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?
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.
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
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
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
Sometimes the most effective way of bringing social change is through a spreadsheet. I hate admin. The idea of spending forty hours a week cemented to an office chair is my idea of soul destruction. And yet, I felt incredibly privileged to spend a few hours each week typing out customer reference numbers and tapping in personal details for some of society’s most vulnerable people: asylum seekers. It is so easy to sigh at a ceaseless stream of statistics until you stop and look up at the person in front of you. They have already lost their home and history in their country of origin. Whilst trying to make a new life for themselves in the UK, suddenly they have tripped on one of the innumerable snares that entrammels every aspect of the web-like asylum process. One mistake; one wrong move and the jaws of a system designed to reject them clamps around their ankles, and their claim for asylum crumbles to dust. One wrong turn of phrase; one scarcely validated clause and they can be told that they are in fact Egyptian and not Syrian; heterosexual and not homosexual, and the country that has been baying for their blood in reality holds open welcoming arms.
Coming up to starting University, your older brother will probably scare you with stories of his wild Freshers antics, your mother will probably scare you with her excessive fussing, and everyone else will probably scare you with a wild array of contradicting advice. The only thing that you need to remember is this: just be yourself.
Aside from the emotional advice, I have compiled a practical list of all the details that would have made starting University so much easier had I known about them beforehand: Continue reading
Student life can easily become an affluent bubble. My daily commute during first year meant that I hardly strayed from Endcliffe and the University’s world-class facilities. If I did, it was often only to Division Street, for lunch breaks in hipster cafés with my student friends who were equally immersed in this world. It is very easy to create the illusion that Sheffield is entirely made up of large, tree-lined boulevards, where life is laid-back and comfortable for pretty much everyone.
There are some conversations that you do not want to overhear. The bile was already rising in my throat as the train commuter opposite verbally dissected a female friend for his mates’ enjoyment. As he crescendoed into pitiful excuses over why our tiny island has “no room for immigrants”, I was ready to walk out of the carriage.
During Refugee Week, volunteering at “Migration Matters Festival” was a powerful way for me to respond to this rampant xenophobia. Celebrating how immigrants and asylum seekers enrich our society, Theatre Delicatessen came alive with stories, sounds and smells: humans from all over the world clustered together freed from labels and stereotypes and prejudice. Our common humanity united us. Continue reading
“Why would I need to tell a French person what is in my pencil case anyway?”
At GCSE, languages were seen as a massive joke. There was so much memorising: so many incomprehensible phrases that had to be regurgitated in front of an examiner, and for what? A mark on a piece of paper, and the ability to just-about garble “Comment tu t’appelle?” whilst on holiday.