2015 was a big year for me. I graduated from university and made the career move that set the path I’m still on. But, let’s start at the beginning.
Norwegian had just lost my suitcase with 95% of my wardrobe. We’re talking work clothes, gym clothes, going out clothes, all kinds of clothes. Underwear, gym shoes, phone charger, makeup. Poff. Gone. I had to take basically every penny I owned, about £500, to try and replace the lot of it. For the first time in years, I had no savings and I felt very poor. It was an excruciating feeling, so I came to the conclusion that I needed money and I needed it fast. I had been freelancing remotely for TransferWise since I left for Uganda in 2013, so I reached out to my boss and asked if I could come back in-house twenty hours a week in addition to my freelance gig. Luckily for me, she asked me to come in already the next Monday. As a result, it wouldn’t be many weeks before I was once again cash positive.
Two weeks after going back in-house, Norwegian found my suitcase.
It didn’t matter though. I loved being back in the office. We’d been about 20 people when I left TransferWise and when I returned, we were just about to announce our Series C and we were now roughly 100 people in the London office, and 300 or so globally. The buzz was palpable and I loved every second of it. It wasn’t long before work became my favourite part of the week and university started feeling like it was getting in the way.
Nevertheless, I kept grinding away with my dissertation and I spent most of my weekends at the SOAS library. Dissertation aside, third year of university was in many ways a breeze compared to second year. I had finally cracked original thought and had many strong opinions on the policies and execution of developmental aid in the global south. This was a direct result of my year in Uganda where I’d witnessed first-hand how complex many of these things are.
Every now and again I’d sneak out of the library for drinks with Abbie, Kirsty, and the rest of the Queensbridge Rd ladies. They were all five years or so older than me and I was pretty jealous of them not having to work weekends, and the fact that they’d all been working for several years and had made significant progress in their respective careers. I had loved university and SOAS in particular, but I was beyond ready to graduate and start working full time.
I eventually finished my dissertation and celebrated by going to a house party in Hackney where I met a hilarious Irishman. I’d been back on Tinder for a few months with many great stories as a result, including when I matched and subsequently went on a date with one of my former lecturers from back when I studied in Wales. I was mainly looking for a bit of fun, and the Irishman turned out to be exactly that. Among other things, he was very open about the fact that he was attempting to overcome his porn addiction. Yes, you read that right.
Around the same time, I had a five-week period where a misunderstanding led me to believe that I was Jewish. Obviously, I instantly joined Jswipe, a dating app for jews, and had a phenomenal time dating jews from all over the world. It was great, until I found out that I wasn’t actually Jewish and had to quietly exit all my great Jswipe conversations. It could’ve been embarrassing, had it not been so hilarious. I loved my five weeks of being Jewish (lol) and was actually a bit sad when it became clear that I wasn’t.
My contract at TransferWise came to an end and I started doing a bit of freelance work for Kano, another startup in East London. I loved the startup world and the fact that everyone was young, hustling, and in it together. I was offered a place to do a masters at LSE, which had previously been a dream of mine, but decided to turn it down. I was done studying.
Well, I say that, but I still had my final exams left. I tried to keep my head down, and in May I only ever really left the library to go flat hunting. I wanted to live more central than I did and as luck would have it, a friend of mine was going abroad for a few months and offered me her studio flat in Shoreditch. For the first time in seven years, I would get to live on my own.
Two days before I sat my final exam I signed the contract for my first full-time position. My former boss at TransferWise had left and offered me a job as a press officer at another fintech startup that she had just joined. I celebrated with prosecco as per above.
And then I finally sat my last exam! Here’s what I wrote at the time: ”After four years, three universities and two continents I have finally sat my last ever undergraduate exam. Highlights from degree, in no particular order: transferring from Aberystwyth to SOAS aka the best university in the world (Errestad 2015), taking a year out to move to Uganda, getting to know the intellectual love of my life @its_clairedoss, travelling to the refugee settlements on the South Sudanese border to do field research for my dissertation, and, finally, managing to fit the words ”Foucault”, ”biopower” and ”smörgåsbord” into the same sentence in my final exam. DEGREE: DONE 🎓✔️🎉”
I went to Stockholm for a long weekend to go to Hannah and Amanda’s Golden Year Gala with Isabelle, my internet-gone-Uganda friend. Daniel Redgert interviewed me about Hannah and Amanda and how I thought they offered some consolation in a world that can otherwise be pretty dire for young women.
And then I finally graduated! I got a first-class mark in every single piece of work I did during my final year at university, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to get me across the finish line to a first-class degree. I had an average of 69.875, 0.125 marks away from a first-class degree. I wasn’t even annoyed, I was just so happy to finally graduate. No-one from my family came to my graduation ceremony, and as a result, I almost didn’t go myself. I eventually asked two friends if they would want to join me, and I’m very grateful that they did.
Somewhere around here, I started seeing Mr Penpal again. He came to visit me in London and I went to see him in the south of England where he now lived. It was odd. It had been nearly two years since we split up, but somehow it still felt like we belonged together. He’d been a huge part of some of my most transformative years and he’d almost been a sort of catalyst where he helped me to find a better path than the one I was on. I eventually asked him to get back together. In a weak moment, I even offered to leave London and move down south. Always very wise, he saw that this wasn’t a great idea. So I got on the train back to London, heartbroken once again.
I ended up turning to exercise and signed up with a PT. In five weeks I went from never training to training 4-5 times a week, dropping a dress size and a half as a result.
My travel buddy Ingrid and I went to Lisbon for a long weekend of excursions.
Julia and I went to Berlin, Korfu, and Albania in the space of three weeks. We hitchhiked along the coast of Albania in what seemed like a completely normal move. Hitchhiking turned out to be an excellent way of travelling in Albania, we met loads of great people who showed us the hidden beaches along the coast.
I moved in with Kirsty at the end of the summer and spent what felt like a fortune on plants and flowers. I loved it here and in many ways, I was now living my dream. I’d graduated from university, lived in a gorgeous flat in East London, and had managed to negotiate a great entry-level salary at a job I actually enjoyed. Life was great.
And then I went on a date with a guy I’d met when I freelanced at Kano a couple of months earlier. We went out for drinks one night and then we didn’t really leave each others’ side. He, let’s call him A, was exactly what I needed at the time. Dating someone as a professional as opposed to being a student was wild. We did all the things, we rented a car and went to Norfolk three weeks after our first date, and three weeks later we took the train to Amsterdam. Both of us felt that we probably moved a bit fast, but it was fun, so.
My boss, the one who’d hired me at TransferWise and then recruited me to the next company where she worked, quit. I was devastated. It felt like I’d been abandoned by a parent and I didn’t really know what to do. One thing I’ve learnt since is that people leaving a company is a great opportunity to take a step back and look at what the org really needs. In this case, the company’s Head of Comms left and the company was in urgent need of someone to step up and man more of the comms efforts. I was offered a promotion from Press Officer to Comms Manager. I was pretty scared but accepted the offer (and the salary bump) and bought my first Aesop, hehe.
Christmas came up and I spent it with new and old friends in London at a friend’s friend’s pub that was closed for the holidays. One of my more decadent Christmases for sure.
A had invited me to come and spend NYE with him in his native US. I’d never been to the US before, but Julia had just moved there and I didn’t really feel like not seeing A for two weeks, so I decided to go for it. I flew to San Francisco on Boxing Day to hang out with Julia before flying to LA where I met with A and his family. We’d been dating for three months at this point and it was pretty intense, but fun.
Julia flew to LA a few days later and the three of us AirBnb’d a flat in Hollywood. We ended up at a wild house party in Hollywood Hills on NYE in what felt like an episode straight out of the OC. Looking back, it was a pretty fitting end to 2015.
I never in a zillion years thought I’d live in a house. It wasn’t a dream of mine and it’s not something I ever thought about. Granted, I also didn’t think I’d fall in love with someone who happened to have three children. Then I met H and everything changed. It became obvious that everything I thought I knew about the future and what I thought I wanted was wrong. It also became obvious that we would never not live in a house. It really goes to show that we often don’t know where life will lead us. So here I am, living in a wonderful 1920s castle with H and the kids.
I enjoy interior design and turning a space into a home, but decorating a big house can be pretty overwhelming. Decorating the flat I lived in prior to moving in with H and the kids was a fun little adventure that required very little time, money, and energy. That’s not really the case with the house. Decorating the flat felt cute. Decorating the house can often feel… Vulgar? Excessive? I have spent more time than I care to admit thinking about wall paint and at one point it sort of spurred an existential crisis. Have I really become the sort of person who a) cares about wall paint and b) can’t make her mind up about what colour to pick? Well, yes, that actually does seem to be the case.
But I can’t help myself. I love the results and when a plan comes together.
I’m currently thinking about wallpaper and glass cabinets. We’ve been discussing what colour we should paint our bedroom walls for a very long time and painting the bedroom has made its way onto the 2020 house roadmap, but I’m starting to think that maybe wallpaper is the way to go. So then we’ve gone from ”which colour” to ”which colour and pattern”.
But wallpaper seems to be the solution to our (my) concerns. It’s important to me (us) to respect and honour the heritage of the house. It’s a 1920s house and should be decorated and treated as such.
So I’m currently looking at a lot of William Morris wallpaper, and other wallpaper that—let’s be honest—resembles those of William Morris. Apart from wallpaper, I’m also thinking about glass cabinets since we need one for the dining hall. We have a gorgeous glass cabinet already that we moved across the house into the dining hall, only to realise that it’s way too big for that space. It’s beautiful though, so we’re keeping it as storage until we’ve figured out what to do with it. But it means that we need a smaller cabinet for the dining hall.
I want something old, rusty, and sturdy. Ironically, the old and rusty tends to be quite expensive which normally puts me off a purchase for quite some time… And that might actually be a good thing. It means more research, but also a chance to really understand what it is that you want and need.
So yes, decorating the house takes time. It’s taken me some time (lol) to realise it, but that might also be the charm. We will live here for many, many years, hopefully decades to come. It can take some time and it’s fine.
But we’ll get the bedroom wallpaper up this year, so help me god :))))))
First of all, thank you so much for all your love on the OMG WE’RE HAVING A BABY post, here and on Instagram. I entered week 18 a few days ago so we’re almost half-way through, which is pretty wild considering that it feels very unreal still. I was at the doctor’s today where it was confirmed that I have PGP (pelvic girdle pain, or foglossning in Swedish) and that, too, feels unreal as I certainly don’t feel pregnant enough (lol) to have PGP. I’ve otherwise had a pretty smooth sailing pregnancy with minimal levels of physical discomfort and, to be honest, most of the time I don’t even think about the fact that I’m pregnant. This is great news, because it’s like a wonderful ”ah yes!” every time I remember.
Anyway. After my doctor’s visit I worked from Beyond Us, the place that has officially become my office away from the office. I love working from the office, but I also really enjoy getting out a bit and working from various cafés around town. Beyond Us is excellent for this. Other great spots include AB Småland and Atrium, but they can both get a bit loud.
I finished my calls and went for dinner with Olivia at Saluhallen. We went to the same high school but only got to know each other when I moved to Malmö three years ago. Then she moved to Stockholm, but now she’s back in Malmö! It’s been a good two years since we last saw each other and since then both of us have changed jobs, moved cities and houses (I moved to NYC and then back to Malmö), and, of course, one of us is pregnant. Lots to catch up on.
And then it’s now. Back at home doing a rare facial and catching up on some reading. I just read a wonderful Vice piece by an old acquaintance of mine—Milly donated her eggs and explains why it’s her proudest achievement. It’s a five-minute warming read and you can find it here.
I flew back to Uganda after two weeks in Sweden. I’d been living in Uganda for four months at that point and I’d made a tight group of friends. Being an expat is odd. I thought I’d make loads of Ugandan friends, just like I’d made loads of British friends during my years in London, but that was very naive of me. As a white person in Uganda, you stick out like a sore thumb and it’s very obvious that you don’t belong. People know that you come from a rich country and the majority treat you accordingly. It’s just different.
I felt very lucky to have made such a great group of friends in Uganda. We were a group of exapts from Britain, the US, Ghana, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, and many other places across the world. I was the only one who worked at an embassy, most others worked for the UN or various NGOs.
I was promoted to Assistant Programme Officer and my new job was to help oversee and report on the implementation and progress of Sweden’s aid to Uganda’s justice sector. Unfortunately, President Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law just six weeks after I started my new job, which spurred Sweden to freeze all aid to Uganda’s justice sector. This changed my day-to-day work significantly. Instead, I started working with humanitarian issues in relation to the civil war that had just broken out in neighbouring South Sudan and the refugees that were making their way to Uganda. It was wild to first see the impact of Ugandan policies on Swedish aid and then, of course, to get to closely witness how Uganda responded to a refugee crisis of the magnitude that the civil war in South Sudan brought on.
I’d led the recruitment of the intern who was going to replace me, and this is how I got to know Fanny. Fanny was the new intern after me and she moved in with me at La Fontaine, a guest house on top of an Indian restaurant in central Kampala where we had an epic spring.
Our boda (motorcycle) drivers picked us up and took us to the office at 8 am every morning. Public transport isn’t really a thing in Uganda. It exists, but it’s hugely unreliable and traffic jams mean that bodas are the easiest way to get around.
We took the bus to Rwanda, only a 12-hour ride away, and stayed at very cheap hostels and had lunch at not-so-cheap hotels. Friends on Instagram kept saying that ”this is not what I thought Africa would look like”, lol.
The embassy organised a global conference called Global Gender Equality Meeting where Swedish diplomats working with gender issues all over the world came to Kampala to share insights and learnings from their respective missions. The representatives from Kabul made a particularly strong impact on me. They shared stories of how they worked with local mullahs who agreed to sell condoms in their mosques and how they, together with locals, set up donkey clinics in an effort to target hard-to-reach areas.
A group of us went to Nairobi and Mombasa for Easter break and we couldn’ stop talking about how lucky we were. The Americans introduced us Europeans to the concept of spring break as a group of them rented out a huge villa and turned it into a frat party with pool and drinking games, making it feel like an episode straight out of the OC.
We went to an actual cave restaurant for oysters and bubbles, which was also my first ever oyster experience!
I started dating and eventually hit Tinder… With varying levels of success.
The final year of my undergraduate degree was coming up and I wanted to do field research in Uganda for my dissertation. I’d heard that our university had five scholarships available for undergraduate field research. As ever, I didn’t *really* think I’d get the grant but I contacted a professor back in London and asked her if she would be willing to supervise my thesis. She eventually agreed and I applied for the grant in order to go and interview South Sudanese refugees, Ugandan locals, and local governments on the impact of Uganda’s refugee policies in local host communities on the border to South Sudan. Looking back, it makes a lot of sense that they gave me the grant. I’d already been in Uganda for nearly a year and had many of the connections needed. Nevertheless, I was shellshocked and very proud and excited when SOAS emailed me and said I was one of the five grant recipients.
Isabelle, my first ever internet buddy from way back in 2006, came to Uganda for a few months to do field research for her dissertation and she moved in with Fanny and me. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a glorious and hilarious friendship between the three of us that lasts to this day.
I went on about a zillion field trips that spring and saw more of Uganda than I’ve seen of Sweden.
I met people with extraordinary stories from different times of war and unrest, from Idi Amin all the way to Kony and the ongoing war in South Sudan.
Fanny and Isabelle moved back to Sweden and I left La Fountaine to housesit my colleagues’ houses when they went on their summer holidays. La Fountaine was extremely basic and my colleagues’ houses, well, they weren’t. It was a significant upgrade.
A few weeks before I was due to move back to London, I travelled to the border of South Sudan and interviewed locals, refugees, and local policymakers on the impact of Uganda’s generous refugee policy on the local communities.
And then, a few weeks later, my boda driver took me to the airport one final time. I published the above photo on Instagram and wrote that ”I’m ending my year in East Africa 2013/14 with this picture of me and my boda guy Salomon because, like to a major Ugandan news outlet just stated, the most important man in the life of a young, modern woman is her boda driver”. It was true. Salomon took me to work every morning, but he also picked me up from bad dates (and some good ones), he came to get me from the club in the middle of the night when there were no other bodas around, and he told me what areas to be cautious of. He was phenomenal and made me feel looked after.
I went on a little Europe trip before moving back to London. I managed to fit in both Copenhagen, Sweden, and France, like here when we’re celebrating Kirsty’s 31st birthday at her parents’ house in France.
I moved into my new flat in London, a tiny two-bed that I shared with a lady who was obsessed with skulls. It was about as bizarre as it sounds. I was ready to make a home for myself but my flatmate and I weren’t on the same wavelength so it wasn’t ideal. But she had a cat and I spent a wild amount of time cuddling that cat, wishing it was mine hehe.
I was now in my final year at university and spent most of my time at the library. But things had changed from the last time around. I felt significantly older and like I was in a different place. I’d kept working for TransferWise throughout my time in Uganda and I was juggling that and other freelance gigs as they came up, and my year in Uganda had given me bucketloads of confidence and perspective. I still enjoyed university for sure, but everyone seemed so… Young. And they were. Most of the first-year students were six or seven years younger than me at that point and many of them mistook me for a PhD student, lol.
Ingrid and I went to Budapest for a weekend getaway.
I worked from home whenever I didn’t have lectures and didn’t have to cycle the 14 kilometres to university.
Donata, my TransferWise boss, got married and threw an amazing wedding party in the countryside.
I quit smoking for six months and bought a Mimi Berrry bag with the money I’d saved… And then I sort of started again. Classic.
But more than anything, I was really just working. Work work work. I flew back to Sweden to celebrate Christmas and I had taken most of my savings and bought an entirely new wardrobe since all of my clothes from Uganda was either stained or patched up. I felt fresh and happy, so you can imagine what a nightmare it was when Norwegian lost all of my luggage and therefore 95% of all the clothes I owned. I was devastated, and all of a sudden very poor. I didn’t know it at the time, but Norwegian losing my luggage came to have far bigger implications than I could’ve imagined.
But that story belongs in 2015.
Yes. We’re having a baby. I still can’t quite believe it. It’s the most human, normal and yet miraculous thing. I’ve always been completely mindblown by pregnancies. There’s something so fundamental about putting new life into the world.
I’m learning many things about myself as I go through life being pregnant. I always thought I’d be a very chilled mother, but if this pregnancy is anything to go by, it turns out that, WELL, I might not be. H finds this funny, and unsurprising. I’ve been sleepless with worry over things that are beyond my control, namely whether the embryo-gone-fetus would survive the first 12 weeks. I found out that I was pregnant before my period was late, so I had a good eight weeks of worry before I could put that to rest.
My pregnancy is also putting many things into perspective. I’ve been so worried and wrapped up thinking about this little growing thing inside of me, that things I’ve been worried about for years and decades have suddenly…. Evaporated. Ceased to exist. I no longer think about them. They’re simply not important. It used to be, but isn’t anymore.
Being pregnant has also made me think about my mother and when she was expecting me. She was 18, basically a child herself, and it was… Well. It was not good. Becoming a mother myself is mindboggling and almost too wild to fully grasp. But what’s even wilder is that this tiny human has a father who, truly, is the most extraordinary person I have ever met. And then we haven’t even talked about this tiny human’s three older siblings. Three older siblings to show the way. When I think about the fact that our baby will take his or her first steps into the world knowing nothing but this family, it’s just… Well. I get very emotional. And I almost can’t believe that life seems to have turned out so well.
So, yes. We’re having a baby. Five will become six (!). I hope. If everything goes well. I pray every day that it will.
First working week of 2020 in the books! I didn’t realise how badly I wanted to get back to work until I actually started working again. I love winding down and time off for sure, but I get itchy if I’m off for too long. And I get anxious about going back to work, thinking ”what if I won’t like it”, without realising that going back to work is exactly what I need.
So, Monday was phenomenal. But I decided to do a little something each night to start the year and the decade off right. On Monday I took a long bath. On Tuesday we had ice cream on the sofa. On Wednesday I made a nice meal. On Thursday… Umm not sure what happened on Thursday. But actually, I’ve been making Real Dinners™ (yes, from actual recipes) every night of this week and that alone has made every evening of the week feel special. I also went to the doctors who told me that I have iron deficiency, which might explain why I’m exhausted at the end of every day and normally don’t have the energy to cook dinner. But in any case, doing something, even if it’s nothing, like taking a bath, or having ice cream, or reading a book, has made this week feel wonderful.
And finally, I booked a trip with one of my best girlfriends. We’re going to London in three weeks without any to-do’s. It’ll be my first leisure trip to London in more than ten years. I go back to London every few months but it’s always because of work or weddings or other to-dos. It’s lovely, but this will be something else and I can’t wait.
I lived in London at the beginning of 2013 and I loved every second of it. There were some incredibly rough times at the beginning of the year, but being in London and being surrounded by my friends carried me through.
I had an unintentional dip dye (those were just my roots!) and I started going to the Columbia Rd flower market almost weekly. This is probably when my obsession with fresh flowers started.
I was still living in my Stoke Newington flat and I loved having my own room with an open fireplace. It didn’t work, but that didn’t matter a single bit. It was my first own room since I’d left my Helsingborg flat five years earlier (my room in student halls aside) and having that freedom was something else. I loved my flatmates’ drug-infused house parties a little less, but that’s another story for another time.
I appeared on Spark London, a stand-up reading event, where I talked about how Mr Penpal reaching out to me on my blog played a huge role in changing the course of my life.
As ever, I spent a wild amount of time at the library. When thinking back, though, I remember less of the library and more of having a richer life than I’d ever had before. I visited restaurants, enjoyed decorating my room, bought flowers and plants, and even travelled a bit.
Like in March, when I went to visit Mr Penpal in the French Alps. He’d moved there for work for a few months and as a result, I got to go skiing in the Alps for the first time ever!
I didn’t grow up going on skiing holidays and it was crazy to me that I had built a life where I had the financial means to go skiing in the Alps.
This was also something I felt about visiting restaurants and even enjoying the odd cocktail. It was so far away from any life I’d led and having earnt enough money to actually do all those things felt amazing. I remember constantly thinking that I was the luckiest person alive.
Between work, studies, and visiting restaurants, I was also fine-tuning my CV and applying for internships. Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers internships at embassies around the world and I’d been dreaming of doing an internship at one of the embassies for years. I’d set my eyes on the Middle East, but for good measure, I also applied to the embassy in Kampala, Uganda.
I also applied for a summer internship in PR (!) at a fintech (!) startup. I didn’t know anything about PR and much, much less about fintech and the startup world, but the job ad was written in such a compelling way and all I could think was that I needed to get this job. It went something like ”The banks are taking people for a ride, and we need someone to help us let the world know”. I didn’t know much, but my studies had shown me that banks and other big institutions had taken many people for a ride for a long time, so I decided to go for it. I wrote my cover letter in 20 minutes, cycled to Shoreditch, and handed it in in person. I was asked to come in for an interview already the day after, and after a second interview with the CEO, I was offered my first ever internship in PR. Again, I couldn’t believe my luck.
Meanwhile, I was preparing for my second-year exams and the fear was palpable. I tried to stay calm but, truth to be told, I was terrified. I’d studied hard throughout the year, even with all those restaurant visits, but somehow it felt like I hadn’t cracked the SOAS code. 95% of my work at Aberystwyth had been awarded a 1st class mark, but at the end of my second year at SOAS I’d still only achieved a 2.1 (which is the grade mark before a 1st). It was as though there was a trick that I wasn’t aware of. I later realised that ”the trick” that was missing was original thought as opposed to just building an argument based on what others had said, but original thought can be very elusive. I didn’t manage to crack it in second-year and ended up scoring a 2.1 overall.
Any remorse I had about only scoring a 2.1 disappeared soon though, as I was offered an internship at the Embassy of Sweden in Uganda. It’s difficult to describe what this meant to me. My attitude, when it came to applying to embassies, SOAS, and everything else, had very much been that ”I will likely fail, but if I try with everything I’ve got, at least I know that I’ve done everything I could”. It was never once obvious to me that I would succeed. It kept coming as a surprise and it was a humbling and awe-inspiring experience every single time. But I felt very proud and happy.
Patricia and I took the bus (!) to Brussels to visit Ingrid, a friend of mine who was a trainee at EEAS, the diplomatic service of the EU which is headquartered in Brussels. We spent the majority of the weekend talking politics and our various upcoming moves. Patricia was preparing a move to Istanbul and I remember thinking that I had the coolest friends ever, hehe.
I had another four months left in London before moving. I started my PR internship at the fintech startup I was so excited about, and I was given this book by the CEO on my first day. It was an excellent book and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in building something great. Fun fact: the CEO of the first startup I ever joined is an angel investor in the startup where I currently work. Full circle!
We were roughly 15 people in the London office when I joined and we had just raised $6m in our Series A. For context, TransferWise is today 2000 people strong and has raised $772m in venture capital. In 2013 it was still a nimble team and that summer I learnt all about developing compelling case studies, building stats banks and press lists, and pitching spokespeople to various conferences.
Mr Penpal and I had moved in together for the summer. We went to Cornwall with his family where we had a daily routine of tennis and ice cream, and we kept talking about him visiting me in Uganda. Still, something felt off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what so I didn’t say anything, but something felt wrong.
I headed to Tallinn a few weeks later for my first ever international and all expenses paid work trip. It felt like a milestone, and it was. I couldn’t wait to tell Mr Penpal about it, but when I got back to London he had quietly packed up his things and moved out. I wasn’t so much devastated as confused. It was only two weeks before I was moving to Uganda and I understood nothing. An even more confusing breakup followed over the next few days and I didn’t have the bandwidth to process it at the time.
Instead, I threw a big leaving dinner with an even bigger cake for my friends and family in London. Ivy took me out for afternoon tea, I went shopping for office outfits suitable for an embassy environment, and I put my one suitcase of belongings in storage.
And then I moved to Uganda! I felt a little lost at first and I remember being insecure about my Swedish. It had been years since I spoke Swedish on a daily basis and I’d never spoken Swedish in a professional setting.
I found my place soon enough and I made a great group of British girlfriends. They are, to this day, some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and that autumn in Uganda is something I’ll remember forever.
But as I was living my wildest dreams I had also just been dumped by my boyfriend of three years and I didn’t really know why. It was rough. I was sent back home from the office one day because I couldn’t stop crying. It came from nowhere, and once it had started, it didn’t end. I spent hours on Skype that autumn, crying to my dad and stepmum about my lost love. I published the above photo on Instagram and nothing had ever felt more true.
Things didn’t really get better, but at least I travelled to Zanzibar to visit my uni friend Claire who was doing a year abroad. We spent ten days exploring Stone Town, snorkelling, and getting to know Claire’s host family.
I went to Karamoja in north-eastern Uganda on my first field trip as part of a wider assessment of Swedish aid to and in Uganda.
I spent many weekends by many pools and although it felt like I had just arrived in Uganda, I already needed to plan my next move. The original plan was to move back to London after my internship, but after the breakup I didn’t feel like I had anything to move back to.
I applied for more internships and was offered a position at UNFPA. Going from a diplomatic mission to the UN should’ve seemed wild but I wanted to stay in Africa and the UNFPA position was in Copenhagen. And as luck would have it, a paid position opened up at the embassy in Kampala. I applied and got the job, securing another eight months in Uganda.
December came and I flew back to Sweden to spend the holidays with my family. I felt lost, like I didn’t belong anywhere. I lived on top of an Indian restaurant in Uganda and that was my life. My friends back in Sweden seemed amazed that I’d been offered a paid position at the embassy, which is basically unheard of for interns, and I was too. At the same time, I felt very lonely and confused. It was great to go to Sweden for the holidays, but it didn’t change the fact that I felt lost.
2013. What a year.
I’ve been overwhelmingly and unexplainably sad and anxious over the past week. There hasn’t really been a real reason and I was starting to think that something was seriously wrong. But then I went back to work and all the anxiety disappeared in an instant. I love work and I love to work. Better yet, I love my job, and I’ve missed my colleagues over the holiday period. It’s interesting though, I tend to be fairly exhausted before a long holiday is coming up, but it doesn’t take long before I can’t wait to get back. I even went back to work one day early. And I’m so, so happy that we’re back to normal life now.
I thought I’d continue with the decade summary though, so do stay tuned. Writing them up has highlighted to me how much can be done in a decade. An endless number of things, people, and moves, or so it seems. That might be why I hope to have more quality and less quantity in the next decade. Fewer things, people, moves. And better relationships with the things and people that are already in my life. Fingers crossed!
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.
Being in Koster means you get the time and space to really think about the big stuff. About where you are and where you want to go. Writing my decade in review also helps. Ten years is a long, long time. I can’t remember having many or any particular big dreams at the beginning of 2010. I was pretty lost at the time, so my big dreams came a few years later. I wanted to work in diplomacy and I wanted to have an international career. I also decided that I wanted to save the world. Easy! I got to work in diplomacy and I have an international career, but when I tried to save the world I got the impression that the world didn’t really want to be saved. It was a bit of a mind-fuck to be honest. And instead, life somehow led me to PR.
Basically, the past ten years taught me that achieving one’s dreams is definitely possible, but sometimes those dreams might not be all that. It’s with that in mind I discussed my hopes and dreams for the next decade. Here are some of them, in no particular order.
*Build a stellar marketing function at Mapillary
*Write the book
*Get to a point where I save and invest more money than I spend every month
*Give birth to a healthy child—or two, if I can be greedy!
*Eventually, go freelance before setting up my own business
*Earn my first 1 million SEK as a sole trader, and my first 10 as a business owner
*Build an orangery
*Give more of my time and money to local association groups whose missions I care about
*Get to a point where we feel done-ish with the house (it’ll never be done but you know what I mean)
*Take H and the kids skiing in Canada for H’s 50th birthday (luckily there’s eight years before that one)
*Build and stick to an exercise regime that works for me
*And most importantly, give as much TLC as each and every child in our house needs and do whatever I can to help them see the power in kindness, resilience, and perseverance
There’s not much travelling on my list. I hope I’ll get to travel a bit in the new decade, but mainly for a change of scenery and the chance to relax. It might sound wild but I’m so happy with all the places I’ve already seen and visited. For this coming decade, I’m happy focusing on work, family life, and growing and building where I am. In Malmö! Hehe, I’m so excited about these next ten coming years. Fingers crossed I’ll still be blogging as we enter the 2030s.