I turned 23 in 2012 and it was yet another year of moving countries. Reading and watching other people’s reviews (which have started to appear en masse over the past few days!) it seems like everything we did during the 2010s was to move countries.
I lived in Wales at the beginning of 2012, but I was in London for the first few weeks. I was preparing for my first ever UK university exams so I spent the days at the LSE library. People told me to chill out, particularly as exam results in first year don’t count towards your final degree. But I didn’t want to chill out, I wanted to smash it.
Looking back I sort of see what people meant. There was no real reason to push myself the way I did, but the reason in my mind was that I wanted to prove to myself (and, to be honest, others as well) that I had the capacity to get a first-class degree. That was all I wanted, and I was 100% determined to get it. So I studied, day and night.
The only other thing I did apart from studying was taking driving lessons. I drove twice a week with a hilarious and, unsurprisingly, Welsh driving teacher who taught me loads about historical tensions between Wales and England while learning how to do a three-point turn. I failed my first practical test but eventually passed a few weeks later, and then I didn’t drive for seven years. Success all around!
By spring I’d managed to find a group of people at Aber that I really enjoyed spending time with. Still, there was no way around it—as much as I’d wanted to get away from London before I now couldn’t wait to get back.
I missed my boyfriend and my friends, and living in an isolated student town felt suffocating. I started exploring alternatives and learnt that I could transfer to a different university. This was mindblowing to me and it changed everything. I rallied my professors who agreed to write letters of references and I applied to transfer to the School of Oriental and African Studies, or, as it’s more commonly known, SOAS. I’d only heard of this university in passing before, but it’s a world-leading university for development studies, which is what I’d set my eyes on.
And all of a sudden, it was no longer true that my first-year grades didn’t count. Me getting accepted to SOAS was dependent on my letters of reference, my application letter, and more than anything, my first-year results. So I did everything, and then some. I even changed my name(!) and shut down my blog as I didn’t want my Google search history from my wild London days in 2008-2009 to risk me not getting in.
It paid off. I left first year at Aberystwyth as the fourth best-performing student out of 250+ students on my course, scoring a perfect first-class mark, and getting an unconditional offer to transfer into second year of the BA in Politics and Development Studies at SOAS. I was over the moon.
My plan was to spend the summer in Sweden, but I’d only just started working at my dad’s restaurant when I received an offer to do an internship with a Labour MP over the summer. I could not believe my luck. Again, I was over the moon, so I packed up my stuff, waved goodbye to Mr Penpal who’d moved with me to Sweden for the summer, and moved to Luton for eight weeks. That prioritisation seems a bit off now, but at the time it made so much sense.
Mum and I went to Turkey for a week before uni started. I should’ve realised this before, but I think it was during this trip I realised that the many, many wounds from my childhood wouldn’t ever be healed with the help of her or anyone else. I was looking for answers to questions I could barely formulate, but I was looking in the wrong place. It was a bizarre week in so many ways, but on the upside it gave me with the clarity I needed to move forward.
And then I moved to London, Stoke Newington, and started second year at SOAS. I loved SOAS from the get-go, and I still have so much love for SOAS and the academic experiences I had there. I missed passion when I was at Aber. At SOAS, passion was everywhere. SOAS has an extremely active and passionate student body and every week the union would send out details about whatever demonstration was going on that week. The demonstrations were about everything from bringing SOAS cleaners in-house for better working conditions to making SOAS divest in fossil fuels (which, by the way, it fully did in 2018 as the first-ever UK university). It was amazing and I loved every second.
Meanwhile, Mr Penpal and I were struggling and we eventually decided to split up. I got a haircut and started seeing some friends after having spent most of my time either studying or trying to figure out the future of us.
I started freelancing for a think tank and a creative agency, which all of a sudden meant that I had a bit of cash. The money went solely to financing a more comfortable life. Having some excess money was wild. I started eating out a few times a month, I discovered the joys of going for brunch and suddenly I didn’t have to choose the cheapest thing on the menu. I loved it, and I actually think I performed better at university as a result.
Mr Penpal and I got back together and celebrated New Year’s Eve together, and 2012 ended on a great high. Overall, 2012 was an epic year. Lots of incredibly hard work for sure, but the returns were outstanding. At the end of the year, I was living in London, studying at a leading university, having two side gigs that I genuinely enjoyed, and I was dating my best friend. Not bad at all.