’…

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Looking back as a (not so) wise third year, whilst I wouldn’t go as far to say that it was hell, it’s a pretty accurate description!

University life can be difficult to manage. This is especially true, considering that just studying for your degree isn’t the only thing on your mind. A vast majority of students are part of something at University, whether it be a part time job, sports teams, societies, volunteering etc.Then on top of that you need to socialise, eat, sleep and perhaps the occasional alcoholic beverage just to keep you sane!

In the end, it kind of just looks like this…

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Resulting in you looking a little like this…

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Now don’t get me wrong, a rare breed of student can balance it all successfully…

And to those people I salute you and give you a gold star.

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But for the average student, it’s just not possible to do it all. You can try to, but you’ll probably soon see that the “bicycle” is catching fire a little bit quicker than you think when deadlines come around.

Going from a calm relaxing week to one where you’ll have 4 deadlines due, 2 social events on and millions of other things on, is not uncommon.

Now I still haven’t mastered this and I don’t think anyone can really to an extent but here are my tips in trying to reach that elusive perfect balance…

Do something not nothing!

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Now I’m not saying don’t do anything. In fact that’s the opposite of what I’m saying. Doing something as well as your degree is always better than nothing. No matter how tempting it is to spend your days locked up in your room watching Netflix!

Don’t be afraid to get the balance wrong

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It’s okay to mess up and get the balance wrong every once in a while. You’re only human! If you feel like you’re not doing enough or you’re doing too much then remember that you always have a choice in doing what you want to do!

It’s physically impossible to do everything

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I definitely feel like I’ve learnt this the hard way.

See, I’m the kind of positive, go getting person who just goes for everything. Coming from a tiny village with little opportunities looking back to my first year as an eager eyed fresher, I was amazed by everything that I could do at Uni.

I’ve been part of societies, peer mentoring, course representatives, volunteering at the Lakeside Theatre, the list goes on. I would exhaust and stretch myself so much that I would have such little time off. Whilst I enjoyed what I was doing, in hindsight it probably wasn’t worth the stress!

Organise AND prioritise   

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This is probably what I’ve learnt from trying to do everything…

I thought that because I was organised with my diary to keep up to date with my life that I was doing everything right. In hindsight that was only half of the battle. I just wasn’t prioritising the stuff that I wanted to do!

By organising everything that you want to do and picking the things you want to prioritise, you soon start to see what’s important. If you’re truly passionate about something, then the choice should make sense in the long run.

So, whilst it may seem that the uncontrollable “burning bicycle” might be taking over your life, there are ways to deal with getting the balance right. It will be impossible to get the balance right all the time.

But by making a conscious effort, you can make things a whole lot better for yourself!

 

Brain food: What you should eat to ace those exams

As the exam season is getting closer and closer I came to realise that one of the most important things that you need to take into consideration is what you’re eating. In the past, I used to eat quite a lot of unhealthy snacks like crisps and biscuits that I got from the Store, as they were a very easy (and tasty) alternative for a meal. This affected my productivity quite a lot as I felt tired most of the time, although generally, I would get more than enough sleep. So, I decided to share with you some healthy snacks that you can make to trick yourself into eating a bit healthier. They proved to be quite useful for me!

 

Chicken and Spinach Ciabatta Pizzas

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A very simple and healthy recipe that has saved me so many times when I had to study. Feeling tired and do not want to do much cooking? Just stick some chicken (or you can just use some salami as well), cheese, pasta sauce and spinach/tomatoes in the oven, and in less than 15 mins you’ve got yourself a proper meal.

 

Fruit salad skewers

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Everyone knows fruits are a great study snack and making some fruit skewers, although it may seem like a tedious task, is a very good way to trick yourself to eat something healthy.

 

Nutella and banana sandwich

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Okay, maybe this one is not the healthiest of study snacks but it is definitely one that’s sure to give you a lot of energy for the day! Both the bananas and Nutella are a very good way to start off your day.

I hope this helps and you’re able to enjoy some tasty food during the long hours of revision!

No need to suffer: the help and support available to you at university

University is a place for you to grow. A place where you can become the person you want to be. People say that at university you can be independent but it can seem daunting at first, especially if you are living away from home for the first time. All those things that other people may have done for you in the past will now become your responsibility.

There is cooking to do, shopping, washing, studying, socialising and relaxing: in truth it does feel like you are at the deep end when it comes to being independent and looking after yourself.

But that doesn’t mean that you should face it alone. Never suffer in silence if the whole university experience or even your personal life becomes too much. There are so many services and people who can help with a wide range of issues- while this may not be representative of all universities, the information below is certainly true of Essex.

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Nightline: a confidential listening, emotional support, information and supplies service, run for students by students at the University of Essex.

It runs every night during term time from 10pm until 8am. Students can either visit in person where you can enter the Nightline flat at the back of Keynes Tower (North Towers), or you can email or give them a call.

Student Support Hub: The Silberrad Student Centre is the one-stop shop for the majority of student concerns.

Whether it is do with living in university residences; changing your course; replacement registration cards; disability support; exam extenuating circumstances; coping with stress and anxiety; counselling; immigration advice; or funding advice (phew!) the “Hub” will be able to help you.24477446640_ac9b4c7ac7_k

Personal Tutor: All students will be assigned a personal tutor within their department for the duration of their study. These are the people that you can go to with course specific questions, additionally they are also able to signpost you to other services if they feel that they cannot help you personally.

Peer Mentor: Most departments will assign first year students a peer mentor, a student normally in their second or third year. The peer mentor is able to give you honest advice and help from the student prospective. They can also direct you to the specific people or services which can help your position.

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Multi-Faith Chaplaincy: a welcoming place for staff, students and the wider community to meet, interact and engage in a positive and peaceful manner. It doesn’t matter if you are religious or not, the Chaplaincy and its staff are a friendly group and an oasis of calm.

Student Union: As a member of the university you are automatically a member of the student union. This is a service which runs some of the venues on campus as well as being an organisation that is centred wholly around supporting students. There are representatives who handle educational concerns, concerns with welfare and also people who help and represent groups such as BAME students, LGBT+ students, postgraduate and mature students. Their job is to listen and react to your issues.

uni-essex-student-union-ambassador-logo-400x400Health Centre: Hopefully you will never need to use it whilst you are here, but it is important to register with the on-campus health centre in case you do need it. Located behind Rayleigh Tower (North Towers) they provide NHS services from GP appointments to nurse clinics and provide help and assistance for asthma, diabetes, sexual health and contraception.

Talent Development Centre Helpdesk: Located on the ground floor of the Student Centre they offer a number of services including: 1:1 academic advising; Maths support; English language support; and advice on PhD thesis writing.

Whilst your family and friends can be the perfect shoulder to cry on if you need one, there is other help available if you need it. With so much available, never feel embarrassed to ask for more support should you ever need it.

Dealing with pre-exam nerves

Exam season can be a pretty nerve wracking time. It doesn’t help by the fact you’re probably spending late nights in the library, only having an energy drink to keep you awake. Last year, I got so worked up about my exams I ended up having a panic attack in one of them. I’ve since then learned from my mistakes and I am writing this blog to give you tips on how to deal with pre-exam nerves and anxiety.

Have a good mindset: exams are important but not more important than you

Stress in small amounts is good for you. It shows you that you may need to be working harder or that you need to change your revision plan. But a lot of stress…that can really affect your mental health, as I found out last year. If you can’t control something and you are doing the best that you can, then accept it and just do your best!

Last year I had 7 exams in 12 days. I was so stressed about it all and felt so anxious. I was working 9am till 9pm, only taking breaks to eat because I really wanted that 2:1! This isn’t healthy. In my 4th exam I had a panic attack with an exam the next morning too. It was a horrible feeling. But I realise now that I shouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself. I was doing the best I could and that was what mattered. I couldn’t change the situation, so should have not got so anxious about achieving the grades I wanted. Keep a good mindset and just try your best!

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Take breaks

Everyone has there preferred time of day that they work better. I like to get up early and revise until tea time then have the evening off to chill and have a break from revision.  You might rather sleep in and get up and start doing work about 2 and then do work till later in the evening. You might prefer to do a couple of hours, have a couple hours break, then do some more. But it is important to fit in breaks. You will be far less productive if you don’t! And it is also not good for your mind set if all you’re thinking of all day everyday is revision.

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Make a plan

The more organised and prepared you are, the the less nervous you are going to feel about your exams. Make a revision plan. Plan each day with what revision you are going to do. Spread time wisely across each exam. Don’t leave the exam you hate till the week before.. you’ll feel worse and more stressed for it!

Eat healthily and exercise regularly

I find that exercise is a nice break from studying. Not only does it help me think I’m staying in shape (with all the extra stress food I’m eating), but it also is good for studying because of the hormones it releases. There are certain foods that are meant to help with stress. The one that I always rely on is dark chocolate. I’ll have a couple of squares a day as a treat. Unfortunately, some of the other foods don’t sound so appealing, but they include leafy vegetables, salmon, blueberries, avocados and seeds.

Try relaxation techniques such as meditation

It is important during exam season to relax. Meditation is a great way to do this. It has many benefits such as reducing stress, improves concentration, increases self-awareness and practice benefits cardiovascular and immune health. There are apps you can download that can help you and Youtube videos too.

Over the Easter break I went to a yoga retreat in Portugal. It was my friends idea and after my panic attack last year I thought it would be a great way to de-stress. Here is a picture before a mediation, me standing closest to the camera.

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Exam season can be a scary time, even if you prefer exams over coursework (like me). Remember they will come to a end and the horrible exam zombie you have become will go away. And once they are over, you have a 3 month summer to look forward to! Good luck with your exams 🙂

 

Brain Snacks: the best food and drinks to have when you’re revising

When revising it is important to keep your brain active and yourself motivated to work. This blog is going to give you some ideas of food and drink that you can have either as a snack or as part of a meal to get you through those tough days.

  • Fruit and Vegetables

There are many vitamins, minerals, and ions in fruit and vegetables; therefore they will give you an energy boost. The fructose and healthy sugar in them coverts into energy. Some of the best fruits to have are apples, bananas, berries and avocados.

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• Peanut butter

Peanut butter is not necessarily unhealthy in small portions. It contains healthy fats, similar to avocados, and it has lots of protein. Peanut butter can be put on toast, crackers or even in porridge and it also can store for a long time in your cupboard before expiring. An essential student food!

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• Eggs

These are very filling and a great food for breakfast to start off your day. There are many different ways to cook them; such as boiled, scrambled, poached and fried, therefore they are hard to get bored of! Start your day right with a filling breakfast and you’ll find yourself being more productive!

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• Pumpkin seeds and Walnuts

These have omega-3 and zinc in them, which helps to stimulate your memory. They are a great snack, or something you can add to your main meal, such as a salad.

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• Coffee

This is a great drink to keep you awake! This is sometimes a necessity to get through your studying. Just make sure you don’t over do it!

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• Squash

We all know that water is the best drink to drink to stay hydrated and studies have shown that it can actually help you to perform better in tests. However, it can sometimes get boring, so why not change it up a bit by adding some squash!

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Also, as well as drinking and eating the right things, remember to stay hydrated with water and get enough sleep! These will keep your brain awake and more motivated, so you don’t fall asleep whilst studying!

Opportunities Knock: An example of the possibilities open to you at university

Never let it be said that university is purely for studying. Yes, it does make up a significant proportion of it, but it is only part of the entire university experience. Previous blogs have commented on how it gets you to become more independent, to meet new and wonderful people and additionally for the vast number of opportunities that it opens for you.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that during my time at university I would meet authors and royalty or dress as a cow during welcome week complete with a rubber glove udder (thankfully no pictures survive of this particular choice of outfit!).

University is a place of opportunities that you should take up because you never know where they could lead you.

Last year I was pleased to hear that one of my friends had submitted a proposal to put on a play at the on-campus Lakeside Theatre through an open submission that the theatre regularly holds. Her proposal was accepted and so began the several months of planning and rehearsing.

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The play in question was Harold Pinter’s “The Dumb Waiter”- not the easiest of plays especially for a student director and current drama students playing the only two characters in the show. Everything about this play had to be based around their studies, their weekly readings and essays!

The Dumb Waiter is a one act play and is certainly a difficult task as the only two characters in the show are, for the most part, constantly on stage. The fact that Finn Todd (Gus) and Lloyd Shankley (Ben) were able to hold the audience’s attention for nearly an hour is a testament to their acting abilities. The physicality of their performance along with Ellen Pascoe’s skilful directing meant that the show was engaging and visually stunning- who would have thought that the opening few minutes of Gus tying and re-tying his shoes  could prove so funny and watchable?

The story of two hitmen waiting in a basement for their next assignment has a great air of menace about it, with Gus questioning their work and their abilities while Ben follows orders from “above” obediently and without hesitation.

The smaller studio space at the Lakeside Theatre worked incredibly well for this performance. The intimate, black walled room made the audience feel closer to the action and easily replicated the basement room in which the play is set. Better still was the fact that the performance began the minute the audience started to enter room, with the audience having to walk across the stage and past the actors idling on their beds in order to take their seats.

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L-R: Finn Todd (Gus) and Lloyd Shankley (Ben) in The Dumb Waiter. [Photo courtesy of Rhianna Hughes]

The testament of this great show is demonstrated by the fact that the two initial performances sold out, with demand being so high that a third performance was added at short notice.

Like many things this opportunity was a risk both for my friend Ellen in proposing and directing it and also for the Lakeside Theatre for providing the venue, resources and time for the show. But it paid off spectacularly becoming a resounding success and one of the most popular student show of the year.

I started this blog by talking about the importance of taking risks and the different opportunities that are possible at university, therefore I hope that I have done The Dumb Waiter some justice whilst encouraging you to take hold of all those possibilities open to you.