Tuesday, 5 September 2017

KB Abroad: 10 things I learned in my first 10 days

Today, a blog that is rather more personal, but one that marks the start of a ‘year abroad series’ – a little cliché but a good way to highlight significant events in the next year. I've moved to a country of bikes, cheese and lots of canals! There are hundreds of great things about a year abroad, but there are also moments of doubt. So today I'll take you through some of the highs and lows of the first 10 days here in the Netherlands, because there are a few things that get bypassed when someone tells you about their year abroad… 

1. Doubting why I did a year abroad

I never ‘chose’ to do a year abroad. I went to Leeds because my programme had a year abroad built in. Although I mentioned that before Christmas I thought about dropping it, I never really questioned what it would mean to pack up to a new country and study there for a year. Let me tell you, it is daunting beyond my imagination and I completely and utterly underestimated it. I arrived and within 24 hours I wanted to go home. The reality of what I had decided to do became all too real and I was totally unsure of how to deal with it. I was faced with exhaustion and anxiety at what felt like every moment of the day and it was completely overwhelming.  

2. Parents are heroes

I like to be independent and often find it quite hard to say ‘Hi yes actually I’m struggling please can you help me’. It might not come as a surprise then, that when my first week took me to a difficult place mentally and I was struggling to do daily tasks because there were a LOT of tears, I felt that I shouldn’t ask for help. To cut the story slightly short, my mum (the hero) flew to the Netherlands that same day in order to help me settle and my dad followed a few days after. I was so apprehensive to say yes to them flying out, but deep down, I knew I needed some help and moral support in order to feel more comfortable in this new city and country. I’m lucky that my parents are willing to do this for me, but it’s so important to recognise that when you fall down, there are ways of being picked back up again.

3. Crying is A.O.K

Crying is 100% ok and I can only say that now because I spent the most part of my first week either holding back tears or just letting them flow freely.  New language, new people, new university… It’s definitely normal to feel a bit lost and teary, especially if you’re a bit on the sensitive side like lil old me. So if you feel like curling up in bed with a cup of tea and Netflix, go ahead my friend, there is no judgment here! Just make sure that it’s in balance with taking opportunities, meeting fantastic new people and venturing out into a bit of the unknown, no matter how much you feel you can’t.

4. Brexit is a great ice-breaker

Just mentioning the comical situation of UK politics is a really great way of talking to people. Everyone seems to be interested in why we voted for it (not that many of us really know that anyway) and wants to know what will happen (yeah… we also don’t know that one either). Laughing through the pain of our country becoming a political and economic laughing stock has its benefits… 

5. Holland is flat

Like, really flat… I don’t think I had realised just quite how flat it is.. which is great for cycling, but also really strange when you realise there’s no dramatic landscape views and a very abrupt coastline.

6. Dutch speak English ridiculously well

And it makes me feel a little embarrassed that the British education system fails to equip school students with decent language skills in even one other language. Perhaps it is the remaining legacy of British Empire that quashes our desire to learn languages, because so many others speak English. Nonetheless it is completely humbling! 

7. The first day in a new uni is strange

It’s daunting and rewarding. My year abroad is slightly different from the typical exchange as a lot is expected of us. Many people do a year away to see another part of the world, travel but mostly have a good time. Being on an exchange at a music college, all these things are on my to-do list for the year, but we are also expected to hone our performance and technical skills that our instrument requires. I haven’t experienced an environment like this before so of course, my first day was quite nerve-wracking. However, coming away feeling inspired, motivated and excited was a reminder that without venturing into the unknown, we might not discover the depths of our capabilities.

8. Take baby steps

It’s so easy to expect everything to fall into place at once, when in reality it takes time. With new people, a new routine and a new environment, the productive day isn’t going to happen overnight. The first couple of weeks in a new city are also  e x h a u s t i n g, so by setting a realistic idea of what is achievable in these first few days will be much more manageable than loading everything at once.

9. Feel the fear and do it anyway

This was the name of my previous blog post, so I felt it rather apt that this should be on my list. When handed my timetable, I wasn’t entirely sure what all the modules were so I thought ‘Ok, let’s just go to them and see what they’re like’ So, when I found myself in a class which combines performance, composition, improvisation and arranging, I felt completely out of my depth. Apart from performance, I have only touched upon the other topics. I fought every instinct to walk out of that classroom saying, ‘Sorry, but this isn’t for me.’ The realisation that I could use this year to challenge some of my weaknesses suddenly seemed like an incredibly appealing opportunity, rather than just leaving them to fester further! So many people say you can reinvent yourself on your year abroad, but actually you just give yourself the capacity to be challenged and learn so many things about yourself because of that.

10. This is an incredibly unique experience

The likelihood of being able to study in this way, in another country for the small amount of money that I’m paying is really unlikely (lol thanks Brexit). The long and short of it is, make the year count for something, even though I might not know what that something is yet.

Going on a year abroad is really hard, but I have no doubt that for the few times that I feel unsettled and anxious, there will be twice as many amazing experiences in the year that lies ahead.



Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Feel the fear... and do it anyway

This morning shit got real. I woke up and realised I needed to stop denying the inevitable year ahead. It's exactly one month until the start of my year abroad, so I finally booked my flight to Holland, my new home for the next year. I can't pretend that I’m not incredibly nervous because that would be a lie; I'm moving to a new country, to spend a year at a music college with no other people I know... It's going to be intense.

I have never been particularly good with change, in fact, I tend to freak out a bit when things go a little differently. And despite having experienced a fair few changes, the biggest one to date being moving to Dorset in 2012, (which if we're judging from evidence, turned out pretty darn well) it's still something that tends to leave me feeling a little unsettled. That said, over the last few months I have moved out of my home in Dorset and Leeds, lived in Manchester for 7 weeks and now I am in my family's new home in Bristol with a month to go before my next chapter in The Netherlands. I felt a little uprooted, but in reality my roots will always be there, they're just spreading a little, and isn't that part of what life's about? (EPIPHANY)

What I'm starting to realise is that there isn't a right or wrong way to do things. Yes, there is a legal system we have to take into account, but when it comes to our jobs, education, emotions... the spectrum is almost infinite. We take life at our own pace, in our own way and we have to be patient with ourselves if sometimes we feel we are responding to a situation differently from others. It's neither bad nor good, it's just as it is, but it can be so hard to maintain that perspective of objectivity because we are almost conditioned to judge ourselves nowadays. This will definitely be a thought that I try and bring with me into the next year, especially when it comes to studying music as it can often feel so brutally personal.

There was a period just before Christmas when I so nearly pulled out of applying for my year abroad, but boy am I glad I didn’t. The prospect of that year became a reality and it scared the bejesus out of me. It would have been an all too easy option to finish my degree in the usual three years, opting out of the year abroad that had originally persuaded me to study at Leeds.

Just over a year ago, I wrote the post Art Changes, We Change, a post I am really proud of. Reading over it again, it reminded me that it's OK to do things a bit differently; embrace the individuality! Mum once said to me 'feel the fear and do it anyway', the perfect mantra if you're ever doubting your own ability, because now I find myself probably just as scared as I was before Christmas, but with a little more excitement thrown in. I'll be living in a beautiful city, in a culturally-thriving country with the rest of Europe on my doorstep. I'd be a fool not to make the most of that while I can (and while we're still in the EU...).

Catch you in The Netherlands friends.


Zwolle - my new city!

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Courage of Love

An ominous grey cloud landed on the UK today, leaving in its wake despair and devastation. The heart-breaking news of what happened in Manchester yesterday evening came as such shock to us all, wishing that it might not be true. It actually took me a couple of hours to really register and reflect on what had happened. So, naturally I turned to the only way I really know how to process and express my feelings.

To feel afraid in your home city or country is an unsettling thought. The place we might have grown up or called home, now held hostage by an attack that took the lives of the most vulnerable and innocent in our society. An attack by people who cannot comprehend, nor understand the infinite boundaries of the human soul and spirit, which in the most desperate of times the Mancunian people demonstrated that they have that spirit in abundance. They opened their homes and offered their help on the night of one of the worst acts of terror Manchester has seen. They showed that despite these attacks, kindness will still prevail. And it must.

Those who conduct these attacks aim to break up our society, they seek to rip us apart through sowing seeds of fear into our minds and divide us. What we all have to remember now is that they will not succeed by throwing violence and hatred at us, because we will always respond with compassion. Compassion for those who are suffering and for those who are vulnerable. We must act with love to everyone around us, understand that it is people with a warped view of the world, acting in a selfless way that is not true to the values they claim to be guiding them.

It is almost a year since the day Labour MP and humanitarian activist Jo Cox was murdered and I feel it is quite fitting to be reminded of part of her maiden speech in parliament.

                ‘We are far more united and have more in common than things that divide us’

I really think this is so important to remember as we move forward from this day. It takes courage to overcome our fears, to trust in people and to show solidarity, but it was shown last night and I hope it will continue to be shown in the future. When we act with love and courage, we can stand up to the adversity that we see before us and this, now more than ever, is how we must respond to last nights attack.
the words of Rupi Kaur. My thoughts go out to all those affected by the attacks last night, may they find peace and hope.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Being a Boomerang

So after saying in my last post that I hoped my blogging might blossom a bit more in 2017, it’s taken me until 1st April to actually get my act together and write something. This has been borne out of having an incredibly busy term and realising that I’m not as independent as I might have thought and that it’s also not bad to come to that realisation!

I, like so many other Music students, struggle to say no to things and this term I think I reached my breaking point. I have always thought I could just manage anything, but it turns out I actually can’t… I feel like there’s this expectation at university to appear as though you are having the best time of your life and when you aren’t there must be something wrong with you. Errrr hello? Everyone’s different and will experience university life very differently. For me, I have experienced some of the most stressful times and I know I am not alone in feeling like university isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. And that’s not to say it’s not great, because it is great. I’ve met great people and experienced great things. However, sometimes the nights out, the workload and business of uni life doesn’t leave you feeling as fulfilled and happy as you might have thought. (This could segue into how I feel student support should be easier to access, but I might leave that for another day.)

What I’m trying to get at, is that it’s ok to admit that you’re not ok and that returning home makes me feel better because you get that TLC and safety of home comforts. Throughout first year, I was determined to feel as though I didn’t need to go home and I didn’t need my parents because I was moving out and then I would be an adult and my parents couldn’t tell me what to do anymore, right??? However, even though now I’m 21, I still like nothing more than a hug from Mum and Dad and a coffee with my school friends. It’s perfectly 100% acceptable to admit that you need a break and to reset. I am terrible at self-love - acknowledging where my strengths lie, giving myself time and space just for me - but I feel like I’ve reached a point where I’d like to feel more positive, so I think I need to take a bit more time to practice self-love. If I don’t feel like going out that’s fine! If I’m not getting the grades I want, there are ways to change that and I don’t need to beat myself up about it because actually, it’s not the end of the world. I think I continually forget that university is not just about academia, but also self-discovery. By which I mean, working out who are the best people to live with, understanding budgeting…. (thank goodness for my overdraft) and becoming the fully fledged adult my parents hoped that I could become.

There is a piece of writing by Khalil Gibran about children and their relationship with parents and life. It makes the analogy of a bow and arrow as the parent and child; that the bow must line up the arrow to the best of its ability in order to release it into the world and allow it to flourish on its own. As we start to leave home, we realise we are the arrow in full flight, not really sure where we will land and that can be really scary! I do understand and love this analogy, but right now I feel more like a boomerang and coming home reminds me that although I want to be out in the world discovering things, it’s definitely healthy to return home for rest and recuperation before venturing out again. I have numerous worries and doubts about what I am going to do with my life, whether I am doing the right degree and why I don’t feel like I’m having the best time ever but, I believe it’s better to ask all these questions than to do what I feel is expected of me. There are 80+ years that don’t involve university, so if there’s 1 week, 1 term or 1 year that isn’t enjoyable, I will accept that, try and make the necessary changes and hope that the good times will roll in. 


Dad has always been my fashion icon x

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Things I'm thankful for in 2016

‘Three blog posts in 6 months?!’ I hear you cry. Yes, it’s true and I hope these posts might blossom a little more in 2017 too. I’ve never really done one of the more ‘all about me’ posts, so far they’ve either been about art or politics, which can be a little heavy. However, I feel that this is an important one to write about. So, here you have it, a few things I'm grateful for this year.

My Leeds Family

I’m not ashamed to say that I probably didn’t have the best first year ever. I met some incredible people and had some of the best times, but it was all very new and different. However, my housemates in second year have allowed me to lean on them when I thought I didn’t need them, they’ve opened my eyes to the important things in life and helped me to live in the moment. Noizy May forever. To RPA, I love you all, Planet Earth 2 would not have been the same without you. And lastly Mhairi and Liv. You’re amazing. That is all.


An odd one… but because it has been monumentally shit and hopefully, it can now only get better. (Please, please, please!) Thanks to Brexit and Trump for I have been reminded how important it is to try and do good for the world. No matter how big or small it is, if you stand up for your values, you are true to yourself. And there is nothing worse than not being true to yourself.

Its obvious and it’s cliché but, they're pretty great.

I hate to admit it but…. NYCGB

And not just for the singing! I’ve loved being challenged by this choir, but the thing I love more are
the people who I met while doing it. In particular, Anya, Maisie, Rachel, Georgia, Pippa and Zoe are without doubt some of the most supportive, talented and modest people I know. We see each other far too little, but they are my go-to’s with all things feminism, a reliable source for some of the most hilarious stories and the reason I do NYC. 2017 will be my last year with the choir, and as much as I moan, I really have had a great time and met some even better people.


Moving to Dorset in 2012 changed my life in so many weird and wonderful ways. First of all, I met some of the most amazing friends I could ever have imagined. They have supported me through thick and thin and I could not be more grateful to them for everything they have taught me, whether they realise it or not. (Now they might…) I would never be studying Music had it not been for Dorset, and although my job prospects might not be as high as when I wanted to do Law, I have fallen in love with the arts and challenged myself in ways I didn’t think I could.

I’m sensing a theme but, 2017 will also see an end to my family living in Dorset, but I could not be more happy that we moved there in the first place.


Time to get soppy!!!!! Before 2015 I hadn’t seen Ella for 9 years, and we re-met at a time when I really needed an Ella-type in my life. This year she came over to England for the first time since she moved to Australia, and we spent most of the summer together gallivanting round the South West and London and finishing up, as you do, on a boat in Greece. We were reunited last week after 3 months and to my JOY, she ended up staying with us for Christmas. She has seen me on my grumpiest days and still made me laugh, provided endless fun and met my entire extended family and turns out, she is just as mad as they all are. I am SO glad to have you in my life, Tina, you fat lard. Can’t wait for the next adventures.

So that’s that!! Thanks everyone who made 2016 so memorable. Happy New Year, hope it’s a good‘un. Here’s to 2017!


Sunday, 13 November 2016


It's been a turbulent week, let alone year, for global politics and it's taken me a while to gather my thoughts after the presidential election result on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. I don't think I felt the shock that many people had felt, as after the Brexit vote won in June, it seemed anything was possible. So on Tuesday evening, to me it didn't seem inconceivable that Trump might win. However, I think for this reason, I didn't fully digest the impact of what many people in America voted for.

I sat on the train on Sunday afternoon on the way to York, and stumbled upon this picture on twitter.
It hit me then that, yes, Donald Trump, this cartoon caricature-esque man will be president of one of the most powerful nations in the world. This picture really sums up politics in 2016 and for me, what is the culmination of an anti-establishment movement and hopefully it won't go much further... I felt angry, but also desperately sad that the president-elect, whose campaign was essentially centred around negativity, would be succeeding our beloved Obama. He and his family represented equality and determination; it's an extraordinarily complex and confusing reality to accept, not least because he didn't even win the popular vote. 

The vote for Trump was a vote to regress and it makes me worry for what lies ahead, but we who believe in liberty, equality and justice must now stand together and defend our basic human rights.* In the past century, mankind have done so much to raise the standard of equality. By no means is it perfect, but let's not forget that not even 100 years ago, did women have the right to vote. 
  • 1920 - Women in the USA obtain the right to vote
  • 1964 - Civil Rights Act
  • 1967 - Sexual Offences Act - decriminalised homosexual acts in private 
  • 1990 - Americans Disabilities Act - prohibits unjustified discrimination based on disability
These are just some of the notable advances made in the past century, and more notably that same-sex marriage in the UK and USA was only made legal in this decade. Trump has openly made comments that contradict the purpose of these acts. But, we are not about to forget all the progress that has been made and this is why we must show solidarity with anyone at risk in America. 

The pledges that Trump has made are worrying, repealing Obamacare, because why make healthcare affordable for more people anyway??? Equality - Trump has no respect for women. 'Locker room talk' is not excusable, As a president, you set the precedent for the people of your country and this does not bode well. Allegations of sexual harassment and rape are unquestionably serious. He is also viewing the world with this archaic belief that homosexuals do not have the same rights as heterosexuals.

We may be far from the USA geographically but, they are our neighbours across the pond. We now have to show strength as humans. We are so much stronger together, than we are divided and it is so important that we don't allow prejudice to overcome compassion and freedom.

After what became a rather enraged Sunday, luckily, it finished off with some light relief whilst watching Planet Earth 2. So, I will leave you with one of my favourite moments from tonight's episode, to welcome in the new week. 


* http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/ - Articles 13-15

Tuesday, 12 July 2016


These are the words that I found staring at me as I walked across Millennium Bridge towards Tate Modern, en route to The Globe theatre having spontaneously decided to see Caroline Byrne and Emma Rice’s production of The Taming of the Shrew.  As a strong believer in the accessibility of art forms, no matter what your background, these words seemed to resonate with me and this theme continued throughout the afternoon.

Shakespeare’s original script for The Taming of the Shrew, can be seen as dated when it comes to addressing patriarchal conformity. This interpretation of the renowned Shakespeare comedy, distances itself from hierarchical gender roles.  Set in Ireland, Easter 1916, it is a firmly feminist, poignant and refreshing production.  A prime example of how art (and attitudes) change as the world changes.
After the performance there was a Q & A with the actors in which, to my surprise an elderly gentleman queried ‘Was it your intention to drown out the original Shakespeare text with all that physical theatre?’ After a collective gasp from the audience at The Globe and some Cameron-inspired question avoidance, the query got me thinking. On one hand, the man was right. There was a lot of physicality involved in the staging – ‘vulgar’ gestures, the well-known lame cool guy handshake, (Joey and Chandler inspired, I’m sure…) physical comedy, breaking of character, I could go on… But not for one minute did it drown out the Shakespearian text, nor the extremely relevant and important message proclaimed by the directors about how far women’s rights have (or haven’t) come in the past 100 years.  It was accessible for young and old, for the Shakespearian connoisseur or the fresh-faced newbie and that was its beauty.  Honestly, I could talk about this wonderful play for hours on end, but the real reason for my writing this is change.

Art changes, we change. And we do change. I know I certainly have, for one thing I used to find Shakespeare utterly tiresome and yet, on that warm, sunny Saturday afternoon on the Southbank I found myself moved to tears in the final scene. (Thank you Mum for dragging me to so much Shakespeare as a child!) To the surprise of many of my friends, 12-year-old me, when asked if I wanted to go to the opera, replied; ‘Why would I even?!’ and yet here I am, eight years later, studying music at university as a classical soprano. On a more current basis, we in the European Union and the United Kingdom are experiencing many changes as we prepare for a new Prime Minister and a potential life outside of the EU. Ironically, many of the Vote Leave supporters, just like the disdainful theatre man, didn’t like change. They didn’t like that England isn’t ‘English’ anymore, just like he didn’t like that the play wasn’t quite true to the script.

Change and diversity are not something to be feared, it is something that we should embrace, be it socially, culturally or artistically. Unfortunately, we cannot change what has happened, (if you were one of the many 18-25 year olds who did not vote, boo, shame on you) but we can keep an open mind. Art changes, society changes, politics changes, the world changes and we change too. To get stuck in your own outlook is a curse – we should allow the beauty of culture to envelop us because it champions diversity and unity. As T.S Eliot stated, ‘Culture may even be described simply as that which makes life worth living’.

I doubt I will see another production that moved me so much for a while and I want to thank that old man for epitomising so seamlessly my dislike towards the superiority complex surrounding art and politics. The importance that lies in straying from the script is not necessarily an aspiration to improve, but one to develop and understand; something that society should appreciate.