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