02 January 2013

How I Got Right Here (and to London) - 2012 in Review


                                          They said "get thee to a nunnery" and I was like, "yeah, that's probably for the best."

2012 was not an easy year.

At some point in late 2011 I woke up and realized how badly I had fucked up my personal life, and I reacted with a horror akin to a David Lynch heroine in a surrealist nightmare. I had spent years making selfish choices in a cloud of self-grasping ignorance, and one of the most devastating periods of my life was when I truly realized that the choices I had made were in no one’s best interests, including my own.

I could barely live with myself. I tried all of the old remedies to make myself feel better, and nothing worked. I had a new dharma-inspired window of self-awareness that made it impossible for me to bury my head in the sand with quick fixes. I plunged into a brutal depression that lasted four long months of anxiety, rumination and deep, dark sadness. I think the only thing that kept me afloat were the 24 credits I was taking at school – I was forced to stay responsible and not spend all of my time drinking wine and crying, no matter how much I wanted to.

Time passed, as it does, and made things a lot easier. I started a pretty strict regime of yoga, meditation and dharma practice and began eating healthily and drinking less booze and a lot of kombucha. By April I graduated with First Class Honours and was feeling much better – and thank god for that, because I soon had a major bombshell explode: I was denied entry to grad school at McGill University.

I had been so confident that my perfect gpa and spectacular references would get me into the Masters of Communication program at ‘Canada’s Harvard’ that I didn’t actually apply to any other schools. When I was informed that the admissions board didn’t think my proposed research topic (dealing with the ethical issues around UNESCO World Heritage Sites) was suitable for the department I was absolutely crushed. I felt rejected and disappointed in myself. All of the sudden I had an empty calendar ahead of me - 12 months of panic-inducing blank pages.

Good thing I like filling pages.

Within a few days I was feeling better. My mum said, “Vi, I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but this has happened for a reason - you didn’t get accepted because it wasn’t right for you. I promise the right path will reveal itself.” I didn’t know if I really bought her new age garbage, but I did decide that another year of vagabonding was in order.  I wanted to start my journey in Nepal with the November Course at Kopan Monastery and then I would backpack through Africa and the Middle East.

My favourite prof was not jazzed on the idea of me lacing up my nomad shoes - again. “You need to get experience in your field, not only for your CV but also for your grad school applications. Backpacking is not going to help with your goals, Dear.” I knew she was right, but I also knew that I still had unfinished business with my wanderlust. I was at an impasse.

And then I went to Chapters. Normally I abhor big box bookstores, but I was downtown and needed to buy some gifts. On my way to the checkout I noticed that there was a table of discounted books – 2 for 25 dollars. I snapped up a copy of Little Princes, a book about an organization in Kathmandu that works to reunite trafficked children with their families. “Salient to my interests,” I thought. I had no idea how salient until I sobbed my way through Conor Grennan’s account of starting Next Generation Nepal. I went home and drafted a very unorthodox cover letter (it mentioned that I like to make salads and other random Violet Dear facts) and sold NGN on the fact that they needed to let do pro-bono professional work for them. Turns out I had some free time in 2013. About 10 months of the stuff…

Within 4 hours I had sent the email, and two days later I heard back from a very interested Martin Punaks. Over the next few months it was solidified – I was offered a spot on the NGN team. I was (am!) humbled, grateful and excited to start working for this amazing NGO.

My plans to explore Africa were scrapped and instead I started making arrangements to live in a Kathmandu, a city that I once described as magicaland mystical and… filthy. But first, before I could even leave Vancouver, before I could attend the November Kopan course – I had something even more important to attend to. Grad school applications. Oh yeah. Those.

My last few months in Vancouver were a hectic whirlwind of packing, dating (don’t ask. Murphy’s Law.) and tourguiding my little heart out, attempting to save up a nest egg off of which to live as I worked in Nepal. My research on different grad school programs was completed in fits and starts, great energetic bursts during which I would read journal articles by professors with whom I was interested in working, compare course names, peruse syllabi and search tuition costs.

I realized that as much as I love the theory of Communication Studies, my interests are now more allied with Anthropology. I wanted to marry my love of architecture, travel and heritage, and lo and behold – the United Kingdom actually has many grad programs dedicated to just those things! I knew that I wanted to obtain a Masters Degree in Cultural Heritage Studies, and that I wanted my longterm career to involve working with governments of developing nations to manage their built heritage in a way that does not maintain or create the oppression of vulnerable minority groups. As I researched schools, one choice came up again and again as a perfect fit - none other than the University College of London.

Now, I learned a lot from my experience with McGill – it’s foolish to only apply to one school. Do not do that - rejection stings, yo. But I also didn’t have the one valuable asset that I needed – time. Applications take forever, and my departure date coincided almost perfectly with the opening of UCLs application portal, so I knew that I would be applying in the literal last hours before entering a month of silence. I carefully pre-planned all of my references, my essays and my personal statement and waited for November 1st to approach. I also chose a back up school – the University of York. I submitted my packages online and headed to Nepal.

Schools in the UK do things a lot differently. In North America there is a deadline for grad school applications, a date by which all applications must be submitted. At that point a panel compiles all of the candidates and goes through each one by one, deciding all of the admissions at one time. In the UK, nuh uh. New students are all decided on a first come first serve basis, and I knew that I would receive a yay or nay answer within 10 business days. So, let’s do some math (or maths – I am heading to England, afterall):

November 1st – I applied
November 11th – I checked into Kopan for a month of meditation 
November 15th ish – answer sitting in inbox
December 11th – Sprung loose from the monastery; allowed to check email


By December 5th I couldn’t bear it any longer. I was positively brimming with nervous anticipation for news that I knew was so close, yet so far away. I snuck out to an internet café and there was indeed an email announcing that I was accepted to the University of York. I was pretty elated, but still no answer from UCL. I trudged back up the hill to Kopan and let everyone know. I got a lot of high fives, and it was nice to be a confirmed for something, but I was still hoping for London.

Two days later we took a massive group trip to circumambulate Boudhanath Stupa and many people decided to stay behind to grab lunch and a coveted espresso before returning to Kopan Hill. After a gut busting lunch of momos I guiltily snuck away to a small internet café. I was about to announce the trip a bust when amongst all of the spam and junk I noticed a message with “Congratulations” in the subject line. I clicked on the email and began to cry. It was from UCL, advising me that I had been offered a spot in the Masters program for 2013/14. Did I want to accept?

Yes. I did.

It’s been a month, and the news still hasn’t sunk in. I am a future alumnus of a school that was ranked fourth in the world this year (nbd, nbd) and that feels awfully weird for the white trash spawn of a teenaged mother from Surrey. I have a morbid fear that everyone will be all Eton-y and fancy and I will be way out of place with my tattoos, course little trucker’s mouth and my love of John Waters. BUT. That doesn’t really matter when I think about how excited I am to live in LONDON, a city that I love. One of the most exciting, interesting and fun cities I have ever visited. A city that looms large in my imagination as a place I’ve always felt I belonged. And if I am worried about my white trash roots, honey, this is a country that has spawned Little Britain, The Sex Pistols, Vivienne Westwood, The Arbour and Geordie Shore. In this company I’m all class.

2012 started off unbelievably terribly, and when McGill turned me down I thought that it was only getting worse. But, it turns out that my mum was right – THANK GOD I WASN’T ACCEPTED. It was not the right thing for me. Right now I would be sitting in Montreal working on a degree that doesn’t really fit what I want to do for a career. I would not have gone to Kopan and met hundreds of amazing people and learned more about dharma – and myself. I wouldn’t be the Ethical Tourism Advisor for NGN, a position that will enable me to help countless vulnerable children and learn about my field, and I wouldn’t currently be in Sri Freakin’ Lanka. Most importantly – I would not be moving to London in October to attend my dream school.

So, 2012, you taught me a lot of lessons. You kicked me around a bit, but you were filled with a bounty of surprises and wonder by year’s end.

And 2013? I like you already.

Lots and lots of love. Go follow your fucking dreams, bitchez.

2013 is off to a good start.


V said...

Frick, this is great news!

CONGRATULATIONS! I wish you the best year yet!!!!!!

notyourrevolution said...

A great example of how patience & perseverance pays off! You are going to achieve great things in 2013, I'm sure!

Tonia said...

You are not going to be out of place at all: Britain welcomes tattoed, coarse, trucker-mouthed bitchez far more than it does it's own Old Etonians! Congratulations for all you've achieved - you give me hope. And a small amount of bravery. Who knew that could be transferred via blogging? T'is a miraculous thing indeed.

Matthew Rose said...

This is all a very very good thing - we look forward to welcoming you to London ith open arms x