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Tips for Travelling in 2018

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Whether you’re taking a quick trip away or embarking on a longer adventure, here’s a list of some of the top tips I found useful when travelling solo in the past year, and some I wish I had known sooner!

Useful Items to Take With You:

Before you go, make life a little easier on the road by doing some research, and make some handy purchases to aid the budget lifestyle, such as…

Travelling Clothes Line
An amazingly useful piece of kit, a packable clothes line that you can hang up wherever you are, and not have to worry about damp clothes or paying a fortune to use the in-house dryer!

Dr. Bronner’s Soap
A natural and beautifully fragranced all-purpose soap, that’s available as bars or liquid. You can use it as body soap, as well as on your hair and your clothes. You can find other similar multi-purpose products easily, both in online shops and specific travelling websites; this one’s just a personal favourite of mine.

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Universal Sink Stopper
Another absolute blessing! No more clothing shortages as this means you can do your emergency laundry anywhere! It also means you can pack minimally. They are easy to find online or in D.I.Y shops.

GoToobs
GoToobs are reusable silicon travel bottles that come in a range of sizes and colours, and are especially good for short trips when you only want to take a small amount of liquids, or if you have items you need to decant before coming back!

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Staying Safe Whilst Solo:

Use Your Judgement
Making new friends on your adventures is part of the fun when travelling, but don’t give out personal information too freely. Keep your accommodation as somewhere just you can chill and recharge alone if you need to. Even if it is a room with 8 bunk bends or a kitchen shared between 200 people…

Make Digital Back-Ups
In case you do lose anything super important, you don’t want it to be the end of the world. Keep a scan or copy of your important stuff, such as passport, insurance, and bookings accessible online or on a memory stick.

This means that if you do end up needing to replace a lost passport, you could save valuable time and worry as you have the details to hand should you need to take a trip to the embassy.

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Know Where You’re Going!
Sounds simple, yet in today’s world, most of us couldn’t imagine travelling without a smartphone, not to mention surviving without WiFi. Try not to be dependent on your phone battery or internet connection to get from A to B.

Downloading maps offline is handy, as it allows you to have a record of your route even if you can’t determine your location via GPS. Or you can even draw up your own! Figuring out my plan whilst at a hostel and then jotting down my own way there is something I did quite often.

It’s partly to do with blending in a little more; when I’m out and about I can check my notebook rather than gawking at my phone or turning a guide map upside-down, with a disgruntled expression that reads “CONFUSED TOURIST HERE” .

Writing it out yourself also helps you remember road names and details better, so if you re-visit the same area again you should be able to get there easier.

Practical Tips:

WATER!!!
It sounds obvious, but do make sure you are equipped with a sturdy water bottle throughout your trip, no matter the duration. It will save you money in the long run and is better for you and the environment, especially if BPA free! If you’re visiting somewhere where the water isn’t drinkable, you could think about taking water-purifying tablets. You can get these from any pharmacy relatively cheaply.

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My trusty Nike bottle (approx. 875ml). They are a particular favourite of mine, partly because of the lid that’s easily clipped onto backpacks/belongings and partly because there’s a discount store round the corner from my house.

Dress to Impr…ove Your Chances of Avoiding Frostbite:

Unless you can guarantee the only weather you’re facing is a beautiful beach climate for weeks on end, you’ll need more than a bikini and summer accessories to get you through.

That said, it’s surprising how little luggage we actually need. The amount of clothes you think you need to take probably ends up being half that. The key is to make sure you are prepared for a range of conditions, especially if experiencing multiple seasons and different climates.

Must-haves include:

  • A lightweight rain jacket
  • A good hoodie
  • Thermals
  • Supportive shoes
  • Good socks
  • Light layers that you can build up.

If you are going to be very active, make sure to include quick-drying materials. A travel towel is also really useful and dries very quickly, taking up a fraction of the space of a regular one.

You can also get hand-roll vacuum bags to minimise space that don’t require a vacuum/electricity to use. Or you can roll your clothes or bundle-wrap them to use up as little space as needed!

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Personal Advice:

Be prepared for periods!
If you’re travelling and you’re going to be on your period, it’s a good idea to make a note of the dates. You don’t want it to spoil your time or become difficult if you are in a particularly remote place! Also factor sanitary products into your budget if you need to. They can often be a forgotten about expense!

If you use disposable products, you can stock up before you leave.

If you wanted to try reusable products then you could go with a menstrual cup such as a Moon Cup or Diva Cup, which would again save you money whilst you’re on your travels. (Other alternatives include: reusable cloth pads and menstrual sponges.)

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Know Your Budget
Depending on whether you’ve saved up huge amounts of cash for a luxury trip or you’re doing some more economic backpacking, it’s super important to have at least a rough idea of your expenses.

Not just accommodation, but activities too. Is there something you’ve specifically come to this country to do? Factor it in, and any other things you think are likely to pique your interest.

Also be realistic. If you are someone who likes to have a few beers in an evening, give room in your budget for these little extras, rather than not including them and trying to be ‘good,’ if that’s going to be tricky! This way, splashing out for the odd social night with your new companions wont ruin the budget.

Have a Sort-Of Plan
To a certain degree, you’re going to want the freedom to change your plans, to up and go to the next adventure in the spur of the moment, particularly as you meet new friends along the way. And this can sometimes be the best part about travelling, just make sure you never leave yourself in a vulnerable situation.

Always have an idea of where you’re going to stay and when. Which town do you want to be in? Check out hostel and accommodation options, and if you are leaving it late to book because you don’t know your exact itinerary, have a plan B. (And possibly C & D if travelling at peak season.)

Many hostels offer better deals if booked directly, so bear this in mind if you’re prone to using booking sites that charge commission like Hostelworld etc.

Hostels usually release their availability in the evening for the next day, so check back then if you have your eye on a certain place.

Lastly, this might come across as painstakingly patronising, but…

Have a return ticket!
This from the person who went London-NZ via Asia and Australia with no escape plan… The idea was to work, and when this didn’t work out as well as I’d dreamed up, I was stuck & had to rely on my family members to scrape together and help me back sooner than I anticipated.

Even if you are on a working holiday VISA, be sure that it’s definitely the right call; know the areas that you’re going to try and agencies that you can sign up with.

If you’re not, but you don’t know when exactly you’ll be back, purchasing a flexible ticket is a good option. STA and similar companies provide flexible tickets with a set number of changes/destinations.

 

Hopefully this mix of advice and handy products is useful to some of you first-timers. You will most likely discover your own must-haves and handy hacks. This is just a collection of things that worked for one weary traveller.     

If you want further reading, other great places to look are:

  • LonelyPlanet.com – they have lots of traveller lead forums
  • Trip Advisor – if you want opinions on particular accommodation, areas, or activities

And of course, look at posts from other independent travellers themselves. The chances are, if you Google a question or worry you have about travelling, many of us have already been in that same position. The more wisdom you can glean from other’s experiences (and mistakes) the better!

 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem.
Images from Lauren Barnard, Amazon and Earth Wise Girls.

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Why We Focus On Women

Why do we march for women and not men? Why do we have an international day for women but not for men? Why do we have girl power but not boy power? Why is it called feminism if it supports women and men?

There is a very simple answer to all of these questions, and it is as follows…

We march for women because equality is the finish line, and men had a head start. We march for women, because we’ve got further to go before we can catch up. We’ll meet at the finish line and celebrate together, but we cannot push you to the finish line when we are too far back to even see you.

We celebrate women’s days and not men’s days because in a patriarchal society, every day is a men’s day. You might not have wanted it that way, but it’s how it is. One day a year is all we take, and in all fairness, we did give birth to the entire human race.

We celebrate women because someone has to. We are not raised to shout and scream and praise ourselves. We are not taught to believe in our power the way that men are. So we celebrate ourselves once a year as a baby step. One day we will celebrate humans altogether, but we’ve got a long way to go until that day.

Girl power was born because we were sick of not having power. Men and boys have power because they are born men and boys. We are born female, and thus powerless. We have to fight for what we want. We have to claim our own power. Girl power is how we celebrate our claim and our fight. You can have boy power if you really want, but then you already do. You just don’t have a name for it, because it’s the norm. It’s how things already are.

It is called feminism because women are the more disadvantaged and wronged party. We all have a long way to go, and none of us should be discriminated against for being born one way or another, but women (and really anyone who doesn’t identify as male) have greater obstacles preventing them from gaining equality. We want everyone from every background to feel equal, and not judged for being a boy or girl or somewhere in between. We just need your help getting a foot up first.

We’re not sure why this is such a big ask, and this is why we get angry sometimes. We march because we’re sick and tired and want to shout about how unfair it all is. We don’t do it often though. We just want equality, and don’t understand why some of you don’t too. It’s just equality. It’s not that hard, is it?

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Words and Image by Briony Brake for Anthem.

The Best Valentine’s Day I’ve Had

I am single and it’s Valentine’s Day.

I will still be single on the 15th February, so why focus on this frequently overwhelming and loved-up day? Because it gives me a chance to reflect on a great night spent with one of my favourite women and a relationship, which after eight years, is still going strong.

Last year I had the best Valentine’s Day I have had in a long time with one of my best friends!

A few weeks before this lovely evening, I was having a low, self-pitying Sunday night. Sat alone in the flat watching an old rom-com, I started to think about my own non-existent love life. My mind was busy with the bad kind of thoughts: this is it, this is your lot, you’ll never find that person, you’ll sit and watch loved ones find new loved ones, all while you sit alone. The cycle of thoughts didn’t stop until I was a weeping mess, messaging the girls back home asking for advice and comfort. (This feels like an appropriate time to say that I love you all, and couldn’t imagine my life without you, to the women who have been a part of my life for nearly seven years).

The girls sent me messages of comfort, love and laughter. In the mist of this WhatsApp conversation was my friend, Mica saying we could and should go out on Valentine’s Day for a meal and a drink, lots of drink. My immediate response was “YES! But what about your other half?”, to which she replied that she would be back from a mini break with him and that she wanted to spend it with me. I was genuinely touched.

Fast forward two weeks and I was sat in an Italian restaurant in town waiting for my hot date. We had arranged to meet at the local cinema at 6 pm for a meal and a film but our poor organisational skills plus the fact that it was Valentine’s Day meant the cinema was fully booked. With Mica running late, I walked to the restaurant to secure our romantic table for two.  

Walking towards the candlelit table, I passed a sea of couples and actually had to stifle a laugh. I was laughing at the fact that this was my most romantic Valentine’s Day to date. Sat with a glass of water, I saw my date approaching, with the accompanying words “Is this the lady? Yes, this is my lady.”  

Neither of us could contain our laughter as we looked around at all the other diners at their candlelit tables. We were the only two women sharing a table together. Mica asked the question, “What if they think we’re a couple?”, to which I quickly responded, “And what a lovely couple we make”. It was a wonderful night filled with great food, lots of drink and the best company. We spent the meal catching up on everything we had missed since we last saw each other: her recent trip to Oslo, her other half, my last year of uni, films we had seen and loved, and as always desperately finding a time for all of us to meet up again.

Just as we were tucking into our dessert for two, Mica suggested a film next, returning to our original plan. She was still yet to see La La Land and I couldn’t think of a better film to see with a friend on Valentine’s Day. Mica fleetingly suggested seeing the new Fifty Shades film, but I protested. I would not be giving that film my money.

As we were waiting for the bill and getting excited to see La La Land, we joked that we were celebrating ‘Galentine’s day’ a day late. For those of you who don’t know, Galentine’s Day was thought up by Amy Poehler’s character Leslie Knope from the show Parks & Recreation as a day for women to celebrate the importance of female friendship in and amongst the build-up to Valentine’s Day.

Still waiting for the bill, we realised that we had missed the last screening of La La Land, and contemplated calling it a night. Mica pointed out that we had finished a whole bottle of Prosecco between us, and therefore might be drunk enough to endure the new Fifty Shades film.

Cut to us in our seats, a glass of wine in hand and already shocked at the number of couples around us. I genuinely thought this was the kind of film you would see on a drunken night with friends (hence me spending money on a ticket). Regardless, we laughed until we cried, and for all the wrong reasons and in all the wrong places. We stuffed our faces with chocolates and ruined the romantic atmosphere for all of the couples in that screening.  

I texted Mica on the way home, thanking her for a wonderfully unromantic Valentine’s Day and for being a part of one of the funniest cinematic experiences I had in a long time.

This year, I will once again be using Valentine’s Day to catch up with a friend and will continue to treat this day like an extended Galentine’s day… which I hope would make Amy Poehler proud.

Happy Galentine's Day

The women who show me love, every day.

 

Words and images by Lara Scott.

How’s It Going?

Hello, there. Happy first week of February! How is it going? Have you given up on all your resolutions yet? Have you realised that you cannot alter your entire being in just 31 days? Will you promise to set yourself easier targets next year? No? Alright then, fine.

My new year resolution, if you can even call it that, is to watch lots of films – preferably ones I haven’t seen before. I did this last year and I did a great job and it made me feel better so I’m doing it again. I’m not really bothering because I don’t truly want to lose weight or eat better or run more. Sure, I’m trying to get back into swimming a couple of times a week, but I’m not totally grilling myself for it. What’s the point?

I don’t really bother with resolutions because not only do they not make sense (are you supposed to lose weight for the year, or forever? Is there a time limit on it?), but also because I have never once kept a resolution in my life that wasn’t something super easy like watching a bunch of new films. Surely, it is better to enter into a new year promising to yourself that you will look after yourself and endeavour to make yourself proud. So this year, I’m not really bothering at all, and so far I’m doing pretty damn well.

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With no real resolutions or goals to fulfil, I have managed to finish three whole (and admittedly rather short) books in January that I loved, and I’m now halfway through a fourth. I’ve read an autobiography, a professional toolkit and a book on women in ancient civilisations. I’ve learned so much in such a short space of time, and I’m genuinely quite proud of myself. I never finish books, I just carry them around London until ultimately putting them back on the shelf the next time I clean out my handbag. So I’ve celebrated, and I’ve bought new books to try and keep myself going. I’ve not set a target, I just want to read some more books.

When I was ill in the middle of January, I had two days at home that led me to finally starting my self-taught British Sign Language course (which I paid for a long time ago). I had so much free time because I was off work, that I had time to complete multiple lessons from it. Hell, I even signed up for a free online screenwriting course this week, because why not? I’m learning, and learning is what really makes me happy and makes me feel accomplished. It’s what I love, and when there are so many opportunities available to me to learn new things, and for free(!), I’d be a fool not to have a go.

I’ve been proud of myself for also signing up new people to Anthem; for finding great new people to join this family. I’m happy that I made it to the cinema a few times, particularly when I missed so many releases last year. I socialised and met friends (see below picture of cake for proof) for dinner, which is frankly an achievement for anyone working full-time in London, let alone someone desperately trying to budget their spending, living with anxiety, and only knowing a handful of people in this big ass city.

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I’ve been struggling to finish off this article because everything I think sounds really lame in my head, but it’s got some truth to it. We need to celebrate the happy more and stop being such a pain in the butt to ourselves when we make mistakes or feel sad. Life happens and part of that is that we feel sad and angry and we do things wrong, but if we focused on the things that we did well and the fun times we have with the amount of energy we focus on the bad… we’d probably be a lot happier. The thing about happy and wonderful times is that we only recognise how happy and wonderful they are because we’ve experienced the kind of shitty times. If every day was wonderful, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate them the way we can now.

So revel in the goodness. Make it your new motto to celebrate the teeny tiny victories. Buy yourself flowers and comfy socks. Go to a free exhibition or make time to see that new release in the cinema. I looked after myself this week by having one evening in to tidy my bombsite of a room, shower, eat, and watch a cheesy film from the 90s. You don’t have to spend all your money or scream and shout to do this well, you just need to remember that you saw a tiny dog in a tracksuit this morning. How great is that?

The next time you’re hard on yourself for not losing 1000lbs in two days, make a note to find a way of enjoying exercise so that you’ll actually want to go (Zumba, dance, boxing, swimming etc) and don’t waste your evening bullying yourself about it. The next time someone says you did something good at work, say thank you and smile and believe in yourself a little bit. The next time you spend a day reading in your room, be happy you had the time to read and be grateful that you’ve had the chance to learn more and experience new lives and worlds through that book.

There’s good and bad to be found in everything, it’s just up to you to do the searching. Here’s to February, guys. You’re going to do great!

 

Words and Images by Briony Brake

Unconventional Christmas

I’ve had Twitter since I was 15. It’s my constant companion; the voices of these journalists and comedians that I have followed in many ways for seven years now. I check it when I wake up and I check it when I go to bed. A good tweet is like a good joke – satisfying.

My favourite time on Twitter is Christmas Day, when the connection it gives you to other people makes the day feel bigger than whatever is going on in your own Christmas. In recent years, Sarah Millican has started the hashtag #joinin, so that people can follow this directly and share what they’re doing, as a way to reach out to people who might be having lonely or difficult Christmases. I get to see commentary on Christmas TV, quotes from racist grandparents, and see everyone share their best and worst gifts. The tweet I look out for especially though, is comedian Robert Webb who reminds us that Christmas without a parent or both parents can be tough, shitty and sad, and what’s more, that that’s okay.

Christmas is a particularly tough day if you’ve lost a parent, or don’t have a strong family unit. It can be hard to admit you’re not enjoying yourself on a day with so much pressure on it, when everyone else seems to be having a jolly old family time. The traditions you grew up with change, as they inevitably do with age, but they change because of absence – because no matter how hard you try, on that day it will always feel a bit like something’s missing.

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I miss Christmas with my dad. I don’t have anyone to watch It’s A Wonderful Life with anymore. The responsibility of being the person who’s too drunk by lunch has fallen to me. I once told my dad that I hated Wilkinson’s because he dragged me there every Saturday, so one year he bought things he knew I’d like from there and left the labels on so I knew I was wrong (I was wrong Wilkinson’s is the best shop ever). Fairytale of New York is my mum and dad’s Christmas song. There’s no one to argue with over the 80’s pop Christmas CD (my choice) and the Rat Pack one (Dad’s). We don’t drive to see grandparents in his car, with it’s very specific smell. There was always a moment on Christmas morning where we had to say ‘Dad – please stop checking your emails and come and watch us open stockings for god’s sake you grumpy bastard.’ We’d hand him what he always got – a) a DVD, b) a book, or c) a box of Sports Mix and he’d say ‘A football!’

So for those who find the festive season a bit tough, like me, I’d like to offer some advice, that I’m trying very hard not to make condescending. Instead, you must make your own traditions. Build your own family. Appreciate the new.

My favourite part of Christmas is the flat meal; an important trip to Lewisham Shopping Centre, lucky dip with Poundland gifts, Secret Santa, Frankie’s honey parsnips, the glee with which Rob rearranges the living room, Steve’s Christmas jumpers, and more roast potatoes than anyone can conceivably eat. On Christmas day the group chats light up with everyone’s best presents, wishes we were all together, and tales of whose nan is pissed. We compare potatoes.

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We have a ridiculous new year’s eve party and watch the fireworks from Best Hill in London, Telegraph Hill with the entirety of SE4 (you can take your Primrose Hill and shove it). We spend new year’s day mopping the floor and feeling sorry for ourselves, regretting our dancing and then decamp to the seaside the day after to clear out the cobwebs.

I’ve taken on new present buying responsibilities – I buy my cousin a different sit-com box set every year so I can educate him on these things the way my dad educated me. I am the best at making presents for my sister. Together, we watch all the Christmas TV, and drink wine, and miss our dad. Last year she gave me a framed letter that he’d written me. We always cry.

And it’s okay to miss him on Christmas Day because, to be honest, it’s a bit shit that he’s not here. He was a grumpy old bastard, but that’s what you need at Christmas more than ever. Someone to point out that the whole thing is bloody ridiculous.

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To me, grief is like a bruise that never goes away. At first, it’s the stabbing pain, it’s the injury, and the shock. Slowly that bruise changes colour, and maybe it gets a bit smaller, but I don’t think it ever goes away. And sometimes, you need to poke it. To check it still hurts. To feel that pain again, because when you feel it, you remember the injury, and you remember why it hurts. And it’s the remembering that’s so important.

For more on this see the amazing tweet from Rachael Prior about her dad and M&S Jumpers that recently went viral. The replies are full of people sharing how their Christmases aren’t the same now that they’ve lost someone, but there’s a bittersweet quality to it all.

 

Words by Sian Brett
Tweet from Rachael Prior, ‘@ORachaelO’

Let’s talk about cysts, baby.

In recent years, crippling conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovaries have become more widely discussed thanks to women such as Lena Dunham talking about their experiences. The increasing awareness of these conditions is fantastic and needs to continue, yet very often, little is spoken about their cousin – dermoid cysts.

Dermoid ovarian cysts are benign tumours made up of a collection of cells that are used to create eggs. As eggs have the ability to create any type of cells, dermoid cysts can consist of a wide range of different types of human tissue, including blood, fat, bone, hair and teeth all in one beautiful lump, and effect on average 1 in 5 women, with cysts that cause symptoms affecting 1 in 25. They can vary in size and symptoms, with some women never even knowing they have one if it remains small. They can range from being 1cm up to 75cms. My first cyst was 15cm, my new one is currently sitting pretty at 4cm.

Dermoid cysts are a recurring problem and must be surgically removed when they begin to cause problems, yet there is surprisingly little information available on them. A quick google search led me to a forum of women asking for information from each other on the issue. These were women who had had multiple cysts removed, who’d had ovaries removed and yet still had very little information on the condition. I myself had never been told that they reoccurred until another one decided to pay me a visit, but I was quickly informed when I questioned the doctors that this is incredibly common and should have been unsurprising to me.

So why am I so keen to tell you all this? Well for one, I think it’s important for all of us to know a bit more about what can go on down there, but also, I want to spread awareness of how much this can affect people’s lives when they do show symptoms.

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My first cyst was diagnosed after over a year of constant pain and tests. I had to take a year off school, and during that time I frequently cried and vomited from pain, and on multiple occasions, I was unable to move from my bed for several days at a time because of it; it really was a literal pain in the backside. I had scans of my brain and my spine – at one point they thought I had MS because the cyst was pressing on my spinal nerves and causing neurological symptoms such as my hands being unable to hold pens and cutlery. Eventually, after eighteen months (and a very perceptive trainee nurse) they found it, and I had emergency surgery. I was lucky. My surgeon was amazing and saved my ovary, but this is not the case for so many women. Many women who have dermoid cysts have had to have their ovaries removed for the sake of their health, but in turn, give up their fertility. I myself now have a life plan in place to manage the condition.

I can only speak from personal experience, but being told that I had another one devastated me. I remember practically skipping to the hospital to rid myself of this thing back in 2013 and three years later I was being told that I had to go through all that again.

I’m nowhere near where I was last time with the pain and discomfort, in fact, I can forget about it a lot of the time but then it comes back to remind me that it’s still there. I have missed meeting up with friends and going to their parties because “I have a really bad headache”, or “I just have too much work to do” whilst in reality I’ve typed that whilst curled up in a ball crying in pain desperately waiting for the paracetamol to kick in so that I can have the smallest slice of relief.

I have come to terms now with what lies ahead, I have a life plan organised with my doctors and I’m working on techniques to manage the pain (FYI – if you’re ever really frustrated it helps to watch YouTube clips of Malcolm Tucker and just let him channel your anger). Some women, as I have mentioned before, aren’t as lucky as I have been; they’ve had hysterectomies and cysts which have been much larger and more aggressive than mine. This is why I want to raise more awareness of dermoid ovarian cysts. I described my experience of my first cyst – a year and a half of pain and frustration whilst being poked and prodded – but my second one has so far been much better because this time I knew what to look out for. I went to the doctor, I got a scan and it was diagnosed early and now they are able to monitor it and largely keep it in check. I cannot express enough how much better it is to go to your doctor if you suspect anything than sit around hoping it will go away – it could be nothing, but it could be something and that’s worth finding out.

 

If you want more information about the signs and symptoms of dermoid ovarian cysts along with general gynaecological information visit the ‘Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ website.

 

Words by Eleanor Manley
Artwork by Celia Mohedano

Why It’s Never Too Late To Open Another Door

As of this summer, I am officially a university graduate, ready to go out into the wild world of work…or really not so much. Three years have flown by, and although uni has had it’s ups and downs, I would probably still rate it a solid 8/10; a sentiment you may or may not agree with, but either way, congratulations on graduating! 

Now that education is out of the way for at least a while, it’s time for us to focus on what we plan on doing for the rest of our lives. More specifically, that it might not necessarily be what you initially thought it would be, and why that is most definitely a valid decision. 

Pre-uni, I dedicated a hell of a lot of time to wanting to study architecture. I was absolutely convinced that I was going to Bath University to study architecture, followed by a Masters, PhD and any other relevant qualification I would need before swanning off to be architect extraordinaire. 

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It was my ambition, my life plan, and no-one could tell me otherwise. Two years later, I did start studying architecture, but at Cardiff instead (one of the best things to ever happen), but now having finished my undergrad, this is actually the end of the education journey for me so far. Thinking about it, my 16-year-old self would probably laugh at me saying this – I’m definitely not one to bail on commitments – but in hindsight, I just don’t see it as that at all.

At 18, we sit in front of those UCAS forms and it feels like we’re choosing our destiny, often with little to no experience of the subject we’re going to spend at least 3 years studying. I’d like to note that I’m writing this from the experience of choosing a very specific course with a direct relationship to a very specific job. I can imagine that perhaps with other course choices, such as Geography or English, there is far more variety in the doors that open post-graduation and thus less expectation to take a very particular path. 

In my case, 99% of people I meet assume I’m en-route to becoming a fully qualified architect, completing the full seven years because isn’t that what I’ve signed up to do? I must really want to be an architect, and yet for many people on my course, they do. They’ve found something they truly enjoy and feel rewarded doing, it makes them happy and it’s an incredibly direct path to them achieving their dreams and goals. Knowing the intense nature of the course, I have nothing but respect and admiration for all of them, and I wish them all so much luck, but quite simply, it’s just not my path. 

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Looking back, as determined as I was, maybe it was never meant to be. I just don’t think I was really ready to decide at such a young age what course would suit me best. You grow up so much during uni that your interests and passions are bound to change. I found that although I loved the course, I had chosen it for the wrong reasons. As cheesy as it sounds, I had looked to the destination rather than the journey. I didn’t even consider the experiences I’d gather, how they’d shape who I am and challenge my perception of my surroundings. Quite honestly, irrespective of how you feel about your area of study this is advice I’d now always give – maximise what you get out of your university education by appreciating what you learn and how you grow as a person, alongside the degree you’ll leave with.

Still, I can’t imagine having studied anything else, and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Studying architecture has by far been my biggest challenge but I have pushed myself, developed new skills, and become a version of myself that I’m becoming prouder and prouder of. I’ve found friends for life, got involved with the local community and learned so much about both myself and architecture. By being confronted with challenges and opportunities every day, I learned my strengths and weaknesses. 

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I found that the competitiveness amongst architects did not suit me at all but also that community engagement was a natural interest of mine. I found that there were people around me who truly had a passion for what they were doing, and that inspired me to find mine – something I enjoyed so much that played to all the skills I had gained.

I already know that the skills I’ve taken away from doing the course will remain invaluable, I might just end up applying them differently to how I once thought, and that’s perfectly fine. Just because you’ve chosen a specific degree, doesn’t mean you’re not qualified to do anything else. No matter how close to your subject or how far from it your next stage in life leads, transferable skills will be your friend. You’ve not wasted your time or let anyone down. Changing your mind does not mean you’ve lost ambition or perseverance, it just means you might need a little more time to find what you really want to do or discover how to get there. I can assure you, not all dentistry students become dentists, not all journalism students become journalists and certainly not all architecture students become architects, and that is just a reflection of your individual journey. 

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Now I’m in a job which truly speaks to what I’m passionate about, and I am beyond excited. It’s still architecture-related because that genuinely interests me, and I’m able to make constant use of the skills I learned, despite this being a completely new angle to the subject for me. 

So no matter how related or unrelated your path might be to what you studied, I can guarantee there’s something you’ll take forward, be it within you or your skill set to help you find what you want to do. Maybe you’ll find it next week, next month, or next year, there is no rush. Maybe it’ll be the next thing you end up doing or it could be ten jobs down the line, that doesn’t matter either. Maybe you just need some time to consider your options from afar first. 

Whatever it may be, your choice is perfectly acceptable. No one’s path is set in stone and life is too short to stick with something you don’t actively enjoy. It’s also too short to worry about qualifications you don’t have. Believe in yourself and what you want to do, value yourself and what you have and will learn, and you’ll be able to open any door you want. 

 

Words by Maxene Sommer
Images from Maxene Sommer, Giphy/Shia LaBoeuf, Daily Letterings