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A few words on paperwork

12 October 2015

Testing, testing… one, two… Actually, that quite accurately describes my first few weeks in Barcelona: testing. That said, I brought it on myself. I’m not gonna make excuses for not having written a blog post thus far. Since arriving basically all I’ve done is drink, sleep and panic, on a repeat cycle. That’s not the way it should have been, apparently, but being Cardiff University Modern Languages school’s least organised student three years running (self-proclaimed), I should have foreseen it.

My issue, which I’ve carried with me since I was a surly adolescent, is that deadlines just never really spoke to me. They were always arbitrary dates that I’d mindlessly copy into a notebook because someone on one of the upper rungs of the education ladder had scrawled them in huge letters on a board in front of my face, or highlighted them in bold in an email marked ‘URGENT’. ‘That’s probably important’ I’d tell myself, and put my headphones back in or go to kick a ball around for a couple of hours. Weeks later, an outstretched hand and an exasperated look from an already exhausted, overworked and underfunded teacher on a dewy Wednesday morning would scrape the dirt off the long-buried memory of the deadline, and a patronising voice would tell me that my ability was being wasted through incompetence.

Although the self-inflicted scars of GCSE are still showing, by ignoring them I only repeat my mistakes. Since moving to Cardiff I can’t recall submitting any coursework without having stayed up all night in order to comply with its deadline: some of the best pieces I’ve ever written wouldn’t have been possible if the 24-hour Spar on City Road hadn’t sold 24 pro plus tablets, 40 teabags and a packet of custard creams for under £4. At least I managed to adhere to those dates, though – albeit only by a matter of minutes in most cases – unlike those for my year abroad. Student finance; learning agreement; module selection; online enrolment: all deadlines, all missed. Typically, it was September before I made a meaningful attempt to resolve all that, and despite the efforts of what seemed to be half the Cardiff Uni staff body (who are almost too accustomed to brainless languages students of my ilk), I still find myself lost in a maze that I built from the outside in.

I managed to start my classes three days ago: two weeks late, still without a student number, student card, or any prior knowledge of the subjects that I eventually enrolled myself for, in a language that I at best pretend to understand. Not sure if I’ve thrown myself in at the deep end or dived into the kids’ pool and cracked my skull open.

If you haven’t guessed by now what I’m getting at, my problems are all down to lack of preparation. Had I stuck to the deadlines that I deemed irrelevant, listened to the advice that I ignored or taken the steps that I thought were futile, I undoubtedly wouldn’t be in this position. Unfortunately for everyone involved, that’s not in my nature. It’s a part of me that I’ve long accepted, but that never helped me with anything. It is in my nature, though, to try to help others, and that’s what this blog is supposed to be about, so let’s give that a go.

If, like me, you inexplicably ignore all warnings and advice from lecturers, have an innate phobia of tick-boxes and block capitals and yet plan on going on a year abroad, I suggest you attempt to change your mentality. If one of your coordinators tells you that the deadline for something is a certain date, it may seem obvious, but you should probably submit it by that date. There’s likely a reason for the deadline, even if it seems completely unfounded. The problem is that hoards of students miss the dates, so the uni are well capable of dealing with people coming to them with emails saying ‘I missed the deadline, HELP ME PLZ’ – it happens to them every year – but once you know there’s a safety net in place, the deadline itself becomes completely negligible.

I also understand that it’s an added stressor to have this year abroad stuff tied round your ankle when you’re trying to get through all your work. Second year of uni was the hardest I’ve studied in my twenty-one years, and whilst I stumbled around in thorny labyrinth of Catalan grammar, the year abroad prep seemed comparatively unimportant. There isn’t, however, any real excuse not to do all the paperwork when all you’re doing all day is sitting around half-naked eating cheese toasties, listening to The Strokes and watching Dave. Not that I ever did that, I swear… But my point is most of the deadlines are during the summer holidays, and the forms are easy enough once you peel yourself away from Facebook and sit down to them. If you need help, there’s only an email between you and a bunch of helpful staff.

Now comes the part where you go: ‘Hang about Joe, what position are you in to lecture me on all this? You’re clearly an incapable fool’. Well, I am, but I can tell you how it feels when you don’t follow the guidelines, and that will hopefully put you off copying me.


You wait in a queue for ninety minutes only to be told that you’re missing two documents you didn’t know you needed, and they have a meeting tomorrow, and it’s a bank holiday the next day, and the faculty’s not open on Fridays, so have a nice weekend, come back on Monday and rejoin the back of the queue.

Then you get the emails from Cardiff that effectively say, ‘Dear Joseph, we’re sorry to hear about all the problems you’re having, but this is basically your fault for being lazy all summer. P.S. Where’s that learning agreement we asked you for two months ago?’.

Then there’s the texts off your mum going ‘Have you enrolled yet!?’ and the ones off your dad going ‘Have you seen the footy!? Scenes!’, which don’t help anything.

Then, when you do start classes, five minutes in, as if in some planned attack, each lecturer stops talking, stares at you bewildered and asks ‘¿Eres nuevo?’, inviting an ocean of tanned faces to turn in unison towards you and judge the pronunciation of your reply.

I exaggerate – Cardiff have been extremely helpful, as have the people I’ve actually managed to speak to over here, but this would have all been done already if I hadn’t neglected it for months before arriving. The ‘I’ll sort it when I get there’ mentality doesn’t fly with the Europeans – they do needless, mind-draining bureaucracy better than anyone, and if you try to fight it, it will ensnare you tighter, a bit like that big plant thing in Harry Potter.

I’m not saying that signing up to your uni modules online before you arrive is the golden ticket to the year abroad chocolate factory – moving to another country is a challenge even when you’ve done all the admin (so I’ve heard) – but let the problems you have be new problems, like the fact that your flat doesn’t have a toaster, or that you can’t find Marmite anywhere, or that BBC iPlayer doesn’t work. Don’t needlessly haul with you a load of aggro that you could have easily shifted before you left, and you’ll make moving away as enjoyable as a year-long holiday; and, to be honest, I’m still convinced that’s what the year abroad is supposed to be.

Hasta luego