Humanities & Social Sciences placements

Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences' students share their placement and year abroad experiences.

Topic: 2013-14

Saying Adieu to a Year of Placement

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

"Saying Goodbye doesn't mean anything. It's the time we spent together that matters, not how we left it."
Trey Parker

Saying goodbye to the city of Bristol

Saying goodbye to the city of Bristol

It's hard to find the perfect words in order to summarise the things I've learned and experienced over a whole year. So much so, that I can't even begin to write about how I'm trying to say goodbye to BSDAS. I could see it in crystal clear view as I emptied out my Bristol apartment, I'd hoarded tonnes of paperwork, books and notes... or as I liked to call it 'valuable knowledge'. Obviously, the year long learning experience was a success.

Though I've accomplished and contributed so much already (with the support of my dedicated supervisors), I can't help feeling that I could still learn that little bit more... but my turbulent and exciting time at placement has finally reached it's conclusion.

If there is one thing I can definitely say is that I feel empowered by my vast improvement, feeling fully transformed into an overall more mature, confident and knowledgeable person/ Psychology student than the amateur that I felt like stepping into the Bristol Drugs and Alcohol Service for the first time. Back then I was fumbling around awkwardly, eager to dive in, whereas now I have a deep understanding of how things function, how psychology plays into the real world, how to do my role professionally and where I fit in the grand scheme of things.

And if you can accomplish that in your placement year, then big supreme pat on the back, you've gone over and beyond the threshold of a valuable learning experience too.

Psychology isn't about 'the man and the therapy sofa'

With my naivety, that was probably the first thing I learnt when I started working. Considering the variety of roles and tasks I was heavily involved with during placement, I was able to realise the 'big picture' about the world of Clinical Psychology. It isn't about the client feeling so 'oh mon Dieu' sprawled across the coach and the therapist telling them what to do with their lives. It's about the therapist making a connection with the client, building a trusting relationship, validating their feelings and experiences, and helping the client to realise the solution to their own problems rather than forcing it down on them like the lightning of Zeus. As a client described so well, "Therapy is a helping hand up, not a hand holding experience'.

Therapy requires skill, subtlety and practice... and even being given the chance to learn this, as well as gaining the responsibility to lead my own individual and group therapy sessions over my placement, is more than any psychology student can dream of achieving a such an early stage of their education. I am one lucky girl.

And also, it isn't just about the therapy. It's about creating research to contribute to the body of Psychological studies and developing meaningful resources to educate others on basic Psychology, such as on how to tackle their own or their close others issues. I have been ever-thankful to be involved in administering measures to new clients in order to evaluate the existence of personality disorders, creating a detox information workbook which will be published and used across NHS detox services in the UK, and generating a piece of qualitative research on Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. No amount could describe the gratitude I have for BSDAS for giving me these outstanding opportunities to learn and to grow. With a fresh and clear mind, I can only hope to continue this level of success for my final year of University.

Change? What change?

If you feel like you haven't changed (even that teeny bit) over the duration of the year... then something must have gone wrong. Unless you were already the best person in the universe... which is highly unlikely. There is always room to improve.

Placement year really gives you the scope to develop yourself both as a person and a professional. You'll most likely feel like you've really begun to fill into your shoes and, hopefully, gained the proper practice to play into the remainder of your degree. What you've learned now isn't just about what you've read or seen in textbooks or in articles, it's also about what you've personally observed and actively practiced in whatever field you were involved in, and linking everything together... you'll definitely feel like those abstract theories and concepts have found their place in the real world and understand how they really contribute to it.

Personally, my experiences have allowed me to notice a drastic change in my sense of empathy - particularly in the way that I communicate with people. I have also, thankfully, developed a force-field of confidence in my abilities and a pleasant assertiveness in order to negotiate my demands with others... which has helped me a lot in my professional and personal life. See what changes can occur for you?

What did I do most of on placement? Read.

What did I do most of on placement? Read.

Something to take away

Overall, it feels like I've done everything and everything throughout this year. I've studied, slaved, become a budding therapist, created research, deprived myself of sleep, become a professional urban explorer... but if there is one thing that I'll never forget from my experience, it's the gratitude I unexpectedly received from my clients.

When you're so keen on learning and improving, sometimes you have to just take a step back and see what you've been able to accomplish. At the end of my placement, I received an unexpected visit from my clients who came to thank me for my work with them throughout the year. 'You have a fresh optimism,' they said, 'relentless dedication to improve our lives'. What greater indication of success did I need than this? Not only was I moved, but if I feel down, I remember the positive feedback I was told and that if I was able to motivate people to live their life to the fullest and to stay clean from substances... than I was surely capable of motivating myself to great things too.

So, in writing this all down I am in fact saying a proper goodbye to BSDAS and I can truly say that learning about the possibilities of what I could achieve through my clients... thatwas the biggest and the best thing I am taking away from this experience.


Bristol Festivals: Love Saves The Day

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

“I’m covered in mud.”
Valerie Alunan

Main Stage, from Official Website

Main Stage, from their Official Website

Love Saves the What? Love Saves the Day.
Pioneering Bristol music festival. Party in the park extravaganza. Mountains of cast away Red Stripe cans. Hipsters' day to show off their un-mainstream fashion. Metres and metres of mud.

Now I’m not a big fan or all that knowledgeable on the goings-on and whats-happenings of electronic and house music... but Love Saves the Day is BIG, and it’s famous, and it was literally in the park 10 metres away from my front doorstep. As my fellow Bristolian placement students had so rightly put it at the very beginning of the year (when we are all but little lost Bath students in the big, wide, colourful world of Bristol), “If there is ONE thing we do this year, we HAVE to go to this festival.” So, we bought our tickets then and there.

Absent-mindedly, I forgot that I had even bought that ticket until a month before the festival. You know, when they started putting up their vintage-style posters and splashing their advertisement graffiti all over the city. I saw giant kissing couples everywhere (which by the way… is their logo). It was a silent but vivid reminder of what was to come.

So, instead of rambling in giant wads of text of what exactly I did that day… I’ll break it down. You should all know by now that I love bullet points, pros and cons, and any nonchalant way to split up my pages to make it easier on the vulnerable, naked eye. I’ll carry on that hearty tradition now.

Stage one: The Night Before
You know that feeling that you have before you even start doing anything, that whatever you do will turn into a gigantic masterpiece of mess? Well the night before the festival, I had that very feeling. Boo, eerie. And guess what? I should have just stayed at home and prepared myself vigilantly for the day after. I should have wrapped myself in bubble wrap in the corner of my room and just not had variable social contact with humans. I, and I know I will be somewhat judged by whoever will soon be reading this, I should just not touch alcohol ever. And anyway, who’s to judge? This is a student blog and if I say that students, including myself, don’t drink alcohol that would be one big lie on my part. And alcohol will most likely find me again. But hey, it was my close friend’s leaving party in Bath and I will surely miss him with all my heart as he goes all the way 4688 miles away from us – and yes, I Googled how many miles we are apart. Touching.

To steer away from an avid storytelling of how my night went and eventually ended, I will conclude this section with a running list: I went to happy hour, I got banned from The Nest for defending someone from some unnecessarily aggressive bouncers, I was told incessantly that I should just try to stop helping people, I cried outside the Abbey, I trudged home. Or alternatively, I struggled home. Thankfully, I avoided my arch-enemy... McDonalds.

Stage two: The Morning After
The morning after began like a disaster: a headache, a dire thirst for water, a crippling hunger for junk food, the need to shower, a general feeling of rancidness. It was a like a scene from the Hangover movie – only that I wasn’t missing any teeth. I got a text from my friend who was downstairs in the kitchen sternly telling me to get out of bed and stop feeling like the putrid being I was feeling. The festival was starting in an hour. I texted back, “Boil the kettle, please.”

Before we hopped on the bus to Bristol, in order to kick-start some “fun in the sun” festivities*. I had to scramble like a wet dog to a nearby internet café and pay a hideous price to print my entrance ticket (well since you ask, a total of £3.15) considering I forgot I had bought a ticket to this little shindig… again. Lacking food, water (not counting the monsoon), proper sleep and utilisable energy, I tried to sneak a power nap en route to the grand city.

*insert sarcasm here. There was no sun. Only pure, evil rain.

Stage three: We Should Have Left Earlier, Man
Once we got to Bristol it was straight to the checkpoint, the group rendezvous point – my flat. An estimated 10 steps from the entrance of the festival. By this time, the festival had been going on for an hour. The music was as clear as Brita filtered water from my door. But who turns up that early to anything anyway? We made a collective group decision to hide an hour indoors to have a drink in preparation for 10 hours of outdoor partying.

Soon we were in full swing, restored with able to waste energy. Our quaint group of Bath University students were having an afternoon cider (or for some others, leftover wine) and discussing colloquially about Ukraine, the European Elections, Ukip and various politics. When my flatmates' friends tried to join in, they swiftly waved their white flags and decided to drink in the bedroom next door. We felt a little nerdy. We didn't change topic.

When we finally emerged from the safe embrace of my apartment, we found our choice to arrive 'mode fin' crushed with an overwhelming sense of regret. At this point the line to get in had stretched from my front doorstep all the way across the High Street of Bristol - worse than a queue in Thorpe Park. After some brutal hours in line playing with balloons, shivering from the downpour, making silly conversations and taking turns waiting in line as we took turns to go the bathroom in the nearby McDonalds – it was finally our turn to enter the ring. Only 5 hours late into the park. Well, only 6 more hours of Love Saves the Day left.

Stage four: Love Saves the Day
What more can I say about the festival than it was an array of fun and entertainment. So much fun, in fact, that the rain didn’t even come to matter in the slightest. With a plethora of geometric-style stages, food on offer from the best but underrated places around Bristol (well, even though I got my delicious burger knocked out of my hand), circus tent bars, stream-covered forest areas and giant playground things - I spent most of my time happily exploring. Nobody cared if they were drenched, or covered in mud, or slipped over no less than 10 times. I can’t say much without sounding like I’m trying to bore you, all we did was laughed and danced like fools to some pretty good artists. I give them credit, perhaps electronic music shouldn't be so off my radar in future. This judging little gnome was sold good. Bristol got it right again.

Some highlights include:

We all got facepaint!

We all got facepaint!

Along our adventures we found a fringed tent hidden by a stage where a tonne of people were getting facepaint... or well, glitter paint. Most people were getting the standard 'unicorn head-butted you in the face' festival glow. Others, like my friend, went with a spectacular ginger glitter beard. The psychologist in me thought he was suffering from a deep masculinity complex, where he was feeling supremely undermined by the fact he could not grow facial hair at this prime age. I sure hope he never reads this. I pitied the girls drawing the same endless designs on festival-goers faces, I thought perhaps they were bored by lack of variety. I encouraged with gusto for the painter to show off her skills and to go free with the power of artistic license. Though I was pleased to have relieved the suffering of a repressed arty soul and with the outcome (see in the above photo), I realised shortly afterwards that she had just copied the design on my shirt. So much for the creative flow.

Here, our lovely ginger beard friend is given prime attention.

Other highlights include, getting ripped off for drinks, finding some quirky animal costumes adorn by some people in the audience and causing an uproar of chanting and gladiator-like cheering as me and my friends slipped on our backsides trying to carefully scale the steepest and muddiest hill in the park. We all threw out our demolished shoes the next day. I parted tearfully with my favourite boots. All in all, it was a good day.

Well, hopefully you enjoyed that post which wasn't so work related and actually, which wasn't what I'd promised, was longer than I expected. On your placement year really try to make some time to enjoy the place you live in, try out what they have to offer and get involved in some of the entertainment/music/arts in your spare time from work. As much as the learning you get from working on placement is vital to your University life and your career thereafter, the enjoyable experiences you grasp outside of work can really shape it up too.





A Year at PEAK (25/05/2014)

📥  2013-14, Health

Most of the posts I have done so far have covered all the experiences I have had outside of work. Whilst I have tried to touch on my experiences at PEAK as I have gone along I have decided to do a little re-cap of the year purely from a work point of view. So here goes...

The main thing I love about the field (and work at PEAK) is the variety of the work. Take for example my day on Saturday...I started work at 8am and for the first few hours I was involved in a research study on the effects of Beet Juice. Beet Juice has recently received a lot of attention for it's ability to improve athletic performance. Consuming beets has been shown to increase time to exhaustion during strenuous exercise and decrease the oxygen cost of low intensity exercise.  Whilst the exact mechanisms still remain unclear, Beetroot Juice is known to contain high concentrations of nitrates, which in turn are known to enhance vasodilatation, or the capacity of blood vessels to dilate and increase blood flow to the working muscles. Furthermore, Beet Juice has been proposed to reduce the oxygen cost of exercise presumably by improving oxidative metabolism efficiency.

The study we are doing involves participants completing a computerized course on two consecutive Saturday's, once as a baseline and the second time after consuming two doses of Beet Juice. We are still in the data collection stage of the study and throughout the race we are measuring time, power, blood lactate and perceived exertion. It has been great to be involved with a real-life research project and hopefully this experience will really help me when it comes to doing my dissertation. At 11am I cleared up the course, ran the blood samples (for blood lactate) and prepared for a movement screen. During the summer at PEAK most of the endurance athletes begin to train outside and we instead get a huge influx of hockey children who train with us during their off-season. The older kids complete a Hockey VO2 and a movement screen, whereas the younger children just complete a movement screen and strength/power testing. During the movement screen we test for muscle imbalances, lower and upper body strength and flexibility during a series of small assessments that allow us to design training programs that are specific to each individual. After the movement screen, I had a personal training session at midday. The strength and conditioning element of the placement has probably been the most valuable to me because I had very little experience of writing programs or training people. I am now much more confident in this area...something that will be invaluable when I finish University and begin the search for a job!!

I finished the day writing programs and sending emails. This weekend is the 'race weekend' in Ottawa and many of our endurance athletes are running either the full or half marathon today. It is good to touch base with people before their race and I spoke to one of my clients about fuelling and her ideal pace for the race. The year at PEAK has made me realise that for people to reach their goals with exercise (whether it be weight loss, general health or performance) testing is fundamental. This is something that I will take with me in whatever field that I end up working in.

That one day summaries everything that has been good about working at PEAK. The variety of the work (whether it be testing/running strength and conditioning classes/organising the racing series or writing programs), the responsibility we have been given as interns and the opportunity to really get involved. It has at times been challenging and we have hard to work very hard but overall it has been a fantastic learning experience.

Since my last post I have also had the small matter of my 21st birthday!! Although I worked on my birthday I had a great surprise when a HUGE cake was delivered to work from my mum. Last weekend I also biked to downtown Ottawa and back and I am loving getting outside now the weather is much nicer!!  I am off next month to BC for a few weeks...camping and exploring the Rockies!! Fair to say I am extremely excited for that!! I will be sure to post about all my adventures when I return...



The Pros and Cons of having a desk to call your own

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📥  2013-14, Psychology

"It's a wonderful world. You can't go backwards. You're always moving forward."
Harvey Fierstein

marlborough hill (800x450)

Apologies, and many more apologies for my absence in the world of blogging. I have had, let’s say, a very busy period of my life. ‘But where have you been Valerie?’, I hear you ask. And even if you aren’t asking, I’m going to tell you anyway.

It’s nearly the end of the (academic) year and I have been busy with writing my end of year report and also, writing a research paper for the Bristol Specialist Drugs and Alcohol Service (BSDAS). These past few weeks, I have been running around (well, more like spending hours of my life on buses) to different bases and people’s houses to conduct interviews with women on their experiences of mental illness and therapy. Sounds like a rainbow of interest and easy sailing, right? Well, it is a gold mine of interest, especially for Psychology research, but to my disdain, it is far from easy. Not only do I have to conduct hour long interviews, but I have to spend a day or two transcribing the interview into Word-format… That’s a story for another day.

Other than that, our previous base at the Blackberry Centre in Bristol has officially been cleared out. Yes, we basically got ‘kicked out’ of our office. This is because of the entire NHS restructuring, BSDAS has been changed to Bristol ROADS (Recovery Orientated Alcohol and Drugs Service) and the entire organisation has been reformed and transformed. This means bases have moved, the structure of the service we provide has changed… and well, for me, I just have to find a new place to sit and do my work.

Our team has spent the last month clearing out the building to move to a variety of places scattered around Bristol. It was like we were leaving the coup. By the end of the entire process, the building was but a drab of empty filing folders, tea mugs and the ghosts of a hustling-bustling team. Well, we didn’t die – it was just a big change from when I first starting working at the office.

Luckily for me, while everyone had the tedious job of packing years’ worth of belongings and files into multiple boxes for porters to shift to new places… I left with a pen, a stapler, a notebook and one textbook, and found it to be an easy, stress-free move to the Colston Fort base.

Alas, I shall bore you no more about the boring details of structure and reform and work politics. Let’s look at a more jovial side and the pros/cons of me shifting my little self (and my shortage of belongings) to working in a new place.

The PROS (yo):

  • In the new base… I can sleep an extra hour in the morning.
    The beauty of sleep, oh how I missed thee. The best part of my new office is that it’s only 15 minutes’ walk from my humble abode. Well, uphill. But still, I’d take this walk any day than having the hour and a half long journey that I previously had to work. I can stroll, I can be more relaxed, I don’t have to take the bus anymore. Everything was working out sweetly.
  • In the new base… I actually have people to talk to.
    Numbers were slowly starting to dwindle in the old centre. Until the point where I was eating lunch alone, I was sitting in an office for 7 people ALONE and sometimes I went home without any social interaction with a human being (apart from maybe talking to myself on the odd occasion)… it was really starting to get silly. Here, I actually get to see people again, and talk to people again, and have lunch with people again. I better stop rambling before I sound too much like a Gollum.
  • In the new base… I actually get to see some sunlight.
    Located at the heights of Bristol, we get a lot of sunlight in the office and a lovely view of the rest of the city. Something which is a big plus for me. The office also has a décor of one thing that is at the topic of my most appreciated things – big windows, which go from floor to ceiling. The offices and the kitchen all have these windows, making it a lot more relaxed and pleasant for me when I’m doing my work in the warmth of the sunlight.


  • In the new base… I don’t have to use my ‘swipey’ card to get through doors.
    In the last building, I felt majorly 007 getting through each door with my touch card. I used to even experiment with different ways to open doors with showy hand gestures with the card in my hand – I’m a nerd, I know. Anyway, at the new place there are no more touch cards. Instead we have a code for EACH DOOR. Tedious. At least, I learnt 5 numerical codes when I was desperate for the bathroom and had to hurry through each door in order to arrive at my final destination. (Even the toilet had a code, so that wasn’t fun).
  • In the new base… I don’t get to take my ‘favourite’ bus to work anymore.
    I’m just kidding, this one is a MASSIVE pro. You’ve heard me complaining about this bus the entire year because it never used to show up! I’m just so glad I don’t have to see the sight of that horrible creature anymore.
  • In the new base… I don’t actually have a desk.
    Awkward, that they moved me over here knowing that I wouldn’t have anywhere to sit, or read my emails, or schedule my appointments, or do my work. Turns out, a few people are in the same position as there just aren’t enough desks for the amount of staff anyway. We poor soldiers were just going to have to come in each morning and hope somebody isn’t in. Then steal their desk for a day.
  • In the new base… I don’t actually have a desk.
    Oh, yeah. I already mentioned that.


Easter Weekend (27/04/2014)

📥  2013-14, Health

One of the places I wanted to visit before September was Toronto, so when Mary (my old roommate) offered me the chance to go back with her for Easter I was pretty excited. Mary, her boyfriend Jeff and a couple of their friends picked me up bright and early on Friday morning and we set off on the 5 hour trip to Hamilton. We travelled up in Jeff's stereotypically Canadian truck which was actually very comfortable. One of the biggest differences between England and Canada is the big empty spaces that seem to never end as you travel from city to city. Canada is the second biggest country in the world (it has a mind-blowing 6 time zones!) but England has a much larger population. Furthermore, with roughly 30% of Canadians living in either Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver it is hardly surprising that there is so much empty space! However, I actually enjoyed the journey, relaxing, catching up with Mary, who I hadn't seen in a while and listening to a miss-match of radio music. We arrived late on Friday evening and after an excellent dinner of fish and chips we spent the evening watching hockey with Mary's dad (again very stereotypical)!!

The next morning was full of excitement. Mary and Jeff were getting a new puppy and we picked the little chap up from an adoption centre in Hamilton. At only 7 weeks Sammy was a furry ball of energy that went crazy at just about anything! The adoption centre gave them a full bag of toys and he seemed determined to play with every single one at the same time! After about 30 minutes of mind-blowing excitement Sammy completely crashed and spent the rest of the day sleeping whilst we headed to Toronto!! We arrived in Union Square towards the end of the Toronto Raptors game which was really exciting! The Raptors are Toronto's basketball team and the only team outside of the US that plays in the NBA. This is the first time in ages that the team has reached the play-offs so there is a real buzz around the city with nearly everyone wearing the Raptors logo. The marketing campaign that has been developed to support the Raptors campaign is excellent (the Northern uprising) and has only further increased the hype around Toronto. This was demonstrated by the thousands of fans watching the game on a big screen outside of the stadium!! After catching the end of the game we went to the Hockey Hall of Fame, where I had the opportunity to hold the legendary Stanley Cup. I also extremely excited when I found a jersey from when Great Britain won a gold (yes gold) medal in Hockey way back in 1936. The fact that we beat Canada on the way made me so much happier and I spent a good half an hour joking about this with Mary and Jeff. After a quick bite to eat we headed to the CN Tower and did some standard tourism things! The weather was beautiful and I really enjoyed wandering around the city. Toronto is much bigger than Ottawa and has a very different feel to it (similar to London). One of the highlights of the trip was being power lifted by Batman. Whilst we were walking along a side street near Yonge-Dundas Square (the Times Square of Toronto) we came across Batman. Mary and Jeff wanted a picture with him so I took a couple of quick snaps after which Batman beckoned me over. He then proceeded to scoop me up over his shoulders whilst singing 'God Save the Queen'.

Soon it was Easter Sunday and I had a big Sunday lunch to look forward to with Mary's mum and her boyfriend (the same people I spent thanksgiving with). However, before dinner we were surprised with an Easter egg hunt!! The sight of four adults charging around the living room finding chocolate must have been quite funny!! Nothing beats a good old Easter egg hunt....The turkey dinner that followed was amazing and soon I had that after-Christmas-dinner feeling... Mary's mum also made an amazing array of Easter treats (gluten free for me) and we were all given a box of chocolates to take home!! Fair to say my blood glucose levels took a fair old beating...On Monday we went on another little trip...this time into the states for a visit to Buffalo. After shopping at some outlet malls (unbelievable discounts) we did the one thing that you have to do when visiting Buffalo...get some wings!!

There is some dispute about who came up with the original mouth-watering appetizer, but most credit the Anchor Bar in where else but... Buffalo!! The historic creation date for Buffalo Wings was October 30, 1964, when the owner of the Anchor Bar Teressa Bellissimo was faced with feeding her son and his friends a late snack. Having an excess of chicken wings on hand, she fried up the wings, dipped them in a buttered spicy chile sauce, and served them with celery and blue cheese dressing as a dipping sauce to cut the heat. The wings were an instant hit and have been ever since. Mine (I was a chicken and went for a medium hot dressing) were delicious and capped off a great day and weekend. The journey home was pretty uneventful although Jeff's truck probably had a rough time given that we had all put on at least 10 pounds over the weekend!!

I finished the week off at work which is getting really busy now. Zoe and myself are doing a lot more testing in the lab and we have all of the Academy testing to look forward to in May. We are also going to be involved with a couple of research projects which is fantastic and something that I hope will help when I have to do my dissertation next year.


Let's go RED SOX (11/04/2014)

📥  2013-14, Health

So last weekend it was time to hit the road again!! It had been way too long since I last travelled anywhere (mainly because of the winter) and I jumped at the chance to visit some friends who I met in New York. So time for another 11 hours on the coach - this time to Boston!! I left work at around 4pm and headed to the local bus stop. At this point I would like to let people know that it has been warmer for the last couple of weeks. Whilst this is generally a very good thing...the weather on Friday reminded me of a typical summer day in England (I was completely soaked in the 10 minute walk to the bus station). The bus was of course late and so by the time I arrived down town I felt as though I had just jumped in a swimming pool (this was far from ideal). However, nothing was going to stop me from having a great weekend so I changed into my spare clothes and hopped on the bus. The plan was simple. My bus left at 10:30 pm and arrived at 9:30 am the next morning with the only scheduled stop being at the border. I would simply sleep through the whole journey and wake up refreshed and raring to go in Boston the next morning. Alas...the bus driver decided that he needed to stop at least once every two hours and if that wasn't enough he also felt the need to put on all the lights and tell us loudly over the speaker system every time he had stopped. So my dream of a full night's sleep was shattered and I arrived in Boston with a rather miserable 3 hours of sleep to my name. On the bright side, my fellow travellers were all in the same situation and I made friends with a guy (MacKenzie) from Ottawa who was going to see a band call Pentatonix. When I got back home to Ottawa I looked them up and I had actually seen some of their stuff before (they are pretty awesome - as the link shows);

So I ended up spending the morning with MacKenzie in Cambridge, checking out Harvard and the surrounding area. The campus was beautiful (even on a grey/cloudy morning) and I am sure that it will be stunning in the summer. We then crushed a coffee before MacKenzie headed to his concert and I met up with Marcus. We made our way downtown and spent what was left of the afternoon with my two German friends chilling in Boston Common, exploring the shops (getting lots of free samples) before heading to Fenway Park. We hadn't really planned anything for the weekend so the fact that Marcus and myself managed to get tickets for a Red Sox game was amazing!! We spent a good half an hour chatting to various people who were selling tickets outside of the stadium and we finally managed to talk someone down to $30 for a standing ticket. We ended up sneaking into a seated area (right behind third base) so we got an amazing view for our money. I am not exactly a die-hard baseball fan but I have to admit the game got off to a flyer!! After 3 innings (out of 9) the score was 6-5 to Milwaukee Brewers. We had seen 3 home runs (towards the Green Monster) and I was loving the sport. However for the next 7 innings (3 outs for each team) only one person managed to make it 6-6 and it's fair to say this part of the match was world's apart from the excitement at the start. However, the atmosphere in the ground was amazing; fans were all integrated, there was a big mexican wave (an astonishing 5 and a half laps) and towards the end of the game they started playing karaoke music, which (after several pints) everybody loved!! I also got to witness the ball game song;

It was a great experience and I count myself very lucky that I have had the opportunity to watch baseball at such a historic ground. On Sunday the weather was amazing - bright blue skies and a positive temperature (about 15/20 degrees)!! Woooo!! After a chilled morning watching Arsenal lose (again) we headed out to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. The square around the market was packed with shoppers, street performers and people enjoying the sun! We soaked up the atmosphere, got a quick bite to eat before further exploring the city. Marcus then took me to 'Mike's Pastries'...where I got some of the best gluten free cake I have ever tasted!! Each slice was only $1.50 and because I love to support local businesses I felt obliged to buy 4 slices. (In my defence they were reasonably small) The plan was to save at least two pieces for the way home...however holding a box full of cake was too much for me and within 10 minutes the box was in the bin and the cake was in me! We then headed to the harbour where we spent the afternoon (with what seemed like most of Boston's student population) relaxing and enjoying the sun. All two soon it was time to head home and after dinner and (I am ashamed to say) another quick stop at Mike's I headed to the bus station for the 11 hours back to Ottawa. I was joined at the station by a quite intriguing American lady, who had never travelled by bus before (I don't think she had ever left her house) who baffled me for a full two hours with her mind-blowing lack of knowledge/common sense. Among some of her questions were; Is England near Britain? How long would it take to drive to England? and whether I had needed to fly to get to Canada...At first I wasn't sure if she was being serious but it appears she was and it certainly made the wait for the bus much more entertaining!! I managed 2 hours sleep on the way home and I arrived in Ottawa worn out but happy after a great weekend!!

On the work side things have been going well. I have been taking less shifts at Shoppers Drug Mart this month because of my increasing commitments at PEAK. During the summer we have a lot of children (off all ages) training with us as part of their hockey off-season. This means ALOT of testing (both in the lab and in the gym) on top of constant monitoring of the gym floor. Zoe and myself have had the opportunity to do a lot more testing which has been a fantastic experience and something that will put us in a great position when we return to University. I am also already into my second month of working with my own clients. I have been lucky enough to get a real mix of people, with some weight loss clients, hockey players and endurance athletes!! This has given me a real taste of what it is like to design and monitor programs, which again will be valuable knowledge when I hopefully start my career in this field. I have now been at PEAK for approximately 7 months and I can safely say that whilst lectures provide you with a base knowledge/understanding, nothing beats actual work experience in preparing you for real life.

The sun has started to make a regular experience now, which means that the snow has (finally) melted, so I am off to take the dog for a walk!! Winter (all 5 months of it) has been a bit of a journey...there has been a few bad times but on the whole I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience  and I have had the opportunity to do things that I have never done before!! I am really looking forward to summer which will be crazy in terms of travelling and also work!! I have a feeling the next few months will be epic...


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Summer is coming...yeah right!! (23/03/2014)

📥  2013-14, Health

Every day when I arrive at work I am promised that summer is just around the corner...However on the basis of the snow storm last night I would tend to disagree!! It's not all bad's definitely not as cold any more (although I now count -10 as shorts and t-shirt weather)!! It's been a long time since I last wrote so I have a few things to fill people in on. At the end of February I was lucky enough to be invited snow-showing with the Academy in Gatineau Park. We started the day ice-skating outside of Ottawa Town Hall...on the 'rink of dreams'. The dream for me was not falling over and unfortunately this dream didn't come true. The kids had a great time though and we played tag and british bulldog on the ice. Well if truth be told they played whilst I fell over a lot...Then it was time to head of to Gatineau to an outdoor adventure centre. We had some lunch and then got our snow-shoes on! Snow shoeing (I think I spelt that right) is really fun and a bit strange at first!! I guess the best way to describe them is like having the head of a tennis racquet strapped to each foot. The shoes are designed so that you don't sink when you step into heavy snow, allowing you to trek through parks etc that haven't been cleared. However, as some of the Academy kids learnt if you jump sideways into deep snow the snow shoes don't stop you from disappearing!! We had an excellent guide who took us all over the park whilst explaining how all the wildlife manage to survive the crazy temperatures that we get here in the winter!! (this was achieved mainly by hiding underground or taking an extended vacation somewhere a touch warmer).

This week I was also fortunate enough to get tickets to both of Ottawa's home games. The first against New York Rangers finished 8-4 and although the Sen's lost it was a great game and I got to see a ton of goals. I am not what you would call a die hard Ottawa fan so wasn't that bothered about the defeat. The second game against Tampa Bay finished 5-4 (the Sens unsurprisingly lost again) although Hemsky who plays for the Sens scored the 'by far the best goal of the season' (a bold claim made by one of the most excited announcer's ever). The fact that the Sens have been terrible lately and have had little to cheer about might have deluded his judgement...however it was a pretty damn good goal. I haven't managed to get away from Ottawa since Christmas but I am off to Boston and Hamilton next month so looking forward to that!!

On the work front things have been going really well. I have a handful of my own clients now who I work with closely. They came in for VO2 max testing at the beginning of the month and by using the information from the test I can prescribe them exercise at specific intensities in order to make training more efficient and effective. Whilst we have been doing the testing for a while now, it is great to actually have clients who we can work with because it gives us the experience of dealing with different people (and their goals) instead of just working with results. I have also had to give several consultations now which again has given me a ton of experience in applying and explaining the results from tests which is something most university courses seem to lack. One of the reason's why I chose Bath was the excellent placement options and it feels great to be getting some real hand's on experience. I was also lucky enough to go with Ken when he gave a talk at the Canadian Tire Centre (the Sen's stadium). The talk was for approx 700 school students and watching Ken explain about testing/why you need to test was excellent. He then opened the floor to any questions about training/nutrition/supplements and it was amazing to see how well he answered any of the questions!! The other thing we have been doing lately is testing the Academy children for Peak Power and Lactate Recovery using Wingate tests. These tests are really fun to administer (not so fun to do) because it involves the kids sprinting as hard as they can on a bike for 30 seconds against a resistance of 9% of their body weight. We have been getting some great (and interesting) results so will be fun to analyse them over the next few weeks.

Hopefully the sun will make an appearance over the next few weeks so that I can get outside a bit more. Winter has been great but to be honest I can't wait for summer!!

SAM_2255 SAM_2259 SAM_2263


It's still snowing (07/02/2014)

📥  2013-14, Health

Well...this has definitely been the coldest January I have ever experienced!! After coming back from New York the temperature hovered between -30 and -40. I even read an article that claimed that at times Ottawa has been colder than the North Pole. Pretty mental!! It's warming up a bit lately though and it's crazy that I now think that -10 is warm!! I love walking to work on those days because there is normally fresh snow on the ground (we have had a lot lately) and the skies are so blue!! You almost need sunglasses because the sun reflecting off the snow is SO bright!!

Work has been really good lately. This week we have been doing a lot of testing with the academy children. We take basic measurements (height/weight/arm span etc) as well as measuring their vertical jump, upper body strength, balance and flexibility every month!! Combined with data from their VO2 max tests (completed every 3 months) we get a really good overview of whether their training is working and how to adjust their schedule either on the ice or in the gym. The advert for the intern clients is also up now and we have already had some response!! Hopefully we can get these guys in the lab next week so we can start training and hopefully smashing some race times!! We have also had quite a few tennis players at PEAK lately, which is really interesting and different to the majority of our clients. I have learnt a lot from these consultations and it is interesting to see how the same model can be applied to tennis. In other news I have managed to borrow a road bike from one of the clients at PEAK and will probably start riding in the next couple of months!! Someone even mentioned 'sprint triathlon' but that is probably along way off at the moment!! Nothing really new to report on the Shoppers Drug Mart job. The work is as mind numbingly boring as it ever was but the people are nice and times goes quick (sometimes...)!!

Outside of work I have done some cool stuff. Last Friday Zoe and I went X-Country Skiing with the Academy children. We arrived at work at about 9 am and jumped on a school bus (that looked exactly like the one in the Simpsons!). The weather was perfect for the day - warm (about -10) with no wind and a bright sun! We drove for about 20 minutes before arriving at a school where we could receive instruction on skiing. The centre was small but the instructor was very interesting and talked about all the wildlife we would see and about how the grounds had been developed. Then it was time to Ski! The kids were all really good and after falling over multiple times even I managed to get the hang of it and was soon zooming around! The instructor took us all into the woods and we spent over an hour skiing through all the trails, feeding the birds (the kids loved this) and enjoying the spectacular scenery. After lunch we all went out in little groups and did some exploring. Being new to X-Country Skiing I wasn't sure what to expect but it was great fun and I soon found myself sweating buckets! It is a really tough workout but was great fun and something that I will hopefully get the chance to do again! On Sunday we also went skating on the Rideau Canal - which happens to be the largest skating rink in the world!! Turns out this is much harder than skating on the ice pads at work (which was a problem because I was pretty terrible on them). The canal is 7.8 km long and we set out with a goal of skating it's length. However...after 50m it became apparent that we were being a tad optimistic and after 100m we had given up! I blame being sore from the skiing for this! At frequent points along the skate way there are rest areas, with toasty fires, hot drinks and tasty snacks. One of the most popular is the Beaver Tail...a pastry with loads of different toppings...cinnamon and sugar, caramel or cheese and garlic. Being a celiac I can't offer any insight into the taste but they definitely smelt good!!

I also went to watch Ottawa Senators vs Montreal Canadians a few weeks back. Being so close these teams are fierce rivals and the game was pretty epic! The Sens were 3-0 inside the first period...and fought back to make it 4-3 with 5 minutes to go. However, one of our defenders forgot what team he was playing for and kicked it into his own goal before out keeper suffered a similar bout of memory loss and let one straight through his legs!! The Montreal fans found this hilarious and promptly christened our keeper (Anderson) as Andersucks.

Anyway...I am off to watch the opening ceremony for the Sochi Olympics! I have never really watched the winter Olympics before but I have a feeling I am going to seeing a lot of the action this year!

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New Year in New York (05/01/2014)

📥  2013-14, Health

Before I get started I just want to wish everyone a very merry 2014!!

So since my last post we have had the small matter of Christmas and New Years. Christmas was pretty quiet without the family. On Christmas day I went with my landlords to visit Luc's family in Quebec. What I didn't realise was that I would get to meet ALL of Luc's family (40+ people). This made for a rather crazy atmosphere (especially as they were all French) and after a lovely dinner we played pool and just chilled out. On Boxing Day I was lucky to be invited to one of my client's house for dinner and I thoroughly enjoyed an evening of playing games, watching crazy hockey films and getting drunk.

Then on the 27th it was time to head to New York!! Our coach was at 10 pm so I had a few hours to get packed. The day went really slowly (as they always do when you have something to look forward to) so I watched a movie, had some dinner and organised some snacks for the journey (the small matter of 10 hours on the coach). Whilst I was not exactly looking forward to this journey, it actually went quite quickly, with only two stops; once at the border and a second rather annoying coach change in Syracuse. This was at about 3 pm and whilst the pictures of Syracuse on Google images look rather nice I didn't get the chance to have a look around the city. Nevertheless onto better and bigger (considerably) things. New York.


We arrived at about 8 am and we went straight into the thick of things. The city was already bustling with life and after a quick coffee in Times Square we decided to wonder to the apartment. We managed to book a small place in Lower Manhattan, near Little Italy and China Town. The walk from Times Square took just over an hour and we stopped off to take some pictures of the Empire State and a rather quaint Christmas Market. The weather was beautiful (although slightly nippy) and walking through the streets of NY brought back a lot of funny memories from my last trip. After walking down East Houston Street for about 10 minutes we came across our apartment. The number 283 was scrawled across the side of the building which was covered in rather unpleasant graffiti, 90% of the windows were boarded up and a small gathering of homeless people sat in what was supposed to be a front garden. Fair to say it didn't look exactly like the pictures.

However, (thankfully) this wasn't our apartment. After walking for another 20 minutes down the street (out of desperation) we came across another 283 East Houston Street, located above a bagel shop and looking worlds apart from the other building (not really difficult). The apartment was small but really well equipped and throughout the trip it did a grand job. After unpacking we got some food in from a local market store and waiting for Zoe's friend Marcus to arrive. That evening the three of us went to Ground Zero, which was packed with people paying their respects. The museum attached to the site was really moving and some of the stories about rescue workers really put things in perspective. We then headed out to catch the sunset over the Statue of Liberty. The view over the water was stunning and we were lucky to have timed it so perfectly. The evening was spent exploring Little Italy and China Town before heading back to the apartment for a home made (and rather tasty) risotto. By this time we were all knackered so headed to bed after what was a great first day in the Big Apple.

The next morning we woke up and it was raining. I mean really raining. So we watched the arsenal game (which we won!!) and had a cooked breakfast. Then by lunchtime we decided to brave the elements and head out. Within 10 minutes we were completely soaked. However, we made the most of it and headed to Grand Central Station, to get some pictures and chill out. We then explored some shops and got even more wet (we were practically swimming by this point) before deciding that we should head home before we drowned. It took quite a while to dry off but we watched a movie and relaxed and by 7 (ish) it finally stop raining...So we decided to head out to Brooklyn Bridge where we were treated to a fantastic view over the city. New York City at night really is spectacular, with it's jungle of towering skyscrapers and bright lights. The mist that captured some of the taller buildings only added to the stunning view and whilst the day had been a bit of a let down this view made it worthwhile. After walking the length of the bridge we headed to a Malaysian restaurant for some dinner (I had pineapple fried rice) we went back to the apartment and crashed.

We woke the next day to a much nicer morning and decided to head to Central Park for some breakfast. After a rather average omelette (overpriced of course) we spent an hour walking around the Park and were again treated to a fantastic view across the city. Having Central Park in the middle of New York really adds something to what is otherwise a crazy city and I would have loved to have spent some time relaxing in the park during the summer. However given that the temperature was below freezing this wasn't really an option. Instead we headed to the Rockefeller Centre to check out the big Christmas tree. The atmosphere in the plaza was really vibrant and unsurprisingly it was packed with people!! Next Stop - Top of the Rock!! We were really lucky with our tickets that we managed to book a viewing at around 4:30 which allowed us to catch New York in both the day and night, sandwiched between an amazing sunset. I remember the view from last time I was in New York and it certainly didn't disappoint...making the evening a definite highlight for the trip.

New Years Eve. New York. Fair to say I was pretty excited when I woke up the next morning. We enjoyed a very lazy morning in the flat, having breakfast and waiting for two of Marcus's friends from Boston to arrive. At about 2 pm we left the apartment and went for a quick bite to eat in China Town before heading to Times Square. I knew it would be busy but I didn't expect the millions of people that occupied Times Square and the surrounding streets this early. After speaking to a couple of NYPD guys we headed down to 47th Street where we were told that we could get across. However 47th Street was all barred off and we were told 50th Street. This continued until 53rd Street when we managed to beat the rush and sneak across the barriers (literally the last people). From here we were relocated into our pen. Before heading to Times Square I was told about how people were locked in pens (which you couldn't leave), however I wasn't really sure what to expect. We were indeed allocated a 'pen' a reasonably large area sectioned off by waist high barriers. The first two hours from 4 till 6 passed reasonably slowly - until disaster struck. I needed the toilet. The timing could not have been worse and I began to curse the cup of coffee that I had naively enjoyed that morning. By 6:15 I was desperate (thinking about it made it worse) and after jigging around for a bit (I pretended I was cold) I knew this was mission impossible. I made my way to the barrier hopped over and relieved myself in a local hotel. After speaking to the police, I explained how my family were all in the pen and they agreed to let me back in. Mission Complete!! After this there was very little excitement in the 6 remaining hours before the big countdown. Every hour they did do a small countdown (so I celebrated new year in England at 7 pm) but generally the time was spent chatting to Marcus, two German girls and a variety of people from New York. Everyone was really bored and so people were really talkative which made the time go quickly. As we approached the ball drop the atmosphere cranked up a few notches and the excitement throughout Times Square really began to grow. The countdown at midnight was intense and although there were not as many fireworks as I expected it was a great party atmosphere and something that I will never forget.

The next day we had to be out of the apartment by 10, so we got up early cleaned up and headed out. After having a quick brunch in Times Square we said goodbye to Marcus and Zoe and myself headed to the Natural History Museum to kill some time before our coach that evening. We also did some shopping in Times Square before giving up at around 7 (we were so tired) when we decided to just wait for the coach. After 13 hours on the coach we arrived in Ottawa to the frankly ridiculous temperature of -40. Welcome back to Canada!! The trip was a great success and it was a fantastic start to 2014. I met some great people, made new friends and witnessed the New Year countdown in Times Square. Definitely something off the bucket list...


SAM_2001 SAM_2075 SAM_2104


Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!! (22/12/2013)

📥  2013-14, Health

So since my last post we have had a slight change in the weather. It has snowed ALOT. Just over 2 weeks ago (ish) we had the first dumping of snow. Now in England we are normally used to a light fluttering of the white stuff...but this was well and truly a dumping. I work up to go to work and the whole world had been transformed. So much so that the only way to get out of the house was to shovel our way off the drive. That morning we also took the dogs for a walk, which was fun because they absolutely loved the snow!! We went to a small wood just around the corner from us, which was really beautiful and allowed the pups to just go crazy. Since then, the weather has been a bit weird, ranging from the tropical highs of -5 degrees to the teeth chattering, nose hair freezing (this actually happens), genital shrivelling lows of -30. This is not so fun when you have to walk to work. On the bright side I hear we are expecting an ice storm (freezing ice rain) soon so that will be just lovely. The Canadians are very efficient at clearing away the snow though. If it snows overnight, people come round and clear all the main roads and path ways before you even wake up. This is really good, except for the fact that they dump all of this snow (from the road) onto people's driveways...not so much fun when you then have to clear all of this. Some of our neighbours also have lawnmowers for snow. These things are awesome...they just push this mower up and down and it shoots the snow out of the front onto the garden (or wherever/whoever they aim it at). However, my favourite by far is the big car parks... When these are cleared the snow is just dumped in huge piles (over 10 foot) spread out across the car park (perfect for a kick-ass snowball fight).

My ice skating is also coming along (kind of)...I can now skate forward pretty well and am trying to learn how to stop. This involves using the side of the skate and pushing your leg out (scraping the ice). When the Academy kids do this it looks awesome. When I do this... I without fail end up on my backside. However practise makes perfect and although I am going to need ALOT of practise I have time on my side. Work at PEAK is going really well, I am spending time practising and refining my lab skills and I am now pretty confident for the new year. The triathlon program Zoe and myself wrote for Alex is also going well, which is great news. The kids also had there last day of school on Thursday. So we all went tobogganing down one of the hills in the park. This was great fun and we build piles of snow for ramps so that the kids (and us) could do some jumps!! Everything is getting really Christmassy, a lot of the houses down our street have decorations up and they NEVER stop playing Christmas songs at Shoppers (this is slightly annoying after 6 hours of working with a very limited play list). I am missing home though and it will be strange not having Christmas with the family. However, New York is just around the corner which I am really excited for!!

Only a few days to go now so just wanted to wish everyone at home a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!!


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