The summer of 2016 was memorable for various reasons, from studying in Singapore for a month, to participating in an international work camp in Palestine. I met a lot of people from all over the world and learnt a variety of things useful for both my academic and personal life. Particularly, my introverted self gained confidence to adventure myself into similar opportunities in the future. Hence earlier this year, when I was presented with the option of doing a funded internship in China, I was unable to say no to the opportunity.
The 12 of September of 2015 a new era in my life began: I moved to Brighton to study BA International Development in the University of Sussex. My family drove me to the campus, and after visiting the city together, they left. Then, my new life as an independent young adult began. To be honest, living on my own isn’t something I was scared about, nor is something I can’t handle. I’m fine cooking, washing up, cleaning, doing the laundry… I’m used to doing house chores. And in fact, now I only have to do house chores for myself, not for others, so everything is much better.
I don’t live completely alone: I share flat with another eleven students. Without doubt, that was the only worrying aspect of moving out from home, since I’m not good at socialising. However, I was quite lucky: my flatmates are nice, many of them outgoing, so interacting with them is easy. When comes to living together, even though sometimes it gets chaotic and messy (we only have one kitchen, our eating/cooking hours can be similar, and some of the cooks and ovens don’t work), we haven’t had any major problem. Just minor issues like a microwave that disappeared over night, someone who smashed one of our windows, and squirrels that enter the kitchen every day and try to steal our food!
Living in a flat differs greatly from living in my aunt’s house, but I prefer it since I don’t share room with anyone. My residence is the cheapest one on campus, hence it isn’t exactly a Hilton Hotel, yet it is comfortable enough to study, eat and sleep. I can’t ask for much more. Furthermore, it is near to the majority of buildings I visit every day. That’s one of the reasons why I love living on campus. Everything is close. And I barely need to go outside of it, since on site there are shops, bars, restaurants, sports centres with gyms, and other useful facilities. Nevertheless, buses run regularly and the train station is close, so getting to the city centre isn’t hard at all. I haven’t had many opportunities to explore Brighton, but I’m hoping to do so the next term.
(Some pictures of my campus)
When comes to the most important part of my undergraduate student life, my course, I couldn’t be happier. I would be lying if I said my studies aren’t being the highlight of my time in university. I’m loving my degree. International Development is a very interesting subject and every day I learn something new (if you don’t know what International Development is, I invite you to check this blog post, which explains the concept quite clearly: https://findingmyselfinsideme.com/2015/10/04/defining-development-aid-sustainable-development-goals-colonisation-well-being-participation/).
I had four modules this term: Colonialism and After, Education for Development, Ideas and Actors, and Concepts for Development. My favourite one was Colonialism and After. I learnt a lot about historical events I knew little about. Most of the lectures were about the British Empire, but during seminars we talked about other European colonisers such as Germany, and in the last weeks of the term we went through the basics of USA’s foreign policy (linked to American imperialism) and issues in contemporary Australia (in relation to aboriginal communities).
I must admit that sometimes I hated being in the Colonialism and After lectures. Some of the topics were hard to digest. Examples include the transatlantic slave trade, systematic genocides in Africa and the rise of racial privilege/ white supremacy in Europe. My biggest issue is not learning about the events themselves, but the denial and ignorance that surround them. There are individuals who still believe the slave trade wasn’t “that bad”, European colonialism was “good” for Africa, and white supremacy isn’t “real”. They ignore all the facts and believe in their assumptions. And this is very irritating for someone who is black African and has seen (sees) and has lived (lives) the devastating effects of imperialism and racism in her diaspora and continent of origin.
(My main books and notebooks for the year)
The rest of the modules were fine, but I didn’t enjoy them as much. When comes to assessments for the term, I had to do two concept notes (1000 words each), complete two portfolios (1500 words each) and write one essay (2500 words). I’m good with coursework and I prefer it to exams, but academic writing at a university standard is complicated. Completing the work during Christmas was stressful. However, last week I received my results, and I learnt I passed the four modules! The grades were fine: 70, 70, 59 and 64 (all out of 100). My average is currently 65.75 and I’m hoping to get at least a 70 at the end of the year (it is equivalent to a first class, the highest degree classification in UK, even though the first year doesn’t count towards the final grade). I know it sounds ambitious, but I just want to do the best possible. This was my first term in university ever, so I have room for improvement. And I know I can do better.
Lastly, I should talk about another significant aspect of my first term in university: my social life. As I have already mentioned, socialising isn’t my strength. At all. I was very scared of coming to university, not making friends and being alone. Yet, Fresher’s week silenced my fears. I met many people with whom I hanged out every day. Some of them were my flatmates, others people I randomly met in the street or in parties. We went out to nightclubs and to events organised by the university and by the student’s union. It was great. Then, when my lectures began, I met a few nice girls that do the same course as I do, with whom I attend many of my lectures and seminars. Overall, I could say that I made friends and I always have someone with whom hang out with if I want. This makes me feel very well, taking into account how bad college was and how I didn’t make any friends there during three years.
(On top: an event for international students. Below: pals and I in a pub during Freshers’ week.)
However, my social life wasn’t every active after September ended. I barely went out. I think I only went out once during the following three months and it was in New Year’s Eve (the term had already ended, so does it really count?!). I suppose this sounds bizarre, taking into account I had people with whom going out and I was even invited to parties/ nights out (my own flatmates host a lot of parties in our flat!). My general excuse to avoid going out is that I don’t enjoy clubbing or partying a lot which isn’t a lie but it isn’t accurate. Another excuse I have used a lot is “I don’t feel very well”, which again, it isn’t false but it isn’t precise. The real and main reason why my social life has been so inactive during the past months can be found in my mood and state of mind. Even though last term was great in terms of learning and making friends, it was awful for my emotional wellbeing and mental health. I spent most of the days either frustrated or sad, I constantly felt uninterested in everything going on, and feelings of hopelessness invaded me every night.
I always thought that moving to university would guarantee me happiness. After all, my family was behind 90% of my distress back at home. Of course, I was wrong. Very wrong. My family issues followed me to university and due to a series of events too complicated to explain, things got definitely worse than ever. They still are worse than ever. As always, I had no control or power over any of the problems, but certain people involved me on them and before I could realise I saw myself in the middle of an ongoing storm. My family has always been problematic, I can’t remember a time in which things were peaceful. However, when I was younger, I didn’t realise because I was a naïve kid. Now I’m 19 and I can understand situations better. And understanding situations betters means they affect me more. I don’t want to dwell on this topic much more right now, but I’m planning to write a post specifically about this in the (very near) future, keep an eye on the blog if you want to know more.
On conclusion: my first term in university was better than I expected, but harder that I thought it would be. I’m so grateful about making friends and having people I can talk to everyday and even hang out with. After college, I never thought it would be possible. I was convinced my personality was too boring for anyone other than myself. It probably is, but I’m glad some people have given me a chance to show them more about who I am, instead of relying on first impressions.
On the other hand, my emotional and mental health problems have blocked my willingness to get involved in social events and do anything outside my comfort zone (which is basically me being in my room writing or reading). In addition, my self-esteem and self-confidence have been severely compromised by these issues, and not feeling irritated, anxious or sad has been quite hard. All this has affected my mood and behaviour, making me crave loneliness. Nevertheless, despite of my negative persona, I always have a bit of hope hidden somewhere in my brain. I also have good friends that always support me, even if they live miles away. And I finally made a huge decision in order to be emotionally and mentally better next term. Hopefully it works out.
Sharing my experiences,
(PS: If you want to have a look at more pictures of my time at university, check this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/134519211@N08/albums/72157662839553059)
2015 finally came to an end. This year went by so fast! I’m glad it did, it was a very hard one. However, I won’t use this blog post to dwell on the negatives. Why? Because I have realised that my happiness depends on my attitude towards what’s going on in my life, rather than on the events and actions that occur. I can’t change the aspects of my life that hurt me and trouble me, and I suppose it is fine since life isn’t meant to be perfect.
Anyways, I want to start 2016 in a positive spirit, so I want to use this post to talk about the good things that happened to me in 2015. Here they are:
- After getting two unconditional offers and three conditional ones, I got into university: the best one in the world for my course!
- I’m enjoying my course in university more than I ever thought I would. I’m learning a lot.
- I’m finally independent! I live on campus away from home.
- I had great results in college: A*A in my A-levels (Spanish and Biology) and A in GCSE Maths. Combined with the D*D*D* in my BTEC and my C in GCSE English, plus the outstanding award from last year, I can say college went well for me. Better than I ever imagined.
- I got an excellence scholarship for uni!
- I graduated from the leadership program Team v, after raising money to help homeless youth, doing workshops to raise awareness about young carers and using social media to encourage people to vote in the British elections. I also got a personal development scholarship for my efforts and success!
- I left my first part-time job on August, after nearly 2 years and managing to save more than £1000 for university!
- I finally hanged out with my bestie from Malaysia! (Highlight of the year!)
- I managed to be less shy and improve my social skills. Met great people through Team v and made great friendships in university. I no longer feel like if I’m incapable of having a decent conversation.
- I spent a lot of quality time with my young siblings during the summer.
- My songwriting and poetry skills improved a lot. More and more people keep reading and praising what I write.
Those are the best things that happened to me in 2015, some more special than others. Before I end this post, I want to dedicate a few lines to my closest friends, the people who have supported me during this harsh year. You know who you are, so you don’t need to be named. Maybe I met you in school in Spain, maybe I met you through volunteering in England. Maybe we don’t talk every week, maybe we talk everyday. Maybe I don’t see you in person often, maybe I have never seen in you person. Yet you are always there as no one else is. This probably sounds corny, but you know how I am. I just don’t know what I would do without you. The amount of emotional support I have received from you is too much to be measured. Thanks for staying besides me even when I acted weird, rude or silent. Thanks for understanding me and loving me despite of my mistakes. Thanks for being there to listen to my rants. Thanks for not forgetting about me and keeping in touch, despite the distance. Thanks you. I promise I will try to be a better friend in 2016, as I used to be before.
And with this post, 2015 ends for me.
Happy New Year!
University is a step of my life I have been looking forward to since I was a kid. Though, till a few years ago, I didn’t think it would ever happen. My chances of going to university in Spain, while doing an enjoyable course, were nearly non-existent, due to financial (lack of money), academic (poor diversity course wise) and personal circumstances (family matters). When I moved to England many doors opened for me and university was one. It became an actual option which two years later became a choice and one year later became a reality.
On September 2014 I decided what course I wanted to study. Since I was a kid I had always wanted to be a vet, but I was not good at maths or chemistry, nor did I think I could achieve high grades, hence I had to scrap that idea and settle for studying zoology or animal biology. All I wanted was to help animals anyways and I could still do that with those degrees. I was happy. However, one day, while I was searching universities, I clicked on the wrong link: a link that took me to the right page, although I didn’t know it back then. “Sustainable Development” I read, confused at the course description in front of my eyes. I had never heard about that course. Never. I didn’t know it existed.
Curious, I googled the term, and a more known synonym came up: “International Development”. I was already familiar with the concepts of development and sustainability (very familiar since I’m passionate about closing the gap between developed and developing countries, the rich and the poor, while making sure resources are used fairly and wisely), but I didn’t know you could do a university degree on them. I was ecstatic. I spent hours researching and looking for more information. I fell in love with the course very quickly and I decided to change my degree choice. I didn’t even have to think about it much: “International Development” was for me. That course was everything I had always wanted but never searched because I thought it didn’t exist. And it had environmental and biodiversity topics incorporated into it, such as wildlife welfare and pollution: I could still study about biology related topics. So, without thinking it twice, I made the decision which was approved and supported by my tutor and friends.
After weeks of intensive research, on October 2014, I applied to five different universities to study “International Development”, including The University of East Anglia, The University of Reading, The University of Leeds, The University of Portsmouth and The University of Sussex. My preference order (from favourite to less favourite) was East Anglia / Sussex, Portsmouth, Reading and Leeds. By December 2014 I had a reply from the five institutions: Portsmouth gave me an unconditional offer (yey!), East Anglia gave me a conditional offer with just one condition (getting C in GCSE Maths), Reading gave me a conditional offer with just one condition (just proof of my BTEC diploma!), Leeds gave me a conditional offer with just one condition (AA in A-Levels) and Sussex gave me a conditional offer with just one condition (AA in A-Levels).
While getting an unconditional offer secured my desire of going to university, my two favourite universities, Sussex and East Anglia, put me conditions. I was certain I could get C or more in GCSE Maths, so East Anglia wasn’t a problem. But I wasn’t sure about Sussex’s condition: getting AA in A-Levels didn’t seem like a possibility because I wasn’t doing great in A2 Biology back then (I was getting Us and Ds in class papers and I was struggling really bad with my coursework).
As time went by I grew less passionate about Sussex and I believed more in East Anglia and Portsmouth as firm and insurance choices respectively. At the end of the day, East Anglia seemed a great institution. Still, I was upset about the high conditions I had to enter in Sussex and I was bitter because they didn’t take my BTEC into account (I met the conditions with it). Anyways, I ended up accepting East Anglia was my destination, and I forgot about Sussex.
On January 2015 I received an email saying that my UCAS page was updated. I had already received all my offers, I had no idea of what was going on. At first I thought Reading had changed my offer to unconditional because I had sent them proof of my BTEC diploma. But the update wasn’t from them: it was from Sussex. I had been selected for the “Sussex Unconditional Offer Scheme”, meaning that my offer from them would change to unconditional if I chose them as firm option. I was very shocked by this. The scheme was only for the best and most gifted applicants (in 2014 only 10% of applicants were considered for it), and I was not that type of student. Or at least that is what I thought. I tend to underestimate myself.
This new offer brought back my desire to go to Sussex, not only because I could secure going to one of my favourite universities, but also because I found out I could get tones of financial support (a bursary and a scholarship) if I went there. And, without doubt, I needed that financial support. I merely had that and the government loan, which wasn’t enough. I really needed it. So, obviously, I chose Sussex as my firm. And months later, my place was confirmed.
On August 2015 I received my college exam results back: I got A in both AS and A2 Spanish, A in A2 Biology and A in GCSE Maths! I couldn’t believe my biology grade at all! The maths one was also surprising since I wasn’t great at it in Spain. With those results, my life stage in college ended. In three years I obtained: a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care with grade D*D*D*, an A-Level Biology qualification with grade A, an A-Level Spanish qualification with grade A*, a GCSE English qualification with grade C and a GCSE Maths qualification with grade A.
Back in secondary school I had B as an average grade. I finished college with A as average grade. It is crazy. I must admit that secondary school in Spain was much harder than college in England, but I also must say that in secondary school I was lazy and I didn’t work as hard as I could, while in college I did the best I could always: I went the extra mile for everything. I stopped having the mentality that “a bit is enough” and I became an “overachiever”. Why? Because I was no longer a kid: real life was kicking in. I
I realised that with my low social status, my irregular financial situation, my ethnicity & gender, my poor networks and my lack of family attachments, I wouldn’t get far away without outstanding education and a lot of experience (yet I know these two won’t secure me a meaningful and good employment). It was time to work hard, and the fear of failure and living a “comfortable” but unfulfilling life as a middle age adult empowered me. I’m aware that university isn’t the only way to succeed in life and it isn’t for everyone, but it is the best way for me, since I like studying and I like learning before trying anything out. And in the career field I want to go into, “International Development”, knowledge is imperative.
On September 2015 I got ready to move to Brighton, where the University of Sussex is located. I guaranteed my accommodation in the cheapest residence on campus, I sorted out my financial issues and I bought most things I needed. I was ready for this new era in my life, and I couldn’t wait for it due to two main reasons: moving away from my family and getting more involved in social change.
As I have already stated various times, I’m not close to my relatives. I feel like a caged prisoner when I’m with them and they aren’t even the prison guards: I’m the prison guard. Moreover, 90% of my personal issues are family related and I can’t do anything about them but get stressed. Some situations are helpless. Parents are not always great and reliable, adult relatives are not always the wisest and most helpful. My family issues have troubled me since I was a kid. I’m not a confident person, my self-esteem fluctuates too much, and I even had to go to therapy for a few months during primary school because of depression and trauma. Due to all this, even if I love my family, I need to put physical and emotional distance between me and them, just for the sake of my sanity, which has been very poor during the last months.
When comes to social change, “International Development” is a subject that can help me incredibly to understand current issues I care a lot about, from gender & racial inequality to conflicts and peace, and it can also shape my abilities and opportunities to do something about them. I’m tired of not being able to do much about problems I care about, such as the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean or the high poverty levels in Sub-Saharan African. I want to do more than just volunteering for good causes or engaging in national campaigns. I want to run my own projects and my own campaigns. I want to start a social enterprise one day. And I believe that a degree in “International Development” will aid me a lot with these ambitions.
On conclusion: a new stage of my life has begun. A stage in which I will get more educated & skilled. A stage in which I will learn and develop my career. A stage in which I will cry and laugh. A stage in which I will meet people for the good and for the bad. A stage in which I will finally be able to be myself and face the consequences. A stage in which I can finally recover from years of bad emotional wellbeing and poor mental health. A stage in which I have more power over my choices. A stage in which I will be independent and autonomous. A stage in which I will regret and I will cherish. A stage in which I will let go my fears and I will live properly. Because it is my time to lift off and fly.
Sharing my life,
Emilie H. Featherington
As revealed in Resi 2, the second Team v campaign was “#DoYouCare” and it had two main aims: 1) raising awareness about the struggles faced by young carers, and 2) raise awareness about the services and support young carers can receive. In case you don’t remember, young carers are “children and young people under the age of 18 who provide regular and ongoing care and/or emotional support to a family member who is physically or mentally ill, disabled, or misuses substances.”
#DoYouCare ran from the 19th of January till the 9th of March, and as Team v Leader, I had various targets to achieve: handing out leaflets, recruiting volunteers, getting in contact with politicians, getting the campaign on press, running workshops in schools/colleges, preparing and delivering creative activities, raising awareness through social media… I must admit I’m not a great fan of targets, not only as a Team v Leader, but in life in general. However, for this campaign they were incredibly useful, because deciding what to do and how to do it was so much easier than with the first campaign, #BeyondFood. The targets acted as guidelines to me, even if I couldn’t achieve all of them.
For instance, I didn’t recruit any volunteers and I ran the campaign on my own, just because I wanted to do so. I also couldn’t get my story on press, nor did I try much to be honest. And I got in contact with my local MP about the campaign, though I never heard back. I suppose I should have tried following up, but I wasn’t very interested in doing so. For the next campaign, as my co-ordinator said, I should try to get out of my comfort zone, mainly when comes to politicians and press. I can phone and email, but the idea of actually meeting politicians or appearing on newspapers or on the radio scares me a bit, which is why I probably don’t feel bothered enough to follow up after the first communication is made.
So, what did I actually do for this campaign?
Well, on the one hand, I run two workshops in my college, Seevic, for BTEC Health and Social Care students. Both workshops were about young carers. I began the sessions with an icebreaker: asking everyone to present themselves saying their name with a characteristic adjective that started with the same letter as their name. Then, I asked everyone if they knew what “young carers” were, creating a short discussion. Afterwards, I showed them the video of the campaign and I ran a quiz about facts, figures and statistics on young carers, in order to illustrate better the struggles and daily life of young carers.
Next, I delivered a powerpoint with more information about young carers, including a formal definition, typical tasks they do and the impact on their lives. Subsequently, I asked the students to draw and create their own young carers by groups, adding information such as age, gender, reason why they are carers, who they look after, impact on their lives… Later, I asked everyone to write in a post-tick note why they think someone would decide to take on caring responsibilities, sticking what they wrote in a cardboard. And finally, I gave out leaflets of the campaign and showed websites and resources young carers can access for support.
Cardboard with the post-tick notes from both of the awareness workshops.
Three drawings from the activity “create your own young carer” from the second workshop I did.
Another two drawings from the activity “create your own young carer” from the first workshop I did.
Both awareness workshops went very good. I sparked interesting discussions and I heard thought-provoking opinions from participants, which were elaborated very well with strong arguments. Also, the students seemed engaged in the activities, as you can see by the pictures above with the fantastic drawings they did (even if asked only for a ginger bread man!). Moreover, the teacher who was present in both of the sessions said that they were informative and interesting. She gave me positive feedback as well on how I managed the session, which made me very happy.
On the other hand, I also ran a creative writing workshop during the campaign, but this one was for young carers not for students, and I did it to motivate and inspire them, instead of doing it to raise awareness. I spent the first four weeks of the campaign getting in contact with local young carers projects in my community, with very poor responses. They either didn’t get back to me or didn’t understand what I said on the phone. It was horrible. That’s why I don’t like making phone calls, and I rather hide behind emails. However, with emails, communications are much slower, and after the first campaign, I learnt I can’t rely on them.
Fortunately, three weeks before the campaign ended, I found a local project that showed interest in the campaign and in my creative event. Hence they gave me the opportunity to visit them and run the event during one of their sessions with young carers, who were secondary school students. I had to take the train to get to that session, visiting a town in which I had never been before, nearly losing myself (god bless my phone’s GPS!). Nevertheless, I made it to the session without major problems, which was ran in a primary school of the town.
On the train on my way to visit the young carers project.
My event consisted of a creative writing workshop, in which I talked about the benefits of writing, I gave tricks on how to write stories and poems, and I asked questions and created discussions about reading and fictional characters. On top of all, I spoke about how writing can help to deal with struggles we face in our lives, to have a better mental health and positive emotional wellbeing. That was the aim of the workshops. When I learnt about the difficulties young carers face during the training sessions of Resi 2, I felt a lot of empathy with them, because I have been in a similar situation and I know that it can be stressful and distressing. Hence when deciding what type of activities would help, I thought about what type of activities help me to maintain a positive emotional wellbeing and a good mental health. And writing is the main one.
The workshop was good, I managed to keep the participants engaged, and I even found that some of the young carers had also a big passion for writing and reading too. After my event finished, I interviewed one of the session workers. Her name was Charlotte, and we talked about my event and the project she works for. About the workshop, she said that it was good because “creative writing gives young carers another way of expressing themselves”. She also revealed that she was a young carer herself, so she knew that sometimes you can feel alone and when you write, “your feelings just flow easily”.
When comes to the project, I asked Charlotte what type of services they run. The project is part of an organisation called SCAFT (Support Carers and Families Together), which offers support to both adult and young carers to “relieve the social, emotional, mental, physical and educational needs of Carers and their families through the provision of support, person and group centred interventions, advice, guidance and sign posting to other services as appropriate”. With young carers particularly, they run sessions every 2 weeks and, sometimes day out activities during holidays, to allow them to relax and unwind, because sometimes everything can bottle up for them.
SCAFT has two different groups with young carers: one for primary schoolers and another one for secondary schoolers. The primary school one has attendees that are from 5 to 14 years old, and the secondary school one has attendees that are 14+. The sessions are sometimes structured with determined activities, and other times they are simply free time in which carers can do whatever they want. Charlotte told me that it is more difficult to provide engaging activities for secondary schoolers than for primary schoolers, because primary schoolers can just be entertained with running around, while secondary schoolers need more interesting activities.
Apart from running these sessions, SCAFT also helps young carers by offering counselling through informal meetings, and they work closely with local schools to raise awareness about their services and help as many young carers as possible. Charlotte told me that she believes that young carers, benefit from the project, not only because they have time to relax, but also because during the sessions they can build each other, they can be themselves and they realise other people are going through a similar situations. She used to attend the project herself, and now she works there as a way of giving back.
Charlotte with one of the leaflets of the campaign.
So, my visit and creative event went pretty good! And apart from the awareness workshops, I didn’t do much more for the #DoYouCare campaign, except for having a meeting with the head of students services of my college and discussing the support available for students that are young carers. I must admit that even if I did the majority of things I was supposed to do, I feel like if I didn’t do enough in this campaign. I had seven weeks to make wonders, but the majority of my activities occurred in the last few weeks. I could have done so much more to be honest, but I didn’t. Probably because I was too stressed and worried with college exams, student finance applications, and other personal issues. Not an excuse, but still. I didn’t work very hard compared to the first campaign, in which I didn’t do great things neither but I put much more effort. Maybe it is because faced more struggles, who knows?
Anyways, the past is done and it can’t be changed. So all I can do is learn from the experience and apply what I learn for the next campaign, which is starting soon! Resi 3 is coming in just a week, and I can’t be more excited!
Sharing my experiences, Emilie H. Featherington 🙂 ❤