Christmas in Toulouse

Christmas is still a not-so-distant memory, so now is as an appropriate time as any to share with you my favourite time of year in such a gorgeous city.

Firstly, a short disclaimer is necessary on my part – I unashamedly love Christmas; for me Christmas begins the day after Halloween. I am that person. This year, my local Tesco began stocking Christmas goodies in September and I for one was delighted.

I did significantly lower my expectations when I moved to Toulouse though – especially following their somewhat (in my opinion) half-hearted attempt at Halloween. I was however pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastically the city embraced the Christmas festivities. I cannot recommend Toulouse enough to anyone who will be looking for a cheap weekend away over the next festive period, with (at the time of writing) return flights from most London airports for under £30 (some as cheap as £10), and attractions as stunning as some of the following:

Marché de Noël

On the 24th November 2017, 117 white wooden huts clad with lights and festive decorations popped up in in Place du Capitole. The long-awaited (by me, at least) Marché de Noël had arrived. Every year the stalls sell artisanal products from the local area, Christmas gifts and handmade goods in addition to the plethora of fresh festive food and drinks.

I did develop somewhat of a crêpe addiction over the course of the festive period – several friends back home in the UK had words with me about how bored they were of seeing pictures of crêpes on my Snapchat story in excess of three times a week. I wish I was kidding. In addition to the wealth of churros, vin chaud and gauffres (waffles), another culinary highlight of the Christmas market was Aligot – commonly known among students as cheesy mash. Aligot however has a continental twist in the form of extra ingredients: Raclette, butter, cream and garlic and is very commonly found in the region of Occitanie. If this video doesn’t qualify as food porn, nothing does.

Pictures cannot do justice to the quintessentially festive atmosphere – the smells, sounds, lights and cold air epitomise Christmas for me, although this video of the toulousain Marché de Noël in 2015 gives a pretty good idea.

Galleries Lafayette

Much to my delight, Toulouse is home to a six-floor baby of the iconic Parisian department store. One thing it does succeed at is festive décor – although I imagine on nowhere near the same scale as its parent in Paris. Both inside out, every inch of the store was decked with festivity and was completely packed throughout the whole month of December.

The opening of its new rooftop restaurant and bar Ma Biche sur le Toit, from which the views over Toulouse are said to be spectacular, also coincided with the festive season, so, of course, a visit was necessary. Unfortunately this visit was not a success, as bookings are imperative and the wearing of trainers is forbidden, so this trip is still on the agenda for the next few weeks. Watch this space.

Lights in Centre-Ville

Much to my despair I missed the evening of the switch on of the Christmas lights, although France doesn’t seem to be as big on ‘switch-on ceremonies’ as the events we are used to in the UK which generally feature a Z-list celebrity pressing an oversized button on a rainy November evening.

The lights themselves were gorgeous, with each different area of the centre following a different theme. Some of my favourites are pictured below, although I could have taken thousands of photos of this photogenic city and its stunning lights.

 

Captioleum and Square Charles de Gaulle

Behind the Capitole building is the Square Charles de Gaulle, the new home to a small village of inflated igloos for the festive season. These igloo pods contained different themed versions of Santa’s grotto and were a delight for young children. In my excitement I forgot to take pictures, although you can see them peeping into the back of this photo:

Above these igloos, a ten minute Christmas film for children was projected directly onto the back of the Capitole building, which really made it all feel very magical.

As city centre Christmas trees go, I’d say Toulouse does pretty well with this enormous ride-on tree which took up residence in Square Charles de Gaulle:

Christmas at Air France

Having already expressed my feelings towards Christmas, I’m sure it’s not hard to imagine my reaction to returning to a ten-foot Christmas tree in the foyer of the office after a weekend back home in England. This was in fact destined to be decorated by the whole building in order to compete with those in the other four buildings on the site. The theme of ‘origami and paperwork’ was elected and soon the tree was covered in makeshift sticky note adornments and an assortment of origami. Sadly our building did not win, but it was one tinsel-clad rung on the festive ladder to feeling ~Christmassy~.

The festivities continued, with a pull de moche (Christmas jumper) competition and a Christmas dinner taking place that same week. Of course, a large part of running conversation classes is to discuss topics which are current and culturally informative, so naturally I led a class about Christmas adverts in the UK. The John-Lewis style Christmas ads we have come to love are basically unheard of in France, so many of my students found this really interesting.

Santa et Cie

One of the more linguistically challenging things I had resolved to do during my time here was to watch a French film at the cinema – obviously sans subtitles. The first week in December I saw posters advertising a family film by the name of Santa et Cie (Santa and co.), and, given the lack of Christmas films available on Netflix in France, two of us went to see it in the hope of feeling yet more festive.

What followed is the strangest, yet most original Christmas film I have ever seen. The plot is as follows: with only three days to go until Christmas, Santa’s entire workforce of elves become ill, leaving Monsieur Claus and his reindeer to travel to Paris to source the only cure: 92,000 doses of vitamin C tablets. Naturally he encounters a whole gamut of difficulties, and enlists the help of a young family with whom he learns the ins and outs of life outside the North Pole. The narrative features the usual morals of not doubting yourself, and the importance of family, especially at Christmas.

I can only hope this film is released with English subtitles in time for next Christmas, so that I can watch it again and understand the 70% of the speech which completely went over my head.

Watch the trailer for Santa et Cie here:

With so much festivity and the added excitement of having to actually travel in order to get home for Christmas, I can say this was the year I truly felt the most festive in the lead up to les vacances. I left work for the airport on the 21st of December with visions of the airport scene of Love Actually in mind.

Watch out for my upcoming post about some of the non-Christmas highlights of Toulouse!

A la prochaine!

Beat the January blues  

It can be tough being on placement sometimes – you’re in a new environment, doing something new and surrounded by new people. It can be even more of a struggle returning to your placement after the excitement and magic of Christmas and New Year, especially if you’re having to say goodbye to loved ones again and deal with the realities of homesickness. This is where we are here to help – take a read through these top tips for beating the January blues on placement.

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First of all, it’s important to remember that whatever you are feeling, you are not alone. Whether it’s on placement or in full-time employment, no one wants to go back to work after Christmas! The last few weeks have been full of fun, food and family, so having to get back into a routine is going to be a big shock to the system for all of us. After a few days though, it will feel like you’ve never been away!

Stay busy and plan some fun activities to look forward to. Whether it’s going to lunch with a friend/family, exploring your local area, picking up a new hobby or a trip to the cinema, having lots of activities planned will keep you busy and give you something to take your mind off things.

Treasure your happy memories. Putting together a scrapbook or memory box will let you look back on the good times when you’re feeling a bit down. Take lots of photos, collect gig tickets, keep train tickets, save receipts from meals out, get some souvenirs from places you’ve visited etc. – you’ll be able to look back at these and reminisce for years to come.

If you’ve moved away to do your placement, take some home comforts back with you to remind you of home. Why not pack your favourite snacks, some DVDs, some framed photos, your comfiest blanket or a cuddly toy with you? Making your new place feel familiar and inviting will help you feel happy and comfortable there.Get active. Yes, we know almost everyone makes New Year’s resolutions which they probably won’t keep to do more exercise. But getting active is a great way to feel better both physically and mentally. Exercising can help relieve stress and releases chemicals that make you feel happier. Why not hit the gym or look for some sports clubs to join – it’s also a great way to meet new people!

Look after yourself. The Christmas break can often be a period of excess – which seems like a great idea at the time – but can leave your body feeling out of sorts. Make sure you have a healthy, varied diet, get enough sleep and regularly give yourself some ‘me time’ to recharge. Keep in touch! Make time for regular video calls with you friends and family, and stick to the times you’ve arranged. Not only will these calls help you feel a bit closer to home, but they will also give you something to look forward to. However, while it’s good to stay in touch with people back home or on other placements, don’t get hung up on wishing you were there with them. You may not always think so, but your placement is a great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t waste it. Whatever you do, don’t just sit around wishing you were somewhere else – you will regret it.

Talk to people. Whatever you’re feeling, don’t keep it bottled up. If you are struggling with your workload or having issues on the placement itself, talk to a manager you can trust about it. If management aren’t aware of your issues, they cannot put anything in place to support or resolve the issues. If you’re struggling with your personal life, tell those who are close to you. It may also help to chat to other students on placement as they will be in the same position as you and might have their own advice to give – you will probably also find you aren’t alone in the way you feel! However, if you feel you need a bit of extra support,  you can talk to the placement team or a professional at The Hub – just because you’re on placement, it doesn’t mean you can’t still access Aston’s support services.

 

 

 

 

 

How to get a placement 101

My experience of finding a placement… or two

So here we are. It’s suddenly January and I’m late to the placement-blogging-party. This does, however, mean I can share the highlights of my experiences from the first few months from the position of having successfully (in my opinion) survived this far.

You can read my very brief ‘about me’ section here, which gives you a brief about what I am currently doing!

Misleading-yet-catchy title aside, this post is not, in fact, a ‘how to’, but is an overview of my personal experience of the application process. The whole thing can seem rather daunting, so *hopefully* seeing it written start to finish in black and white from the point of view of someone who has done it will be of some use. A lot of my advice will be the same things you’ve been told before but one more time can’t hurt. Eventually you’ll even start to follow it.

Starting at the beginning

As an LSS student, my placement year had to be a minimum of 30 weeks – shorter than for other students, particularly those belonging to ABS, and mine has to be completed in France as I study French and English Language. This also made it possible for my placement to be split into two halves as, according to new laws, each stage (work placement) cannot last longer than 6 months in French businesses.

The first placement preparations began around October 2016 when the Careers+Placements team started running a series of lectures to outline the basics of the placement year. The first choice I had to make was whether to work for the entire duration, study for the entire duration, or do a mixture of both. After a lot of deliberation (some would call it dithering), I decided I wanted to work for the whole period, largely because I thought that my experience of the country would be more like ‘real life’ than if I spent the time in a somewhat sheltered environment of a university. I would have the chance to meet more – and a wider range of – people working in a business than if I spent another year surrounded entirely by other students very similar to me.

Of course, in addition to the life experience, there’s the added benefit of having a year of full-time work on your CV for when you’re fresh out of uni and looking for a graduate job, which could well be the edge you have over your competition.

Applying speculatively

When it came to applying for placements, I made an appointment with the Careers+Placements team fairly early on to discuss what kind of industries/businesses/roles I should be looking for.

One piece of information they gave me (which in fact hit me like a tonne of bricks) was that when applying speculatively to companies who weren’t advertising placements, I should expect to be sending “forty, fifty or sixty” copies of CVs and tailored cover letters. So, after several minor breakdowns about this fact, I narrowed my search to only companies advertising on Aston Futures. I know several people who did in fact stick with it and got amazing placements through applying speculatively, but the sheer volume of applications I would have had to send and my complete lack of career plans totally put me off doing so.

If you’re anything like me, there will be times you feel totally buried in applications…

‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’… or not

Another method which had amazing results for my friends – but not so much for me – was asking anyone and everyone in terms of family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues for knowledge of placements in certain companies or industries. Although I was given lots of advice and kind words of encouragement, I would not recommend relying solely on other people to obtain yourself a placement. By all means feel free to ask for the contact details of your great-uncle’s babysitter’s sister’s boss’s son who happens to work at a company for who you’d love to work, but do it at the same time as religiously checking Aston Futures, checking emails directly from the placement team with suggested jobs and checking various job sites (although sites like TARGETjobs and RateMyPlacement etc. weren’t overly helpful for international French-speaking placements in my experience).

Good things come to those who work

Or rather placements come to those who send numerous quality applications.

Over the course of second year I sent a total of 12 applications, had one face-to-face interview and three telephone interviews, and was offered my current role with Air France at the beginning of April. This first placement would be based in Toulouse, a city which I’d previously not heard a great deal about, so I decided I wanted my second placement to be in Paris. It would be a shame to have such an amazing opportunity to live abroad, and not spend at least some time in such an iconic city!

A few more applications and one declined job offer later, I was offered my role with HSBC Paris in early June.

Although many of my friends were starting their placements in June and July, I was quite content to have a whole five months to work part-time, make the most of living at home and to sort all of the practical aspects of the placement year. I would soon discover I did in fact need the entire five months to navigate the organisational trials and tribulations which would crop up: French bureaucracy has a reputation for a reason.

A few words of advice

Get your CVs sorted as soon as possible. Having a basic CV ready early on gets you in the ‘placement’ headspace, as well as meaning you’re ready for the early deadlines. Both an English version and a version in the target language are essential. Be aware it’s not sufficient to simply translate it word for word, different countries have different conventions that must be followed! This will be covered early on in your second year language classes.

(side note: overseas deadlines are generally months later than some of the domestic ones. I seem to remember there being surprisingly few advertised until around January time).

Promptly get yourself down to the Careers+Placements team. Once the placement prep starts to get more intense, the available appointments become somewhat difficult to come by. Although it is important to ask them very specific questions, not just a generic ‘help me’, they really will do everything they can to help. I visited at least three times for various appointments, CV checks and practice interviews.

You do you. Preaching time: There will of course be people who get their placements secured with the infamous big four by December, who will be earning megabucks living in an amazing city and will have no preparation left to do other than talk at great length about it. This is fine, congrats to them. This is not by any stretch of imagination how everyone’s placement-securing journey will go. If you’re anything like me there may be a tiny nagging worry that you’ll be working in a less prestigious company, smaller place or for a less showy salary and that you’re somehow not making the most of placement year. Of course the year is not based on these things, rather on how much you learn, have fun and grow as a person.

The best thing to look for is a company which will provide a nurturing environment, a job which you can learn from and a location which you can temporarily call home.

Watch out for my upcoming post about some of the aforementioned practicalities that moving overseas for placement year entailed, and for my humble opinion on some of the highlights of Toulouse so far.

A la prochaine,

J

My top tips for dealing with homesickness whilst on a placement abroad

Yasmine Payne graduated from Aston University in July 2017 with a BSc in Business, Management and Public Policy and now works in the Careers+Placements team as International Projects Coordinator. During her undergraduate degree, she completed a study abroad placement in Spain at Universidad de Sevilla. Read through her tips for coping with the struggles of homesickness whilst you’re on your international placement.

Don’t panic!

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Homesickness is natural! Do not worry – of course, you will feel sad to be returning to your placement after spending the Christmas period with your loved ones. However, everyone is in the same boat and there are loads of things you can do to combat homesickness.

Join clubs and societies for international exchange students – not only will you meet new people, but you’ll be too busy having fun to feel homesick.

Take trips with your roommates and explore the countries around you, so when you do return to the UK you will be able to tell everyone your memories of visiting new places.

Skype your friends and family so you have a time in the day where you talk to your loved ones and most importantly have fun!

This year abroad is a time for you to learn new things, realise what you are good at and make friends for life!

Make a photo album!

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When I went abroad and started to feel homesick, I bought myself a nice photo album and printed off all the pictures I had taken so far. I made sure I kept tickets from football matches I had seen, trains I caught when I visited new cities and plane tickets when I travelled to new countries. Even menus from some of my favourite restaurants!

Putting things down onto paper helps you look at all you have achieved and will make you happy to see all the memories you have created so far! Plus this is a great way to show your creative side and when you return home after your placement you will be able to show your loved ones who will be eager to know all about your journey!

Be open-minded!

Moving to a new country is hard and the fact you have made it this far is an achievement in itself so you should be proud!

A new country comes with many challenges and adjusting to a new culture can have its drawbacks, but if you remain open-minded and eager to learn new things you will have a much more enjoyable experience – you would be surprised how much you can learn about yourself when immersed in a new culture! Believe me, there will be people who want to learn about you just the same way you want to learn about them.

Learn the language!

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When moving to a new country, you may also encounter a language you most likely have never spoken before!

When I felt homesick because no one spoke English, I found a Spanish speaking class and this way I met new people who were also on a placement abroad – this also helped me feel more comfortable in my new country as I could speak to people in their language. I was able to make new friends and we would socialise together outside of class. This allowed me to have something fun to add to my daily schedule outside of studying.

Also, having international experience and the ability to speak more than one language makes you look great to employers! Plus when you do move back to the UK, you can show off your new language skills to your family and friends who will be impressed!

I hope these tips have helped and I wish you all the best with your international placement!

4 unknown ways to get your perfect placement opportunity!

We all know that one way to secure a placement is to submit tailored and well-researched applications to companies advertising vacancies. However, there are a few other more unusual ways to secure a role which are worth a try…

Attending employer-career related events at Aston

Aston holds many employer events on campus ranging from careers fairs, drop-ins, to dedicated skills workshops for students. You can check out the Aston Futures Event Calendar, to find out which employers are due to be on campus on certain dates.

Talking to employers face to face gives you the opportunity to network and gain useful insights into the company and type of candidate they are looking for, you can use the information they tell you in your application form or at interview to help you stand out from other applicants. Employers sometimes come onto campus to run a student challenge or project and may use it as a way to talent spot. Attending interactive events can show off your skills and personality to the employer and you never know what might happen if you make a good impression!

For example, our very own Shital Patel, who studies BEng Electrical and Electronic Engineering was able to secure a placement without even applying! She attended a Jaguar Land Rover hackathon, which took place on campus, showed off her skills and she was snapped up straight away.

Shital says “I was able to secure a placement by participating in extracurricular activities arranged by our university. Students should participate more in such activities because not many students do and they miss out on networking and potential opportunities.”

Speculative applications

90% of applicants apply to companies that have roles available. However, competition for these roles is high. Some companies might not be advertising vacancies, but that doesn’t mean they are not thinking about recruiting. If you showcase your interest in the company and the skills and benefits you can bring to them, you might just find that they are willing to find a role for you. The key to success with speculative applications is research, research and more research.

Use your network

Maximise your network. Ask your family or friends if they have any placements available at their company and find out how to apply.

Does your part-time job have more potential?

You never know where your part-time job may lead. Are you working in retail? If so, why not ask your Manager if there are any internship positions within the Head Office.

Think outside the box and try out these different methods. The more effort you put into your search, the more likely you are going to succeed in securing the role you are looking for.

Good luck!  

Welcome to my first placement blog!

Hi, I’m Charlotte and I am currently on placement with IBM, working on the Barclays Integrated Account. This internship is my first taste of a ‘real’ job in business and so I knew it would be a learning curve from the outset, but I perhaps underestimated the gradient of this curve! As I approach the half-way milestone of my journey with IBM I felt it was a good time to reflect on what it is that’s allowing me to make the most of this opportunity. I wanted to share some of the key things I have learnt throughout this process so far:

Ask

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The importance of asking questions when you don’t quite understand something or need a bit of clarification on a matter cannot be underestimated. This seems like an obvious one as it has been drilled into our heads throughout student life but we are still reluctant to do so, especially when in the workplace environment. I was reluctant to ask questions at the beginning of my placement simply because “I didn’t want to seem stupid”. Ironically, it was stupid to have that thought process. You’re not expected to know or understand everything the first time around. Good employers will respect questions, and clarification enables you to complete the task. This is especially important when you are a newbie to an industry – as many of us are during our placement year.

Say yes

Say yes to everything (well…most things)! It is not guaranteed that you will get your dream role for your internship, let alone even know what your dream role is yet, so it is down to you to take initiative and dip your toe into as many parts of the company as possible. I have found the best way to do this so far is by saying yes to the array of opportunities that are there around you. Whether this is participating in Lunch and Learns, networking events or intern competitions, it enables you to experience a different kind of work to your primary role, expand your network, and you never know, you could end up winning the IBM Intern Customer Journey Project 2017!

 

 

Listen

It can be quite (very) easy to zone out during meetings or office conversations when you are new to a company. Initially, I found it difficult to keep up with the IBM terminology – it really is a different language *considers adding bilingual to LinkedIn profile*. Listening is learning, don’t miss this amazing opportunity to learn from the experienced business people around you. Aside from meetings, just listening to everyday conversations around the office really helped me to understand the workplace dynamic. Office chat has enabled me to learn more about my team members as people, rather than just colleagues. How to interact with people in this way within a work environment is something that is different with everyone and important if you believe this year is as much about the networking as it is about the work experience.

Extra Learning

Not only are they jargon-filled, meetings are extremely fast-paced. Conversations didn’t wait for me (the audacity) and so I had to be on my game to keep up with them. Extra-curricular education has been essential to this. Keeping up with the latest news in the industry and business practices makes such a difference to settling into your role. Fortunately, IBM has a learning platform where you can take courses and badges to educate yourself on emerging technologies, if you have access to anything like this then I advise taking advantage of it. Aside from this, taking initiative and learning about what your team are working on will not go unnoticed. It shows that you care about what you and your team are involved in, which goes a long way.

My top 4 tips when applying for a placement

I thought what better way to start off my placement year blog series other than some advice on applying for a placement! I tried to make this blog post as un-cliché as possible and apply it directly to my personal experiences – it’s all about getting straight to the point!

  1. Apply early

You’d be surprised at the amount of applications that open early – early applicants are proven to be favourable to the employer. The key is to put yourself in their shoes.

Wouldn’t you want to get as many applicants in as early as possible? Moreover, applying early will reduce the amount of stress that could arise once January exams hit!

  1. Get your CV & Cover Letter checked

Your tutor is the gatekeeper. You have to understand that nearly all of them have worked in the corporate world so they know exactly what employers look for. Remember, this is real life and employers don’t give out second opportunities. One mistake and you’re out. My personal tutor gave me so much useful advice on even the smallest details like font and format that can make a huge difference!

More importantly, four eyes are better than two! Get another person whether it be your friend, parent, lecturer (even your dog or cat) to scan over and make sure there aren’t any mistakes as that could be the difference between being called for an interview or getting your CV dumped.

  1. Read job descriptions!!

I can’t stress this enough. The big clues on how to get your application screened for the next stage lies within the job descriptions – believe it or not, it’s true! Let me give you an example, if a job description is looking for a candidate that is able to “work well under pressure” your experience on your CV or your cover letter should demonstrate and reflect an instance whereby you were able to work under pressure – when an employer identifies this you will be considered and they may spend that extra 4 seconds screening through your application.

  1. Don’t send off the same CV/Cover Letter for every application

Last but definitely not least – never send the same generic CV and cover letter, you are literally burning your own application. In relation to tip no.3 every job description will vary so make sure your CV and cover letter match each job description. This is what will help you to stand out and show that your qualities match those to their job description. Employers have the eyes of hawks and can distinguish between a rushed CV and cover letter and a carefully written one. I assure you, the time you put into each application will be reflected in the result of the application.

P.S. I thought it was important I mentioned this – don’t worry if you haven’t got much experience – a key thing employers genuinely are interested in is what you get up to outside of studies so if you haven’t got much experience to show for make sure to get involved in extracurricular activities inside and outside of university – not only does this show character it shows a huge amount of skill too.

All the best with your applications!

Abigail

Festive treats you can try

The festive season has arrived and it’s time to eat all the chocolates and delicious food we can! This is also a great time to take a break from the stress of coursework and revision, and cook some delicious treats and learn new recipes for Christmas. The Careers+Placements team have shared their special recipes for you to try, so get cooking!

Frangipane mince pies

Ingredients for mince pies:

  • 200g plain flour, plus extra to dust
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 1 medium egg yolk
  • 500g mincemeat

Ingredients for the frangipane topping:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 medium egg, beaten
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 25g plain flour
  • A few drops of almond extract
  • 25g flaked almonds
  • Icing sugar, to dust

Method:

  1. To make pastry, rub flour, sugar and chilled butter into a flour mixture. Separately, stir together yolk and 1tbsp cold water. Add to flour mixture; stir until pastry just comes together. Tip on to a surface; knead briefly to make a smooth dough. Shape into a disc, wrap in cling film and chill for 15 minutes. 
  2. Meanwhile, make the frangipane topping. In a medium bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in egg until smooth. Stir in ground almonds, flour and almond extract to make a soft mixture.
  3. Roll chilled pastry out on a lightly floured surface until 3mm thick, then stamp out 12 rounds using a 10cm round cutter (re-rolling trimmings as necessary). Use rounds to line a 12-hole muffin tin; fill cases with mincemeat.
  4. Divide frangipane among mincemeat-filled cases; smooth down a little. Sprinkle over flaked almonds. Chill for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 190°C (170°C fan) mark 5. 
  5. Bake pies for 25-30 minutes until risen and golden. Leave to cool in tin for 5 minutes to set pastry; carefully transfer to wire rack to cool; dust with icing sugar. Serve just warm or at room temperature with cream. 

Hilary Barrett

Chestnut and Chorizo Soup

Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stick, thinly sliced
  • 120g mild cooking chorizo, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1½ tsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 small dried red chillies, crushed
  • 2 tomatoes, fresh or tinned, roughly chopped
  • 500g cooked peeled chestnuts (fresh or vacuum-packed), roughly chopped
  • 20 saffron threads, infused in 3-4 tbsp boiling water
  • 1l water
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Method: 

  1.  In a large saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, chorizo and a pinch of salt and fry for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything caramelises and turns quite brown.
  2. Now add the garlic, cumin, thyme and chili and cook for one more minute, followed by the tomato and, after about 2 minutes, the chestnuts.
  3. Give everything a good stir, then add the saffron-infused liquid and the water, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and mash by hand (with a potato masher) until almost smooth, but still with a little bit of texture. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Enjoy with some crusty bread!

Liz Bland

Christmas Malteser Brownie   

Ingredients: 

  • 180g butter, melted, plus extra for the tin
  • 250g light brown sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 75g malted milk powder 
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Bag of Malteser reindeers to decorate 
  • 50g white chocolate, melted, for drizzling (optional) 

Method:

  1. Heat oven to 180°C/160°C fan/Gas 4, butter a 20x20cm brownie tin and line the base with baking parchment. Mix the melted butter with the sugar, beating until smooth, then beat in the eggs.
  2. Add the malted milk powder (usually found in sachets by the drinking chocolates in shops), flour and baking powder, stir to just combine, then fold in the Maltesers.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutess until cooked around the outside but still wobbly in the middle. 
  4. Resist the temptation to eat straight away and put the tin in the fridge to set for 2 hours. Once set, top with the reindeers, drizzle over the melted white chocolate (if using) and cut into 12 squares.

Emma Tromans

Vegetarian toad in the hole

Ingredients:

  • 1 pack meat-free sausages
  • 300g of mixed root vegetables, peeled & diced (optional)
  • Half a red onion, sliced
  • 2 tbsp of oil
  • 50g plain flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200ml skimmed milk
  • 2 tsp baking powder

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
  2. Bring a pan of water to the boil and par-cook the root vegetables for 7 minutes, drain and set aside.
  3. Pre-heat the oil in an oven proof dish and add the sausages, red onion and root vegetables, and roast for 5 minutes.
  4. Place the flour into a mixing bowl, add the eggs and beat to a smooth paste. Gently add the milk, baking powder and whisk vigorously.
  5. Pour the mixture over the sausages and vegetables and cook for 28 minutes.
  6. Serve with onion gravy.

Jodie Carpenter

Healthy Bites

Ingredients:

  • 10 medjool dates
  • Handful of hazelnuts
  • Handful of walnuts
  • 1 tsp cacao powder
  • 2 drops of vanilla extract
  • Coconut flakes

(If you are not a fan of these nuts,  you can swap them for different ones. However, they may make the bites taste differently depending on what you choose.)

Method:

  1. Break the Medjool Dates into a small pieces then put them into a food processor. (Tip – You can soak them in warm water for 5 minutes first to soften the skin, which makes them easier to break).
  2. Add in a handful of both the hazelnuts and walnuts.
  3. Add in the cacao powder and add in the vanilla extract.
  4. Then blend these ingredients together in the processor until a thick paste has been made.
  5. Roll the paste into round balls with your hands and then dip and roll these into the coconut flakes.

Harjap Bassi

White chocolate and ginger cheesecake

Ingredients:

  • 400g white chocolate, in pieces
  • 6 balls stem ginger from a jar, drained
  • 12 gingersnap biscuits, broken
  • 75g butter, melted
  • 2 x 300g tub light cream cheese
  • 1 x 250g tub ricotta
  • 150g caster sugar
  • Raspberries to garnish

Method:

  1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Line a 20cm springform cake tin with non-stick baking paper. Whiz the stem ginger in a food processor and tip into a large bowl. Whiz the gingersnaps to crumbs and mix in the melted butter. Tip into the tin and press down evenly to make the base; chill.
  2. Add the cream cheese, ricotta and sugar to the stem ginger and mix well.
  3. Pour about a quarter of the melted chocolate on to a baking sheet; chill until set. Pour the remaining chocolate into the cream cheese mixture and whisk to combine. Tip the mixture into the tin and tap on the work surface to make sure the mixture is smooth. Cover and chill overnight.
  4. Bring the set white chocolate to room temperature and make curls using a sharp knife. Remove the cheesecake from the tin and place on a serving plate. Scatter with the chocolate curls, then add as many raspberries as you would like on top.

Jodie Carpenter

How to survive the exam period

The festive season is over and now the exam season has arrived. It’s my third year at Aston so I know how tiring and stressful this period is, so I thought I’d share some of my tips on how to unwind and look after yourself.

Create a schedule

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I know this tip is used over and over again but I can’t help but stress how helpful and useful creating a schedule is. Planning your day in terms of what topic you will revise and break times will help you know what you need to complete and where you are at with your revision. Nothing is more rewarding than ticking off your to do list for the day!

Revise with friends

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It’s good to revise by ourselves so we don’t get distracted by our friends. But having a few revision sessions with course mates will really help you test your exam knowledge and improve your weaknesses. It really helped me to put my exam knowledge to the test and discover the things I was forgetting and having another extra mind going through it with you will just add to your brain (hahaha)!

Relax on campus

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During the exam season the University provides lots of opportunities for you to have the chance to unwind. I recommend checking out MLK. MLK do many sessions during the exam season like free coffee/tea, massages, knitting socials etc. Check out their social media here to stay updated with their events!

You can also check out the Learning Development Centre which hold a number of workshops to help you with your assignments and key skills. They will be holding a number of sessions, so check them out here!

Study spaces

The Library can be very packed during this period but there are some other spaces in MB where you can study (if you didn’t know already). Click here to see where you can go!

Take breaks

It’s so important to give yourself some time off. I am guilty of this but sometimes I will work for 4 hours straight without no break. But, it’s important that we allow ourselves to have at least four half hour breaks a day otherwise we will become robots 😛

Good luck!

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Christmas at Grenoble Ecole de Management

The festive season has arrived! Getting to experience Christmas in France is one of the best things about placement year. I have done a few things during these last few weeks in France and I will be sharing these in this blog.

Christmas felt like it began in mid-November here in Grenoble, as the university I study at was filled with skis, boards, boots, poles and all sorts of snow accessories and clothing for an event. The event, known as “Bourse aux Skis” enables students to buy new and ex-display skis and snowboards for low prices. The event lasted for three days, and there was a real buzz around school as students excitedly picked out their gear for the year.

Christmas Market

 

Then at the end of November, the Christmas Market appeared in Victor Hugo. There are huge wooden chalets serving a lot of food, drinks and snacks. It is such a nice atmosphere because people head out in the early evening to share some food together, wrapped up in coats, scarves and gloves. Me and my friends have been a couple of times to enjoy crepes (pancakes) with mulled wine! The market is much smaller than the Birmingham one, but it has a cosy warm feel to it, surrounded by the beautiful mountains.

We got snow!

We woke up on December 1st to our first snowfall! Tonnes of snow had fallen overnight, and everything was glistening in the sunlight, it was beautiful! However, unlike Aston, we are sitting our exams before Christmas. I had to cycle in a snowstorm to get to school and to start my revision.  

Celebrations!

On December 5th we celebrated Noel at GEM. Everyone was off timetable from 4.45pm to 8pm. A huge proportion of the university (which has approximately 8000 students and 1000 staff) were enjoying a buffet (which consisted solely of chocolates and clementine!) and live music. It was impossible to move around the building, and hard to hear over all of the noise, but a fantastic celebration!

Following all of the Snow, we decided to take a ski trip to Alp d’Huez. This is a hour away from Grenoble, so we went on the bus and it was easy and cheap to rent skis in the city. Our university organised 12 buses of students one Saturday morning at 7.30 am to take us there for the opening of Folie Douce. We had a great day skiing, and partying at Apres after, and my friends and I decided to stay the night to make the most of the Sunday too – Alp d’Huez is also home to one of the longest pistes in Europe, claiming to be 16KM long!! We were also very fortunate to have over 1m of snowfall on the Saturday night, it was beautiful!

Lights

The run up to Christmas was completed with a trip to Lyon for the Fete des Lumieres which takes place over four days in mid-December. There are 50 light displays, cleverly composed alongside famous music which are shone across the city. Powerful projectors illuminate entire buildings, with dancing shapes, patterns and stories. Over one million visitors come to Lyon for the long weekend to marvel at the displays, and they are amazing! There are so many people and so many things to see, that you would probably have to attend each of the four evenings to see all of the displays!

If you happen to have a chance to visit in your lifetime, I would highly recommend an evening spent here in Lyon.

I have just 12 days to go until the end of my semester here in Grenoble, but I look forward to sharing my experiences from Paris with you in the New Year!

Merry Christmas to you all!