Where I am Now

It has happened – I have finally got to the point where I can say that I have finished university and my time in education (unless I’ve failed my final exam and messed up all my coursework so will have to do retakes in August, but hopefully that won’t be the case). Finishing university has always been a huge milestone for me, and tied up with the fact that I have never not been in education, it’s a big one. When you’re in school, you dream of the day that you won’t have to be in school any longer. No more exams, no more essays, no more petty childish drama – and pretty much all three happen still in university. I say ‘you’, which realistically is a big assumption to make on behalf of everyone reading this, but what I’m trying to grasp at is that feeling of anticipating the next stage of your life. I, for one, had big expectations of what I would be like once I’d finished in education. I had hopes, dreams, and plenty of those pesky assumptions which I’m now having to reflect on.

The first big thing is independence, which in essence I have achieved in terms of living away from home during university months, doing my own washing, cooking etc etc. Yet when I was younger independence did not look like going down to tesco just before it shuts because you needed to put a wash on and have run out of tablets. It did not look like eating the same meal for three nights in a row because you want to save money. It did not like forgetting simple things every now and then because you’re tired, such as hot ceramic dishes do not mix with cold water. I know, I know, it’s all about living and learning and growing and bettering yourself, but that mantra does no good at 1am drying your bed sheets with a hairdryer because you forgot about the wash you put on.

One big thing I always thought about was what job I would have – and the dream job has changed many, many times. Becoming an author (and by that I mean a good author who has people who like their books so much that they can making a living out of it) has always been a dream job, but there are always others that pop in and out of my mind. First I wanted to be a professional horse rider, then a pop star, and then deciding I wasn’t a good enough singer so a songwriter. Recently, the dream is to be in publishing, and I certainly expected to have a job lined up and ready once university was finished. Yet, here I am, and all those hopeful publishing applications I sent out have been returned with a ‘thanks, but no’. You’re always told that you go to school, then to university, then you’ll get a job – but nobody really talks that much about the in-between. When applying for universities, no one told me about how, even if I do well and get a great degree, a job won’t be there waiting for me. They didn’t tell me that even if you work your arse off not only at your degree but at applying for jobs, it won’t necessarily mean you’ll get one either.

With the job dreams also come the social life dreams, and I always assumed that by the time university was over I would be in a committed, happy relationship with someone who could celebrate with me over all those job offers I had coming in. Again, Little Miss Assumption over here, but when I was younger that was what I thought was the most important. It was like a list of items to take the Life Goals Supermarket, and you would tick each one as you went along. Job? Tick. Relationship? Tick. What else was needed?

I knew I was going to forget a big one, and that is the dream I’ve had for a long long time, probably starting at about 10 years old – and perhaps the saddest one when I look back at it. What I wanted all through secondary school was beauty. And isn’t that just awful? Sure, sure, we can just argue and brush it off by saying that society makes us try to value what we’re born with (looks, parent’s wealth, lack of both) over what we earn for ourselves (perseverance, patience, kindness). And sure, we can all stand around and say that no society, we will not be partaking in that thank you very much. But at the end of the day, when I would go home at 12 years old and look in the mirror, all I would see was acne, a big nose, un-styled hair, and chubby patches all over. I’ve spoken a lot about acne and appearances in the past and how I now feel more confident, but I’m still filled with the memories of standing in front of a mirror and wishing that there were no mirrors in the world so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. Wishing that there was some way to exchange your face for a new one. Wishing that there was a way that meant I could live my life without anyone looking at me. And I wished for that day in the future, the day when I finished school for good, when puberty should have been and gone and left me unblemished, with clear smooth skin, great hair, and a body I was happy with. That was what was going to be my biggest marker of how far I had come.

But, as is the way of life, things didn’t exactly go to plan. Here I am, university finished, but just after the days of stress with my emotions all over the place and a few days of very hot weather, I’ve had another skin breakout. I have red spots dotted around my face like some flicked paint at me with a toothbrush. I’ve got black heads on my chin and nose, and something resembling Mount Etna on my neck. You stare in that pesky mirror and it’s pretty hard to think that you haven’t come that far at all.

Then I have to slap myself for being so melodramatic. Because I am not that twelve year old girl thinking that people won’t like me just because I have a spot on my chin. Like, jesus christ Eleanor, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it kinda hurts when you poke it, but it’s just a spot. There’s the magic of makeup if you’re feeling super downhearted but other than that, your face and your looks do not define you. Twelve-year-old me hardly knew how to write paragraphs, and here I am having just written a 10,000 word dissertation on a topic I love on top of my various other coursework and exam revision. On top of that I have worked every single weekend for almost two years now so that I can keep living in London and support myself. On top of that I have been going to different opportunities to make contacts and get work experience. And on top of that I’ve surrounded myself with friends who I love (and who assure me they love me back when I’m not being so ridiculously melodramatic).

And so, like most of these blog posts go, this has turned from reflection to being a self-affirmation that whilst all my hopes and dreams haven’t exactly come to pass, I’ve realised that they’re allowed to change a bit. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be a bestselling author telling the story of how she almost let a pimple keep her from chasing her dream, and everyone will say, “Man, she was a melodramatic child”.

Guide to University: The Dissertation

So you’ve finally made it to (what is most likely) your final year of university. You’re struck with a mixture of excitement, panic, awe, fear, anxiety, pure terror, and just a general feeling of being overwhelmed. If you’re in a career-guided degree, like Medicine or Engineering, then you won’t have to deal with one of the more larger pressures that everyone else goes through (aka what the hell am I going to do when I get out of here, how do I find jobs, how do I get interviews, someone please just help me etc), so enjoy that. However, what most people will have to suffer through, most of the time out of choice, is The Dissertation.

No one really knows what The Dissertation actually is – even halfway through writing it some people still don’t understand what it is – but essentially, or rather ‘for the most part’, it is a large essay which is seen as the main project of your final year. Although for most of us The Dissertation counts for just as much as some of our other modules, employers often ask about your mark for The Dissertation as it’s one of the only essays you’ll write which is entirely dependent on your own work. Sure, no one writes your essays for you (unless you are a cheat in which case you’re not welcome here), but there is a lot of work done for you and usually other people writing on the same thing. When it comes to The Dissertation, not only do you have to think of your own niche subject to write about (no vague or broad titles allowed), you have to do 100% of the research. Your title will likely change two, three, or even five times over the whole course of The Dissertation – sometimes just a few mere weeks before the deadline.

As someone who has only just handed in their Dissertation, I think I can safely say, now that it’s over, I’m glad I ended up writing one. A Dissertation allows you to write about what you find interesting, and sometimes is more enjoyable than your other subjects as you choose which bits to focus on, again, because it’s all your choice and preference. However, that does not mean that it’s not one giant ball of stress that weighs you down over the whole course of your year. So here are a few tips from one student to another on how to survive The Dissertation.

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First of all, once your penultimate year is over, you’ll have the whole Summer free ahead of you, and you’ll probably be planning a nice long break – and you deserve it. However, make Future You grateful by doing some reading in this break. I know, I know, it sucks, but just do a bit. Even if it’s just one or two books, or a few articles, that’s one or two books/articles less that Future You will have to do later. What truly helped me was actually figuring out exactly what I wanted to write about over the summer. I did my Dissertation on the presentation of Ancient Heroes by Modern Female Writers, and it was over the course of the Summer that I found out which books I did, and most definitely did not, want to focus on. A lot of people entered their final year having no clue what to write about, so it’s helpful to get that out of the way. And, above all, make sure you pick something that you like. Yeah, maybe you’ll lose some love for it over the course of the year, but you don’t want to be stuck working on something that bores you out of your mind.

Secondly, organise your time. Yeah, sounds simple, but do people always do it? Nope. If I could go back, I would definitely do things differently. At the start of the year, the April/May deadline seems like a long, long way away, so it’s easy to not think about The Dissertation that much. And then you start working and doing other essays, so it takes a backseat. I had the general plan of writing three chapters overall with an introduction and conclusion, so the first chapter was aimed to be finished by Christmas, the second after February Reading Week/Half Term, and the third by the end of term (which was two or three weeks before the deadline). However, what you don’t take into account is the simple fact that the first draft will not be your final draft. Sure, if you’re like me, you can finish a chapter by Christmas, but not actually finish it. I lucked out with a great supervisor, and when he sent back my first draft with a gazillion annotations and corrections, I came to the realisation that – even though I felt organised – I was already behind. In February I was still trying to redo the first chapter whilst doing the second, and when the second was sent back to me I was rewriting two chapters whilst trying to start my initial research for the third. So please, to save yourself, think ahead and organise your time. This is why employers like The Dissertation – it’s physical proof of your own proactivity and self-motivation.

Third, and I think three tips will probably be enough for you to start digesting, try not to forget about everything else. To the outside world, The Dissertation, although sounding scary, is just that – a dissertation. But in actuality, you’re not only writing a Dissertation, but are also working for several different modules, juggling various essays, and trying to keep on top of revision for your upcoming exams – not to mention trying to have a social life. So, do yourself a favour, and try to manage your time – basically a reputation of point two. Make sure you don’t let The Dissertation take over, and it will try to on multiple occasions. Set aside some time each week to work at it, and if you’ve done the first thing right and actually picked something you enjoy working on, you won’t mind researching your Dissertation instead of something else. You just have to keep chipping away at it, and sooner or later it will be a week before your deadline and, if you’ve done as I’ve recommended, you can sit back and relax whilst sipping a martini whilst everyone arounds you panics.

Then I recommend dropping that martini because, final point to make, even though your Dissertation is over, that doesn’t always mark the end of your university career. If you’re like me, you’ll still have other essays to deal with and exams to think about. So go forth, conquer your fears of The Dissertation, and good luck my friends (you’re gonna need it).

And enjoy the unending hunt for jobs, those of you who aren’t in career-focused degrees. The fun just never ends.

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Guide to University: Discussion

Not much of a guide, but rather an encouragement to people who are at university or people thinking about going to university. What I want to talk about is talking itself, which isn’t particularly articulate, but bear with me. (On a side note, it definitely is ‘bear with me’ and not ‘bare with me’, as one is asking for patience whilst the other is an invitation to undress. You’re welcome)

One of the things I loved about school, in terms of learning, were the moments in class where we had those huge discussions and debates. Now I’m not talking about a classroom of 15 year olds shouting over each other whilst the teacher lets out a sigh of defeat that the ‘friendly debate’ has descended into an all out war. No, I’m talking about those moments in class – usually they were in my later years, when I was doing A levels at 17/18 years old – where a topic would begin and we would all throw in our own ideas. As a humanities student especially, there’s nothing better than having a group of people explaining their own interpretations (because we all know that ‘the curtains were blue’ can mean several different things, not all of which we think of ourselves). Even having a group of people to help your own idea, as you throw it into the middle and watch as they all add bits to it, helping it grow – it’s literally like the metaphor of planting a seed in someone’s mind, only here it’s your other classmates that water it and add different fertilisers and whatever else you like.

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When I first started university, my lectures tried to bring in this element of discussion but, more often than not, it would fizzle out. Seminars were better, but again to start with I didn’t really throw myself into them. The thing I found really difficult about it was the fact that I no longer felt like an equal. In school I had been with the same group of people for seven years, besides the occasional people who joined the school later on. I knew them, felt comfortable around them and, most importantly, felt equal to them. Yes we were all from different backgrounds with varied privileges and different stories to tell, but we all took the same class, were all at the same level in our education. University was a completely different ball game. Here were people who had studied different things in school, some who went to private school or were several years older with another degree, having a head start that I couldn’t even process. It’s far easier to sit back and let those who knew, or thought they knew, better battle out their ideas.

I’m in my final year now, and it feels like I’ve only just rediscovered the joy of discussion. There are moments where I feel brilliant, having long discussions with my dissertation supervisor as we build up ideas, each of us throwing in new thoughts and material to use. Despite the vast gap in our knowledge (I do not have a PHD or a masters or even a degree yet, nor have I written countless papers and am a professor of my subject), it doesn’t feel like I am inferior. There are ideas and thoughts that I have, interpretations and links that I’ve made that they have not. And that is what I love about humanities – the creativity, the perspectives, the idea that it is unlikely to have the exact same conclusion as someone else.

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Equally, there are moments where I feel pretty inferior but just push that aside and jump in regardless. In my English classes especially, I’m at the point where I specialise more in Classical Studies and the knowledge and skill set that goes with it. This term I’m taking a class on sonnets, picked because I’ve never studied poetry at university and I wanted to. Everyone else knows the fancy language and the special ways in which to write about poetry in a formal, intelligent way. My first seminar, I joked about a point which in my Classics class would have been laughed at and accepted, whereas in English everyone just looked at me with a sort of blankness. Still, once I can get past the people who use a thesaurus for every word they use, I can contribute in a way they cannot. When we hit that sweet spot and are having a discussion of what certain words mean or how a certain sonnet can be interpreted a certain way, I’m reminded why I’m there.

At university, you’re there for the people as much as the learning. Yes, the lecturers are brilliant and learning new things from them is fantastic, but you need those classmates, those other people from different backgrounds who have different outlooks and perspectives to help you grow, and you just try to do the same for them. At the end of the day, it isn’t about who knows the most or can write the best essay in the world; it’s about those moments where everyone comes together, swap ideas, and just simply talk.

Guide to University/Life: Put yourself out there

I wasn’t sure whether to make this a general post or Guide To University, but as the inspiration came from experiences at University, I decided to go with the latter.

It’s bloody difficult getting your life together, as I’m sure everyone can relate to. From getting into good schools, to doing well in exams, deciding if university is for you, picking your career path, making steps towards said path – I mean, come on, that’s not even including your social life, your housing, bills, taxes, food, relationships, and everything else on top. Instead of trying to tackle all of these today though, for now I’m going to focus primarily on the career aspect.

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I’ve been told all through my life – by parents, friends, adults that actually have their lives together – that if you want something, you have to work for it. That you can’t just sit on your arse with your hands open, waiting for something to fall into them. That it’s not all down to luck and chance, that you actually have to work for it. It’s about perseverance, determination, and a bit of guts on top of that.

In the career paths I’ve looked into (journalism, writing, and publishing), networking is a large part of them. That means that whenever I’m in a setting where a contact could help me greatly in the future, I have to suck it up, go up to them, and get their details. I was crap to start off with, when I was on the Young Journalist Academy and seeing all these amazing people walk through the door and thinking ‘damn, wish I got their email’. Honestly, you have to just put yourself out there and shove some of those nerves, and maybe a little dignity, aside. You can’t be insecure, you just have to toughen up and walk on and, if they don’t give you that email, they don’t give it to you. You won’t get it without trying, and that’s the mantra I try to keep on repeat in my mind.

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Next step? Actually email them. I’ve only just started to make sure that I actually do that as soon as I can, rather than wait until a lot later when I think ‘oh, maybe so-and-so could help me out with this problem’. I suppose I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunities that I’ve had, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t worked for them. I only received work experience at The Sun by talking to someone at an event and asking for their card so I could email, which is when they asked if I’d be interested in experience. I’m currently on an internship for publishing now, which I managed to get after sending out email after email to as many publishing houses as I could asking for any experience in the industry they could offer.

What I haven’t manged to do well yet, and I imagine won’t be able to deal with perfectly for a while, is rejection. I am bloody terrible with rejection, feeling as if it’s a personal attack and agonising over wording in emails, whereas they were probably written within minutes. Finding the strength to not let yourself be upset when you’re not picked is so hard, but I’ve found the real challenge is picking up the pieces and getting on with it.

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Take a couple months ago for example, where I had an offer for an internship for two weeks that I already had set plans. I replied, angry at myself, only to find out I could shift my plans. Another email hurriedly sent, only to find out that they’d found someone else. (This all happened in about 15/20 minutes) Then comes the anger, the tears, the irritation, the cursing, and copious amounts of chocolate and tea.

So it’s safe to say that when you do put yourself out there, you’re also very likely to be rejected a few (a lot) of times. But when you finally get that ‘yes’? All worth it. 100%. (Well, maybe not the many calories you’ve put on, but you can deal with that later)

The One When I Used to Play Golf

I used to play golf. There were times I loved it and there were times I hated it – let’s just say it was a complicated relationship. Part of that just had to do with my ‘compatibility’ with the sport, I suppose. Four hours is a long time, especially to a 14 year old – which is around the age I started to play.

I mainly picked up the sport because my parents played, and still do, a lot. On a Saturday we would go, usually early, most of the time in cold temperatures, and always with my groaning about said things. I would play with the ladies, because playing with the juniors wasn’t so great (more on that in a bit). The thing with golf is that it’s very difficult to be consistent. One day you could be brilliant, and the next your swing just isn’t working and you get caught up in your head and the next minute you’re throwing your clubs at the ground.

Maybe if all I had to worry about was myself and just playing golf I’d still be playing today. There were times when I loved it, especially when I managed to somehow get a hole in one. The last golf coach I had told me that I had a great swing, and it was nice to find something that I could be good at. Unfortunately, there are many other factors that I had to deal with.

Like with several other sports, you don’t see a lot of female golf players. On the TV it’s the male competitions that get the most attention, just like with football and rugby. For me, it was very similar at the golf club I played at. There were no other girls my age, so in the juniors it was myself and boys of all ages up to eighteen. There was a ladies team, but most of them were over forty.

The first coach I met was called Mike, or Mark, but we’ll go with Mike for now. He was an all-around arse anyway, but he clearly believed that women didn’t really belong in the golfing world. His comments to me were far from encouraging, and I remember him telling me not to compare myself with the others as I’d never be able to hit as far as them because I’m a girl. The first time I went out on the course, Mike announced that I would go around with two 8/9 year olds instead of those my age because I had to go off the women’s tee, as if that made me less worthy. The two boys immediately complained about having to play off that tee with me and I remember quitting halfway through the round because of how awful it was. The embarrassment of not being able to putt well, especially it being my first time playing on the course, was only made worse by the two boys already having finished and telling me to hurry up.

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Luckily I didn’t have to deal with Mike for long, and a different coach came to the club, the exact opposite of Mike in every way. Despite this, it was now the other players I had to deal with. I remember a lot of staring and laughing. On a Monday night the coach offered a training session for juniors for £5 which I attended, only to be avoided by the boys who refused to instigate any conversation with me. When we were partnered up, they were wary of answering me or just trying to even speak to me. The coach once set up something to help us concentrate, where each of us would try to make a putt whilst everyone else jeered and shouted and tried to distract the player. Each boy stepped up, each boy received the same shouting. Yet when I went to putt, everyone was silent. In my embarrassment, I tried to quickly make the shot to get it over with and still missed it. It was very apparent that I didn’t quite belong there, or at least that’s how they saw it.

My experience of playing golf is usually the first thing I bring up when people try to downplay sexism. But my tales of woe and melodrama don’t end there.

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I talked in another post about the difference a good teacher can make and within that I briefly mention my PE teacher whose treatment of me was the final nail in the coffin of my golf-playing days. The lack of support in my chosen sport was astounding, and maybe it was just through lack of knowledge of golf on her part but it was like she didn’t even try to help me. There was definite favouritism in that AS PE class, and it seemed like those favourite pupils were the ones to always do the best. Maybe they simply blossomed under the light of favouritism and the constant remarks about how wonderful they are, whilst the rest of us were left to wilt. Every week that teacher would demand to know if my handicap had dropped yet, as if I could just simply drop by 10 in a few days. A completely demoralising experience, which just made me want to give up because how the hell was I supposed to compete? I even played a round of golf with her and won, but that didn’t help.

The whole class went to a local driving range where the professional there told myself, and the teacher, that I had great technique and a good swing. The two of them assessed me as I coached my classmates, and the professional told us that he’d give me full marks for everything. There were about five categories all marked out of five, and when I came to find out what my teacher gave me it wasn’t what the professional, let me emphasise the professional, had said at all. I was given one 4, two 3s and two 2s. She commented that she didn’t know if I’d had a ‘fluke’ that day, and she was trying to reflect that in her marking. And that was just for the coaching. For my playing, she scored me a low C – and by low I mean it was a C by a couple of marks. There was a man in my club that was a mediator for PE, so he assessed me on perhaps the worst day possible – freezing temperatures, and even some hail – so although I wasn’t playing my best, he still told me that I was a high B on that day and he would assume in better conditions I could be an A student. He called my PE teacher, and next thing I know she’s telling me that she’s decided to bump up my grade – to a middle B.

It should come as no surprise that quite PE after a year. There were other moments in that class of absolute dejection – such as being made to swim against my classmates, most of whom were talented swimmers whereas I was not. I lost, on every front, and was met with laughter, and then the classic scene of being picked last. Definitely my worst school experience by far, and I’m surprised that I managed to actually get through the year when I think back to it.

There’s not much else I feel like I can say. I decided to write about this a few weeks ago when talking with friends about bullying, and this popped up in my head. My experience with golf doesn’t even come close to the horrors some people have had to survive, but it’s still one that, looking back, I have more bad memories than good. I remember the sexist coach, the staring, the boys who refused to talk to me, feeling isolated, alone, different, unwelcome, that PE teacher, feeling worthless, and just wanting to give up. There are moments I consider trying to play again, when I think about when the nice coach told me that I had a great swing, or how that professional at the other club told me I had talent. I think about getting fantastic at golf, just so I could go back to that PE teacher and show her theream good at something.

But for today, I’m happy, and I’m not going to risk that.

Living with Medics

Medical students are an odd breed. Right now they are smart but often stupid, drinking nineteen pints and taking knock-out pills then running to see how far they get before they fall. Soon enough, after five, six, seven years (depending on year outs, failed years – you get the drift), they’ll be junior doctors. The righteous junior doctors who we should be supporting in their long hours and dedications. Then they’ll be fully-fledged doctors, in charge of our health and the ones that sign the notes that get us out of work.

Yet I am no medical student. I’m not even in the sciences. I am a humanities student. I do not understand how the mind of a medic works, and they don’t understand how my mind works, but we somehow exist together in an odd little jumble of ‘I’m almost a doctor’ speech, debates over whose essays are harder, and varying opinions on almost every subject. Somehow the three of us, two medics and a humanities student, manage to live in a kind-of harmony, and that may just because I’m related to one of them. Still, it makes for some fantastic anecdotes.

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Our ‘bedside manner’, as they might call it, varies greatly. A medical student clearly learns to be confident (hell, you don’t want your doctor um-ing and ah-ing over whether to give you this drug or that one), and be assertive. In a medical situation, they need to be able to take charge if need be and make quick decisions, declaring what they can do and how they’re useful. This all makes perfectly good sense, but this is ‘interesting’ to deal with in a normal daily atmosphere. Perhaps it’s because there’re two of them in the flat, but the competitiveness is overwhelming. Conversations that would normally go like this:

“Hey, how was your day?”

“Yeah not bad. You?”

“Yeah, alright, thanks.”

End up being vastly different….

“Hey, how was your day?”

“Well I’ve been on a ward since nine and managed to impress one of the doctors on call which was good, and I managed to put in a cannula first try, and had to tell a few people they had cancer which was really trying, but managed to also contribute to saving someone’s life. How about you?”

“Uh, yeah. It was alright.”

Suddenly, finishing a book within a day or managing to write a 3000 word essay in record time, or even both at the same time, isn’t all that impressive anymore. Hell, it was only ever really impressive to myself and my humanities mates to begin with.

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There are conflicts, of course – as is with every flat and it’s occupants. Roommates will argue at some point; it’s practically law. There are tensions over contact hours at university (eight hours a week compared to eight hours a day causes a dangerous cocktail of jealousy, despair, and utter turmoil – see my earlier blog if you need more on this), the amount of work that’s been set, and even the level of stress you’re at.

But there are also some great moments. For them, it’s when I knock on the door because yet another one of my friends has messaged to see if I can ask my brother if the lump on their leg needs to be medically treated. Or it’s when other humanities friends come round and they get to lament over their long hours and their abilities to save lives and have an audience that can’t say ‘well, yeah, we all do that’.

For me, it’s the moments when they try to help me with my degree. Now don’t get me wrong, they aren’t helpful in the slightest, but they say such fantastic comments that I get to write down and tell my friends about and even write a blog about. (See what I did there?)

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It’s when I’m writing an essay that I seem to get the best comments. All I have to do is sigh loudly and cry out ‘Oh cruel world, why must you make me write an essay of 4000 words on a concept featured in eighteenth century travel writing?’, and immediately my ever-so-helpful-and-assertive-in-their-abilities medical student roommates will pitch in with their thoughts.

Warning: these quotes are from real life medical students.

They most likely haven’t written an english essay since they were 16.

“Just put in loads of semi-colons. That’s what I did in GCSE English.”

“Use the word juxtaposition. That sounds like a word that would get an A grade.”

“I used enjambment all the time because it’s long and sounds French.”

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Honestly, I’ve no idea how to follow that. How can you follow that? Actually, I know – once again, you immediately text your friends so they can laugh over the medical-student-essay advice and then write down those tips because they are going to be featured in a blog real soon. (Love you guys really. And I’m sorry, but you can’t write English and/or Classics essays. Stick with saving lives.)

Why I’m scared to voice my opinion

Someone from my old school did something incredibly brave a couple of days ago, and it’s been covered by most media outlets – they came out as non-binary to President Obama. This post isn’t about what they did directly, but has been inspired by it – if you’re interested in their story, however, they here’s a link to one of the many articles they’ve been featured in: read here on The Guardian.

Of course my whole timeline on Facebook became filled with this story with people sharing their support, various videos of what happened, and the mentioned articles. I was unable to watch it live, so I went to look at one of the videos posted but ended up in the comments section. As expected, there were the usual disgusting comments of people being unkind, insensitive, and all the rest. However, there was one that stood to me for all the wrong reasons. It was a perfectly polite comment, saying something along the lines of ‘I understand being transgender, but not non-binary as I’m not exactly sure what it means’. This is me paraphrasing of course as I can’t remember the original comment, so forgive me.

It wasn’t this comment that got to me, but the responses to it. All of a sudden, just because someone commented that they didn’t understand, they were called racist, homophobic, sexist, and a whole bunch of ugly names. They hadn’t been rude in their comment, in actual fact they’d been polite and weren’t unkind towards the subject matter at all. They expressed not understanding, and it seems that in a lot of cases these days that is just unacceptable – and, as usual, I’m just talking from my experience.

I’m afraid of talking about, discussing, or even stating what I think on subjects such as feminism, racism, discrimination, gender, oppression, sexuality, and more, mainly because I’m afraid of the backlash. Of course there are the usual arguments, such as how because of the colour of my skin/gender/class, I’m not allowed to have opinions on certain patters. That, however, isn’t what I want to talk about today. What really puts me off is that I’m scared of getting something wrong, of causing offence, of being unintentionally rude. It’s not that I’m planning on going out and saying something controversial in a take-no-prisoners manner; it’s being afraid of being targeted for simply not knowing something.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it difficult not just to discuss these matters but even asking about them, all because of the standard attack I’ve grown to anticipate. Let me try to say this in a clearer way – for me, it’s like saying that I’m scared of maths. You’d probably laugh and say that we’re all scared of maths. What I’m actually trying to say is that I’m scared of learning maths, and that seems far more ridiculous. Why should you be scared of learning about something? Why is learning scary? Why is educating yourself something to be afraid of? Well, from where I stand, it seems that if you say something wrong you don’t simply just get corrected, but you get flayed and strung up for all to see, ostracised for simply not knowing something. Again, and I reiterate this because I want to make sure you understand, I’m not talking about people being intentionally offensive. I’m not excusing people who are so hurtful and rude that they seriously plan to hurt someone’s feelings or put them down. I’m thinking more along the lines of being openly honest and curious yet still polite in trying to say what you think and what you don’t understand in order to then learn.

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With arguments and conversations, it should be a clear discussion with formulated opinions and justifications, not just attacking the other person. I kind of think of it like a discussion on books. Person A says ‘I prefer fantasy to history because I love the imaginations and creations of different worlds’, only for Person B to respond ‘my god you’re stupid and ugly and fat, go back from where you came from’. It doesn’t work. Reading comments on these posts about this person from my old school just made me upset and depressed that this is how some people think. Instead of stating that they just don’t understand, they attacked a person and mocked their opinions without even providing a justified opinion of their own. One person said ‘I don’t understand this generation’ and all I could think was ‘I don’t understand yours’. We should all want to join in on the train of progression and go along with it, not dig in our heels and try to hold it back. We should jump on board and want to learn and stay on that track to a better, and hopefully more understanding and open place.

I think for now that’s all I want to say until more comes to me, and no it’s not just because I don’t think I can continue this train metaphor for much longer. I hope I’ve articulated myself somewhat clearly and I’d love to hear what you think – this may just be the rambles from some white female student, but it’s what I feel and, whether or not you think what I believe matters, my thoughts are here for you to read and respond to.

As always, thanks for reading, and I think the next post I write is going to be on a topic that’s a little less heavy. I’ll need something lighter to help carry me through essay and exam season.

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