Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Beginnings And All That Sentimental Crap

What better way to end the year for two blogger-friends still in their pajamas on New Year’s Eve, eagerly awaiting an evening of junk food and romantic comedies, than to share with you some soppy sentiments of our past year together. Here are a few snippets of our 2013, we hope it was as magical for you as it was for us.


2013 has been an eventful year, to say the least. I completed my undergrad degree (without shaming myself) from Malaysia, Travelled across the globe, to grey ol' London, to do my Masters in a subject I’d never seen myself doing, got to be room mates with one of my closest friends, AND managed to get a job! Looking back now brings up mixed emotions. No matter how much I try, I can't get myself to write a coherent reflection of 2013.  So here are spurts of the year that was: 

2013 was the year of losing faith in myself and working hard to reclaim it. It was marred with huge periods of self-doubt and fear of losing. Starting with my final year project. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed to hand in a 12,000 word project without going crazy (Well, I did go a little mental). Handing in the project was one of the most fulfilling things I've ever done. It was a reminder for myself that I can do anything I set my mind on, if I put my complete trust in God and give it my best shot. Alhamdulillah.

2013 was the year of exciting beginnings. I will remember this year as the one where I dived into something so new that it unsettled me to the core. Starting a degree in a new subject (in a new place) is a little scary, especially if you aren't sure about the choice you made. But it was also the year that I learned to stop trying to control every aspect of my life and make peace with the choices I have made so far. It has been a bumpy ride with lots of twists and turns. And yet, it has only made me stronger AND earned me a few friends in the process!

2013 was the year I got my first job. Had a REAL interview,held my breath, bit my nails and made it through! It’s the year I began trusting myself to stand on my own. Yes, living on your own is tough but it’s equally exhilarating! I am a little high on this freedom, hope it never wears down!

2013 was the year I finally realized how grateful I should be (and am) for my family- My parents and brothers. I have been my daddy’s little girl and my brothers’ annoying elder sister. This year, found out that I have a soul sister too- My mother. My parents are probably the first ones who will read this post. So let me be sentimental for a minute and let this out: You guys are the best gift Allah has given me. With every atom in my body I thank you for being the amazing people you are. Thank you for believing in me. For enabling me to find my own feet. Nothing I say or do can even come close to repaying you, So I will spend the rest of my life trying to be the daughter you two deserve. I love you.

Finally, 2013 taught me to cope with loss. It showed me that life takes its own course no matter how badly you want to stay in that moment. I lost my uncle a few weeks back and still haven’t come to terms with it. What it has led to, though, is a greater appreciation for the people I have in my life right now. Life has led me to so many different places and brought in so many wonderful people in the course. I am thankful to God for each one of them. For those reading this, I don’t know what role I play(ed?) in your life, but you have been kind enough to let me in. So, Thank you! Meanwhile, I hope I was able to bring in some goodness, a little bit of laughter and maybe a dash of joy into your life! I don’t know how long I’ll be around (before I die or you kick me out), but while I am here, I hope that at some point I have been the reason behind your smile.

Now as we leave behind this year and step into a new one, let us take a moment out, from all our resolutions and celebrations, to be grateful for everything gained and lost. As the wearied 2013 slips out of the window and we wait with bated breath to let the new year in, let's pause to give the past its due in making us who we are. For bringing us to this moment. Now. 
Here's to a more exciting year filled with love, joy and laughter! 


Keeping with the tradition of reflecting back on the past year, I cannot deny that 2013 has been life changing. But reflecting back for me doesn’t necessarily take me back to the beginning of this year, but rather three years ago, when I first entered university and this journey actually started. I was nineteen, naïve and new. And in the blink of an eye, here I am in 2013. 

I am so thankful to all the things I was able to see this year. I’ve had to say goodbye to Malaysia which I miss deeply- to speak of homesickness now is not just to speak of Sri Lanka, but Malaysia as well. I graduated with all my best friends and embarked on a new journey in LSE which was a dream come true, and here I will continue to cherish the wonderful memories and experiences I have been given. I am so blessed to have been amongst so many wonderful people in the past year who have taught me so many lessons about love, ambition and forgiveness. Your life is only as good as the people you are with, and I am thankful to all of you that have been a part of my life this year, especially my parents and my friends, both old and new. 

One thing that I have been accepting lately is that real life happens in-between the big plans we make. Big plans like at the end of next year I will have my first job, at the end of next month I will have a dissertation topic, at the end of this day I will have a carefully edited article on my blog. But what about right now, tomorrow at 3 o’clock, the middle of next week, moments we don’t plan out to be the way we want them to be; these are the times we must not forget to appreciate. It is quite evident to me and those close to me that I often do not live in the moment, but find happiness in hoping for the future. This is something I will strive to change as the years go by, as I try not to believe too much in the certainty of tomorrow. Quite recently a friend of mine posted on Facebook something that has stuck with me; she misses the time when we could have the time of our lives, and not need a picture to prove it. If there is one thing I could wish for next year, is that I have such moments. Moments of unexpected joy that has not been planned or hoped for, moments of beauty that I can close my eyes and imprint in my memory, something I can tell myself, I will never forget this, THIS is my life, right now. 

At the end of 2012 I would never have dreamed that I would be where I am now. This is why I am so glad to be unaware of what 2014 will bring. Uncertainty and the anxiety of uncertainty is a good thing, it’s what makes me keep on trying. As Nazreen said to me last night, why not celebrate the old year as much as we celebrate the new year? So that is exactly what I will do, celebrate today and dream of tomorrow.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

London: an artist’s paradise

If there is one thing I have taken advantage of by living in Central London, it is experiencing the great theatre and art landscape. It must be said that being an LSE student brings its perks when needed- free theatre tickets! (which would never be a priority under a London student’s budget). Now who in their right mind would say no to that?

The first was a performance of Georg Kaiser’s “Morning to Midnight” at the National Theatre, an opportunity given to me by the LSE Drama Society (the best decision I made during the freshers’ fair). Even though I had no idea what the play was about, I was so excited to see my first play in London. The theatre was bigger than I had ever seen before. When the first scene started, I was mesmerized by the revolving set and the large screen projections of shadows and on-stage scenes. There were no blackouts between scenes- merely one scene merging into another effortlessly. The story revolved around a bank clerk who robs the till and is forced to come to terms with his sins. The script was witty, smart and had a touch of that old British humor that I had grown to love during my childhood through watching re-runs of ‘Allo ‘Allo and Fawlty Towers with my father.

My second theater visit was to watch the musical “Stephen Ward” at the Aldwych Theatre. The music was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who himself gave away a heap of free tickets to LSE students! The Aldwych Theatre had a more traditional vibe than the National Theatre, with side balconies that reminded me of the opera. Nazreen was eagerly sitting next to me- it was her first musical and I was so excited for her! The curtains opened and we sat and absorbed close to two hours of love, power, political scandal and lust, all brought out by a talented cast with flawless voices as they sang to Webber’s beautiful songs with a live orchestra below. On our way out, we thought we caught a glimpse of the man himself, conducting one final song while a few spectators cheered on…but we will always wonder if it was actually him!

As for the art, I have become a phantom spectator gliding in and out of the many rooms of the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. Surprisingly it is not only the art that catch my attention. I find myself observing the spectators as much as the paintings; the French school children, the Japanese tourists, the historians and even the odd couple enjoying the silence. As taking pictures inside the galleries is frowned upon, I try to absorb these new images so that they will be etched in my memory for a long time. Some paintings draw more attention than others, and I stop and stare at the Italian landscapes with its immaculate detail and portraits so real I have to keep my face two inches from the glass to be convinced that it was created by a human being, just like the others. These are my favorite pieces, ones that make you doubt the power of art until you allow yourself to step into the artist’s world, to see the world in new ways. These “moments” I have with London’s art are truly wonderful, and I find myself walking out of the gallery knowing that I have left many sections out, just so I may return again and again to discover the things left unexplored.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The 10 phases in an International Student's Life

Did you notice time sneaking off? ‘Cause I didn’t and IT’S CHRISTMAS BREAK ALREADY! AAAAAAH!

Okay, I am being over-dramatic (just the Indian in me).  But seriously, where did the two months go? Just seems like yesterday that I (nervously) boarded a plane to get me to this land of grey skies and endless streams of tea. If there is one word to explain how it has been so far I’d say- Rollercoaster Ride. Okay that’s two words, but you’ll forgive me, won’t you?

I have been in a pensive mood today. And my deep, deeeep thought have led to this finding- An international student’s life is similar to a lunar cycle. Our feeling for the place we are in wax and wane according to how far we are into the term. Not convinced? Here’s proof then:

Phase 1: PRE-DEPARTURE-NERVOUS EXCITEMENT: This is when you are so, absolutely excited that you are actually terrified. It’s like a million butterflies- with baby butterflies in their stomachs- doing back-flips in your stomach. You have a million things running through your mind as you pack your bags for one year abroad. You are excited about meeting new people and at the same time horrified at the prospect of not making any friends at all. In my case I atleast had the stand by option of having Chalani as my room mate. Knowing someone for three years classifies them as a friend, right? ( Sorry, Chal, you were just a backup). This phase also involves endless nightmares about embarrassing yourself in your new class.

Phase 2: ON ARRIVAL- THIS IS IT! : This is when you land and realize that your months of preparation, endless editing of personal statements, and follow up emails begging for reference letters has led up to this moment. I remember feeling so incredibly blessed to have this great opportunity at hand. And boy was I hyper (and the fact that I’d demolished a large pack of m&ms in the flight did not help).

Phase 3: SETTLING IN: WHAT NOW?: I don’t know if I am the only one who feels this, but every time I am in a new place and I finish unpacking, I feel unhinged. It’s that moment when you finish making your bed, sit down and just sigh- What now? Suddenly, you are overwhelmed with homesickness which soon leads to a panic attack. All your thought are in CAPITALS. ‘WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE?’ ‘OMG, WHY DID I LEAVE HOME TO COME HERE OF ALL PLACES?’ ‘I AM GOING TO FAIL MY DEGREE’ ‘IAMTAKINGTHENEXTFLIGHTHOMENOW’ (this is when you are so upset that you forget to space your thoughts). This isn’t a pretty phase and it doesn’t help one bit that when you look outside your window all you can see is grey skies and ugly brown backs of buildings (Before coming I had this huge fantasy that I’ll get a room with a huge window with a comfortable ledge where I could just sit for hours and look at the London eye or Big Ben. Fat chance).

The view I thought I'd have

Sad Reality

Phase 4: NEW BEGINNINGS: The first week here was a flurry of orientations and inductions. I also managed to collect a drawer full of pamphlets, leaflets, maps; enough to have killed a few trees. These meetings are fun because you meet new people (and people, you will later realize, you won’t meet again for the rest of the term). You feel good knowing that there are others in the same boat and you manage to get yourself excited about your course again.

Phase 5: CLASSES BEGIN: LOSING YOURSELF: I remember my first class vividly. It was a 10 am class which I was so nervous about that I was waiting outside well over an hour before it began. I was literally shivering. I went in, with 50 other students, and let panic awash me as I saw a sea of new faces. It’s funny because I’ve faced this situation a dozen times already (I’ve studied in about 10 schools!) and it never fails to overwhelm me. There is that moment when you think you will never find your feet again, but you take a deep breath and dive in anyway.

Phase 6: THAT-MOMENT-WHEN-YOU-REALIZE-YOUR-PREVIOUS-DEGREE-WAS-A-JOKE-AND YOU-ARE-IN-FACT-THE-DUMBEST-PERSON-ON-EARTH: I have a BA in Communication Studies and Literature so, naturally, I was a little under-confident about pursuing a Masters in Political Science. This feeling magnified a thousand fold and shattered my self-esteem to bits after my first seminar. It’s a wonder I didn’t cry in the class because I-WAS-LOST. I felt like a 5 year old sitting in on a conversation among adults. I had NO CLUE whatsoever about what they were talking about and all I wanted to do was wish that I could morph into an Ostrich so I could bury myself and not see any of this. This feeling will subsequently fade only to reappear mid-term when you are left anchor-less in a sea of readings which are Greek to you.

Phase 7: FINDING YOUR FEET: ‘MAYBE I CAN DO IT AFTERALL’: This is around 3 weeks into the term when you realize it’s not so tough after all. You begin to enjoy your course and what you are studying genuinely interests you. This is my favourite bit (duh!) because I feel like all this was worth the struggle. I feel this intense urge to study to know more. My friend Misha’ari recently wrote about this feeling- Philomathy: "to love learning; to seek acquisition of knowledge and facts." It’s really a wonderful thing to experience! I felt so happy and grateful that I really enjoyed what I was doing.

Phase 8: STRESS BUILD- UP AND LETTING OFF STEAM: This is something I am really embarrassed about- I get stressed easily. If I have multiple things to do I sometimes blank out and go crazy. This happened a little after mid-term when I felt so over-burdened with readings (stop rolling your eyes!) that I just broke down. I had a good crying session and an hour long conversation with my dad, telling him I can’t do this anymore. The sob session did end eventually. I think it’s a weird coping mechanism. This is how I let off steam and it does help me get back on track.

What helped me let off steam

Phase 9: EXPLORING NEW PLACES: This is one of my favourites bits. It’s after all the drama and letting-off-steam episodes when I suddenly realize that I am living in the heart of London. My hall is a stone’s throw away from Trafalgar Square and I am about 10 steps away from the Thames. So why the hell am I sweating the small stuff?!

I like taking detours from my way back from uni and just checking out random nooks and corners of London. I am big on aimless wandering, where I just walk, ignoring all maps,with no place in mind. And this is the best way to really ‘feel’ a new place because, for some weird reason, I don't like mapping places geographically and fragmenting them with streets and signs. I like to map them with what I feel when I am there. It’s difficult to explain. It’s like getting a sense of something by running your hands over its bumps, ridges and crevices instead of actually seeing it. 

My memories of places are peppered with people and obscure spots instead of landmarks. What I tend to remember is sipping on steaming coffee in a small café and listening in on an old couple’s banter, after a long walk in the cold. What I cherish more than the standard tourist picture is chancing upon cozy second hand bookstores, hidden amongst bright shops selling novelty souvenirs. And what I enjoy most here is the conversations I have with random people in the most unexpected of places. My favourite one was at the supermarket(!) when this old lady taught me how to choose fresh bread by feeling its crust. She then told me that she learnt it from her grandfather and uncle who were both bakers. I never met her again, but I’ll still remember that instance because it is a wonder, when you think about it, that two strangers, from different spheres of life, can meet and touch each others’ lives for the briefest of moments.

Phase 10:GETTING COMFORTABLE: FORMING A ROUTINE:  There’s a tendency for things to fall into place when you are not looking. You will not realize that your life has sorted itself into a semi-formed routine that you enact everyday. Wake up- Have a strong cuppa coffee- Facebook-Walk to Uni- Pretend to study- walk back- fall asleep on your readings. This happens without your knowledge. And it’s a nice feeling when you get a drift of what’s going on. You are finally comfortable. In this huge city, with its grey skies, wet roads and polite people, you have finally found a spot for yourself. It’s comfortable in the sense that it grows on you. In the sense that you forget the discomfort before you found it. And you realize that you are happy. For that moment at least.