A blog about travel, books and navigating your twenties in one piece

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Thoughts On Finishing My Third Year of University

I'm writing this lying on my bed, having just read my old blog posts about finishing my first and second years of uni, wondering where on earth the past three years went. As you'll soon see if you follow those links and read my thoughts on when I finished my first and second years of uni, it only got better with each year for me. And that completely translated into third year.

It's funny because I remember this time last year being so terrified of third year and all of the work that it would bring, not to mention the fact that I didn't really know what I was going to do at the end of it. I vaguely knew that I wanted to travel, but the logistics were far from worked out. And there's no denying that my third year at Exeter involved incredibly hard work and multiple breakdowns when it felt like I couldn't juggle everything with a 9,000 word dissertation looming. But somehow I did. And alongside that I probably went out more and was generally busier than first and second year put together.

In my third year I had to make a choice. I could either push myself to the max and try and aim for a first-class degree, or I could make the most of my last year at uni (i.e. I could go out a lot, work a part time job and take part in society volunteering) and work my hardest on my degree around that. I chose the latter and I don't think I'll ever regret that. 

It might sound a bit cringey to say this, but third year really felt like the making of me. Sure, if I'm being completely explicit at points of the year I had feelings for people I shouldn't have (not ideal), lost someone who I thought would be my friend for life, and generally didn't always make the best decisions. And those first two things were really, really tough to go through. No one likes having feelings for people who it will never work with and losing a friend can be every bit as horrible as a romantic break up. But, overall, my last year of university was the best year of my life so far and what is your twenties without making a few bad decisions?! 

Despite those things, this last year I grew so much in self-confidence, worked out what was really important to me in life and what I'm willing to put up with and what I'm not. The best way I can describe it is like getting to sixth form in secondary school but on a new level - you know your way around, you know where you do and don't like going and you've got a set group of friends established. Perhaps most importantly, you're not bothered about trying to make as many friends as is humanly possible anymore or going to waste time trying to people-please. All of that means that along with the hard work, I could just enjoy student life, being independent and having the best people around me.

And boy did I have the best people around me. As well as having some great course friends, my four housemates who I lived with from first to third year genuinely feel like my family. I can't count the number of times that each of them has been there for me when I've felt shit, been going through stuff, or just had a bit too much to drink and have needed taking home and looking after. Coming from a single-parent family with three sisters, it really feels like I've come out of uni with three brothers and a sister on top of the three I already have. Ellie, Tom, Nathan and Gus are truly the best people I know (much as the boys wind me up sometimes) and I am already missing living with them hugely.

So third year was a complete roller coaster to be honest, in ways that I could never have predicted. But it was also the year that I finally felt like I fully grew into myself if that makes sense at all. I would bet good money that I'll have lots of moments over the next decade where I think I've really grown into myself, only to later decide that that wasn't the moment and to find it at a later point. I think that's what your twenties are about though - learning who you are and trying new things as a result of the experiences you're having. But whenever I look back at uni, third year will always be the year where I think 'yeah, that was the year I had never been more myself and had never felt freer'.

I'm probably already looking at it through rose-tinted glasses because the truth is that I did spend a lot of it going through some shit (as briefly mentioned earlier) but - isn't hindsight a wonderful thing - I see now that those parts just don't matter anymore. If nothing else, in the long run they helped with my self-confidence and all of that working out what I really want in life and the kind of people I want standing beside me through it. What does matter is everything else that I've written about in this post - the people who were there no matter what and enjoying one last year of living with my friends before having to move back home and thinking about the future.

My three years at Exeter were some of the best of my life so far. I'm still completely dumbfounded that I'm sat here right now having completed those three years and I'm not sure it will ever sink in. But I feel so so lucky to have had them and to have ended uni on such a high. If you've just started your final year of university, enjoy every second - before you know it, it will be gone...

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Recently I'm Reading // A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I finished reading A Little Life in January of this year. Which must make this the most overdue book review ever. But, if nothing else, the fact that eight months later I still feel a need to talk about it is telling of how incredible this book is. It's one of those few books I've read that has really stayed with me ever since I turned the last page.

In case you've been under a rock somewhere and somehow haven't heard of A Little Life, here is its blurb: 

"When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome - but that will define his life forever."

One of the many things that I love about this book is that at its root, it's about male friendships and how they develop over time. This might just be my lack of research, but I'm not aware of many modern works of fiction which focus on male friendship. There are countless works of literature about women's friendships - in fact, two books I have read this year focus hugely on female friendship - The F Word by Lily Pebbles and Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton. As women, we generally from a very young age are taught that friends are one of the most important things in life and I'm not sure it's emphasised in quite the same way for men. (But obviously, as a woman, I can only speak from my experience.) So, considering that, it was really refreshing to read a book which looks at male friendship and how incredibly complex it can be. 

A Little Life is a very long book - around 800 pages I believe - which is a little daunting when you pick it up. There are many books I've read of that length or longer (The Goldfinch by Donna Tart springs to mind) which just don't need to be that long. In fact, as much as I enjoyed The Goldfinch I remember despairing a little at parts that I didn't feel were necessary and seemed to just be in the book for the hell of it. However, A Little Life thrives from every single sentence of the book. Hanya Yanagihara's ability to describe some of the rawest emotions humans are capable of feeling is unbelievable. So detailed and carefully worded are those descriptions that at many points I felt as though I was firsthand seeing the character Jude's pain. 

To be honest, I don't know how to begin describing the emotions that I felt when I read this book. Alongside the many nuances of friendship and how it develops over time, A Little Life deals with sexual abuse, trauma and self-harm. It is far from an easy read but it is the most worthwhile one I can think of. When reading it I felt such happiness at points but also the deepest heartbreak at Jude's circumstances. Reading it deeply, deeply affected me and it taught me so much about what is important in life. It taught me the horrors of sexual abuse and self-harm and that friendship really is everything in this life. No matter how terrible your past may have been, there are good people out there who will do their best to pull you out from the darkness. And, even when that's not enough there's such beauty in the attempt. Above all, I think this book is so important in its emphasis on how crucial talking is when you've been through trauma. Especially for men who typically find it harder to talk about their feelings and troubles. 

A Little Life perfectly embodies why I love fiction so much. Because, even though it's not real, Yanagihara's capturing of human experience and emotion is so incredible that it feels real and the reader is completely immersed into Willem, Jude, JB and Malcolm's lives. If you're considering it but aren't sure then I urge you to pick up this book as soon as you can and thank me later!

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Let's Catch Up // My Blogging Break, Rebrand & Plans Now I've Graduated

Yes we did decide to try and recreate Friends before our graduation ball - best idea we ever had

I can't believe it, but it's been nine months since I last wrote something here. I think that's the longest break I've ever taken since I started blogging and, to be honest, I wasn't sure for a long time that I'd come back to it. Life has felt *so* busy. My degree and enjoying every last minute of uni really took over for me and I didn't feel the urge or feel like I had the time to write about it. But over the past few weeks I've felt that niggle again to come back to writing and so here I am. And not only am I back but I've also got a brand new blog design which I hope you love as much as I do! Shoutout to the guys at Pipdig for being so amazing and sorting it out for me.

I've done the classic blogging thing of changing my blog name to my name rather than something that doesn't really feel like me anymore. And this way I figured my blog's content can be whatever I want it to be depending on what feels relevant in my life because the blog is an extension of me - it always has been really. Anyway I hope that you like it and if you've committed to reading this I would strongly suggest you get yourself a cup of tea or coffee and settle in because I'm about to try and summarise the last nine months in one blog post.

My third and final year of my undergraduate degree flew by (just as everyone said it would) and it was definitely my best year of uni but also an incredibly tough one with painful times, a friendship lost and the huge pressure to pull all of my work off. I'm going to go into it more another day but just know that I had the best time overall and I can't wait to do a proper write-up of my thoughts on finishing it!

So, with that done I am officially a graduate and for the first time since I was four years old I'm not entering formal education this September. It's a very odd feeling to say the least but it's not quite as horrible as I feared. In fact, I had feared it being so awful that in April I signed up to do another year at Exeter studying for an MA in International Relations. I had got to the Easter holidays and the thought of uni ending put the fear of God in me. I loved living with my best friends so much, I loved the lifestyle and education was all that I knew. So the prospect of another year of structure to figure everything out really appealed to me and led to me applying for the MA. But over the last month or so I've realised that the MA isn't right for me at this moment in time and that my heart isn't fully in it. Being out of education isn't quite as scary as I thought (although as I said it is definitely still weird and I plan to write about how much of an adjustment it is) and I now have plans to instead finally do something that I've wanted to do for as long as I can remember: travel.

One of my sisters moved to New Zealand in 2010 and I've wanted to visit her ever since. I was planning on doing a gap year between school and uni so that I could travel there but my Mum was completely opposed to me doing that then and on that occasion I decided not to put up a fight and to do what she wanted me to. So throughout uni I had in the back of my mind that when I graduated I would finally go on that trip. But, come April, I didn't feel as ready as I thought I'd be by that point to travel and I just wanted to prolong the best three years of my life for as long as I could. It's funny how sometimes you have to make the wrong decision to realise what the right one is. But making that choice has shown me that right now travelling is what I really want to do. And, while it felt like the scariest thing ever going back on the decision to do a masters, I know that it was the right decision for me. (Again, I'm going to dedicate a proper post to this but I just wanted to give a whistle stop tour today of the key things that have happened in my life over the past few months.)

Now that brings me to one of the most exciting parts of this year for me. There's someone who I've left out of this narrative who has completely knocked me for six. In my last month of uni I was introduced to a boy. He was a friend of a friend and somehow throughout our three years in Exeter we'd never crossed paths (absolutely typical of my life), but I pretty much instantly knew that there was something special about him. He's quickly become one of the best people I know and I've had the best summer spending time with him. His name is Liam and since being with him I've become the happiest I've been in the longest time. In hindsight I'm really glad that I was single during uni because I had the best time (for the majority of it) and I wouldn't have grown as much (huge cliche I know) as I did had I not been. But, being single for three years, I think I'd almost forgotten how amazing it is to be in a relationship with a really great person. And he is a really great person and I feel incredibly lucky.

I would guess that right about now you're thinking that this Liam guy sounds fab but also wondering where he fits into my plans to travel. Well, before we'd met Liam had planned to go to New Zealand this year to work and travel. In fact, he flies there on Tuesday. And I'm so glad that New Zealand is the country he'd chosen to go to given that it's been at the top of my list for so long. So, we don't know exactly how it's going to work yet, but I'm in London working and saving money until December when I'm going to fly out to New Zealand and hopefully see Liam sometime after that. It's a bit daunting being so early into a relationship and having to do long distance but (call me crazy) I really think that we can make it work and I can't wait to see him on the other side of the world.

So, that's Liam, my graduation and my plans for the next few months. I'm going to stop waffling on before this becomes as long as my dissertation but if you're interested in travel content and brutal honesty about how terrifying it is finishing uni and being thrust into the world (even to do something really exciting) then this is the place to be, I can tell you that! I hope you all have wonderful weekends and I promise that I'll be back soon with proper updates into everything, travel plans and new 'Recently I'm Reading' posts.
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