Flashback Friday: How I didn’t become a politician in Germany…

There could be only one flashback post this week, when it popped up on my Timehop app yesterday that 3 years ago I flew out with some fellow University of Glasgow School of Education postgrads for a two week intensive programme in Germany. I have such good memories of the friends I made during that experience and this story is something my friends and I still laugh about.

Original Post: March 1st 2014

I feel I should explain something. There’s a woman in Germany called Prof Dr. Christina Völkl-Wolf and she is not me.

On our first day travelling to the university in Würzburg, we immediately began to notice posters with people’s faces on them. They reminded me of American car salesman ads – I don’t know why. During our guided tour of the city centre we saw even more and certain faces began to become familiar. Eventually I asked the professor from the host university what they were all about.

It turned out they were posters for politicians campaigning to be voted in the local elections which are this month.

One of the girls I travelled with has a tradition with her sister of taking pictures imitating statues. She had got me to take photos of her to send to her sister, and me being me, I joined in the banter.


A couple of days later, I think cabin fever got to us (there were 42 of us sharing one kitchen, 52 of us in one room at the university for most of each day…) and we decided to get some fresh air by walking from the campus to the train station rather than taking a bus. Chariots of Fire was reenacted in a park. And we started posing next to the election posters.

We worried that maybe the folks in Germany would be offended, but it turned out they thought it was funny too (phew) so we did it a few times, as well as doing the statue imitations. At the weekend, we were free to go explore the region as much as we wanted. While I went with most of the Italian university group to explore Nuremberg and Bamberg, two of the Scottish group went with one of the Hungarians to explore Würzburg. When I returned they told me I had to see the poster they had found, and showed me on their phone the picture they had taken of it.

You have to get your picture taken next to one of these posters they said.

The next day, I went into Würzburg with one of my roommates and while walking up to the Fortress we saw one of the aforementioned posters. And I obliged.


And then I made it my facebook profile pic, which got plenty of comments, the best of which came from my sister who said “HIMYM doppelgänger moment x” (How I Met Your Mother fans will understand). Yes. We had found ‘German Professor Laurie’, and she was a nominee for the city council.

One of my classmates was disappointed my hair hadn’t been straightened that day, so on the last night we took a photo of another poster we found walking back to the main station.


I did check with the Würzburg students she wasn’t some crazy conservative,  because I was concerned I might be inadvertently promoting someone from the German equivalent of UKIP or something. They told me she isn’t though they didn’t know much about her.

So there you have it. Some say we don’t look alike at all, others think it’s a bit freaky! Good luck Christina, and serve your city well.


Flashback Friday: To the Freshers, from the Graduate…

Originally published in September 2010

So over the next few weeks, lots of young people will be packing up their stuff into bags, suitcases and boxes as they leave home for the first time and move to go to university.

Unbelievably it was NINE (update: FIFTEEN) years ago when my Mum and I drove up the M90 to move me into the university halls of residence at Hillhead that was my home for my first year at the University of Aberdeen studying for an MA in Human Geography. I was 17 years old, no one else in my family had ever gone to university, all my friends (except 2 who left a year early like me) were staying on for our final year of high school, I’d been warned to do everything except go to any Chaplaincy events and I didn’t actually know that you had to do exams at university before the end of your 4 year degree.

I was CLUELESS. And I’m thankful that in 2001, no one really owned digital cameras 🙂

So I thought I’d impart my wisdom I learned from that first year onto any freshers to be who want to ‘listen’…

Dear Freshers,

I am so excited that you are going to university. I found a real home in Aberdeen when I was a student, and my hope is that no matter where it is you go to study, you will find a home there too. I hope you learn lots, not just from what you study, but also from experiencing so many opportunities that are going to lay ahead of you.

I also wanted to give a few of my top tips for living in halls. First of all, take things with you to make it ‘homey’. Pictures of friends, family, pets. Posters (though I’m willing to bet you’ll find some GREAT poster sales in Fresher’s Week). But most importantly: TAKE YOUR OWN DUVET COVERS! Second of all, for the first few days keep your door wide open whenever you’re in your room (maybe not when you’re changing or sleeping, but you catch my drift right?), this way you can say hello to people who might be passing. It’s a great way to greet your roommates/neighbours in halls who may also be feeling homesick or nervous.  I also took teabags, juice and stuff so that I could offer cups of tea or whatever which people really appreciated if they hadn’t unpacked or got to the shops yet.

Be nice to the campus staff – porters, cleaners, cafeteria staff….(it pays to be nice, just ask any of the S Floor girls!)

There’ll be lots of events on for freshers, and it’s worth going to as many as you can. Freshers week creates so many memories, and I still remember my freshers week – we had such a great laugh, all the girls on my floor together.

If you are a Christian – check out your CU on campus. Most CUs will put on events in Freshers week, and even if you never really get involved for the rest of the year, it’s worth getting to know some of the other Christians on campus. Most of the ‘older’ Christian students will organise church walks so that you don’t get lost trying to find churches on a Sunday morning/evening, and it’s nice to go in a group.

Which brings me to my next piece of advice. Find a church home. Sometimes we used to get quite competitive in the CU about how many freshers we got to go to OUR church. But seriously guys, find the one where you think you can be involved and grow in your faith. Get stuck in…introduce yourself, find out more about the church, what their vision is and whether it’s one you feel called to be a part of. If you find one, stay there – don’t spend the whole term church shopping. Trust me, in the second semester (after Christmas) you want to be settled.

Get involved in university too. Join a society – it’s a great time to try new things whether it be musical theatre, underwater hockey, canoeing, football or gardening!

Make sure you have a good stock of lemsip and vaporub. If you don’t catch the fresher’s flu at some point in your first term, it’ll be a miracle (and I want to know your secret).

A toastie maker is your friend. Cheese and baked bean toasties rock at 2 a.m.

Take flip flops for the communal showers (unless you’re going to posh accommodation with an en-suite…)

Try to go to at least 50% of your lectures (and if you miss them, make sure you catch up!). Don’t miss tutorials.

If you find you are hating what you study after 1 year, don’t feel like a failure. That’s fine. It wasn’t for you, and now you know. You gave it a go and it’s not the end of the world. Several of my friends changed degree after their first year. I changed 7 weeks into my 3rd year. Find what you do like, go for it and stick at it! No matter what degree you do, there’ll be boring courses you have to take. I loved my Health Sciences degree, but the compulsory study of Statistics that was part of it did make me cry (more than once).

Take advantage of the student discounts (always ask wherever you go!)

Don’t get a credit card. Try your best to avoid going into student overdrafts if you can.

Put your student loan or bursary into a high interest savings account.

Avoid drugs like the plague, if you’re going to drink alcohol do it sensibly (and never on an empty stomach), and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel out of your depth.

Feel free to experiment with fashion. It’ll make for great photos to show your grandchildren in later life if nothing else. 😉

But most importantly…enjoy it. It doesn’t come again and university is an amazing opportunity not many people in the world get. It will shape you and give you a foundation for the rest of your life as you take on more adult responsibility.

And I hope you’ll gain so many friends you have for life…

Safe travels & happy studying!

love from,

Brunette Koala 

DipHE BScHlthSci (Hons) (<–the only time I’ll ever use those letters it took me 5 years to earn!) (Update: Lets make that Brunette Koala DipHE BScHlthSci (Hons) PgDip)

PS  If you’re a university graduate, what advice would you give to freshers and current students?

Comments left by readers on the original post:

ScottI graduated with a DipHE so my advice might be limited but I’d add.

Treat it like a job with a flexible boss, do a uni 9-5. That way you’ll keep on top of things and not find yourself saying you have to study when an otherwise unmissable opportunity comes up.

Register with a GP. You may never go but if you do have to go at least you’ll not have to fill out crummy forms when you are ill.

Don’t leave laundry in the machine, be ready for the cycle ending or a fellow student will pile it on the floor for you.

And to expand on the wrong course point, if you are on the wrong course it is also okay to leave uni and figure out what to do, check out exit awards first.

TaraFor those who are Christians – when it comes time to leave halls and start choosing flat mates (third term of 1st year), try not to live with all Christians. You’ll never have a better opportunity to talk to your peers about your faith and those opportunities will not come more naturally than with those you live with. On the flip side, don’t be the only Christian in your flat – because that is tough too.
That’s the advice from my experience. From others – put your faith and morals out there early. Not in people’s faces, but don’t hide who you are. If you don’t drink and are joining the hockey team whose initiation involves copious amounts of alcohol,don’t cave. Tell them you don’t drink but that you want to play for them and will take some other initiation ceremony instead. Those moments are terrifying – but once people know who you are up front, they accept you and it ceases to be an issue. And it ultimately gains you much respect and many opportunities.

GavinThis seems quite appropriate…


BK’s YouTube Picks: Kitten Therapy

So I got word that my ethics application to get my research project has been submitted and being processed today. I’m still struggling to find the words for my literature review, but my panicked writers block has meant that I’ve got lots of other things accomplished.

Trying not to stress out, and knowing that some of my classmates are feeling the same way is making me feel a bit better. However, I am thinking that having a  place to be barefoot sitting on the grass in the warm sunshine with some kittens sounds wonderful. SoulPancake, if you could make it over to the UK? It would be much appreciated!

I brought the beach home with me…


I’m back, there is sand EVERYWHERE (no seriously…some of my clothes are going through a second cycle in the washing machine as the first cycle didn’t get the sand out of them!!) and I’m now munching on fresh raspberries as I process the last week.

A week that started out with a surf lesson that I think made me a little ill (more on that at some point probably), and ended with going to church where I ended up crying so much that I stained my top with dripping tears. Classy.

There is nothing quite like not getting enough sleep and being outside your comfort zone to really make you raw and very self aware. The realisation of how easily you can get into a grumpy mood or could get into an argument with someone over something really trivial is telling when you aren’t in your normal routine and not getting enough sleep each night to boot. There is also that thing of being outwith your normal routine and doing things you’ve not done in ages to make you realise your passions, strengths and weaknesses.


One of the highlights of the week was getting to lead worship every night with my friend Craig. We were sad that his wife and kids weren’t at Surf Camp this year 😦 especially as I’m really beginning to get to know this family over the last couple of years – a few returning campers remember his children fondly from the previous year as they are awesome (like all my friends’ kids really. They are truly and genuinely all awesome). Craig had been so generous in letting me have input into the music for the week and working on it together with other members of the team. I honestly didn’t know whether I could do it still and though there were a few hairy moments it turned out much better and differently that I expected. I even got to do a bit of ukulele-ing and at the end of camp was showing a couple of the campers the chords on ukulele for some of the songs. I even got to do some campfire songs, and learned a new one that I’ve tucked away for a new term at Guides after the summer!



And I love the random discussions we got into in our smallgroup. Like do penguins have knees, and what animals could have been on Noah’s ark. Animals we are familiar with, or animals that became extinct long before we were around to know of them? So I couldn’t help but laugh to walk past this above picture that steadily got added to during the week…!


The plague of rainbows continued too, as on the final night of camp, a rainbow stretch across the sky above the campsite as we had our end of camp barbecue.

Now I have more questions than answers, as I sense the rainbows are reminding me to trust God in a time where I think there are going to be doors I have to proverbially knock on …which could lead to some big (and scary) life changes. In other news, on a trip to the local swimming pool I discovered (through the Leisure Centre’s free wifi) that I have passed my final assignment for my university practice placement. It wasn’t my best mark, but I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be great given the difficulties I had during my placement which were beyond my control, and the lack of time I ended up with to do the assignment. Assuming the external examiners give their stamp of approval to my grade, I have all the credits for my Diploma in Community Learning and Development now and could graduate in December if I don’t end up signing on for an additional year to do a research project that would upgrade my Diploma to a Masters of Education.

We shall see…! 🙂

I’m back!

So after five days of this


and this


(if you are wondering why the laptop is closed, that’s because I kept having to shut it down every 1-2 hours to let it cool down and then start it up again. Not what you want on a deadline!)

I have *hopefully* FINISHED my postgraduate diploma!


This was me just after submitting my assignment online – unwashed hair tied up and out my face – check. Comfy clothes that kept me cool in my sauna like room with constantly overheating laptop – check. No make up – check. Relief mixed with slight anxiety – check.

I haven’t failed any of my modules so far, and I think at every turn there have been obstacles in my way. Whether it was work deadlines coinciding with uni deadlines, broken laptops, lack of library resources available, deaths and illness…it’s been there over these last 21 months. When I was finishing my undergraduate degree, I lived in my own flat, had a car, lived 15 mins from the medical school I studied in (and had a card that gave me 24hr access to a computer room there) and had a job where I could choose which shifts to take or refuse. Postgraduate life has been very different – less money, no car, living 1hr drive (longer on public transport) away, not being in my own home and many more commitments and responsibilities.

After submitting, I watched some stand up comedy on YouTube to try and get my head out of Community Development, went to sleep and 8 hours later was working in the cafe. It was quiet though, so I finally got to open the big envelope from the Edinburgh Book Festival and started going through the listings over a cup of hot chocolate between the brunch and lunch customers…


And after work on Sunday, the sunshine had made a brief return and my work colleague got me to come out to Film in the City for a showing of Mean Girls. It’s not my favourite film by a long shot, but it was fun to sit in the sunshine in the middle of St Andrew’s Square and just enjoy it! Plus, we got there early and the Princess Bride had been showing before – so I got to catch the end of that. And join in with my (and my brother’s) favourite line

“Hello my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”


Now it’s tying everything up for the end of term at the 3 Girlguiding units, the continuation of job hunting and reading that big pile of books before the Book Festival. And of course booking my tickets next Tuesday.

Oh yes…and writing things that aren’t going to be marked by university lecturers. 🙂

Quote of the Week 3: Do not fail by default

quote Jk Rowling

Hope you don’t mind that you’re getting J.K. Rowling quotes two weeks in a row, but this week has made me reflect on this one.

As a child, academics were a bit of a breeze. I was pretty much always the first to finish my school work in class, and with the exception of learning Long Division I don’t really remember having to work hard. I wasn’t great at art, I was terrible at any sport that involved upper body strength or hand eye coordination. But I was ok with that. Academia was my thing. Dance was my thing. So I was good with not being the best at drawing or putting a ball through a netted hoop. The only problem was that I rarely got challenged. It wasn’t until I got to my fourth year of high school and tried to get my head around quadratic equations (still can’t do them!) that I ever truly struggled to understand a concept. The rest of my classes were pretty much a breeze, and unless I enjoyed them I didn’t study for them. However, what it brought on was a completely paralysing fear of failure.

I played it safe with subjects that I found easy to pass until 2003 – when I decided to switch from Geography to a degree in Public Health.

My degree in Public Health if I had entered it from high school required me to have had two Maths and Sciences Highers. I didn’t have a single one. So though I found Biology easy to pick up, I still remember the shock of going into a university Statistics lecture. It was taught by straight maths professors who would post equations on an Overhead Projector and then pick on people in the lecture theatre to tell him how to work out the equations. The whole thing was spoken in a language of symbols that I had no concept of.

I bought three calculators that semester. Why? Because every time I got a calculator I’d walk into the next week of lecture to find out there was another special function I needed that mine didn’t have.

Every week I would go to the library with my statistics homework to be done for my next tutorial, and would end up in tears because it didn’t come naturally. I had no clue how to work it out. It was overwhelming, and I was terrified that I’d fail the course and that would be the end of my degree. I would have to go back to studying Geography with my tail between my legs with the word ‘numpty’ written across my forehead.

And then came a saviour in the form of a guy I knew from the Christian Union who was studying Maths and Physics. He was taking the same course as an extra credit. I will be forever grateful to him for his patience. Pretty much every week he would find me crying in the library over a sheet of statistics, and ask if I needed help, show me what the calculator buttons I needed were, and calmly explain each mathematic concept step by step until I was at least able to do one or two of the questions on my own. Meanwhile, I had a kick-ass tutor at the medical school who came up with all sorts of creative ways of helping us understand probability and other statistical things! Including a memorable class that involved chocolate bars in the shape of frogs.

It was only when I was scanning my university transcripts to apply for my postgraduate qualification last year that I realised out of all the courses I had taken that semester, my highest grade was for Statistics. I think I even came out the exam smiling, glad that I’d been at least able to answer some of the questions.

Somehow though, I redeveloped my fear of failure. I think it met up with my fear of rejection and they combined forces. Though the lack of funds was always contributing factor, the real reason it took me seven years before I applied to do my postgraduate qualification was because I was terrified of failure. And the reason I went to Glasgow was because I never wanted to get a higher level of qualification than I absolutely had to.

Going to Germany last year changed that, as I realised how dumb I was being. And so in December I made a decision that even though it seemed nuts, even though I didn’t have a job yet, and could never guarantee I’d have enough money to keep me going if another almost £2000 of tuition fees had to be found from my much depleted savings…that I would go for it and do my Masters.

This week I got confirmation that I would be allowed to do my research dissertation to get my Masters this summer.

I may fail. My research may be total crap. I may not get a great mark. I may end up with no money to keep myself fed and clothed. I may never get work after I finish.

But I decided that I was making a decision to not do it because I was afraid of failure (in university, in life) rather than trying something that I’m not sure I’ll do well at but could give me great skills and help me learn more. Maybe even help other people learn too.

I don’t know.

But I just want to say thanks for your speech J K Rowling. It’s one I go back to again, and again for a pep talk. And thank you Andy for all your stats coaching all those years ago too!

I don’t want to fail, but I definitely don’t want to fail by default because I don’t even bother trying.