Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters

I always wondered why someone hadn’t done something about that, and then I realised that I am someone. 

It’s funny how many people mention in day-to-day conversation something that they’re unhappy with in the wider world. It’s strange that they always say that that thing is ‘awful’ or ‘sad’ or ‘unfair’ or any other negative adjective. It’s remarkable how even one person noticing and commenting on these things has the ability to change them.

Every single person on the planet has the ability to change something for someone, and everyone is capable of making a positive difference in the world around them. If you stop and think about that for a moment or two it becomes a pretty powerful thing; ‘changing the world’ doesn’t have to mean going out to some far flung place you’ve been told needs help because ‘the world’ includes where you are right now, and where you are right now is somewhere you can have a direct impact upon.

For me it took a while for that notion to sink in, because I’ve grown up with charities and programmes that stress orphanage- and school- building in countries far away that don’t have the same facilities as we do here, so for a very long time I thought that the only way I could ‘change the world’ was to leave my own but try and replicate bits of it elsewhere, but that’s really not the mentality needed to succeed in world changing…

We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are. 

Think about a remote village somewhere a world away and think about the fact that this hypothetical place has amount of uneducated children and adults. Now imagine you have the chance to visit this place and do with it what you will. You take up the opportunity and are now all set to go and change this place; (working on the assumption that you have the means to fund this) you’re going to go and build a school and train teachers to teach this community, and as far as you’re concerned that’s that and you can go off and put this plan into motion.

When you get there, you do this and within a period of time you have a school and teachers and students, all of whom are pleased with this change in their community.

But, what does this education system do to the rest of their world? If it suddenly limits the amount of time spent culturally enriching their community, or decreases something imperative to that community’s well-being, then was this project for better or for worse?

If you think about it, when you imagine going off and doing something like this its likely that you picture something familiar, like a standard school for your area, mentally photoshopped into different surroundings. That’s normal, I think, but it’s not quite what we should all be imagining; just because something is how it is here doesn’t mean that it must therefore be like that somewhere else, because whatever it is is how it is because of the community it’s in.

My point here is that we need to consider what the people and/ or place we want to help actually needs to be, rather than trying to mimick our world in someone else’s – just because something seems like it should be a certain way because that’s how we’re used to it doesn’t mean that that’s the only way it should be.

In essence, I mean that we need to really think. What is it that will help? Where can I start? And how? And when? 

Well, I think now is as good a time as any to start looking around and talking to people, to start conversations that matter – I mean, talk about the things that are difficult to talk about and plan and do something to change those things for the better. 

Start a conversation that matters. 

Ask yourself, if not me, who? If not now, when? – Emma Watson  

That Time Of Life

So I’ve been lying here for the last few hours staring at my phone screen waiting for my boyfriend to reply to my messages because he’s sad and isn’t ready to talk about it yet, so I’m worrying that he’s sad and worrying that I can’t help him.

I’ve also been lying here getting deeper and deeper into my Pit Of Despair, because I was talking to my ‘brother’ today about universities, because all of a sudden we’re nearly 18 and have to think about these very Grown Up things that I for one am not nearly as ready for as I thought.

He and I have never actually sat down and had a proper conversation about unis, other than a brief ‘oh I wanna go here’ months ago before any of it was really real. But now it all suddenly is, and so we had that conversation and he’s been accepted to all of his uni choices and none of them are here in London and suddenly it’s real that he’s moving away and won’t be close by anymore and suddenly we’re Growing Up and I am SO not ready for that because we’ve never lived more than 20 minutes away from each other and we’ve known each other since we were 2 months old.

So that was rather a scary thing to realise at lunch time, and then became scarier as the day went on because all of my friends are moving away for uni to and I’m just kinda sorta… here. I’ve applied to do an Art Foundation at CSM, and at a local college, and I’d love that, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m going to be left behind because, realistically speaking, I am well aware of the fact that my getting in would be the most amazing and unlikely stroke of luck out there, somewhat akin to being struck by lightning. 3 times.

I also can’t shake the feeling that I actually just want to be let loose and be free for a bit, travel and help people and do something meaningful.

But I am also well aware that I significantly lack the funds to do so. And the courage.

If I am being completely honest, I don’t know what I want to do. I know I don’t want to get left behind, and I know I don’t want to lose people, and I don’t want to break up with my boyfriend because I love him an absolutely ridiculous amount, and I didn’t realise it was possible to love someone as much as I do him and to lose that is a terrifying prospect.

My friends keep saying, when I talk to them about not knowing what I really want to do, that a) it’s normal to feel like this because it’s scary and b) I actually do know what I want to do in some way because I know what I love – art.

a) I know it’s normal, and I know it’s scary, and I know everyone feels like this.

b) I do love art, but in the end you can’t make a career out of it alone, and (again if I’m being completely honest) art is amazing but I genuinely do not believe that I have enough of it inside to make anything worth looking at or paying the remotest bit of attention to because one thing that studying art so far has taught me is that all of it is a copy of something else, and originality is basically all gone, and I want to make a difference and not just blend in to a mishmash of other things and people, even if blending in provides safety.

I don’t know, I just feel more than a little bit lost rn, and as much as I keep telling myself that that’s normal and what makes things interesting blah blah blah I’m actually shit-scared because I have no idea what’s going to happen next (and not in some romanticised ‘anything could happen’ way but more in an ‘holy hell anything could happen. help’ way).

So that’s that for now.

St. Andrew’s University

I’m currently 17, meaning that the time has come for me to seriously start looking at, and visiting, universities. Because I haven’t found any personal articles written about any universities, no blog posts or videos or anything, I figure I might as well be the first. So I hope this is useful.

EDIT: I live in London and have done my whole life, so everything regarding university is written from that perspective. The course I wish to study is Anthropology, ideally a combined course with Philosophy. 

From London to Leuchars station, 10 minutes by taxi from St. Andrew’s, took about 5.5 hours by train. As I travelled with three friends this wasn’t such an awful amount of time, but alone it would be tedious to say the least. On the way back home it took longer, about 6.5 hours, which really was a long time.

St. Andrew’s town itself is, predictably, small, with a population of 20’000, of which 8’000 are university students. This size means that, as we were frequently told, the students ‘make their own fun’ as there isn’t exactly a mutlitude of clubs or pubs or the sort of social things that usually come with the idea of university.

This problem appears to be solved by the fact that students seem to visit Edinburgh, about an hour away by train, and Dundee, about half an hour away, when they choose to properly go out. Obviously, this would be an expensive night out as the cost of train tickets, admission, drinks etc. would be rather a lot, particularly for an in-debted university student (something I will come to speak about a little further on).

Despite my previous paragraph of social woe, St. Andrew’s isn’t without a night-life; the student union bar is an apparent social hub, and because the university takes over the whole town there are many places to hang out and enjoy being a student. There are also the university halls of accomodation, all with common areas and decently sized rooms with all the utilities one could require. There isn’t really a need to visit either Edinburgh or Dundee unless you want shopping malls and clubs, and the hours journey to Edinburgh isn’t actually much longer than travelling from A to B in London.

Meeting people would be easy; of course the size of the university means that the student body forms a close-knit community, and the fact that you can walk from one end of town to the other in 25 minutes means that you’re always in close proximity to friends, and other people full-stop.

According to Which? University, St. Andrew’s has the overall student satisfaction rate of 89%, nearly matching those of Russel Group Universities such as Cambridge (90%), Oxford (91%), and Durham (90%). This means that the whole small-town thing clearly isn’t a problem.

Perhaps now would be the time to talk about the aformentioned small-town; St. Andrew’s is located on the East Coast of Scotland, with beautiful architecture and beaches, the biggest of which being West Sands Beach, a huge stretch of flat sand with rock pools and shells and all the charm of a picturesque, if chilly, coastline.

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West Sands Beach, St. Andrew’s, Scotland

The beach is an area of town that most everyone mentioned at some point, as was the ruined castle, the rich history, and the abundent traditions.

The main street, Market Street, is just a normal long, cobblestoned road with all the shops you would need; New Look, Phase Eight and H&M to fulfill high-street fashion needs, Superdrug and Boots, Subway, Nandos and lots of little coffee shops and independent restaurants, the ones we tried having served delicious meals with lovely staff.

Parallel with Market Street is North Street, where the admission ‘block’ of the university can be found. Just like Market Street, North is cobbled and lined with beautifully designed buildings, a theme that runs throughout the town.

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West Sands Beach, St. Andrew’s, Scotland

Now, I think the time has come to discuss the debt issue; as St. Andrew’s is a Scottish university 1/3 of the student body is made up of Scottish students who don’t have to pay to attend. EU students also have discounted fees, I think, so together that’s a substantial percentage of the students who have no or less debt than those from England and Wales. This means that they would have extra spending money compared to, certainly, me and people in my position. This would also explain how they would manage to go into Edinburgh and Dundee for a night out. I can’t pretend that this financial issue doesn’t worry me slightly, but I don’t think it would be as noticeable as I think I’m making it out to be.

Courses-wise, St. Andrew’s manages to strike a middle ground between the English university system, where students pick a course or a joint course meaning that at most they can study two subjects, and the American college system, where breadth is valued more so students study a range of subjects. St. Andrew’s is much like the American system for the first two years of one’s course in that students study three or four subjects and then cut it down to two in-depth ones in the last two years, like the English system does from the start. Personally, I like this method of teaching as it would mean that I could study Anthropology, Philosophy and Film all at once for the first two years, and so even if I didn’t get a degree in it I would have some kind of a background in film, the industry I wish to go into.

The students and professors that we met were lovely – very welcoming and easy to talk to, as well as happy to discuss their worries before attending the university.

All in all, I found St. Andrew’s to be an absolutely lovely university and town, and highly expect to be applying there later this year. My only real worry is that, for me, it’s a very long way from home and, since I’ve only ever known London, my entire life is here. Of course, the finance side of things worries me too, but there are plenty of scholarships and bursaries to apply for and really money-worries will crop up with all universities, as is the nature of higher education.

I hope this little post has been educational and helpful, and if you wish to know any more about my visit to the university feel more than welcome to drop me a comment.