The rollercoaster that has been 2020…

Since finishing the 12 days of blogmas, life hasn’t exactly been how I pictured it would be! The year started with my Museum Traineeship Application being rejected, which led to a lot of introspection and the realisation that not only did I not have ‘what it takes’ to work for a museum in a paid capacity, but that I genuinely enjoyed and missed volunteering. I spoke to staff at the Museum of Archaology and Anthropology and enrolled as a Front of House volunteer, volunteering on a more regular basis.

“Great! I can volunteer every week!”, I excitedly thought… And then the COVID-19 pandemic happened…

I’ve not been in any museum since mid-March. The MAA isn’t reopening until the new academic year, and my capacity to volunteer will entirely depend on whether it is safe for me – as someone with compromised immunity – to return.

I’ve ‘met up’ virtually, over Zoom, with the rest of the team on a couple of occasions whilst in self-isolation, which has been lovely… but I do miss museum-ing. And yet, I have not had the time to dedicate to much ‘virtual’ museum engagement! I’ve been working full-time as a member of staff within the University of Cambridge; I started in my office-based role in February, only to end up working from home since mid-March! My job has been really fulfilling, but has left me feeling completely drained at times. The little spare time I’ve had has been filled with online courses, skyping my family, growing-my-own and attempting to stay sane by keeping life ticking over as ‘normally’ as possible – cooking, cleaning, gardening, and so on.

It has been a *very* strange time. I’m actually relatively surprised by how well I’ve coped, given how I’ve struggled with my mental health in the past. It’s been far from easy, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve not become a total hermit, or picked up a bad habit, or completely buckled under the pressure of living every day in a contained environment. There were a couple of occassions when times were particularly tough: I had a real crisis of self-esteem with my work, because isolation and reduced communication meant I struggled to position myself within the team; and my partner and I were meant to be going on holiday to Hawaii – a trip that was two years in the making – having not holidayed together since 2018, but that trip was inevitably cancelled. I know, such a hard life... I’ve felt very lucky, in fact, to live in Cambridge and have the luxury of a nice garden and the support of a great partner… I know many others have not been so lucky…

So, what does this mean going forward? I *hope* to keep working broadly within education, and I *hope* that the pandemic improves to the point where, at the very least, people are safer than they have been. I’m not where I imagined I would be a year ago, when I graduated. I don’t have a museum *job* and I don’t have control over my career. But, actually, I’m doing okay. I’m looking forward to eventually returning to volunteer at the MAA. I’m looking forward to seeing where this bonkers rollercoaster will take me next. I’m looking forward to making it out the other end of…*this*.

I hope people are keeping safe and well. Please, continue to take care.

I Graduated (6 Months Ago)! Reflections on my Time at Newnham College, University of Cambridge

65009780_2281698548551298_3337149774645166080_nOn Friday 28th June 2019, I graduated with a 2.1 in my BA Hons in Modern and Medieval Languages. At many points over the last 5 years, graduating was something that seemed very much beyond my reach. And yet, just shy of 57 months after matriculating, I graduated. But rather than delving deep into my personal journey to graduation, I would like to dedicate some time and space to some of the things that I learnt during my time as a student at Newnham College, and to some musings on my experience at the University of Cambridge:

  • I do not feel like a Cambridge Graduate; I feel like a Newnham Graduate. From the start of my Cambridge ‘career’, Newnham was incredibly nurturing. When applying to the college, I was already aware of the homely atmosphere that made its students feel so welcome, but it was only when I arrived that I appreciated the difference between Newnham’s ethos and that of the rest of the collegiate university. Being at Newnham, specifically, made me feel part of a community that was encouraged to think, learn and conduct itself in a certain way. For example, the Newnham MML cohort could take part in Literary Theory seminars that the college made available to us and held open ‘Pudding Seminars’ where students, alumnae and teaching staff could talk on a topic of their choice to whoever turned up to listen. Newnham felt like a ‘safe’ space, in which we could discuss a host of topics without fear of judgement, and as such we as women had the opportunity to grow in strength and confidence. Our extra-curricular and personal pursuits were also encouraged, and I personally felt like my Director of Studies genuinely cared about my wellbeing as well as my academic attainment. The things I learnt whilst at university are a result of not only my course but also the informal education that I received at Newnham College.
  • I love learning, but not studying. The focus on attainment in exams, and the idea that you had to “study for the exam”, often became toxic. Knowledge and understanding were often overshadowed by information recall and ‘playing the game’ or ‘cheating the system’ with rehearsed, adaptable answers and stylistic techniques. In a place that is infamous for its successful alumni, thinkers, scientists and academics, it was disheartening to realise that what you wrote in the exam hall during Finals was all that mattered. I was personally told by some members of staff that I only needed to pick and choose excerpts of the texts I was studying, rather than bothering to read the texts in their entirety. Your grade is dictated by the words you scribble on a page under timed conditions, regardless of previous demonstrations of understanding, knowledge or even expertise. Students at Cambridge are, of course, encouraged to learn… but they are first and foremost urged to study.
  • Everyone should consider taking a Gap Year. I say this because out of the most mature, grounded and confident individuals I met at Cambridge, the majority had done this. When I refer to a Gap Year, I am not referring to the obligatory Year Abroad that MML students have to complete, but instead a period of time taken between Sixth Form College and university study to NOT study; some people choose to work during this time, whilst the lucky amongst us travel and take a break. Like most British teenagers heading to university, not only did I not take a Gap Year but I was actively discouraged from doing so by my school. Had I taken a Gap Year, I think I would have been much more prepared for university study; mentally, I was keen – and ready – to go, but I had never been expected to do anything else. I think that the lack of time school-leavers have to reflect on what they want to actually do with their lives before embarking on a high-cost, high-effort degree has contributed to the mental health crisis among university students. I think everyone should at least consider taking a Gap Year and reflecting on what they actually want before heading to university.
  • I loved MML… but I did the wrong degree. If you do not want to go into academia, be a language teacher, a translator or an interpreter, or ‘sell-out’ as a Cambridge graduate to Oxbridge-favouring City firms, MML is probably not the degree for you, as far as career progression is concerned at least. Admittedly, when I started my degree, I just wanted to learn, and academia was on the cards for me at the time. But I wanted to study languages because I was interested in people and culture, rather than linguistics or translation. When I applied to Cambridge, I was not aware that (a) you could sit language papers at the University Language Centre regardless of the degree you took, thus obtaining recognised qualifications outside of the course, and (b) ANTHROPOLOGY EXISTED AS A DISCIPLINE. The number of students I knew that realised this early on and switched out of MML to HSPS (Human Social and Political Sciences, under which you could study Anthropology) is frankly ridiculous. Why was I not advised against doing the degree that I did? Because this kind of information is not disseminated, and the people advising me probably had no idea that this option of Anthropology and extracurricular language study was viable. In the end, I did enjoy the content of my degree, and I was able to tailor my modules to my interests; I wrote on Baroque Art and the Incan Empire in my Golden Age Spanish paper, intersectionality in my Nineteenth Century French paper, and urban space, gender politics and contemporary philosophy in my European Cinema paper. I loved learning about these things. But the option to do a degree that was more appropriate to my interests was not one that I thought I had, and I wish that I had at least known that I had that option.
  • At Cambridge, you are in more control than you think you are. At the end of the day, even though Directors of Studies and Supervisors can chase you for work, they cannot force you to do it. I knew many students that would pick and choose the lectures they attended because they knew they didn’t want to study certain topics. It’s easy to forget sometimes that you are doing your degree for no one other than yourself; you chose the degree, and you have control over what you do and don’t do.
  • There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, the earlier you realise that it is okay to ask for help – academically or personally – the easier your university experience will be. At Cambridge, there is this huge pressure to succeed that ends up being crippling for many. Asking for help is often seen as a sign of weakness, and the thought of asking for help is considered to somehow damage your pride, making you ‘lesser’ than your fellow students. This is sooooooooo untrue, and academics generally really appreciate students who aren’t too proud to ask for help. Odds are also on your side that you are not alone in how you are feeling. Studying at Cambridge is tough, and no one that studies there has their life completely ‘together’. In this knowledge I hope that going forward, instead of this manifesting as a communal feeling of inadequacy and failure, this understanding will lead to more people asking for help and supporting each other.
  • Going to Cambridge is about so much more than just studying. I, a stocky 5’4” woman, learnt to row competitively at Cambridge. I took part in charity events. I went out on the town with my friends. I stayed in and watched TV with my friends. I stayed in and cried with my friends. I realised that I wanted to work in museums and volunteered for a University Museum. I learnt about other people’s subjects and taught others about mine. I relaxed, stressed, lived, slept, worked, panicked, ate, had mind-blanks and eureka-moments and felt a sense of belonging… in a place with people who think like me.
  • The amount and quality of support you receive at Cambridge can vary massively. I feel very lucky to have received the support I did when I was at Newnham, and so sad for the people who struggled during their time at Cambridge because they were elsewhere. I was lucky to be in a college that offered generous travel grants, book grants and bursaries. I was lucky to be in a college with an excellent, well-stocked library. I was lucky to be in a college where it was generally acceptable to walk around in your pyjamas, and where girls would huddle in the Buttery to talk as Directors of Studies and Supervisors wander past and join in with conversations as they go. College support at Cambridge is incredibly varied, and I have no regrets about choosing to study at Newnham. University-wide support has to be sought if it is wanted or needed, but at least the provision is the same regardless of your college.
  • Cambridge *does* open doors. I need to keep reminding myself of what a blessing this is and how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to have gone to Cambridge. I often feel that so many doors have been opened that I don’t know which one to choose, but I know that I am in a privileged position to have such a choice. I have taken the opportunities Cambridge has offered me for granted at times, and I hope that when I find myself in a career that I enjoy and that fulfils me, I will be thankful for the chances in life that going to Cambridge has given me.

In conclusion, I am a more resilient person because I went to Cambridge; I am a more confident woman because I went to Newnham.

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Introduction: The 12 Days of Blogmas

I have decided to publish 12 blog posts over the 12 days of Christmas. Why? Because I realised that I had a backlog of content that needed publishing, of course!

The last 6 months have been a bit hectic. Discounting my recent post about the British Museum’s ‘Troy’ exhibition, I have not posted anything since June 24th 2019. This is a result of many factors, but above all due to low-self esteem following a series of unsuccessful museum-job applications and confusion about the future. I felt reluctant to post anything when my next steps felt so uncertain and my motivation was dwindling. Since June 2019, however, a lot of noteworthy things have happened which merit acknowledgement on at least a personal level.

And so, I find myself here, hoping to get myself back into good habits by motivating myself to post content regularly. For the next 12 days, I will be publishing 1 post a day, in order to whizz through the backlog of content. From January 6th onwards… Well, let’s wait and see!

5 Things I Can’t Wait to Do in Hawaii

In June 2020, my partner and I are taking a trip to Hawaii. I am incredibly excited, especially given that my recent and on-going volunteer work at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge has focussed around Polynesian culture and life in the Pacific. The museum recently ran a Pacific-themed ‘late’ – an evening that involved Arts and Crafts (my remit), Climate Change activism, tours of the museum’s Polynesian collections, music from the Beats of Polynesia group, and dancing workshops, run by a local group of Polynesian dancers. It was an amazing evening, and one of the many enjoyable events I have had the pleasure of working at the MAA. And now, I get to go to a Pacific island myself! Having heard about what’s on offer from my partner (who has already been to the island state) and done a little bit of guidebook-reading and Google-searching, I have compiled a short list of things that I definitely cannot wait to do when I am there:

  1. Walk the Manoa Trail Waterfall And Rain Forest Hike: A gorgeous looking hike, through rainforest, past waterfalls, looking out at the sea. Beautiful flowers, beautiful scenes, humidity, adventure… it looks and sounds wonderful.
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A photo taken by my partner when he hiked the trail this year

2. Visit Shangri La: An odd choice, perhaps, given the richness of Polynesian art and culture. However, this place looks amazing – a once private collection now open to the public; a home of islamic art in the middle of the Pacific. Bizarre, but so intriguing.

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Inside Shangri La, courtesy of wheninyourstate.com

3. Spend a day at The Bishop Museum: In contrast to Shangri La, this museum is all about Hawaii, Polynesia and the Pacific. A gorgeous looking collection tugging on my anthropology-loving heartstrings.

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A photo from the Bishop Museum’s website

4. Walk through the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Of course, it has to be done. I’ve seen volcanoes from afar, and trekked up mountains, but never (unsurprisingly, for a Brit) treked through a Volcano Park. A huge segment of Big Island, this national park looks ridiculous, and awesome.

Thurston Lava Tube at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.
Courtesy of travelandleisure

5. Celebrate 4th July: Our fortnight-long trip to Hawaii just happens to coincide with Independence Day; this wasn’t intentional, but it looks like it’ll be great fun. With fireworks displays across the islands, and (I imagine) a host of beach-parties, this is going to be a fun place to be on a national holiday.

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Courtesy of hawaii.com

So that’s my list! What do you think? Anything you’d swap out or recommend instead/as well? Please leave me a comment if so, and thanks for reading!

36 hours in Madrid

I pondered for a long time about what title to give this post. I settled on ’36 hours in Madrid’, because a day and a half is a relatively simple amount of time to get to grips with. The New York Times has written a load of ’36 hours in’ articles already. The truth of the matter is that, *technically* my recent trip to Madrid only lasted 32 hours. I stepped off the plane at 10:00 on the Monday and took off again at 18:00 on the Tuesday. Door to door – from my home in England to Madrid and back again – it was a 41-hour round trip. Oh, the joys of visa-free movement in the European Union; R.I.P.

It was a pretty ridiculous thing to do really, go to Spain and return again within two days. I qualified my trip to myself with reassurances that visiting a friend up North would cost just as much and take just as long. In fact, my fleeting trip to Spain was very inexpensive – approx. £100 including food, flights, a night in a hostel, and travel to and from the airports!

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After leaving home at 4am, I arrived at the Museo Nacional del Prado at 11.30am. There was a long queue to get in, but I was *in* by midday. Returning to the museum following my first visit 5 years ago was the main focus of my trip; one of my final year papers for my degree in Modern and Medieval Languages focuses on Early Modern Spanish and Latin American Culture, and I have chosen to focus a lot of my attention on Baroque Art. Earlier this academic year, I wrote on Velazquez’s ‘Mythologies’ – housed in the Prado – and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a closer look in person. I was in my element, writing notes about the colours, the tones, the narratives, the naturalism, the brushstrokes, the classical-roots, the Venetian influence, his links to Rubens and Titian… it was an absolutely nerdy, truly wonderful experience.

Although I spent a solid 5 hours in the Prado during my very-mini-break, I also made sure to take some time to visit places I had not previously been to: the Parque del Retiro, the Templo de Bebod, the Plaza de España, the Jardines de Sabatini, Plaza de Colón and the Archaeology Museum (M.A.N.). The Archaeology Museum in particular was amazing! It is one of the best museums I have ever visited – clearly laid out, really engaging, and full of incredibly tangible content.

 

Was my very-mini-break worth it? Well, it was planned for a very specific purpose – which it achieved – and I got to see some cool new places too, so yes! Would I ever do such a short museum-based trip again? Probably not; it was a very rushed trip, and even though I took my time walking around El Retiro park, I was constantly checking the time to make sure I squeezed as much as I could into every moment. It was not a *relaxing* trip, but having not taken a trip abroad in a while, it was a refreshing one, and makes for a quirky little story to tell at parties.