Pachamama and the cross

As a third-year language student working in the Peruvian Andes, my year has been full of the unpredictable. As I continually push myself out of my comfort zone: roaming the mountains, and delving into life’s deep questions, I find my worldview transforming. This is an account of a day that changed who I am. This is a day that taught shattered my fear of strangers and my fear of “otherness.” This is a day that helped me discover that some of the biggest life lessons happen when you least expect them.

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Algorrobo lectures

My third year abroad is full of wildly unexpected discoveries. This is a year of exploring, questioning and tangibly experiencing the theories that have previously captivated me. This is a time for acting upon my dreams and passions.  Promoting conservation is a part of who I am, so when I discovered that the reforestation charity ARocha has a project on the Peruvian north coast, I found myself itching to investigate. Leaving my home in the Andes, this is what I found.

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Year abroad blog: Angela Merkel and the cockroach problem

The first twenty-four hours were both terrifying and exhilarating. There was an adrenaline-fueled blur of being collected at the airport past nightfall by a complete stranger, taken to my accommodation where I was then presented with my bedroom, bathroom and kitchen; given my keys and a complementary packet of tea “to welcome the English”, and finally left completely alone.

Stepping out the front gate onto a sandy, palm-lined street the following morning, it all hit me. This was it. I had finally arrived. Dakar was home for the next four months, and I was completely on my own. There was no one there to hold my hand, tell me what to do or help me cross the road. It was completely up to me to function in this brand-new part of the globe. How on earth was I supposed to find breakfast?

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The Bolehills Roly-Poly

Besides being my favourite park in Sheffield, Bolehills was made for Roly-Polies. The increasing gradient of the slope that encases the children’s playground was designed for them. Laying on your side: your eyes gorging on the panorama of reservoirs, peaks and forests; your nose grazing on the post-rain smell of petrichor, it only takes a little push, and suddenly the sky and earth become a wheeling blur around you, your pulse quickens, until suddenly: gasps and chuckles competing in your throat, you find yourself spread-eagled on the ground, waiting for the spiralling earth and sky to disentangle themselves for long enough for you to stagger up the slope and repeat the entire dizzying process.

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Thriving, percentage-free

It is safe to say that over the Christmas period, my mental health was a state. I fixated all my energy on surviving from one exam to the next, which meant that I started forgetting crucial details. I turned up to my French speaking exam only having prepared half of the content, meaning I had to improvise the presentation. I lost my parents’ house keys. I lost my friend’s house keys. I dropped my phone down the library stairs. I left my laptop in the disabled toilets. I only discovered, after half an hour of frantic searching, that I had left my house keys in the lock of my brand-new bike, and they had been hanging there, untouched, for an entire day. I somehow canon-balled through all of my exams, essays and presentations, but in the recovery period that followed, one thing was certain: something had to change. Continue reading

The strength to be weak

Spending hours reading about genocides of indigenous people: the continued Western pillaging of their ex-colonies’ natural resources and their subsequent crippling debt, begins to take its tole on my mental health. Who said that a language degree was supposed to be cheery?

I find that I am left with two options: either to switch off all empathetic capacity to anyone outside my immediate periphery, or to care and to hurt, without letting these emotions overwhelm me. For me, compassion is an integral part of being human; the people I know who try to block out pain end up hurting and isolating themselves far more than the people who learn that it’s okay to feel.

So, what does it look like to read torture accounts of everyday people with lives parallel to my own; to engage with them emotionally and intellectually, but then to walk away and enjoy life afterwards? Continue reading

Far too many mushrooms

Mushrooms in your kitchen ceiling are never a good sign. My flatmates and I have tried joking about using them to start an illicit business, but in reality, they make a pretty horrible living environment. The expanding damp patch down the walls and excessive ceiling mould is completely grim.

When trying to juggle a degree, with all its demands and pressures, and look after myself, and maintain a social life, the sudden unexpected stress of a leaking pipe and unresponsive landlord can feel overwhelming. I am relieved that I do not have to fix the problem myself, but there still remains the underlying stress of how to successfully communicate my complaint to my landlord. I struggle with any form of conflict; let alone in a professional circumstance where I need results urgently! Continue reading