Character, Language, and Finding Our Deeper Values

The culture of a given society has several layers. Firstly, there are the arts and the achievements, symbols, the figures who represent the nation’s history and contemporary circumstances. A deeper layer, requiring consistent engagement with the culture to understand, encompasses everything from common worldviews and attitudes, to humour and mannerisms. Language is somewhere in between. Objective meanings of words and phrases can be learnt from any textbook. However, exposure to how the language operates within the culture and social interactions reveals its emotional dimension. The connotations of words, their flavour and the pictures they paint, must be felt and cannot be formally taught.

I am familiar with the character of two countries, far removed from each other in geography and culture: immigrating as a nine year old, I’ve retained a strong memory of my native land, the Russian Federation. British teenage years followed a predominantly Russian childhood. Acquiring a a second citizenship at a lively ceremony in 2012 symbolised my assimilation of everything from the South-Eastern dialect to the manners and customs of my new compatriots. Nowadays, I think, speak, and write predominantly in English. During my annual visits to Russia, I receive a few laughs from loved ones at my odd manner and accent. For sure, a different person would have emerged from the absence of an immigration experience, but through bilingualism I have retained ties to my ethnic origin. My soul combines hues from both countries and I am profoundly aware of their disparities.

The importance of core values and how to find them

I’ve learnt that submerging yourself into a second culture or language reveals facts that can seldom be conveyed through a secondary account.

Humour, for example, gives translators more nightmares than laughs. Jokes have roots in history and the intricacies of a given language. A whimsical anecdote from Russia may receive blank stares from a British audience if it depends on the historical resonance of a particular word or character. Likewise, my mum still scolds me for self-deprecating quips, which translate into Russian as a deliberate and cruel effacement of oneself. View Full Post

On Overcoming Panic And Finding The Right Mindset For Exams

Meeting someone who faces exams with a cold indifference is a rarity. Sure, you can tell apart people who personify ‘exam stress’ from the chilled out. Most of us, however, have experienced everything from clammy palms to the taste of prospective doom on our tongues with tests around the corner. And who can blame us? Good results open new doors and determine how we progress up the educational ladder. While exam results and self-worth should not correlate, in many people’s minds they are tightly entwined, given how much time, effort and thought is allocated towards preparing for test papers.

Admittedly, I’m hardly a stoic when an academic challenge is concerned, and the more I care about a subject or topic, the more my nerves are exacerbated. IB history exemplified this: history is my favourite discipline and upcoming university degree. In light of wanting to prove my competence as a historian (and the notorious difficulty of IB history exams), I poured plenty of sweat and tears into my preparation. The actual papers, in turn, felt like a cornerstone moment within a cornerstone set of exams. My nerves, like the proletariat, lost their chains and roamed all over the place.

Nonetheless, I’ve accumulated a set of tricks and principles that help me maintain a balance between composure and a healthy level of agitation both before and during exams. You should remember that a hint of adrenaline is both unavoidable and helpful when working under pressure. But allowing your nerves to go from pottering about to multiplying out of control and engulfing everything in their path a) damages your wellbeing and b) proves counterproductive. Many exam questions demand sound reasoning and composure, which is difficult to achieve in a state of paralysis, which is why you must take care to find tranquility in your rhythm.

So, what mindset changes can be made to remain calm before and during your exams?

Overcome exam stress and find the right mindset for exams

Remember: the right mindset is your best asset in all aspects of life, in particular when pushed to your intellectual and creative limits.


There are a few ways to apply acceptance. Firstly, as mentioned above, accept that feeling nervous is natural, and the harder you resist panic, the further it spirals out of control. Tell yourself that a morsel of anxiety, while unavoidable, is not going to worsen your performance. Putting too much thought and effort into staying calm results in you worrying about the process of worrying as well as the exam – why not give yourself permission to worry about the latter, but not both?

Secondly, accept that your control over the whole process, while far-reaching, is not absolute. You control how well you prepare and the extent to which you understand the exam, but not other factors, such as the exact questions which will come up and the human factor involved in interpreting mark schemes. Once you’ve done all you can, from completing every past paper and checking over the syllabus multiple times, accept the inevitable and enter the hall with a mild nihilism in your heart. That way, the result is more likely to be a pleasant surprise. View Full Post

5 Simple Habits That Will Improve Your Writing

I wholeheartedly believe that everyone, not just published or aspiring authors, can benefit from taking the time to work on their writing skills.

There are countless examples of when good written communication can work in your favour. Think networking, assembling a resume, starting a blog. Think writing better essays and improving your grades. The world is both fast-paced and hungry for information, which means an ability to deliver a persuasive, crisp message gives you an advantage in the pursuit of your goals.

Your target audience is presented with nothing other than the result of your labour. For example, let’s say you’re writing a paper for school. Coming up with an original thesis, regardless of its importance, is just step one of many. Your brilliant ideas will be ‘lost in translation’ unless you develop the ability to materialise them through words with a sense of structure and coherence. Likewise, a groundbreaking business may struggle to lure in customers in the absence of verbal persuasion.

5 habits to improve your writing

The older I get, the more fascinated I become with the written word. Language can be revolutionary. And while not every written piece strives to be a world-changer, we strive to impact something whenever we write – your own professional/academic development, the readers of your blog – or spread a message you think needs to be heard. People whose income depends on the quality of their writing must be more rigorous than others, of course, but for the reasons described above, we can all capitalise on better written communication skills.

Improving your writing does not have to be an arduous, time-consuming battle and will feel easier once you accept that significant changes will not happen overnight. A combination of habit and patience is required. The advice of ‘read and write as much as possible to master the craft yourself’ is hard to argue with because you can’t improve without knowing what good writing looks like in practice. Read quality works within your niche and analyse what sets them apart. Challenge yourself in terms of daily word count and content. However, these core practices can be substantiated with other habits that are easy to implement into your daily routine as a means of boosting your competence in the written word. View Full Post

The Importance of Thinking Bigger

Without detail, the world would seldom be able to function. Detail ties everything together, from our day to day schedules to the most intricate machines and international trade deals. Understanding the subtleties makes you an expert in any given system. Applying rigorous planning (think everything from countless lists to time blocking and editorial calendars) to your life engenders organisation and productivity. Sometimes, while tapping away on my phone or swiping my contactless Visa, I am stopped by the realisation of just how complex familiar mechanisms are below the surface.

When I was younger, my grandma taught me to ‘think about detail’, using fashion and writing as an example: your choice headwear or a sheeny bracelet can turn a bland outfit luxurious. Similarly, a spelling mistake can undermine the credibility of your argument. These lessons stuck around because as I grew older and older, I found further examples of where details matter. Understanding something beyond a surface-level overview in education creates a valuable learning experience and facilitates information retention. Good essay writing, in turn, requires you scrutinise the details of your topic (in the form of objective evidence, facts, statistics) before assembling a thesis or argument. In other words, you must avoid cherry-picking evidence for a preconceived idea and focus on where the facts actually lead.

The beauty of details lies in how they melt at the edges and into each other, forming an outward picture which hides the technicalities underneath. However, when we think about such technicalities, don’t we do it, either consciously or subconsciously, with the intention of producing a specific, final result which is enshrined within our minds? For example, through your choice of accessories or jewellery, you produce a distinctive style without any missing components, and by meticulously editing your writing – a resulting piece which flows and engages. Even the extraction of viewpoint from evidence in academia follows deeper principles, an admiration of unbiased research. Thinking bigger, therefore, is not a negligence of detail but an understanding of why these details exist in the first place. View Full Post

Effective Study Techniques To Use For Any Subject

No one can deny the joy of winter transforming into spring, of days getting longer and a genuine mood of optimism which is tied to the arrival of warm weather. However, spring is when many students must start studying for upcoming exams. If this is you, ‘stress’ is likely to be your most-used adjective. And if you’re at a different stage in your education, you may be wondering how to remember avalanches of new information while working on assignments and practicing the skills you need to get good grades.

Well, if consistency is key with anything, it is studying. Consistently going over older topics throughout the academic year and making the effort to understand trickier ones straight away will save you the grief of facing the unfamiliar a week before your exams. Always start early to give yourself the opportunity to find techniques which work for you and after that, apply them on a regular basis. This principle, although explained in simplistic terms, guarantees less stress in the run up to exams. Throughout my International Baccalaureate (IB) experience, frequent revision throughout the programme was my saving grace: given the absence of exams in your first year, two years’ worth of information has to be firmly planted in your mind for a three week exam period , which is better done far in advance than days before your first paper.

However, as mentioned, how we best retain information depends on our individual characteristics and the subject for which we are studying. For example, a visual learner will find greater utility in colourful mind maps than an auditory learner, and flashcards could prove futile for exams which test critical thinking as opposed to memory. You have to remain flexible and adjust your strategy based on what’s required and what works for you. In other words, not retaining information through a specific technique does not make the exam a lost cause; you must simply step back and search for a different method.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite ways to study that are pretty interdisciplinary and can be adapted based on your preferred learning style. These are active ways to retain information because they push you to engage with the content, unlike something passive like reading textbooks and/or taking notes (but, both of these are important and I will be doing a separate post on how to maximise their potential soon). Also, keep in mind that I am neither a teacher nor examiner; all of these tips are recommended based on my experience. They will not work for every reader, and my advice is by no means composed of indisputable facts! Always seek help from members of your educational establishment if you are struggling with understanding content or forming your revision plan.  View Full Post