The good, the bad and the ugly of student life.

From the moment I decided that I wanted to go to university in 6th year, I suppose you could say it was all I could think about. The independence, partying and of course the student loan. Coming to the end of my uni experience I decided now is the perfect time to reminisce on the good memories and of course the bad… I suppose those preparing for University and those that have just started are wondering what the downside of this life could possibly be. In my experience, I did only have good memories of student life minus the landlords I have encountered with over the past three years.

From the moment you first get that student loan into your bank you feel like you’re the richest person on this planet, until its 4 months down the line and you’re ringing your bank begging for an overdraft. If I was to give one piece of advice when it comes to your loan, it would be pay your rent up front and then you won’t feel as half as rich anymore. However, in saying that I don’t think I ever learnt from my own mistakes, so don’t feel bad if you’re only a month into your loan and you have half of it spent already.

When it comes it choosing the house that you’re going to live in for most of the year, do it wisely. My experience when it comes to student houses hasn’t been great, from the ceiling near caving in in my first-year house to my bedroom ceiling actually caving in in my second-year house. The luxury house that we viewed at the start turned into a living nightmare was the only way to sum up this house. We thought it was the best house within the holylands until we had realised a month in and we were living in an Ikea showroom and not a real house.

From the moment it had click with us that this house only looked nice but didn’t perform like the way you expect a house to, that’s whenever it went downhill for us. When you realise the house that you’re meant to live in is the worst place in the world, what else do you think of doing as a student apart from using it as a house for drinking. The house slowly dwindled in condition which eventually when it came to May time we couldn’t even bare the smell of the amount of drink that had been split over our living room. In fact, the living room was a complete and utter eyesore.

However, another reason for turning what was meant to be our home into an eyesore was the landlord. The experience that we had with our landlord was the worst encounter you would ever wish to have. Our house was falling apart, and they wouldn’t answer the phone to us, the only ever contact we would have with them was whenever it was the first of the month and they were looking their £250. There was actually one time whenever they eventually came to fix a leak that we had for about a month and the ‘builders’ were throwing bricks off our roof and we were told “do not go out your back or you will die”. I’m not too sure but I don’t think it was in anyway safe or legal what they were doing. Anyone we had told about our landlord, knew of him and knew what he was like, so if you ever go to rent a house in the holylands, I would advise you to use a legal property agent.

In saying all this, I can’t recommend student life enough so enjoy it while you can but just don’t pick the worst house and landlord in the holylands.

Kacie O’Connor is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @kacieoconnor 

How Coffee Shops Saved My (Social) Life

This morning as I was on my way to get my daily coffee before work, my brother said something so outrageous that shocked me to my very core. “There’s too many coffee shops in Belfast.” It pains me to even type the words.

Once I had a chance to gather myself, I replied “Ammm, ain’t no such thing” (I’m very street like that).

He then went on to list some: Caffe Nero, Hotel Chocolat, Tim Horton’s, Bob & Bert’s, Pearl’s, Clements, Costa, Starbucks (all of which I’ve got loyalty cards for) as if that was too many?

It got me thinking, where would I be without all of these coffee shops? A lot better off financially yes. But also a LOT more tired, and a lot less social.

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I’m a placement student, which means that my schedule doesn’t really sync up with any of my friends who are still at uni. They’re free during the day and out at night, I’m in work all day then in bed by 10pm most nights.

But there’s that glimmering, cappuccino coloured window between 5 and 7pm, after I’ve finished work and before they’ve to go home and start preing.

I mean, what can you do at 5pm? No one under the age of around 60 (no offence) has dinner that early, and going for “a drink” isn’t really an option.

Coffee. That’s what you do.

What do you do at 8am, when the shops are all still closed and you can’t exactly sit at your desk for an hour before work?

Coffee. That’s what you do.

After lectures and seminars to procrastinate actually doing uni work?

You guessed it- el caffe. (See how I’m mixing things up?)

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Don’t get me wrong, I do love coffee. But for me its not about the drink; I go for coffee because I want to go somewhere nice and sit and catch up with my friends. Even those who hate coffee love going for coffee; there’s steamers, tea, weird flavoured lattes and those ridiculous drinks in Starbucks with a mountain of cream on top and another mountain of sugar inside.

I must admit, Belfast doesn’t have much when it comes to nightlife, everything sort of closes in the city centre at around 7pm (except the glorious night that is Thursday). But there’s always a light on in that Starbucks opposite Europa, or Tim Horton’s (yeah, we’ve got one of those now). Well, until 10pm when they close, but you know what I mean.

All of these coffee shops have actually really shaped my (and Belfast’s) social life.  They don’t just provide us with my daily dose of caffeine and free wifi (yay), they give us a place to sit with our friends and catch up on everything going on each other’s lives.

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And it’s not just big multi-national chains, it’s wee small independent coffee shops and chains throughout the north of Ireland like Clements and Bob & Bert’s. I always try to go the local shops and give them a turn instead. If you think about, I’m basically a caffeine-fuelled modern-day Robin Hood.

I’m helping support the local high street -which God knows it needs all the help it can get after the Primark fire reduced footfall by 30%. And with amount of money I spend a week on a coffee, I’m probably single-handedly sustaining the local coffee industry.

Coffee shops are so important to Belfast. We need somewhere to sit have a good chat- and God knows we need caffeine. Coffee’s what we drink, it’s what we do, it’s who we are.

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So, I’ll raise my skinny cappuccino and toast to the coffee shops of Belfast, “thank you”.

 

Niamh Murray is a 3rd year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University, currently on a placement year at The Irish News. She can be found on Instagram: @_neeev, Facebook: Niamh Ni Mhuirí and LinkedIn: Niamh Murray.

Fears of Final Year

Fears of Final Year

I was told to write a blog, so here I am, writing my blog…

Not having a clue what to write about, I decided to write about what is on my mind most at the moment, FINAL YEAR and the uncertainties that go with it.

As many students would agree, entering final year of University is extremely daunting but yet quite exciting. Now that I’m already four weeks into potentially my last year of education, the doubt is getting the better of the excitement. With workloads starting to build and deadlines looming; the stress levels are beginning to rise. So, for anyone who may be in the same position, reading this may give you some peace of mind.

Now with only eight months left of my life as a CMPR student at Ulster University here are my five fears for final year:

1. Adapting back into the University life

I successfully secured a placement post at Invest Northern Ireland as a Communication Assistant. I spent 12-months there and it was a tremendous experience and I learned so much.

For me I found it quite easy to adjust to the 9-5 life; having a structure; knowing what most days entail; and the bonus of getting paid monthly, I found myself at ease. Although I was still living in the Holylands, and still enjoying the odd Wednesday night in Bot, I had the best of both worlds of having the benefits and of working full time, and still being able to enjoy the student life of living with my friends.

I finished my placement year in August, I then went Island Hopping in Greece for three weeks and was back to University five days after I came home. So, I never really had much time to mentally prepare myself for final year. I just sort of, fell back into it.

Now that I only have class two days week, I find myself with way too much free time and not knowing what to do with it (watching way too much Netflix). However, I don’t think this will be the case in a few weeks’ time when I’m rushing to finish a 3,000-word essay and wishing I used my time more wisely.

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2. Dissertation

The dreaded ‘D’ word! To say I’m dreading writing a dissertation would be an understatement. Apart from it being 10,000 words and worth a huge chunk of my final degree mark, I’m still not that entirely sure what a dissertation is – although my dissertation lectures are starting to make a bit more sense as the weeks go on.

I have a few ideas on what I want to focus my research on (consumer behaviour or influencer marketing), I’m still yet to settle on a topic.

3. What to do after I graduate

This is probably the one I’m fearing the most – what to do next?

After doing my A-Levels and getting accepted into Ulster University, I had the next four years planned out. I don’t have a plan for the next four.

I have a number of options; get a job in Belfast, Dublin or even round home in Fermanagh; Apply to a grad-scheme; Move to somewhere big like London or New York; or just book a one-way flight somewhere exotic and travel for a year.

I’m already getting email notifications that grad-schemes have opened their application process, however this is giving me flashbacks of applying for a placement job and the stress that comes with it, or there is the opinion of applying to an entry level PR job when the right opportunity comes up.

I’ve always seen myself moving to London after I graduate, with my two sisters and my nieces all living there, it makes a lot more sense for me to relocate.

However, the thought of working for the next 60+ years is quite frightening, and I don’t know if I’m quite ready for that yet. But whatever happens, happens.

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4. Money Worries

Prior to now, money problems never crossed my mind. I’ve worked part time from the age of 16 and was always able to buy what I liked without asking my parent for help.

Last year I got used to having a full-time wage and I gave up my part time job when I began my placement year. Now than I back in final year, and for the moment living off my student loan – that is rapidly disappearing, and with most of my savings spent on €15 cocktails in Mykonos, money worries are always at the back of my mind.

And with still not knowing what I want to do after I graduate, I need to have some money set aside to pursue whatever I decide to do – whether that be move away, travel or just blow It on another holiday.

5. The end of an era

So, I’ve only eight months left to make the most of (hopefully) my last year in Belfast. Is it time to make the most of it? Or just settle down and hibernate in the library?

For a girl that made (too much) the most of first and second year. My week usually consisted of: Sundays – Hatfield; Monday – the Fly; Tuesday – Thompsons; Wednesday – Bot; and countless all-day rips in the Rose and Crown. It’s quite sad to think that it’s all coming to an end, and after this I won’t be getting many more opportunities to do that again.

However, first and second year didn’t count towards my degree, so…there’s a lot more at stake this year! So, for the next eight months, I plan to put the effort in, while also enjoying regular night out as well.

Wish me Luck x

 

Ruth Leonard is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram – @ruthleonard_ / Twitter – @RuthLeonard_ / LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/in/ruth-leonard-057860129/

If these walls could talk…

If these walls could talk…

A PR student’s take on Northern Ireland’s murals

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Northern Ireland was recently named Lonely Planet’s best region to visit in 2018. The world’s largest travel book publisher hailed the beautiful North Coast and Belfast’s bars and restaurants as must see attractions for tourists visiting Ireland.

I for one think it’s an incredibly well-deserved accolade. We are spoilt in Northern Ireland by beaches and stunning scenery, music and sport, and even despite living in London for a year, I still think the best food I’ve ever eaten has been within a stone’s throw of my front door.

But when a friend from England came to visit me in Belfast recently, I knew there was one thing I had to show her. Something truly unique to Northern Ireland; the kind of tourist attraction that isn’t quite picturesque enough for the glossy pages of a Lonely Planet publication but gives a Belfast first-timer a true taste of our rich history.

Now, my experience of political and religious contention in Belfast doesn’t amount to much more than memories of my Mum telling us not to play in certain neighbouring streets with our GAA jerseys on. I didn’t live through ‘the Troubles’ and my house is in a mixed area in Belfast, on a mixed road, with both Protestant and Catholic neighbours. It has been a relatively safe place to grow up. But I’ve always been interested in Northern Ireland’s colourful past, and believe that Belfast’s turbulent history is a part of it’s charm.

So, when my Leeds-born English pal landed in Belfast we jumped in a black cab of the Belfast variety, and did a Taxi Tour of the murals in West Belfast, spending two hours around the peace walls that run through the most divided part of the city.

Mural painting really took off in Belfast in the early 1970s and it’s believed that almost 2,000 murals have been documented since then. They are used by both Loyalist and Republican communities, as tools of political expression and have become an integral part of Northern Ireland’s history.

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It got me thinking; this part of Belfast’s culture is one of it’s unique selling points. As someone who revels in the charm of this city and has great pride in it’s offerings as an up-and-coming tourist destination, I think of the murals as less conventional tourism gems.

As a PR student, I see the original and most famous murals as unique forms of political propaganda. During the Troubles these detailed depictions told their neighbours what the newspapers wouldn’t. Mainstream media channels of the time would censor many of the messages aimed at the ears of Loyalist and Republican communities, so murals were commissioned to be the news bulletins that people couldn’t avoid.

In more recent years, through the ongoing peace process, we see less paintings of gunmen in balaclavas and the murals are less likely to energise young boys into radical political action. Walls that once encapsulated years of violence and unrest, are now more likely to celebrate local sporting heroes, encourage international peace and portray events from Irish mythology. As they come and go, and change in their style and tone, the murals act as mirrors of Northern Ireland’s changing political and social landscapes.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words –  it’s the communications student in me that looks at the murals as a way of skilful story telling. I admire their ability to communicate complex messages, with depth and breadth of meaning, in a simple way. Some murals are newsflashes from Belfast’s history, the front pages of Northern Ireland newspapers, reproduced and granted long-term residency on gable walls. Some are stunning works of art celebrating key events in Irish history or showing solidarity to international friends. Some commemorate historical figureheads. And some celebrate the new relationships and tolerance between the two sides in Northern Ireland. Infact, since the Good Friday Agreement we’ve welcomed the most unlikely of artistic collaborations – Loyalist mural painter Mark Ervine and former IRA volunteer turned artist Danny Devenny, who are involved together in several mural projects to promote peace in Belfast.

History and geography dictate that Belfast will most likely never be a completely unified city. But that doesn’t mean to say we haven’t made progress and one only has to explore the murals – past and present – to see how far Northern Ireland has come.

The murals stand as poignant reminders of the violence, the trauma and the trouble we hope not to relive in Belfast, and reflect the positive steps we have taken in the hope of a bright future.

Paula McKay is a 4th year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be contacted at http://www.linkedin.com/in/paulamckay55, and on Twitter @paulamck55 Continue reading “If these walls could talk…”

The Top 5 things to do in TQ

The Top 5 things to do in TQ

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Belfast is fast becoming one of the most popular city breaks in Europe and with so much to do here, it’s no surprise. The history, culture, people and music are just some of the reasons as to why so many people are choosing our wee city to visit. I had the opportunity to work in Titanic Quarter during my placement year, once the busiest shipyard in the world and now a must see part of Belfast! There’s plenty to do in Titanic Quarter, however I thought I would narrow it down to my top 5 things to do in TQ!

 

  1. Titanic Belfast and SS Nomadic

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Having been voted 2016’s World’s Leading Tourist Attraction at the European Travel Awards, Titanic Belfast is undoubtedly a must when visiting the Quarter. This visitor attraction is a great way of learning all about the history of the shipyard and of course the world famous Titanic, although it is best to give yourself plenty of time to fully take it all the museum has to offer. Don’t forget to visit Titanic’s little sister SS Nomadic during your visit, White Star Premium tickets can be purchased to explore both Titanic Belfast and SS Nomadic. www.titanicbelfast.com

  1. SSE Arena – Home of the Belfast Giants

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One of my favourite things to do in TQ is watch the Belfast Giants play in the SSE Arena, I take my nephew every year as a Christmas present and we both love it! It is the perfect Friday night plans with friends of family. From the atmosphere, hearing fans cheer on their team to the variety of prizes available including a free subway and pizza, the craic just doesn’t stop. Check their website for fixtures and head down for some weekend fun! www.belfastgiants.com

  1. Lagan Boat Tours

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So you’ve been to Titanic Quarter before, looking for something a bit different to do compared to the usual tourist stuff…look no further than Lagan Boat! This is the only Titanic guided boat tour in the world, a great trip with friends, family, and they even do hen parties. Getting a tour of the Quarter in the sea is just the best experience, plus you get to see seals and meet the friendliest dog ever, what more could you really want? www.laganboatcompany.com

  1. The Wee Tram

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The best way to travel through the Quarter without a doubt is on The Wee Tram. Not only do you get to rest yer wee legs and take it the sights in Titanic Quarter, but the guides on the Tram give you a real insight into the history of the shipyard. It is available to hop and off all day, ideal for tourists wanting to explore all areas of the Quarter!

The Wee Tram is hibernating for the winter but definitely hop on when it returns. www.theweetram.com

  1. Cast & Crew

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After exploring Titanic Quarter all day you’re bound to be starving, no better place to fill your stomach up with then Cast and Crew! Check out their Titanic Burger or tasty chicken wings, not to mention their Americanos are amazing. If you want to go and explore Belfast a bit more afterwards, tickets can be bought for the Belfast tour bus that picks up just outside the restaurant! www.castandcrewbelfast.co.uk

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Kellina Loughran is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kellina-loughran-a382a9123/  and Twitter: @kellina_x

‘The Final Hour’ – a step too far for Northern Ireland?

We all know, and/or have visited, the Titanic Quarter in Belfast by now.

Jam-packed with cameras, selfie sticks and groups from all over the world on a daily basis, Tourists flock to NI’s beloved Titanic Belfast every week. An iconic location next to the Titanic Slipways, Harland and Wolff, and Hamilton Graving Dock – the very place where Titanic was designed, built and launched in 1912.

No surprise it was crowned “World’s Leading Tourist Attraction” at the World Travel Awards in 2016. A recent report found that Titanic Belfast generated £105 million in additional tourism spend for the Northern Ireland economy. And if anything, as time goes on, the Titanic Quarter will become even more famous and an even bigger source of merchandising revenue for Northern Ireland.

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But have NI in all its global fascination and quest for continued Tourism, gone a step too far this time?

Certainly, with all of this said, it can be very easy to forget this is all based on one of the biggest sea tragedies in history.

Thus, many think the company ‘Timescape’ have lost their minds with the announcement they are bringing their latest business venture to Castle Street, Belfast – The Titanic: The Final Hour.

A Titanic themed ‘escape room’ game which will see “teams of up to 6 given an hour to try escape a simulation of the stricken liner.”

At £18 per person ticket, Timescape advertise the experience as: “It’s 11:39pm on April 14, 1912 and you’re on the Captain’s Bridge at the helm of the RMS Titanic. Suddenly, the words ring out, ‘Iceberg, right ahead’. The placid sound of night is broken forever. You and your shipmates try desperately to avoid the iceberg but are unable.

Now you only have 60 minutes to seal the water tight doors, radio for help, put on your lifejackets; release the davits and get every woman and child into the lifeboats.

You must hurry but must not panic as the water rises and time runs out.

*NO WATER IS INVOLVED IN THIS EXPERIENCE*”

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Before it arrives in December, there has already been public outcry, with The Belfast Telegraph reporting the objectionable views from the President of the British Titanic Society about this latest revenue adventure: “My personal thoughts are that this is a very distasteful idea, and highly disrespectful to the memory of those who died.

The Titanic disaster was not a game.”

Timescape owners however, maintain they have “taken great care to be respectful to those who perished. Our room and its props are as historically accurate as possible, and Titanic enthusiasts will surely be impressed with the level of detail.

The Titanic is a huge part of our own heritage and history and we are aiming to further enrich that, here, right in the heart of Belfast city.”

The Belfast Telegraph Editor’s viewpoint comments that “many people will feel the creation of a Titanic ‘escape room’ in a Belfast entertainment complex trampling on the graves of the 1,500 people who perished when the ship was lost more than a century ago.

It may seem an attractive commercial theme to those behind the idea, but it is really rather distasteful.

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Titanic room.

We should remember this tragedy with due respect, especially given the doomed vessel’s association with the city.”

BBC even got hold of the story and reported on their website that “Belfast have always had an ambiguous relationship with the Titanic, unsure of how to deal with the memory of the ship which sank. As time passed, a feeling of pride in the construction of the ship overcame any hesitancy to embrace the liner, its legacy and its financial potential.”

Pride perhaps, but it goes without saying, this is not a great start for a brand new business adventure; damaged with bad publicity, public concern and major criticism, before this “fun, adrenaline raising activity” even opens.

Timescape’s promotion to Tourists is: “Don’t miss out on the Titanic room to experience a part of Belfast’s history in a totally unique way.”

Unique, indeed.

Would you play this game?

(I think it’s safe to say Leonardo DiCaprio will not be taking part).

 

Chloe Campbell is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/chloe-campbell-337b26152 / Facebook: Chloe Campbell.

Meet the media… Cool FM and Downtown Radio

Last week I had the privilege of attending CIPR NI Meet the Media Event, hosted by Cool FM and Downtown Radio. For a lot of people getting to see where the likes of Pete Snodden, Rebecca McKinney and Gary Myles create the magic that goes into their nationwide breakfast shows is a onetime opportunity. Luckily for me, I have the pleasure of being a member of Cool FM and Downtown’s street team, so the station is not an unfamiliar sight. Getting to work for Northern Ireland’s leading radio station really is a dream come true, and ‘work’ doesn’t feel like ‘work’ when every event is even more exciting than the last.

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Although I know how successful Cool FM, Downtown and the stations newest recruit Downtown Country are, it never ceases to amaze me to see the colossal listening figures they bring in. The day began with Mark Mahaffy, Managing Director, taking us through ‘What’s New in Local Media’ and more importantly, ‘What’s New in Cool FM/Downtown’. As Northern Ireland have the strongest affinity for local radio in the UK, it is not surprising that Cool FM and Downtown are thriving, with the Cool Breakfast Show with Pete, Paolo and Rebecca alone bringing in 297,000 listeners. With listening figures at an all-time high of 697,000, PR practitioners should be utilising the power of radio to promote their clients.  But it’s not just through radio that Cool FM and Downtown reach the masses, their Facebook page has 668,000 followers. As programming director and presenter Stuart Robinson pointed out, ‘with Facebook it’s all about engagement’. With their quirky news stories and hilarious memes Cool FM’s engagement on Facebook is sky high. So being able to get a story or promotion for your client on Cool FM or Downtown’s social media accounts, could maximise exposure.

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As there were facts and figures flying about, a break was much needed. But not just any tea break, in true radio fashion, it was quiz time. Having to identify five songs from Cool FM, Downtown and Downtown Country, did not prove well for me, scoring a feeble five points (my music knowledge selective to Cool FM). Luckily for the rest of the room there were some budding music experts who won Digital Radios and Shania Twain tickets for their impressive scores. However, I did notice a few other embarrassed faces whose music taste must be similar to my own, anything top 40 from the last decade.

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Next, and most importantly for the PR professionals in the room, Caroline Beatty from the Creative Solutions department talked us through some of the creative media campaigns they have created for clients. A shining example being Metro, who wanted to promote their £2 night fare. The Creative Solutions department cleverly crafted the Metro Matchmaking campaign, where singletons took to a bus in Belfast City Centre for some speed double dating.  By tailoring to clients objectives and budget the Creative Solutions Department offer a full creative media service, to boost exposure as much as possible.

Finally, Head of News, Nigel Gould, explained the work of the news team and how best to approach getting a story coverage. With 17 daily news bulletins across the stations, news has become as big as the music. By covering consumer, lifestyle and business news alongside the hard hitting stuff, Cool FM and Downtown are appealing to all ages and backgrounds with their news coverage. His top tip to PR professionals who want to get a story covered was to ‘help yourself by recording your story, but make sure the person is being interviewed and not just reading from a sheet’.

Of course our day had to end with a tour around the studios to see where the real fun takes place. We were lucky enough to have sneak peak of the new video production suite which will be used to record local artists, Facebook videos and so much more, so keep a look out for what’s to come from Cool FM, Downtown and Downtown Country in 2018, Northern Ireland’s leading commercial broadcaster.

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Olivia x

Olivia McAleenan is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Advertising at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @OliviaMcAleenan / LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/in/olivia-mcaleenan-88774413b /Facebook – Olivia McAleenan / Instagram @oliviamcaleenan