Monday, 27 August 2012

What's currently being played to death

As I mentioned in my previous music-related post (and may have done before, as well), I tend to play good songs I find to death. Here's the most recent one, which I found only this weekend:

I rarely watch music videos, but I'm glad I happened to watch this one, as I find it quite inspirational - the song even more so. Definitely a good motivator.

Another one that I've been playing a lot lately (and that I'm very close to tiring of) is this one:

For some reason I watched some of this video as well (really, I almost never watch them, especially since my computer/internet doesn't seem to get along with youtube, and cos I don't really see the point), but only for about a minute, and then gave up. Anyway, I like the song, it's catchy and it's got a good beat - I've been dancing to it around my flat while cleaning (yeah, more dancing than cleaning, unfortunately).

There's also been a couple of Finnish ones I discovered this summer, and "same old" in the shape of Mumford & Sons and Of Monsters and Men. But I think I need to find something new to replace the two top ones soon, before they're damaged beyond repair. Any ideas?

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Little Procrastination Guide: How to Avoid Your Thesis

These past two weekends, I've intended to get some work done on my thesis. Last weekend, however, going out for two nights in a row led to quite a comatose, unproductive weekend. This weekend I did manage to get a few things done, but nothing too notable. So, to anyone else working on their thesis, or something similar, here are a couple of ways to procrastinate, while still feeling like you're doing something worthwhile and work related:

1. DIY - Make a nice cover for your diary
A couple of years ago I remember my friend Anna having covered her diary in photos of her friends, so I thought I'd do the same. I got myself one of those diaries that let you make your own covers, printed out some (really bad quality) photos, and this is the result:

Front cover

Back cover

Despite the crappy quality and the uneven pictures, I have to say I'm really pleased with how it turned out! And it makes me smile every time I see it.

2. Time management
I tend to be a lot better at planning my time than actually following those plans, but that doesn't stop me from trying. I've seen a couple of friends making monthly calendars from post it notes on their wall, especially when there are lots of deadlines or things to get done during a certain period. It's also a great visualisation tool, so I thought I'd use it for my master's thesis (see, I was sort of working on it, right?). I've picked a deadline for it, which is mid-December, and I made this to keep track:

It covers a period of 15 weeks, starting on 3rd September, and I'll be marking all major deadlines, meetings with the professor, exams etc. on it. I'll also be removing a post it note every day, which hopefully will motivate me (not long to go now!) and not stress me (oh crap, there's no way I can finish it on time!) - it could go either way...

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Music and moments

I have a bad habit of playing songs to death whenever I find a new one that I like. I sometimes find whole albums that I like, but that's quite rare. Anyway, this habit of playing stuff on repeat often leads to certain songs or albums getting very closely intertwined in my mind with certain experiences. So, often when I listen to something that used to be a favourite of mine, it reminds me of a specific event or period in my life. Which I find quite nice. I know some people are reminded of events by certain smells, and for me, it's music. Does this happen to anyone else?

I decided to have a look at some of these songs in the form of the following challenge:

Pick five random songs from your music library that remind you of something, and describe the event/place/person that is connected with that song. Once you're done, challenge someone else to do the same.

So here are my five songs (+ 3 albums, cos I cheated a bit) - it might be a bit London-focused, but then again, so if my life, so let's just go with it:

1. Mumford & Sons - The Cave
Ok, starting out with one of my favourite songs. For me, this is very much a London song. I first heard it during my Erasmus term in London, when my friend Natalie and I were shopping on Oxford street - I think it was in New Look. I asked her if she knew what the song was called, looked it up when I got home, and have been playing it a lot ever since. If I were ever to get a tattoo with a line from a song (trust me, I won't, but if I were to get one), it would be a certain line (or actually lines) from this song.

2. Alicia Keys - Wait till you see my smile
This one's a bit random, but I listened to it a lot a few summers ago. It always reminds me of going for walks in the empty city during the summer, I get this image of the streets around my house in sunny, warm weather into my head when I hear it. I rarely listen to it anymore, though.

3. Coldplay - Fix You
Maybe I should have put Fork as performer, even though it's a cover, but it works for both versions. The first time I "properly" heard this song was when I went to see one of my favourite bands on their gig in Turku last year, and they performed Fix You. The stage was dark, with the only light on the lead singer, and as it's a cappella, there was only her voice, and some background vocals. It was an amazing performance that gave me goosebumps.

4. Cocoon - Hummingbird
I first heard this song during a language camp for new exchange students where I was working as a tutor. There's always a sort of talent night where the students get to put on little shows, and two French girls sang this song. Since the camp was held in August, this song always reminds me of those nights towards the end of the summer, when it's already getting dark (darkness isn't something we get a lot of here in the summer), and sitting by the water - just a very Finnish summer, basically.

5. Coldplay - Cemeteries of London
Not surprisingly, this one also reminds me of London. Before my first ever trip there in the spring of 2009 I found this song, and started listening to it (mainly because it had London in the title, and I like Coldplay). When listening to this song, I get that exciting feeling of expectation that I felt before that first visit - a feeling that I've sadly lost. The thrill of going to my favourite city is still there, it's just very different from that first time. The song also reminds me of that first trip - mainly of my shopping spree, and certain shoe- and bookshops, for some reason.

And then on to my extras/cheats:

+1. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (most of the album)
While The Cave, Little Lion Man and Winter Winds are all London songs to me, I didn't really listen to the rest of the album until the following year, when I moved to Scotland. On a three-day tour to the Highlands we listened to the album on the bus, and I looked it up when I got back to Edinburgh. From then on, of course, I played it on repeat, and now many of the songs remind me of a very specific part of my time there: the bus journey to work, ridiculously early in the morning (when I had the 6 o'clock shift), when it was dark and cold and wet outside. Not a particularly happy memory, but I like the songs nonetheless.

+2. Hurts - Happiness (entire album)
One last London reminder, I listened to this Hurts album a lot during my exchange in London, so the songs simply remind me of my tiny, slightly depressing room at the student halls in Wood Green, which was always either freezing or uncomfortably hot. In that room I spent hours writing essays, drinking mugs of tea, eating frozen pizza and watching episodes of Torchwood (to name a few random things). I almost miss it a bit, now that I'm writing this and listening to the album (clearly those memories have grown a lot sweeter with time). Oh, and speaking of Torchwood, I guess I must have listened to this on my trip to Cardiff as well, cos it reminds me of that, too.

+3 Of Monsters and Men - My Head is an Animal (entire album)
This, again, is a very specific one - surprisingly so for an entire album. Earlier this summer I read the book Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (I may write about it sometime, as that book really moved me). I'd just found Of Monsters and Men and loved their entire album (which is very rare for me, as I usually only like specific songs), and for some reason I put the album on repeat while reading the book - I think it was because I got annoyed at the stupid radio presenters who kept ruining the mood. Anyway, the book was so very moving, and I got so caught up in it, that now those songs always remind me of it.

So here's my list of 5 (+3)! What's yours?
I also challenge Anna to make a list of her own!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Non-native stress syndrome

Disclaimer from my inner Finn: What follows is a rant on language, levels of language, and those levels as perceived by others. In this text, I make certain statements concerning my own linguistic abilities that may sound boastful. As is explained below, this was not my intention. Please forgive me. 

I had a conversation last week about language, and English in particular, with a native speaker. Among other things, we talked about how we both come from countries where you're not supposed to say you're good at something (like a language), because it would be taken as boasting. A typical example of this is the Finn who, when asked is she/he speaks English, replies "Only a little"/"Not very well", even thought they are far more fluent than many people who claim to have perfect English. Definitely a cultural thing, which can also be seen in many other aspects of Finnish life and the Finnish mentality.

This Finnish mentality of not boasting, no matter what, is also what causes me never to give a direct answer when someone asks me about my level of English (which, of course, rarely happens, as people either ask me if I speak it, and I reply "yes", or we're already talking and they can figure out my level for themselves). Any compliments on my English are met with a slightly embarassed smile and a mumbled "thanks". I mean, I know I'm at near-native level (hell, I'll even be bold and go as far as to say that I'm even above that, since so very many of native English speakers really suck at their own language, a point proven more than ever by the social media, where everyone can show off their lack of grammar and spelling skills), and I have been told so on many occasions (god, that sounded really boastful, didn't it? Sorry...), but that doesn't mean that I can go about telling people how great my English is. (Actually, the person I had the conversation with said that since I'm modest about it, she doesn't mind telling me my English is good, but if I'd said so myself, then she'd be trying to put me back in my place by pointing out any mistakes she found.)

Speaking of compliments, that's another thing that sort of bothers me as a non-native speaker. Usually, I handle getting compliments on my English as described above. With French it's different, though. I'm fluent in French, but my level is still nowhere near that of my English, so maybe that has something to do with the difference in my response. When someone compliments my French, for some reason it often sounds quite patronising. Like "Oh, you speak French so well - for a foreign person". Which, of course, I am, and I know I wouldn't pass for a native speaker, at the very least because of my accent, but still... It doesn't feel like an objective evaluation of my level. Does this make any sense? It's probably just caused by my perfectionism - I hate being corrected, for example; not so much the correction itself, but the fact that one needed to be made, and I usually kick myself mentally for it. (And yes, I know, this is not a great attitude to have when learning new languages.)

But I digress. One of the other points that came up in our discussion about the English language was the pressure you're under when you have a high level in some language, but you're not a native speaker. When a native speaker makes typos or other minor mistakes (not including the ones made by people who simply can't type or who don't know/care about grammar - the difference is usually pretty obvious), most people would see it as just that - a typo, or lapsus. But when I make mistakes like that, I immediately feel that people will judge me for it, and think that I don't know English all that well. Whenever writing in English somewhere public (i.e. social media) to people whom I don't know, I always feel like I need to prove myself. Which is just stupid.

I wonder if my perfectionist nature when it comes to languages is what's causing this non-native stress syndrome (yeah, I made that up), or if it's a common thing...


Once again, this isn't about me showing off my skills (at no point am I claiming I'm perfect!), but rather about making a point. Please don't bite my head off! :(

Thursday, 16 August 2012

On Bilingualism

This spring, when I was writing my bachelor's thesis, I got to immerse myself in a topic that I've always been very interested in, i.e. bilingualism. As someone who was raised bilingually in both a bilingual family and a bilingual environment, and whose potential children will also be raised bilingually, I've always found the entire concept of bilingualism, and especially bilingual child rearing, very fascinating.

While researching my topic, I learned a lot about raising children bilingually, and many things I thought I knew about the subject were proved wrong. For example, I used to think that as longs as each parent keep strictly to one language, then there is no reason why the child shouldn't become bilingual. I assumed that's the way it was, because that's the way it had been in my family. What I didn't take into account, however, was that my family lived in an entirely bilingual setting - a bilingual country, and a small, bilingual town, where the country's minority language was actually a majority language*. So what my family had was actually what many researchers call the ideal setting, where the minority language is the common language of the family (i.e. Finnish was the minority language in my town, but the common language at home) - with an added bonus of us living in a country where that "minority" language was actually used everywhere outside my hometown.

Wow, this is getting really confusing, but my point is this: when I grew up, I received a lot of input in both of my languages, both at home and outside of it, which is really as good a situation as you can possibly have. It is also quite an uncommon situation outside of bilingual areas. So, someone who's moved to another country, and has a partner from that country, will most likely have nowhere near as good a situation (linguistically speaking) as my family did. Hence my assumption that it would be enough for, for example, a Finnish woman living in the UK to simply stick to speaking Finnish to her children in order for them to learn it perfectly was way off - it really takes a lot more work and determination than that, and even then there is no certainty about the outcome, as many factors play a part.

As well as learning about raising bilingual children, my research also taught me some things about myself and my own situation, and it seems that this has been an ongoing process, as I had an epiphany of sorts yesterday. I tend to mix my languages a lot - my Swedish is spiced with Finnish and English words and expressions, and some English is added to my Finnish - because I know that everyone can understand me, and I either can't think of the right word fast enough, or there is a better way of saying it in another language. Obviously I don't do this when speaking to monolingual people, but most people I know speak at least two languages, so it's never a problem. However, I have friends who grew up speaking only Swedish or Finnish, and they don't tend to mix languages as much as I do, which sometimes makes me feel like I'm not quite at their level linguistically. In the literature on bilingualism, however, it was clearly stated that this mixing of languages (i.e. code-switching) isn't a sign of lacking linguistic abilities, but simply a communication tool used by bilinguals. So the fact that I'm mixing languages more than my friends are (even though they all speak at least two or three languages now) is just because I grew up with two languages, and got used to making the most of them, so now I'm doing the same thing with all my languages.

I'm looking forward to taking my research to the next level with my master's thesis this autumn - I'm sure I'll learn loads more about the topic in the process.


*Confusing? Basically, the majority of Finns speak Finnish, and Swedish is the minority language, but in my home town Swedish is the majority language, with a minority of Finnish speakers

Monday, 13 August 2012

Comparing circumstances

Since I was about 20, there have been engagements and weddings and babies reported on my Facebook feed every now and then. In the past year or so, however, there seems to have been a constant stream of family news, and this weekend it all culminated in announcements of a wedding, a pregnancy, plus pictures of a new baby - and all these from people I went to school with. It feels really strange that so many people my age are settling down, buying houses, getting married and having children, while I'm living on my own in a studio flat, with up to two years left at uni, and no plans whatsoever of settling down - quite the opposite, in fact, what with all my dreams of moving abroad again once I graduate.

I don't envy these people who have decided to start families when they're young, but I'm not saying I pity them either - it's only natural for people to want different things. What I've seen played out on my news feed again and again (and will no doubt see countless times more) is just so far removed from my own life that it feels strange. Maybe I'll want that too, some day. But not yet. I have other plans, for now.


Monday, 6 August 2012

More plans, again

Today I made an important decision about my future. This would probably feel quite momentous to most people, but for me, it didn't really feel all that special - probably because I seem to be making these kinds of decisions at least once a month. I think the effect is similar when I tell someone about these decisions - to most people close to me, it will just be another plan in a long line of similar grand plans. It's not that they don't believe that I could go through with it, I think, but more that they know I am likely to have come up with at least a dozen other plans replacing this one before I get to the point where I could make this new plan reality. And, to be fair, they're probably right.This most recent one, however, I feel is going to actually have a bit more impact on my current life than previous "I'll go to Australia for a year after graduating" and similar plans.

Basically, a chain of events has lead me to really, really want to move back to London. A friend of mine was talking about it, and then I ended up (stupidly enough) reading some blogs by Finns living in London (one of whom is a 30-something woman living with her family in Mayfair, about to move to Marylebone, with a holiday home on the Riviera, and a bunch of other nice and lovely things - don't even get me started on how much I want her life). Anyway, I tried to get past this urge to move back by thinking that in two years' time I'll graduate, and then I'm free to move wherever I want, whether that be London, or Edinburgh, or Australia, or wherever. That really didn't help, though. So, in my new mindset of trying to find a solution to my problems, I started to think about a possible solution - what can I do to make that time shorter? And by taking a look at the courses I have left, I figured out something that I have sort of thought a little about before as well - that if I manage to do a few more courses than strictly necessary while I'm working on my master's thesis (and that really wouldn't add too much to my workload, to be honest) I could graduate by Christmas 2013 instead of spring 2014. And that's just a year and a half away, which does sound slightly less depressing than two years. That would be next year, after all!

So I think I'll try to sort this out. What it all comes down to (other than whether or not I manage to get myself to actually do the work) is if a certain teacher will let me take her course, even though I don't exactly fill all the prerequisites for it (I'm one class short, but I'll have finished that one by the time we're only 1/3 through this particular class, so maybe that'll help). I'll give it a go, and play the "but otherwise I won't be able to graduate on time! :'( "-card, and hope for the best.


Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Be Kind to Yourself

As I've mentioned before, a while ago I started reading zenhabits. Basically, it's a blog about self-improvement, and believe me, I have a lot of things to improve - don't we all?

Some of the things that are touched upon in this blog are simple living, de-cluttering, exercise and health, time management, creativity, and generally making the most out of life by doing the things that bring you happiness (yeah, sounds very new-agey, but it's all presented in a very practical way). I could spend (and have spent) hours going through the various sections of this blog, always finding new things that I could improve about myself, from flossing to exercise to taking the time to do the things I love, like writing. The blog is such a great resource when it comes to simplifying your life and improving it, and yourself.

Then, I found a post titled Quashing the Self-Improvement Urge, and linked to it, another; you're already perfect. Here are some excerpts from the first post:

One of the driving forces of my life for many years was the need to improve myself. It’s one of the driving forces for people who read my work as well.

It’s an incredibly pervasive urge: we are always trying to improve, and if we’re not, that’s something we should improve.
So what’s the problem? You could say it’s great that people are constantly trying to improve themselves, but where does it end? When is anyone ever content with who they are? We are taught that we are not good enough yet, that we must improve, and so … we always feel a little inadequate.
We are never adequate, never perfect, never self-confident, never good enough, never comfortable with ourselves, never satisfied, never there, never content.
What if instead, we learned to be happy with ourselves?

There's then a link to the second post:

A powerful realization that has helped me is simply this: You’re already good enough, you already have more than enough, and you’re already perfect.
The thing I’ve learned, and it’s not some new truth but an old one that took me much too long to learn, is that if you learn to be content with who you are and where you are in life, it changes everything.
We don’t need to improve our lives. We don’t need to improve ourselves, because we’re already perfect.

Once you accept this, it frees you.

You’re now free to do things, not because you want to be better, but because you love it. Because you’re passionate about it, and it gives you joy. Because it’s a miracle that you even can do it.

You’re already perfect. Being content with yourself means realizing that striving for perfection is based on someone else’s idea of what “perfect” is … and that that’s all bullshit. Perfect is who you are, not who someone else says you should be.

Maybe this is what I should concentrate on, instead of all of those other things I feel I need to change about myself. Then maybe I could see that the list of what needs to be changed isn't really as long as I thought.

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