Opportunities · Uni Antics

Why going on Erasmus was one of my best decisions

I’m writing this on the 9.45 train from Brussels to Amsterdam. I’ve never been to Amsterdam before and, I’ve got to say, I’m really looking forward to it. I went to Rotterdam several weeks ago – and loved it – but it’s so exciting that I’m finally getting to visit the Dutch capital. That’s the great thing about Brussels though; it’s so easy to travel elsewhere as it’s just that well connected.

Brussels was my first choice when I decided to go on Erasmus. I’ve been asked why so often since I arrived and my honest answer is actually because of Brexit. What a time to be a British person in Brussels at the moment! Politically, everything is so up in the air; and politics is one thing that absolutely fascinates me. (I should probably point out though that however much it interests me, Brexit also greatly saddens me).

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European Flags outside the European Commission Building

But anyway, I’m about three-quarters of the way through my time here and I can honestly say, going on Erasmus is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. More than just the heart of the EU, it is such a beautiful and underrated city. One of my favourite places has got to be the Grand Place (Grote Markt in Dutch) – it is especially beautiful at the moment in the lead up to Christmas.

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Grand Place, lights reflected onto the buildings changing colours

Not only have I learned so much about Belgian life, I’ve also found out loads about the cultures of other countries. Before I came to Brussels, I’d never had such an international group of friends. And honestly, this has been my absolute favourite thing about going on Erasmus. The people I’ve met here, who I otherwise wouldn’t have met, are some of the most incredible people I know. Despite being from different countries, we all clicked really fast and always manage to have a laugh whenever we see each other. The international community here is definitely what I’m going to miss the most.

 

And, as I’m sat here on the train to Amsterdam, I know how lucky I am that I’ve had opportunities to travel. Seeing other Belgian cities – Ghent, Waterloo and Tournai – was absolutely amazing. Each city has its own uniqueness and, even though they’re in the same country, they have their own sense of culture. (Although, Flanders and Wallonia are very different areas)!

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Tournai at night

And of course, both Paris and Rotterdam were lovely. It was great being able to return to Paris again after eight and a half years! I’m sure Amsterdam will be incredible too!

 

The most interesting thing, though, is that I almost didn’t come on Erasmus. The whole idea kind of scared me and I began to make excuses for why I wouldn’t be able to go. But now I’m here, I know I would have regretted it if I hadn’t gone.

 

I have just over a month left on Erasmus and I already know that I’ll miss Brussels so much. There have been so many challenges and things I’ve found difficult, but I’ve always dealt with them one way or another. And, without wanting it to sound like a cliché, these challenges have definitely made me better at dealing with problems. But despite them, I’ve genuinely had the most incredible time of my life. And I know that the whole experience will benefit me throughout the rest of my life.

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Feminism

How would the Pankhursts view gender equality in today’s society?

The Pankhursts are my greatest feminist heroes. Without them, I literally wouldn’t have even half of what I do today as a woman. The Suffragette motto of ‘deeds not words’ played a hugely significant part in leading to women finally getting the vote. The Pankhursts and the Suffragettes realised that, in order to get their message across, they would have to hit the establishment hard. And that’s exactly what they did. Since women won their right to vote, there has undeniably been huge change in societal attitudes towards women: they are able to do far more than in the past. But there is also no denying that there is still a long, long way to go in terms of achieving full gender equality. So how would the Pankhursts, and other suffragettes, see the issue in today’s world? Would they be satisfied with how far women have come since the Suffrage movement or would they continue to advocate for real gender equality?

Thanks to the incredible bravery of those who fought for universal suffrage, women have been able to vote since 1918. This was a huge step in achieving gender equality, as attitudes towards women began to change. But even then, the fight was still not over: women still couldn’t vote on the same terms as men.

Although society is now far more equal than it was, there are still significant issues in terms of gender. Let’s take the representation of women in parliament. In the 2017 General Election, 208 women were elected into the House of Commons. This was a record high; there were 191 female MPs in 2015. Now, women make up 32% of all UK MPs. This proves that Parliament continues to be heavily male dominated. Furthermore, 32% is still a tiny proportion of women, especially compared to the UK’s population as a whole. With this small percentage being the highest number of female MPs in Parliament, it is clear that women have always been underrepresented in British politics.

The gender pay gap. An issue that has been discussed on numerous occasions, yet still remains unsolved. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), on average, women earn 9.1% less than their male counterparts. While the pay gap is far smaller than in the past (17.4% in 1997), the simple truth is that it should not exist at all. Progress has been slow in terms of dealing with the problem; in 2012, women earned on average 9.5% less than men. So despite all the talk about reducing the gender pay gap, the issue is not effectively being dealt with.

There is also the problem of how women are often treated by men. For example, catcalling and other such behaviours prove that some men continue to see women as ‘objects’ and therefore do not show them the respect that they deserve. Not to mention other societal expectations of women that still exist. While they are low key compared to several decades ago, they are still underneath the surface. (See my last post for just one example).

So what would the Pankhursts make of all this? Clearly this question is highly ambiguous, as no one can really know – after all, it’s not like we can actually ask them. But I’ve still tried to hazard a guess. In my opinion, I think they would be absolutely thrilled at the progress women have made since they won the vote. Political participation has gone a long way in terms of including women, with more MPs than ever before and our second female Prime Minister. (Politics aside, I’ll take that as a positive). This is clear even in Scottish politics, with Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson being dominant figures in Holyrood. We are also seeing more women in managerial positions, with some (very slow) progress being made in terms of equality in the workplace.

But I reckon the Pankhursts would want women to keep fighting for full equality. They wouldn’t want women to settle for ‘second best’ just because it has taken decades, even centuries, for women to get to where they are now. With all the progress we have made as women, I genuinely think they would want us to keep on going until we are absolutely equal to our male counterparts. And that’s exactly what I hope we do.

Feminism · Health · Society

Why attitudes towards women not wanting children need to change

I know of many women who don’t want to have children. But I wonder how many of those women have been told “you’ll change your mind” or “you’ll see it differently when you’re older”. Because I reckon that number is pretty high. Who do people really think they are though, just assuming something like that when they’ve explicitly just been told the opposite? It’s like they know the woman’s mind better than she knows it herself. And those responses to women not wanting children, in my opinion, really need to change.

I’ve known for quite a while that I don’t want to have children. It’s not that I don’t like them – because I do – but I’ve never seen myself as being particularly maternal. Even with the children I already know, however nice or cute they may be, I’m always glad to know that I can hand them back.

But whenever I point that out to people, I’m often met with the same response. “You’ll change your mind when you’re older” is a classic. And that irritates me. I really don’t care about whether or not someone else changed their mind about having children or about any societal expectations of me as a woman. If I say I don’t want children, I mean I do not want to have any children.

One thing that surprised me, though, was who typically responded in that way. Because it was actually women themselves. I found it a bit ironic that the very people who should understand that a woman might not want to have children, didn’t. It’s like they forgot women can make their own decisions about family life. So I began to wonder if that type of attitude is merely a generational thing. It’s usually older women who presume I don’t know what I think about such a significant decision. Perhaps more women in the past actually did want to have their own children, which is why there is still that expectation today. Or maybe it’s just down to personal viewpoints: some individuals perhaps think all woman are maternal and will therefore want their own children at one point or another.

Either way, the point is this: if a woman doesn’t want to have children, she doesn’t have to. We all know our own minds and we can think for ourselves. And however young many of us may be, we can still know what we do and don’t want in our own futures. And no one has the right to assume otherwise.

At the end of the day, if a man said he didn’t want to become a parent, I’m pretty sure people would just accept that instead of making general assumptions that they one day will. So why should it be any different for women? The simple answer to that is: it absolutely should not be different. Because we are the ones who have to deal with the pregnancies as well as having the actual children. So if we tell you we do not want to have any children, do not turn around and tell us otherwise.

Health

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Three times, I’m sorry.

Anxiety is an issue that has, continues to or will affect almost everyone. Anyone who has experienced it can tell you how difficult and isolating it is. You lose your sense of self worth, your thought process completely changes and you don’t know who you are anymore. At least, that has been my experience.

So this is a short piece I wrote some time ago about my own personality and self worth, that still sometimes reflects on how my anxiety is now:

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Three times, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for everything I’ve done, for everything I’ve said. I’m sorry for everything I will inevitably do. But that’s who I am. I do things and I say things I don’t think are right. And I end up apologising. Why? I don’t really know why. If I could change that I would. But I can’t.

You’d think after all the strain and the stress and the pain it makes me feel I’d know better than to act like who I am. You’d think I’d tone it down a notch, just so I wouldn’t have to go through the agony of having to apologise for it again. You’d think so. But it’s hard. It really is. And that’s what makes it hurt even more.

It’s like I’ll never fit that idea of perfect that I’ve got engrained into my head. I know who I want to be, who I should be, but I never make it. No matter how hard I try. I end up being that same pain in the arse I always was. For some reason, I can’t help it. No matter how hard I try.

So all I can say for all that I’ve done is I’m sorry. I’m sorry to the moon and back. I’m sorry to infinity and back. I literally can’t put how sorry I am into words. I suppose all I can ask is that you bear with me as I try to change for the better. I know that’s rich after everything, but what else can I do? But I can promise this: no matter how many times I screw up, I’ll always try to be a better person next time.

No matter how anxiety too often makes me feel, I really do know things aren’t as bad as they seem. I’m not as bad a person as it makes me think I am. So that’s what I have to keep at the forefront of my mind to try to keep the anxiety at bay.

And to anyone else who is also suffering, take it from me: no matter how bad it may seem, it will always get better in time. Even if it’s hard to believe.

Journalism

Humans of New York: Why it is interesting for an aspiring journalist

“Humans of New York began as a photography project in 2010. The initial goal was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street, and create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants”.

When Brandon Stanton began Humans of New York (HONY), who could possibly have foreseen its global success? With more than 20 million followers on social media, to say HONY is a popular concept would be an understatement. But for someone, like myself, who is incredibly determined to make it in journalism, the whole idea is simply fascinating. It proves that the world is filled with a diverse range of people who all look at the world very differently.

For those who aren’t entirely familiar with it, HONY gives an insight into the lives of ordinary people. It is online, through its website and social media, and there are also print editions of people’s stories. People share all kinds of things: their struggles, their best moments, their achievements, their hopes for the future, their opinions and so on, with a photo of them alongside their stories. And each individual always has something totally unique to say.

One story I absolutely love is told from the perspective of a cop, whose father and grandfathers were both cops. But, as a father himself, he has higher hopes for his son. He described the things you see as a cop as “not emotionally clean”. He also told of how it is hard to know how much to push your child in the right direction. But what I took away from his piece was that, above all, the father cared. He wanted the best for his son but without being too hard on him. And that, for me, says it all about how much he absolutely loves his son.

Another incredible story shows the persistence of one woman who didn’t give up in her search for a job. She had moved to New York after graduating with a degree in accounting. Having applied for jobs at dozens of places, and heard nothing back, she decided to go into different car dealerships (she had always loved cars) to see if they could offer her an accounting job. She did not find anything in the first couple of places she went to, but when she went to Jaguar/Land Rover, they decided to give her a chance. She was interviewed that afternoon and was immediately given the job. The first thing she did was call her parents. They were proud of her and she was so proud of herself. Reading about the how much perseverance many people have is, for me at least, so refreshing.

Since its creation, HONY has continued to grow and has even gone global, with Brandon having visited 20 different nations to share people’s stories. He has travelled to countries such as Iran, Ukraine and Uganda to give us a better insight into the lives of so many more people.

And this has been so inspirational for me an aspiring foreign correspondent. Brandon has looked past all the politics and statistics and stereotypes to ask actual people what they have to say. And, honestly, that is the one thing I want to achieve as a journalist. I want to show the world how a single mother of 5 is affected by war; I want to show the world why that 20-year-old has to take dangerous routes in the hope of finding a better life; I want to show the world that behind all of the numbers and all of the labels, there are real human beings who have emotions and needs, just like the rest of us. And I ultimately want to show the world that we’re really not so different from each other.

But I am not the only one who has been inspired by HONY. There have been other pages set up in the same way, such as Humans of London and Humans of Edinburgh. This proves to me that people are genuinely interested in what each other has to say. And I hope that, one day as a journalist, I can help even more people to share their thoughts, stories and experiences with the world.

Uni Antics

5 Things That Help with Missing Home on Study Abroad

You’re in a foreign country having the time of your life: you’re travelling to new cities and even to other neighbouring countries. And it’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever done. Genuinely. But of course you start to remember the small things about home. Dairy Milk for a pound, your favourite newspapers everywhere you look, easily accessible Heinz baked beans… you get the idea. You begin to miss the small, quirky things that make your home country, well… home. But I’ve realised that finding some sense of familiarity in your new home country really helps. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Belgium and the culture and the food (the waffles! the fries!), but sometimes it’s nice to have some of what you love the most from home. So these are some of the things that have helped me so far.

 

  • Staying in touch with my home uni

This has really helped with the sense of continuity. I’ve continued to write for Radar, the student magazine, and have contributed to the student TV station. Student media is one of the most important things to me at home, so staying in touch with everyone and maintaining an active role has been amazing.

 

  • Russell Howard

I didn’t think I watched a lot of TV back in the UK but apparently that was a lie. I began to sorely miss watching my favourite comedies or changing over to Channel 4 News at 7 o’clock or binge watching recordings of The Simpsons while having my dinner. So when I realised that Russell Howard had uploaded full episodes of his shows on his YouTube channel, I was so excited. One of my favourite comedians with all his shows in one place: what could be better?

 

  • Doing my favourite things

My entire summer was spent basically me going to coffee shops, reading and blogging. So now, whenever I have the time, I go to a coffee shop and read. Or maybe even scribble down ideas for the blog. Being totally lost in the moment doing one of your favourite things is genuinely the most incredible thing – and it sometimes helps to forget where you are for an hour or two.

 

  • Splashing out on typically British food

On the rare occasion that I do find something typically British, I feel so pleased with myself. I think it all goes back to the whole “national pride” thing. But it does go a long way in giving you a sense of being at home. So even though it’s all pretty expensive (€1.90 for a pack of Jammie Dodgers!!), sometimes it’s worth paying the price.

 

  • Waterstones

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I basically live in bookshops. It’s impossible for me to have a ‘quick look’, as I always find something new I want to read (hence my ever-growing to be read pile). So when I discovered the Waterstones in Brussels, I knew where I’d be spending rather a lot of my time. If I’m at the Waterstones long enough, it actually starts to feel like I’m in the UK. And outside the shop, there’s a stand of British newspapers which, for me anyway, is one of the most exciting things!

 

So when I decided to come to Belgium for Erasmus, I knew I wanted to really immerse myself in the culture. And that’s still what I try to do as much as I possibly can. But I have to admit, taking a step back into my familiar ‘Britishness’ really goes a long way in helping me feel far less homesick.

Interests · Opportunities · Uni Antics

Living Abroad & Your National Identity

I’ve been in Brussels for exactly four weeks now and my eyes have been opened to so much. I’ve learned loads about the Belgian culture, customs and so much more. And having a very international group of friends here has allowed me to find out so much more about the world. But the thing that has surprised me the most since arriving in Brussels, is my own sense of national pride. I’ve always known I’m patriotic and proud to be British, but I hadn’t quite realised to what extent that was the case.

Going to Brussels for study abroad is genuinely one of the best decisions I have ever made. I’m getting to immerse myself in a whole new culture and I’m learning a new language – by the way, Dutch really isn’t as hard to learn as I’ve been making it out to be! And I’ve made friends who I get on so well with – we all have a good laugh and have done absolutely loads in the time we’ve known each other. So Brussels has been pretty exciting so far. And also, it’s an incredibly valuable experience for achieving my goal of becoming a foreign correspondent.

Brussels over the shoulder
Brussels City Centre
Ghent bridge
Ghent

But one thing I’ve found is that I become really excited when I see something typically British. Even things I usually wouldn’t give a second thought to at home: Jammie Dodgers, Robinson’s orange squash and Heinz baked beans to name a few. I began to wonder why being abroad for a long period of time makes you so happy to see things you otherwise wouldn’t give much notice? But I came to the conclusion that it was my sense of national pride and a connection to “home”.

Also, when we visited Ghent the other week, I seemed thrilled to see a guy playing the bagpipes, even though I wanted to be solely exposed to the Belgian culture. I’m not even Scottish, but they definitely caught my attention. But when there’s something from the place in which you live, you can’t help but turn and look.

From the day I knew I’d be coming to Brussels, I was so excited to become as Belgian as I possibly could. (That still didn’t stop me taking a bag of 200+ Tetley teabags and hanging the St George’s Cross on my bedroom wall though). And now I’ve been here for around a month, Brussels has definitely reinforced my ambition to find out about and share the stories of people from all over the world. I’ve met loads of awesome people here, all with different personalities and backgrounds, which I’m delighted about. I absolutely love it. So that’s definitely encouraging. But I’ve also realised that wherever I end up in the world, I’ll always have a strong connection to my English roots, and I’ll continue to be the proud and patriotic Brit I always was.