Breathe In, Breathe Out

The past couple of days have been hellishly stressful (I know this because my elbows have flared up again). Waiting for the exam results is definitely not a ride in the park. Luckily, the wait is over AND I PASSED EVERYTHING WOOT WOOT! I am now officially done with university (for the time being :P) and it feels great.

Next on the agenda:

* Find an apartment for next year
* Attend the Board Course
* Prepare for Boards
* Write the Boards
* Work
* Get a puppy
* Get a bf
* Start exercising
* Write more
* Buy a kindle so that I can start reading something other than my text books

Haemoglobin

I’ve heard this word uttered plenty of times – on Grey’s Anatomy, on House, and in primary school we used to have competitions to see who could say it the fastest – but I never really knew what they were (or did) until a couple of days ago.

I had been feeling exhausted for quite some time – The kind of exhaustion that would knock me out for hours because my body was too useless to do anything other than sleep. It didn’t affect life so much because my lectures started at 2pm so an early morning nap was a luxury I willingly took. Unfortunately, now that exams are just around the corner, I can no longer afford to take leisurely snoozes whenever I like. The tiredness really hampered my study routine so I decided some medical intervention was needed.

I went to the school nurse who did a finger-prick test which revealed my low haemoglobin count (1.5 mg lower than the minimum threshold for an adult female to be exact). Basically, I lack sufficient “iron-containing protein attached to red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body”. Apparently anaemia is common among females and a healthy dose of vitamin B12 is all that’s needed.

Now, I’ve been told horror stories about the vitamin B injection. Even the nurse warned me how she’d seen grown men squirm before the needle. Well, frankly, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. The injection itself wasn’t painful at all, and sure, the vitamin B burned a little but it was hardly something worth moaning about. Pfft.

Oh, and I got some cortisone cream for my elbows and they seem to be working (yay!).

The last stretch

I can’t believe the holidays are over. I definitely miss the undergrad days where we would get 5 weeks’ of relaxation instead of a measly two. I’m back in Cape Town – just in time for the crappy weather to overwhelm my sunny disposition. My flatmates have gone out, so I’m stuck in the flat all by myself eating a not-so-appetizing Woolies meal. It’s times like this where I wish I still lived at home where I have two devoted parents catering for my needs. I guess we all have to grow up at some point in our lives.

I didn’t do so well in my July tests. I passed everything by the skin of my teeth – and while I’m still above class average, the margin of safety is minimal. (Plus, I’m somewhat convinced that my year is full of retards so being above class average really isn’t that big of an achievement.) The next three months is crucial – I really have to pull up my socks in order to avoid disappointing my parents and myself. I’ve done quite a bit of introspection during the holidays, and came to the conclusion that I need to do something about my internet addiction. I reckon I waste about a third to half of my day idling in front of a PC – being unproductive. It explains why my marks have deteriorated since highschool. (Back then, I had a very shoddy dial-up connection and I could only surf the net after 7pm.)

To illustrate, I’ve written a little poem – Definitely not my best work, but it’s pretty close to heart.

I used to strive for perfection, but soon realised
It was nothing but a distant dream.
Now laziness has become
My overriding theme.

The things I ought to do right now
Are left for another day;
Even as I tell myself:
“I shall no longer procrastinate”.

Distractions dazzle dangerously –
Though none is worthy of my time.
I succumb to them in any case,
Waste precious moments of my prime.

Every once in a while,
I look back and reminisce
The days where I could look in the mirror
And not be confronted by a total mess.

Is it too late for change?
Is this truly the last straw?
My inspiration is dwindling,
My purpose, I’m unable to recall.

All that’s left is this pressure
Weighing on top of me
I wish someone would take it off
So I could end this soliloquy.

Anyways, I really hope I can concentrate enough to pass the year. *fingers crossed*

Break, etc.

Back in undergrad, I used to hear all sorts of horror stories about how atrocious postgrad was going to be. So horrible that it made me look forward to articles where I must spend weekends at dimly-lit warehouses counting boxes and bean-cans to earn my keep. I didn’t believe much of it as I figured most of it was hyperbole and they were just trying to scare us. Boy, was I wrong. Not only do they work us like donkeys, they assume we are donkeys on crack with never-ending bursts of energy. I’ve barely had time for meals, let alone blogging. After 10 weeks of learning and a series of unrelenting tests, I finally have a 10 day break where I can catch up on all the missed beauty sleeps and update my neglected blog.

Nothing of particular interest has happened since my last update. I’m still stalking random cute boys in my class and still being rejected point blank. Perhaps it was my (wrongful) approach; perhaps it was the lack of yellow fever in this region – whatever the reason, I have had no luck in the relationship department and I’m starting to despair a little. Maybe it’s a sign that I should focus on passing the year… It’s bad enough that I’m scraping through my tests with a 50, I can’t afford to waste time chasing after penises (and not get any) AND have my average drop to a 49.

In other news, I went to my first Ernst & Young get-together on Wednesday. The theme was 70s movies (or some such) – We were greeted with popcorn and drinks, and had to endure watching (on loop) John Travolta dancing on top of a car bonnet in his spandex and singing that Grease song. The food was well below par. I mistakenly took a vegetarian burger that was tasteless and bland. After a couple of bites, I switched to a hotdog which was basically just a vienna in a bun so it wasn’t that much better. We then had to make our own banana split ice-cream, and the ingredients were heavenly. I also met a boy named “St John”… … o_O … Yeah, that’s what I thought too.

As a parting gift, they handed each of us a bag and a mug, and they really match my skin tone:

muggalicious

They’re trying to expand their 2012 intake by 70 trainees and so they’ve recruited us as “ambassadors”. Normally, I’m all for showing off the freebies I got but I think this one is far too yellow for me to take to campus. They should go for “mustard” or “jaundiced” next time.

It’s not rocket science

Growing up, I always believed in the best of people. I would give them the benefit of the doubt before I would cast them as “bad” or “untrustworthy”. Of course, I was then regarded as naive, gullible and inexperienced. Back then, I used to feel sorry for all the cynics of the world and vowed never to become one. I was quite content living in my protected bubble. But as time went on, I found myself in all sorts of situations where I couldn’t help but feel that maybe, some people were just born with a mean streak.

Today was one of those days where I had to deal with someone rather unpleasant. It was 15 minutes before the start of my tutorial and by convention, we were allowed to go inside and start setting up. However, the group before me hadn’t completely finished – and by that, I meant there were two students still busy with their work and one student who was Facebooking. So I waited 5 more minutes and decided to go in, only to be greeted with a rather rude tutor telling me to leave.

“We’re still busy”, she said.

“Yes, I know. I’m just going to set up the computers”, I replied.

“I can’t have any disturbance”, she vented annoyingly.

“I’m just going to log into my account, it’s not going to disturb you”, I said.

“I can’t have you disturbing me, so please leave”, she reiterated.

By that time, I was thinking to myself, “You’re tutoring Pastel, not rocket science. And you’re not defusing a bomb; slight movements won’t be the end of your world.” Besides, the 15 minutes was technically overlap time where the previous class prepared to leave so that the next one could come in. There was no entitlement to hog the space. But, being the nice person that I was, I didn’t want to cause a scene so I kindly obliged to her request.

What irritated me was not the fact that my group had to stand outside for 10 extra minutes. Rather, it was that she thought herself so important that she could discard all courtesy and expect others to revel in her pseudo-power. In reality, being a tutor (especially a Pastel tutor) really wasn’t all that special. It certainly was not an excuse for someone to act high and mighty like she did. Self-elevating oneself onto a pedestal does not garner respect from anyone. Today, she lost all respect from me.

I realized that she didn’t have to be nice to me. There was no social contract between us that stipulated, “Be nice to your fellow tutors”; and even if there was, it would not be obligatory. Niceness simply was not one of those things which guaranteed a pay-off. If people were not sufficiently motivated to be nice, then what reason would there be to conform?

After some thinking, I came to the conclusion that although there might not be any external motivation to compel me to be nice, I would still like to be internally motivated enough to try be as nice to people as I possibly could. Sure, there wouldn’t be monetary rewards attached but I think I would feel infinitely better if I were a good person than if I were a complete bitch.

How Disastrous

Today, I had my first tutorial where I didn’t have to play the part of a lost soul huddling in front of her notes, pretending to listen intently at the tutor. Today, /I/ was the tutor and I couldn’t help but feel slightly nervous. I had never tutored before, and I’d always been a little shy speaking in front of people. I don’t regard myself as a good teacher; I often struggle to convey a point across to someone who, more likely than not, function on a different wave length. Nevertheless, I wanted the money and it was something nice to put on my CV. Plus, Pastel is probably one of the easiest courses to tutor – what could possibly go wrong?

The session started off quite well. Everyone was on track and aside from a few glitches, nothing terrible went amiss. Unfortunately, that state of equilibrium was horribly disrupted half way through the 2 hour session: The lab was booked by another course, and we had to vacate the venue. Computer labs are scarce resources at UCT, and you generally have to book months in advance to secure a lab. Needless to say, there weren’t any available. The course convener eventually managed to get a lab (she nicely asked the postgrad students working there to join another lab) and 15 minutes later, everyone migrated to the new lab.

The backup/restore procedures took quite some time (mostly because the restore procedure was only meant to be covered next week); luckily the head tutor was around to help out. In the end, everyone managed to complete the tutorial (thank goodness) but the venue issue has yet to be resolved.

In other (totally unrelated) news: Did you know you could transfer property from a company/trust to a natural person without incurring any tax, as long as you did it before the end of 2012 and provided that you liquidate/dissolve the company/trust afterwards? The reason why you may want to do this is natural persons can get a R1.5 million exclusion on any capital gains/losses incurred on the disposition of a primary resident; but companies and trusts don’t get that exclusion. Furthermore, if a company/trust disposes such property, they would have to pay STC and transfer duty on top of the capital gains tax. That’s a lot of taxes!

Decisions

This is a follow up of a previous post.

Decisions regarding our futures are probably the most important (along with what to have for breakfast and whether to wear the 3 inch or the 4 inch heels). Now that I am nearing graduation, I have to start thinking about what lies beyond the varsity enclosure: the big bad wolf world.

Throughout high school and the greater part of my undergraduate torture, I have always wanted to work for one of the Big Four auditing firms. But as time went on, my desire to join the “elitist snobs of the auditing sphere” slowly manifested itself into a desire to join the “elitist snobs of the finance sphere” (i.e. the big four banks). What sparked the change was not at all profound; it was merely the realization that auditing was mindlessly boring. On this note, I’m glad I didn’t sign my soul away in first year the way some of my friends did. I’d much rather have the option to pick my poison than to have a peace of mind (and regrettably be tied down to a 3 year life-sucking contract).

As we all know, what used to be TIPP (training inside public practice) and TOPP (training outside public practice) have fallen away. They have been replaced by SAICA’s competency framework.

The Competency Framework encapsulates the competencies (broad range of knowledge, skills
and attribtes) of a CA(SA) at entry point to the profession. These competencies have reference
to the CA(SA) as a leader with a professional accounting background (see above) and include –
• pervasive qualities and skills which are fully integrated with
• specific competencies.

Trainees have to be exposed to all 7 skills, but at varying degrees of focus depending on the company. Accounting and persuasive skills are compulsory. Up to 3 elective skills can be taken and the rest are residual skills. An auditing firm will pick assurance and tax as its elective whereas a financial firm will pick financial management and decision making. In other words, a trainee at an auditing firm will be required to complete more hours of assurance than a trainee at an financial services firm, but he will do fewer hours of financial management, etc.

So why is it that so many people are signed to audit firms when the alternative is so much more merry? The answer boils down to capacity. Auditing firms have approximately 9000+ trainees while financial services firms only have 400 odd. The retention rate for trainees once they have qualified as CAs is relatively low in the auditing firms as many of them take the earliest opportunity to escape to the financial cluster.

Unfortunately, the approved training offices for the financial management firms are all based in Johannesburg. If I have to pick between the financial hub of Africa or the scenic beauty of Cape Town (purely basing my choice on location), I would choose the latter in a heart beat. But is that worth more than doing what I am interested in? I’m not so sure.

At this point, I am going to apply to both sectors. Ultimately, I predict that I will lean towards whoever offers me a placement first.

Famous Cracks and Fail

When interviewers ask me why I chose UCT as my tertiary institution of choice, my standard answer is always “Because it is the best university in Africa.” After all, it is the only university in Africa to make it to the top 200 of the World University Rankings. But what does it actually mean? Was it a true reflection on the standard of education or was the score more biased towards research than student enrichment?

Having been at UCT for almost three years, I can safely say my undergraduate experience has not been rainbows, butterflies and unicorn poop. In fact, my journey (thus far) has been plagued by incompetent lecturers (who were really students with a distinct lack of communication skills) and sub-par course secretaries who could do with some additional computer training (to be evidenced below).

As part of the department’s competency framework, we are required to complete course evaluations for our subjects. Every course uses the same template, so it really boggles my mind when something like this happens:

Of course, at this point, I realise everyone is probably urging me to use my common sense. First radio button means ‘Yes’, second means ‘No’. Except, when I hovered my cursor over the first radio button, a “No” box popped up; when I hovered over the second radio button – nothing. I suppose credit must be given for the fact that they actually bothered conducting these evaluations. Nothing permeates the message ‘We Care About Our Students’ as well as misaligned columns.

By now, you must be wondering what ‘Famous Cracks’ is doing in the title… I’m getting there – and no, it has nothing to do with fat people’s butt-cracks (contrary to what Google search might tell you). One of the management accounting lecturers emailed us with a nice real-life example (sort of) to a question we did on Risk and Uncertainty. I won’t bore you with the details, but the gist of the question dealt with concrete floors and their susceptibility to crackings under aging and improper packing.

And so, his email contained pictures of a famous crack in a concrete floor. The question was to find out where this building is, why is the crack famous, and how it was made. I got the answer after a couple of Google searches — Do you know what this famous crack is?

The Cost of Education

When I was little, I had little or no grasp of the true cost of things – my worldly possessions consisted of sweets and chocolates; I was not a materialistic brat.  I always marvelled at how much my parents paid to get me through school.  I remembered thinking that paying anything over R100 for a textbook was a “rip-off”.  Of course, that was before I enrolled at a tertiary institution.  Nothing in my formative years would have prepared me for the expenses that would accumulate during my 4 years at varsity.

Tuition aside, it was the price of textbooks that really flabbergasted me.  If I bought everything brand new, I would have had to fork out over R5000 for textbooks and stationery…and that would have only covered for the first semester.

So, acting in typical student fashion, I sought out the Jewish side of me and mitigated as much of the expenses as possible, but the balance was still greatly overwhelming.  The bulk of it went to the purchase of the SAICA handbooks and legislation which totalled over R1000.  (There are no second hand markets for the SAICA books because the money leeching publishers update them every quarter, forcing us to buy new versions every year.)

A lot of my textbooks were written by my own lectures, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they deliberately prescribed as many sources of information as possible just so they could get more royalties out of it.  My tax course (for example) had 3 prescribed books, one of which was basically a compilation of old test and exam questions taken from past board exams, etc.  That one had a price tag of R420.  Perhaps I should write them a letter expressing my disgust at having to pay so much for recycled intellectual property.

To add fuel to the fire, one of my BA students happily told me she had no prescribed textbooks for this year – only photocopied readings.  So, is this purely a “Commerce” phenomenon?  Why are there no competition commissions to regulate the prices?  Not to mention the exuberant prices are forcing money-strapped students to seek out illegal avenues for their educational needs, as a couple of my friends have tended to photocopy entire textbooks in order to save money.

At any rate, here are a few ways in which one can spend less and save more (on textbooks):

1.  Buy second hand books

2.  Sell old textbooks

3.  Avoid purchasing “redundant” textbooks.  For certain courses, the lecture slides are more useful than the textbook (at UCT at least – not sure how other universities operate.)  It is entirely possible to do well in a course and not have opened the textbook once.  That said, some books are necessary, so it would help to speak to those who have done the course to see whether the textbooks are concomitant with passing the course.

4.  Buy online (in bulk) – Get some friends together and buy the books in bulk. The more you buy, the bigger the drop in price.

You will be surprised at how much you can save!