Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans

That’s it. The end of the first term. If you had told me 6-months ago today I’d be where I am today, after everything that’s happened since, I’d never have believed you.

dscf3540This year has been incredible, painful and fascinating all at once. Many ups have been counterbalanced by a great deal of downs. Huge geopolitical changes, the astounding Olympics, Trump and of course, Brexit, seem to signal a world that’s on the brink of colossal change. On a more personal level there have been big changes too, and not all have been good. But I feel positive about what’s to come: with such big changes there are inevitably big opportunities too.

When things seem to be going off-course, switch direction

I started this year in Brussels, working for the Commissioner for Science and Research on my NEPT. It was a good start. Brussels was great place to live and my work was fascinating. Perhaps the most surreal day was walking past Nigel Farage on the day of the first meeting of the new Scientific Advice Mechanism, before getting to meet the scientists themselves and seeing the culmination of months of work in the first meeting. But every day was an amazing and worthwhile experience.

Then, after a truly wonderful trip to Stockholm, it was back to London. I was lucky to find such welcoming housemates and really settled into the work with a really forward-looking ‘digital’ team. It gave me a huge opportunity to work in something I would never normally have considered and to build up skills and interests I’d never have believed. In fact. it was so interesting, I’m now writing my Thesis on social media!

Even the Brexit vote couldn’t take away the beautiful summer. Climbing, running, Crete and looking ahead to Poland were complemented by long, sunny days.

I’ve been keeping this blog since late August and so I won’t recount all that’s happened since then. In any case, if I were to, it would take probably twice as much again as I have already written. But this year, and especially these last 3 months, has really marked a landslide shift in where I thought life was taking me.

Choosing the right direction

If 2016 has taught me anything, it’s that it is the people around you that are most important. Perhaps a close second is your work and how much it really drives you.

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The reason I loved that (purportedly) grey city of Brussels so much was that the work, my colleagues and my community there were all excellent. My role was engaging and varied every day, and whilst the social scene was a bit of a bubble, it was full of driven, open-minded people.

My team at the Department of Health were busy, but they looked out for one another, cared about their work and still found time to go for a drink every now and again.

I’ve had some of my hardest times this year whilst at the College and at every single one of those moments, I’ve found support in my fellow students. I hope they’ve found support in me too. It’s not all been plain sailing, but we really are that little family I mentioned in a previous blog. Perhaps it is inevitable amongst such a small, liberal and open-minded group, but it has definitely been a good combination.

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So, as Allen Saunders (thanks for the quote David) said:

“Life is what happens when you’re busy  making other plans”

It’s been an interesting year. But I’m not going to say it’s been a bad one. Every year has its ups and downs and although big changes seem afoot, I’m going to look ahead with positivity. As long as I’ve got good company, good work and good health what can go wrong? Life is what you make it, after all, even if you can’t plan it!

Snow is falling, all around me…

Really. And it’s beautiful. It’s always a funny time of year though, with lots of ups and downs. Expectations, combined with that inevitable urge to hibernate in light of the changing season, often create a rather mixed bag of emotions and experiences. It’s a good time to realise what really matters though and, despite all the distractions, I always find its a time when I can start getting my head together about the new adventures to come.

Time for parties and celebration,
People dancing all night long

How  you do Christmas varies not just between countries but between families too. It’s a recurring topic here now – perhaps as it’s a rather convenient means of diverting the conversation from exams and which question you completed in the last one – “how do you celebrate Christmas?”

But in all honesty, it really is fascinating. In most countries, the idea of turkey and cranberry sauce being a decadent Christmas treat to be repeated every year is met with a rather blank stare of bewilderment. In Ukraine for instance, they typically enjoy 12 different dishes and in France or Luxembourg a magret de canard is not uncommon as the main dish.  It begs the question of how different traditions evolve, what their roots are.

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Celebrating Sinterklaas Fest College of Europe style!

One tradition we don’t have in the UK, but which I really rather like, is the Sinterklass Fest. This takes place on the 6th of December and involves Sinterklaas arriving from Spain to give presents to children.

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Me with my cosy gifts: Pooh Bear Tigger and the all important Kinder Surprise

We aren’t really children (although arguably ‘student’ is sometimes a synonym), but Nadia, Luc and Sarah had a fabulous idea to arrange a little Sinterklaas festival of our own. Everyone was assigned a name (randomly by the magic of computers) known only to them and had to buy a present for that person. They then wrapped it anonymously and placed it under the tree, accompanied by a poem giving hints about the contents, or about the giver. People went to such great efforts and we had a tremendous laugh reading the poems out, it was a really pleasant way to take a break from exams.

Having brought 18 mince pies and 2 Christmas cakes from home, I’m hoping to run a little British Christmas tea soon too – I’m sure it will go down well, especially with a few renditions of ‘Spaceman’ and ‘Stop the cavalry’ playing in the background – but I hope there will be the chance for trying out more exotic Christmas traditions!

Room is swaying, records playing,
All the old songs, we love to hear…

It’s a nice time for reflection too. But you do need to look to the future and always remember that things get better with time. Seeing everyone having fun can really exaggerate feelings of loneliness and this tends to get compounded when you’re stressed. People are getting closer together, but it’s important to see those who are perhaps not feeling so included, especially at this sensitive time of year.

It’s hard when we’ve got exams, as well as presents and cards, not forgetting the prospect of travelling home to think about. But there is always time to spend with others and yourself.

I was lucky enough last Sunday to go to the Wilanów Palace for an afternoon out for Reece’s birthday. It’s getting harder to leave the golden cage at this time, as every moment outside feels a little like trespassing on that all important study time, but it was well-worth it and I think he had fun too!

It was built in 1696 and is absolutely stunning. Throughout December, they also have a light show. Whilst it would have been better with music, it was definitely up to the 5pln we paid. Afterwards, accompanied by Reece, Craig and Roman we celebrated both Reece’s 22 years and the reassuring Austrian election result with a fire, a cat , mulled wines and pierogi: I haven’t felt so cosy and satisfied for ages.

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Heartwarming homemade pierogis and pickled cucumbers by the fire: what more do you need?

It’s the season,
Of love and understanding

So it’s getting rather snowy and cold here, and there will inevitably be a post dedicated almost solely to artsy-pictures of the white stuff in the forests coming soon. But I’m trying to stay busy, and warm here, both inside and out.

Merry Christmas everyone.