Sunday, 1 May 2011

Parties, Pimms and Princesses: Easter in England

16 weeks is a long time. It’s more than a quarter or a year. 161280 minutes spent in Strasbourg between Christmas and Easter. Don’t get me wrong, they were fantastic, but I was ready go home for Easter. Somehow the novelty of always being foreign was wearing off by the end of term, and every phone call with someone away from Stras reminded me of what I was missing out on. I have had the most wonderful couple of weeks; I feel refreshed, awakened- I feel like I’ve been home.

I arrived to a proper British dinner prepared by my wonderful mother- shepherd’s pie and rhubarb crumble, I slept in my own bed and woke up to the smell of bacon sarnies. Its funny how the little things can make all the difference. My 2 weeks at home were filled with family and friends, they were so fab.
They were also filled with a rather out of the blue decision to learn to drive, so I subsequently took my theory test, a very last minute decision, but I’m pleased to say I passed. I also had my first ever driving lessons! Ok I am about 3 years behind, but you’ve got to start somewhere! My driving instructor took me at 50 mph down an A road in my second ever lesson, I managed to not crash or even stall, so I’m giving myself a pat on the back...

Whilst home I also made the most of the NHS (I’m kidding, I paid £200) by getting my vaccinations for my upcoming travels. This is no one’s favourite thing to do, but as I sat discussing with the doctor where I was going I felt so excited and privileged to be able to go to Latin America, it started to feel so real. I am ready for you, Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina!

But by far the most memorable day of the holidays was the last. The Royal Wedding. Ok, ok, I know, the royal family is not usually my thing. I don’t have any issue with them, but neither am I (usually) particularly interested in them. Nor am I a Torie. Having said that, watching the fairytale wedding of the future King and Queen was magical. What made it even more so was my crazy but inspiring Mother. I have been thinking recently about how your family shapes you, and I am certainly very blessed to have mine. I always come up with plans and I love to organise things, a trait I know I have learnt from my Mum. My parents became one of around 70 groups of people to shut off their road and host a street party. Honestly, I was so much fun! Pride in being British is not something I have ever had, but living abroad definitely helps to create a sense of national identity (although mine seems to be based on short skirts and bad taste in food if you ask the French). Seeing a small road in Nottingham covered in flags, and the 150 or so people who live around there sharing food, music, drawing on the road, playing volleyball, skipping and being neighbours highlighted the importance of a national event. For me, it’s not about the fairytale wedding, and the incredible dress (although I would quite like both!). It’s about community. It’s about making memories. There were so many little kids from the street, who willl all be able to tell their kids about what they did on THAT day, so many strangers who have become neighbours. It was such a fantastic end to the holidays and filled me up with enough Britishness to keep me going until the end of term. It was definitely a memorable day.

So there we are, England is gone again, this time I left filled with national pride, refreshed by the familiarity of home and excited about what is to come. Before we get to that though, there’s just the small question of my 6 exams. Revising is so difficult when all you want to be doing is making the most of your last 4 weeks living abroad, but I guess getting a degree is the point in being here....

Thank you to everyone who made the holidays amazing, and happy revising to all with exams! Much love xx

Monday, 28 March 2011

Model European Union: a whole other world...

180 participants, 33 countries, one European Institution, 25 organisers, 65 hotel rooms booked in my name, 436 emails, 9 nights out in a row and over 100 euros of credit. 

After months of organisation, Model European Union 2011 has been and gone. For those reading this who are not familiar with the concept, MEU is an educational project that takes place in the European Parliament in Strasbourg to educate students about the decision making process in Europe, to encourage them to integrate with their fellow European citizens, and to provide budding young politicians with the opportunity to practice their debating and diplomacy skills. It is an internationally renowned project that is growing and growing.

This year, I somehow gained the position of Head of Local Support for the project. As the only organiser living in Strasbourg, it was my job to organise anything and everything that is directly involved in Strasbourg. That meant booking hotel rooms, travel passes, restaurants, university rooms....and organising a jam packed social program. As a student project encompassing 210 18-25’s, the social aspect is vital. So at the end of the week, here are a few reflections on the experience...

Although my body is numb from exhaustion, my eyes will barely stay open and I have bruises everywhere and I don’t even know why, I feel contented at the end of this incredible week. As a team, we pulled off a successful and professional international conference that can be proud of. And I am proud. Proud of myself for taking such a big responsibility and not messing it up, proud of my team for their amazing support and for helping me with everything from cleaning tables to mopping up my tears, and most importantly proud to be a part of such a fantastic project. Everyone who has been involved since the beginning should feel proud this evening knowing that the 180 participants had a great week, learned a lot, made new friends and that the project achieved its objectives. We did good team.

My team did great. To Malin and Gaby who gave up so much of their time to be involved, I am personally grateful for your support in the project, you worked professionally and should be so proud that you were personally responsible for much of the success of the social program. You put your hearts into a project that you had never experienced and I am truly inspired by that. And on a personal level, you listened to me vent whenever I needed to, talked sense to me when I was being unreasonable, didn’t get annoyed at me if I ever snapped and mopped up my tears without asking questions. Thank you. You made local support possible, and I have made friends I will never, ever lose.

The team in general did great too. Its true that as I sit here in my room reflecting, I feel somewhat lost phone is not ringing, no one is looking for me, and theres no urgent situation that I need to deal with. And theres no smiling MEU organiser to come and make me laugh or just chat. I am not really a cheesy kind of person, and I have often kind of rejected the ‘MEU family’ line, but today I finally feel like I understand what that is. When you work so closely with so many people for so long you build a bond that is different to anything else. Its not just a working relationship, its so much more. We pull each other through hard times, we are there to celebrate each others successes and we make it great together. Thank you to each of the organisers who has been there for me and who has made this project possible. Each one of us had such a vital role to play, it needed all of us, and we did it together. And for all the times I snapped or got upset over nothing, I am sorry, I have definitely learnt that 9 nights out in a row make for short-tempered people, but even through the tiredness our friendships shone through.

There have been points in the last few months when I have asked myself WHY I was putting so much time, effort and stress into a project just for ‘the fun of it’. I’ve felt overwhelmed with the task at hand, I have found it hard to juggle my different responsibilities and I have felt isolated in a project whose organisers are living all around the world. But at the end of this week, I can see why I was right to be involved. It is a joy to see the participants having a great time, and so many people told me how much they enjoyed the program. It is great to be involved in an international conference, providing a rare and valuable work experience opportunity to so many aspiring politicians. And I have to say one of my absolute highlights of the week was organising, preparing and presenting the Charity Gala. I had great fun making my wardrobe change and auctioning the organisers. I am so thrilled (and a little astonished) that the participants of MEU 2011 donated an amazing 885.77 euros to this fantastic charity! Thank you for all who were involved (especially to my fantastic co-host, Berkay!!) 

But I have also gained personally from the experience; I have learnt better how to cope under stress, how to be more organised, that I should have confidence in my ability to manage people, that sometimes it is necessary to both obtain and to give more information and most of all I have learnt what a group of students can do when they put their minds to it. I also learnt that being overly tired makes me cry a little excessively, those that no me well know that I never cry but o my this week it didn’t take much!! As my involvement with MEU draws to a close, I need you to know it is not with bitterness. I have loved being involved and wish you all the success in the future. I am proud to be a part of the organising team of MEU 2011. We did ourselves proud.

MODEL EUROPEAN UNION 2011- A great success I am proud to have been part of with you!

Sunday, 6 March 2011


The sky is clear, the air is crisp and refreshing, new buds are sprouting, the days are getting longer, and the birds are singing again. Spring has sprung. The cold, dark nights are becoming longer, more refreshing evenings and the sun is beginning to shine down on Strasbourg again.  A new year, a new season, a new start.

I love Spring; after a cold and dark winter Spring is so welcome. The light breeze and sunny days make the world so much more attractive, they make you want to go out, to the make the most of it, to celebrate life.

I can't believe its already March. This week has been half term and it has just gone so fast, time escapes me so much it makes me realise how much we have to make the most of it. This week I have attempted (and succeeded) to get on top of my work...I have written 3 dissertations, a language project, a presentation and a book review, not to mention the reading and lecture notes I have caught up on. But it feels good that I can go back to Uni without a great big backlog of things to do. 2 weeks time sees all my deadlines and an exciting but exceptionally stressful project I organise...Model European Union. I am going to sleep so well when all this is over! The project is great, we organise work experience for almost 200 people in the European Parliament, Strasbourg, but I have taken on more work than I thought I had...But that's me...

This weekend I am realising how fortunate I am in my life. My Grandparents have taken the time to come all the way to Strasbourg to see me. It was totally unexpected, I never thought they would really come, but we are having such an amazing time together. Having lost my other Grandad just a couple of months ago, it seems so strange to be here with a grandparent who is the same age, but still works and can still travel. I am grateful for good health, and hope it stays that way. G & G are funny, they mention hoping they will keep going on for ages, but the same applies at every age, as I know too well. We can never know when our lungs might I don't know, decide to collapse, we have to make the most of every day. They inspire me. I feel so blessed to be their granddaughter. This weekend has been an amazing chance to get to know them better. I have known them well, but not often spent time one on one with them, and this weekend has been amazing. My Grandma is on the executive of her local council and my Grandpa still runs his own Financial Advisory business, they are so interesting and active and such a pleasure to spend time with. I also have enjoy how they challenge me. They won't just ask me a question and accept my answer, they'll ask me why I believe what I do, why I act how I do. Just like the spring air, thinking about the reasons behind your convictions is refreshing and awakening.

They are Torie politicians, and I work for the Labour party. And I love how they challenge me but they encourage me, how they can disagree with my political stance but will push me and help me to get where I want. They are amazing. Even more inspiring is how they have been married for 47 years and how I can tell they are still in love. They have such a friendship, such a deep love, it is inspiring. Not any day soon, but one day I hope for the same kind of relationship. They are a true inspiration.

The refreshing change of season and visit from my Grandparents has challenged me to keep pushing towards some goals I have set myself. I have to say I never expected my year abroad to be like this. I thought Erasmus was about parties and late nights, but I am finding myself on an experience that is beyond anything I could ever have imagined. I live with a family, I feel like they are my own. I feel loved and safe and comfortable, and I have had such an amazing opportunity to get to know French culture. I am working in the European Parliament, even more than I planned. It is stressful and tiring and I have missed lots of school but is an incredible opportunity and helps me see what I want to do when I graduate. Just being abroad, being the foreigner, makes me more sure of who I am, and who I want to be. I have never been easily led, but now more than ever I want every person in my life and every experience to shape me into something better. This year is going to be life changing in ways I had never expected...

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Reflections of a Strasaholic....

It's Sunday in Strasbourg. In other words, it's the day when there is nothing to do, no one around and motivation to write essays is at its very lowest. And this sunday there isn't even a basketball match...

It has been an interesting few weeks since I last wrote. The Christmas holidays already feel like a distant blur, all too soon passed, the faces that became so familiar once again begin to feel far away. It was so fabulous to spend time with old school friends, something I realise I have not taken advantage of enough in the past. It was particularly special to be able to spend lots of time with some of the people who know me best (Mark, Mandie...) and to get used to the home comforts of an open fire and a wool carpet and the smiles of my family. At the same time, this holiday was the first time I went 'home' and didn't feel like I was 'home', it was such a strange feeling and its so hard to explain. It will always be my home, but I felt like a was staying, not living there, which I guess is true. Perhaps years abroad make us so used to being away that being back becomes the foreign part. All I know is that it was great to go home, but it was also nice to be back.

Since then two weeks were spent revising....2 weeks is not even a long time but it felt like FOREVER. Maybe its not living with people who have exams that makes the experience seem so isolating, or perhaps it is the first lot of Science Po exams that are just hard, but it did feel like a lot of effort. I have worked in the Parliament again, an interesting week with nothing particularly controversial but enough to keep me busy, spent a weekend in Germany with the MEU organisors followed by a week at Uni. Wow, that means I have already been back a month. How time flies.

I was looking at the plans for the rest of the year, and what with MEU, Stras weeks and holidays, I only have 7 weeks of uni!! Not good, I really should start trying to learn what the lecturers are going on about. It'll all work out.

The departure of many Erasmus students, and particularly the wonderful Jess Bethom, has changed the dynamic of Strasbourg- it has become more foreign as that comfort blanket of a good friend from home is no longer a physical reality. I'll get used to it, but I have missed our tea and toast moments. We do, however, have our fourth year house sorted- there will be tea, cake and Desperate Housewives to our hearts content :) And rabbits. End of.

O and speaking of exciting- Frances is coming to visit me!!! Eeeek! This will be a Span reunion like no other. Happy happy times. And I have my flights to Spain for the summer booked and Brazil is nearly sorted, life is exciting. Well at least the future is, even if some days seem a little less than.

I still have one day left to say Happy New Year, so happy new year! Here's hoping 2011 is a year of adventure, good health, friendship and fun.

Sending you lots of love xxx

Thursday, 16 December 2010

It's Christmas time, theres no need to get delayed....

As I sit here at the end of the first term of my year abroad, it seems appropriate to make a few deep and meaningful reflections over the past 4 months. However, I am much too excited about going home for Christmas, and so instead decided to write a list of things I am gonna do in England. Year abroad is fab, but this holiday I will:

-Drink so much real milk. None of this UHT rubbish. Real milk. I tried to explain the difference to a French person, and they thought English people went out milking their cows every day. O dear.
-Eat heinz baked beans. For breakfast, for dinner, I don't care. And sing the beans song.
-Cadbury's. Need I say more?
-Be at full liberty to break more fingers and have free health care. Maybe I should try stocking up whilst I'm back??
-Topshop. Urban Outfitters. Accessorise. HMV. O how I miss you.
-Not get charged EVERY TIME I buy anything on my card.
-Eat English food. O foreigners you may give British people stick for not having fine food, but give me my Mum's home cooking any day over your cuisine. Nuff said.
-Go to a club that is the size of an entrance hall. Bring on big clubs with good music!!
-Make the most of family, friends, fun....

Just incase you didn't know it already, I am a MASSIVE Christmas fan. I love being together and being happy, I love the food and the atmosphere and just the time of year. This year more than ever Christmas is so exciting, I can't wait.

To anyone who is reading this...Happy Christmas. I hope you enjoy your family as we remember how lucky we are to celebrate it with them.

And also how lucky we are to eat turkey with pigs in blankets. The concept of sausages and bacon for Christmas dinner did NOT seem appealing to my French friends. Sounds like heaven to me!

See ya in 2011 France :) xxx

p.s heres hoping my flights aren't delayed!!!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

It's a bitter sweet symphony....

No matter how much we plan things in life, some things we can never plan for. This week, I should have been in Strasbourg, I should have been enjoying my year abroad. But instead, I have been witnessing Britain’s cold snap...the –too much temperatures and the excessive snow that make England stop, school shuts, transport breakdown and just generally cause chaos. There is a reason I’ve been home, that reason being the sad loss of my Grandad. Leslie Cook Wilson, 2nd July 1938- 21st November 2010. I love you, and I miss you. I’m sorry I never got to say goodbye.

When I left for Strasbourg 3 months ago, I knew he was poorly. But what you have to understand is my Grandad has been ill for years, and he’s always handled his illness, as my Dad said at his funeral, with such dignity. I think whilst I knew he wasn’t well, I didn’t think I would never see him again. I would have loved just to see him one more time, and up until the moment I found out he was gone I completely thought he would still be around at Christmas when I got home. It feels so unreal. Watching his coffin be lowered into the ground and throwing that flower down after him were harder than I could ever have imagined. Watching my Dad be sad is so hard too. I wish you were still here, Grandad.

But I know deep down he is not in pain any more. He’s in a better place. I’ll see him again one day and I’ll give him that hug I feel like I’ve missed out on. He’s a part of me, and he was amazing.

My Grandad was so generous. Every time I went to see him (which was a lot, I went every week for lunch with my Grandparent’s whilst I was at college), he would always slip a few pounds my way. It was so lovely, and so funny, he would always sneak it into my hand when giving me a kiss and say ‘Don’t tell you mother’ (by which he meant your Grandmother). He truly believed that my Nan, who is the most amazing and savvy person ever, hadn’t worked out that he used to slip us money, despite the fact that she was the one that went to the bank to get the money! Nanny was telling me this week how Grandad always used to moan that he didn’t have any money and say that he didn’t know why, and she would be like hummm I wonder....

Another thing I always remember from my Grandad was him wheeling me, David and Hannah around the garden in his wheelbarrow. He was so much fun. I remember how good he was with his hands, he used to be a bricklayer, and how when he couldn’t do things any more, he still knew exactly how my Dad should do it, and he would tell him! I feel privileged to have spent a lot of time alone with him, and I’ll never forget the war stories he told me and the things he chose to share with me, even when sharing them got a bit difficult. Between his thick Scottish accent and his sometimes a little slurred speech he wasn’t always the easiest to understand, but it was a pleasure and a privileged to talk to him. Every week when I went to see him, he would tell me I was a breath of fresh air. Although, on occasions, this didn’t come out right, and he would say I was a breath of wind. He was so funny.

Apparently he used to say ‘if the crew’s ok, I’m ok’. That sounds like something he would say. Grandad, you’d be loving the snow, and you’d have loved us all being together this week. I wish I could have seen you again, I know you asked about me all the time, and I am proud to be your Grand daughter. I love you, and I’m so sad you’re gone. I’ll miss you, but until I see you again, I’ll be thinking of you, I hope I make you proud. Rest in Peace.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Bedtime blogposts....

I have just spent nearly 3 hours on Skype, firstly to the beautiful and very much missed Mandie Dee (o girl I can’t wait to live in Brum with you!) then to my absolutely lovely Mummy...o how she makes me realise how lucky I am, she is the most loving person in the world, no contest. <3

All is still well in Strasbourg, its weird because whilst I live abroad and you might think there would be loads of things to report, in fact going to Science Po and working in the parliament is just life here. My French family are continuing to be absolutely wonderful. I have spent so much time with them and am speaking tonnes of French, and I was reflecting on how great it is to have people who care about me here and it truly is fab J However, the countdown-til-home-time advent calendar has begun. 28 days. 4 weeks. I can’t wait to walk down Farm Road to Plums, to pass College House as I make my way towards the familiar but o too distant Beeston...home is calling me. I’ve never been away from home this long, and I am happy, I do love it here, but I feel far away today. I would give anything for a massive hug from my mummy (well, clearly not anything or I’d pay the extortionate amount to go home for the weekend, but you get the idea).

Tommorrow is dimanche in Strasbourg, for once I will be feeling fresh for two basketball matches back to back. I got in trouble last time I blogged for not mentioning basketball, but Giles, especially for you if you understand this...Hoenheim je t’aime! I have been playing basketball (not particularly well, I might add), with a local team called Hoenheim who are absolutely literally amazing! I have been so lucky to play with such lovely, friendly, welcoming people who are making my time in Stras fabulous J Thank you guys. Si vous lisez mon ‘blog’, les gens d’Hoenheim, c’etait juste pour vous remercier ! S’all good.
This weeks events of note were Will getting engaged to Kate…I know she’s beautiful and rich but I think I would have made a much better Queen, don’t you agree? It also saw a very enlightening trip to a French doctor (this is content only for girls, ask me for more details, Hannah, Jess, Jen, you know the score), and perhaps a little sentiment of homesickness. I also went to a party where someone fell out of a window, it was a very strange night…

Next week sees another Strasbourg parliamentary week, which I am very much looking forward to, even if the hour are crazy, as well as a very important event…Harry Potter comes out in French cinemas. Ahh the days of midnight trips to Waterstones to collect the books… It also sees the depart of my French brother to Switzerland, sob, our regular runs have become quite dear to me!

Anyway, just checking in to say all is good, and that I miss you, yes YOU! I can’t wait to be back in England, and if you see me, please give me a massive hug!! Goodnight my loves, lots of love as ever xxxx