Best books I read in 2017

I had an even harder time writing this than usual. From the 82 books I read over the course of the year, I whittled down to a short list of 22, and getting from 22 to 10 was a very challenging task, leading to me saying goodbye to a swathe of the books I’ve rated 5 stars on Goodreads this year. Still, this can’t be a bad thing really – it just says a lot about the year I’ve had in reading.

Common themes are immediately obvious – 9/10 are women (and the 10th is of disputed authorship so it’s possible that all 10 are women, who knows) and 8/10 are in translation – special mention to Megan McDowell who translated two of them! It comes as no surprise, then, that a good portion of the list is taken from things I read in Women in Translation Month back in August. I never got around to doing a proper round up post of that, but since half of them are in here, not such a big deal! Increasingly, I’m reading primarily modern stuff, with most of the below published in the last couple of years And finally, the writers come from 9 different countries, illustrating just how much fun I’m having whilst reading my way around the world.

10. Susan Abulhawa – Mornings In Jenin

The story of a Palestinian family who were evicted from their homes in 1948, told through four generations and centring on Amal, a young girl at the beginning of the story. This was a deeply uncomfortable and painful read at times which made me cry on the tube more than once, but it was so compelling it was difficult to put down.

9. Samanta Schweblin – Fever Dream (trans. Megan McDowell)

I raced through this in one sitting and didn’t know quite how to feel afterwards. Not quite horror, but unsettling all the same.

8. Scholastique Mukasonga – Our Lady of the Nile (trans. Melanie L. Mauthner)

Another pick for the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club, which I’m not attending much at the moment due to not being in the country for most of the year and subsequently attending German classes on the same nights, but trying to read along where I can. It’s set in a girls’ school in Rwanda during a period of increasing tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi communities, dripping in religious, tribal and political drama as well as the day to day concerns of teenage girls in an all girl environment. A chilling prelude of what was to come.

7. Mariana Enríquez – Things We Lost In The Fire (trans. Megan McDowell)

A book of short stories from contemporary Argentina, on the face of things unconnected but all with similar threads running through – the darker facets of modern life. Told in beautiful(ly translated) prose with a hint of magical realism here and there, this is another one that I read in one or two sittings because I just found it so difficult to put down.

6. Kurban Said – Ali and Nino (trans. Jenia Graman)

This is the exception to this years’ rules in a couple of ways, in that it (probably) wasn’t written by a woman and it’s also a lot older than the others. I picked it up as part of my read the world challenge (for Azerbaijan) and was immediately transported to the Caucasus of 100 years ago and to the challenges of the love story between Christian, Georgian Nino and Muslim, Azerbaijani Ali. This is another one that had me in tears on public transport at the end, with beautiful writing and an incredible evocation of place throughout.

5. Olga Tokarczuk – Flights (trans. Jennifer Crofts)

I’ve been a fan of Tokarczuk for a while and regular readers (!) will have noted her appearing in my end of year lists before now. However, this one just blew me away. Threads are drawn across time and space to pull together this strange but enchanting narrative, which I don’t really have the vocabulary to explain but loved all the same. I should put in a mention for Fitzcarraldo Editions‘ beautifully put together books (to which I’ve now taken out a subscription) – and I’m really excited that they’ll be publishing Books of Jacob, by all accounts Tokarczuk’s masterpiece, next year – and also translated by Jennifer Crofts.

4. Dorthe Nors – Mirror, Shoulders, Signal (trans. Misha Hoekstra)

This is one of those books you read that occasionally hits a bit close to home. I found myself really identifying with the protagonist, Sonja, who by the sounds of it had just as hard a time learning to drive as I did amongst other things! The prose is absolutely exquisite throughout. I had a hard time believing it was pipped to the post by A Horse Walks Into A Bar by David Grossman, which I wasn’t impressed with, but as we discussed at the book club meeting on the subject, we all take different things from reading and this was a book which particularly resonated with me.

3. Ananda Devi – Eve Out Of Her Ruins (trans. Jeffrey Zuckerman)

Now we’re getting to the difficult bit. 30 seconds ago, this was sitting in position 2, but sorting out the last few positions has been so difficult because it’s been such a good year! This tells four interconnected coming-of-age stories centred on the eponymous Eve, with a side of Mauritius that the tourists don’t see as a backdrop. Brutal, harrowing and yet poetic. For some reason, this is an absolute pain to get hold of in the UK and may require some hassling of your friendly local bookseller/a long wait from Amazon, but it’s more than worth it!

2. Yaa Gyasi – Homegoing

I read this much earlier in the year whilst still in Poland and rewarded myself for getting through a challenging day’s study with a few pages of this in the evening. A few pages became a few chapters until on the 3rd or 4th day I stayed up all night to finish it, which is always a good feeling even if you do regret it in the morning! Homegoing tells the stories of two half sisters in Ghana, one of whom is married to a slave owner and another who becomes a slave herself, and three hundred years of their descendants, one line in America and one line in Ghana. The chapters could each be taken individually as short stories and enjoyed but together the storytelling is masterful. It’s hard to believe that this is a début novel.

1. Lidija Dimkovska – A Spare Life (trans. Christina E. Kramer)

This is an incredibly unusual story in many ways. It’s the story of conjoined twin sisters Zlata and Srebra growing up in Communist Yugoslavia and the sacrifices they must make for each other in order to move forward, before deciding to take the ultimate risk and attempt surgery to separate. It’s also an allegory on the end of Yugoslavia itself and its breakdown into multiple independent states. And finally, it’s an absolutely outstanding novel – I can say unreservedly that it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

It doesn’t seem to even have a proper UK release – it was published by Two Lines Press in the US and it’s been a pain in the backside trying to source it as Christmas presents for friends and family this year, but perhaps if enough of us try to buy it someone will give it a proper UK release? It’s certainly more than worthy of a wider audience.

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Updated reading map 2018

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Starting to look semi-respectable this, isn’t it!! I hit 100 countries just before the end of last year. I would like to say it’s all downhill from here (working with a list of 197 plus Tibet and Greenland) but some of them are going to be harder to find. That said, my goal for this year is to hit one more new country a month, and I probably already have enough unread books to do that. Next few planned stops are Kosovo, Yemen, Belarus and Uganda. Exciting times!

As always, recommendations for any of the missing countries more than welcome.

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Books I read in 2017

Yes, it’s this time of year again, the time of year I remember that I have a blog. First list of 2018!!

  1. Roland Rugero – Baho! (trans. Chris Schaefer)
  2. Nguyễn Nhật Ánh –  Ticket to Childhood (trans. Will Naythons)
  3. Khairani Barokka – Indigenous Species
  4. Yaa Gyasi – Homegoing
  5. Michael Emerson and Denis Cenusa (eds) – Deepening EU-Moldovan Relations: What, why and how?
  6. Norman Davies – Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland’s Present
  7. Julia Alvarez – How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
  8. Chinelo Okparanta – Under the Udala Trees
  9. César Aira – The Proof (trans. Nick Calstor)
  10. Wioletta Greg – Swallowing Mercury (trans. Eliza Marciniak)
  11. William Makepeace Thackeray – Vanity Fair
  12. Joanna Walsh – Vertigo
  13. Olga Tokarczuk – House Of Day, House Of Night (trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones)
  14. Lewis Carroll – Alice In Wonderland
  15. Lewis Carroll – Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There
  16. Carrie Brownstein – Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
  17. Elvira Dones – Sworn Virgin (trans. Clarissa Botsford)
  18. Pettina Gappah – An Elegy for Easterly
  19. Imbolo Mbue – Behond the Dreamers
  20. Prabda Yoon – The Sad Part Was (trans. Mui Poopoksakul)
  21. Paul Kennedy – The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers
  22. Mario Telo (ed) – European Union and New Regionalism
  23. Jaroslav Hašek – The Good Soldier Švejk (trans. Cecil Parrott)
  24. Ted Chiang – Stories of Your Life and Others
  25. Scholastique Mukasonga – Our Lady of the Nile (trans. Melanie L. Mauthner)
  26. Anthony Cartwright – The Cut
  27. Fleur Jaeggy – I Am the Brother of XX (trans. Gini Alhadeff)
  28. Linda Stift – The Empress and the Cake (trans. Jamie Bulloch)
  29. Celeste Ng – Everything I Never Told You
  30. Mikhel Mutt – The Cavemen Chronicle (trans. Adam Cullen)
  31. Galsan Tschinag – The Blue Sky (trans. Katharina Rout)
  32. Larry Tremblay – The Orange Grove (trans. Sheila Fischman)
  33. Aliya Whiteley – The Arrival of Missives
  34. Kurban Said – Ali and Nino (trans. Jenia Graman)
  35. Sofi Oksanen – Purge (trans. Lola Rogers)
  36. Zadie Smith – The Autograph Man
  37. Thomas Mofolo – Chaka (trans. Daniel P. Kunene)
  38. Sabrina Mahfouz (ed.) The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write
  39. Harper Lee – Go Set A Watchman
  40. Ananda Devi – Eve Out Of Her Ruins (trans. Jeffrey Zuckerman)
  41. Clemens Meyer – All The Lights (trans. Katy Derbyshire)
  42. Herta Muller – The Fox Was Ever The Hunter (trans. Philip Boehm)
  43. Kerstin Hensel – Dance By The Canal (trans. Jen Calleja)
  44. Elena Ferrante – Troubling Love (trans. Ann Goldstein)
  45. David Grossman – A Horse Walks Into A Bar (trans. Jessica Cohen)
  46. Elena Ferrante – The Lost Daughter (trans. Ann Goldstein)
  47. Elif Shafak – The Forty Rules Of Love
  48. Han Yujoo – The Impossible Fairytale (trans. Janet Hong)
  49. Qiu Miaojin – Notes Of A Crocodile (trans. Bonnie Hiue)
  50. Rajaa Alsanea – Girls of Riyadh (trans. Rajaa Alsanea and Marilyn Booth)
  51. Samanta Schweblin – Fever Dream (trans. Megan McDowell)
  52. Olga Tokarczuk – Flights (trans. Jennifer Crofts)
  53. Han Kang – The White Book (trans. Deborah Smith)
  54. Mariana Enríquez – Things We Lost In The Fire (trans. Megan McDowell)
  55. Bae Suah –  A Greater Music (trans. Deborah Smith)
  56. Lidija Dimkovska – A Spare Life (trans. Christina E. Kramer)
  57. Fiston Mwanza Mujila – Tram 83 (trans. Roland Glasser)
  58. Xan Brooks – The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times
  59. Dorthe Nors – Mirror, Shoulders, Signal (trans. Misha Hoekstra)
  60. Lena Andersson – Wilful Disregard (trans. Sarah Death)
  61. Dorthe Nors – Karate Chop (trans. Martin Aitken)
  62. Mikhail Sholokhov – And Quiet Flows The Don (trans. Stephen Garry)
  63. Mikhail Sholokhov – The Don Flows Home To The Sea (trans. Stephen Garry)
  64. Lina Meruane – Seeing Red (trans. Megan McDowell)
  65. Yuri Herrera – Kingdom Cons (trans. Lisa Dillman)
  66. Zadie Smith – Swing Time
  67. Spomenka Štimec – Croatian War Nocturnal (trans. Sebastian Schulman)
  68. Taiye Selasi – Ghana Must Go
  69. Bessie Head – Maru
  70. Vaughan Lowe – International Law: A Very Short Introduction
  71. Michael Morpurgo – Kensuke’s Kingdom
  72. Jamaica Kincaid – At The Bottom Of The River
  73. Uršuľa Kovalyk – The Equestrienne (trans. Julia and Peter Sherwood)
  74. Jean Rhys – Wide Sargasso Sea
  75. Susan Abulhawa – Mornings In Jenin
  76. Vincent Eri – The Crocodile
  77. Georgi Gospodinov – The Physics of Sorrow (trans. Angela Rodel)
  78. Nora Ikstena – Soviet Milk (trans. Margita Gailitis)
  79. Nyuol Lueth Tong (ed.) – There is a Country: New Fiction from the New Nation of South Sudan
  80. Abu Bakr Khaal – African Titanics (trans. Charis Bredin)
  81. Sophocles – Antigone (trans. Robert Fagles)
  82. Christopher Isherwood – A Single Man

A good year, all told. Top 10 and updated reading map to follow!

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Women in Translation Month is coming! #WITMonth

It’s almost August, and that means it’s almost time for Women In Translation month again! If you’re short of ideas, here’s a few suggestions from me for things you might enjoy:

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1. Naja Marie Aidt – Baboon (translated from the Danish by Denise Newman)

A collection of short stories which hit like an absolute tun of bricks. Violent and above all compelling – not for the faint hearted!

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2. Han Kang – Human Acts (translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)

A very stark, brutal account of the Gwangju Uprising in Korea in 1980 – emotionally devastating.

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3. Zoya Pirzad – Things We Left Unsaid (translated from the Farsi by Franklin Dean Lewis)

The disruption of a perfectly normal middle-class existence which turns one woman’s life upside-down. Funny and honest.

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4. Magda Szabó – Iza’s Ballad (translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes)

A young woman breaking away from her family to work in the city and yet not quite breaking the bonds that bind them.

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5. Ricarda Huch – The Last Summer (translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch)

“The first lady of German literature” available for the first time in English translation.

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6. Olga Tokarczuk – Primeval and Other Times (translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones)

Stories from the rich history of Poland, taking us into a whole new world with her characteristic prose.

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7. Ananda Devi – Eve Out Of Her Ruins (translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman)

Four coming of age stories centred around the titular Eve, set on the unforgiving streets of Troumaron.

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8. Scholastique Mukasonga – Our Lady of the Nile (translated from the French by Melanie Mauthner)

Set in Rwanda during a period of increasing tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi communities.

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9. Elvira Dones – Sworn Virgin (translated from the Italian by Clarissa Botsford)

A fascinating look into the life of a woman who has sworn to live as a man in order to inherit the family property.

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10. Fariba Hachtroudi – The Man Who Snapped His Fingers (translated from the Italian by Alison Anderson)

Explores the power play between a woman held prisoner in an unspecified totalitarian nation and her former captor.

 

And what will I be reading? I can’t say for sure, because I always enjoy flitting about with my reading, but I’m thinking of a few of the following:

Herta Müller – The Fox Was Ever The Hunter (translated from the German by Philip Boehm)

Kersten Hensel – Dance by the Canal (translated from the German by Jen Calleja)

Lidija Dimkovska – A Spare Life (translated from the Macedonian by Christina E. Kramer)

Olga Tokarczuk – Flights (translated from the Polish by Jennifer Crofts)

Mariana Enríquez – Things We Lost In The Fire (translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell

Samanta Schweblin – Fever Dream (translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell)

Elena Ferrante – The Troubling Love and The Lost Daughter (translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein)

Bae Suah – A Greater Music (translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)

Open to further suggestions – please post away in the comments!

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Updated Reading Map – January 2017

Figured now was as good a time as any to update this since I probably won’t be reading much in the way of fiction until June now…

reading-map-2017

Looking a bit fuller than this time last year although still plenty further to go – I’m now up to 73. Recommendations for the missing countries welcome!!

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Best books of 2016

Greetings from Rome! I’m writing this in my host Andrea’s house absolutely stuffed with amazing Italian food courtesy of his mum.

Whilst I’ve not read as many books this year as I’ve managed in previous years (thanks, College) I still seem to be struggling to a) whittle it down to 10 and b) get them in the right order, so this post is taking some writing. Honourable mentions to White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen (trans. Emily and Fleur Jeremiah), Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt (trans. K. E. Semmel) and The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz (trans. Elisabeth Jaquette) amongst many others. No honourable mentions to those bloody textbooks. However, I think this is my top 10, so here goes…

10. Hanna Krall – Chasing the King Of Hearts (translated from the Polish by Philip Boehm)

I read this for the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club and this was one of my favourites of their picks. Published for the first time in English by Peirene Press, this tells the story of a young Polish woman and her efforts to save her husband from the Nazis during the Holocaust in the belief that love conquers all. Heartbreaking and not always easy to read but more than worth the few hours of your time that this wonderful little novella takes up.

9. Arno Geiger – The Old King In His Exile (translated from the German by Stefan Tobler)

Courtesy of my And Other Stories subscription which has proved its worth many times over this year. An autobiographical account written by a son of his journey towards finally getting to know his father after he developed Alzheimer’s. It sounds depressing, but actually it’s much more of a feel-good book than you might (understandably) think, full of beautiful moments shared between a father and son.

8. Louis de Bernières – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

I’d been putting off reading this for a while as I often tend to make the assumption that if too many people like something then it probably isn’t for me. Sometimes this is right, sometimes it turns out to be very short sighted. I found this really hard to put down, the story was incredibly engrossing and made me laugh and cry in all the right places. Lesson learned: Don’t assume that just because something is popular that it isn’t worth reading!

7. Doris Lessing – The Golden Notebook

Probably the thickest book I attempted this year, aside from university reading, and also not the easiest read, but amongst the most rewarding. The Golden Notebook encompasses Anna Wulf’s five notebooks, into four of which she splits various facets of her life, before the fifth, eponymous, golden notebook pulls all the strands together. It has been described as a landmark novel, contributing to her winning the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature, and I can really see why. Worth the effort!

6. Fariba Hachtroudi – The Man Who Snapped His Fingers (translated from the Italian by Alison Anderson)

I picked this up on a summer trip to London Review of Books, completely at random, never having heard of the writer before. It tells the story of a young woman who was held prisoner in a totalitarian nation and subsequently escaped, and the colonel who was responsible for holding her prisoner, flitting between her period in prison and a later time when they meet again. It’s a very intense novel and doesn’t shy away from the brutality inherent in such stories but this just contributes to how important a read this is, exploring the power play from a female point of view.

5. Ricarda Huch – The Last Summer (translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch)

Amazingly, this seems to be the first appearance in English from this author, who was described by Thomas Mann as the first lady of German literature. It is set in Russia at a time of social unrest, describing the reaction of students to the closing of St Petersburg University and the subsequent plan of a young intellectual to assassinate the governor responsible. I’m not sure if it’s the setting that put me in the mind of Tolstoy and the like or if there’s also a resemblance in the writing, but I’m very keen to read more by this author so I’m hoping this title will do well for Peirene so that someone will think it’s a good idea to translate more!

4. Kamila Shamsie – A God In Every Stone

Another one set in multiple times, we see the story from the point of view of a young archeologist in the period before and during the First World War, and then fifteen years later an older and changed woman on the streets of Peshawar in what was then British India. The use of detail makes the story that bit more evocative, to the point that I felt like I could see the places being described despite the fact that I’ve never been to most of them. The characters are tossed and turned on the swells of history and the novel comes to a nail-biting climax where the characters’ fates are unknown until the final pages – another very compelling read.

3. Han Kang – Human Acts (translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith)

The inclusion of this one in the list shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who read last year’s list – in fact, if I have to compare this one with the Vegetarian, I’d say Human Acts *just* edges it. A very stark, brutal account of the Gwangju Uprising in Korea in 1980 – almost history, as it has never been written before. I felt emotionally devastated by the end of this book, but I think that’s kind of the point – there’s no point in art that doesn’t move you and this certainly did.

2. Zoya Pirzad – Things We Left Unsaid (translated from the Farsi by Franklin Dean Lewis)

Set in 1960s Southern Iran, this novel tells the story of Clarisse, who lives a perfectly normal middle-class existence until a new family moves in across the road. I’m struggling to put into words exactly why I liked this so much to be honest but it’s funny, it’s honest, and it made me think an awful lot about the things that we leave unsaid in our relations with others and for what reasons.

1. Miriam Toews – All Our Puny Sorrows

I need to include quite a long quote here, and hopefully this won’t get me into trouble for copyright reasons or anything, but it illustrates perfectly what I loved so much about this novel:

“On the floor next to the microphone was a beautiful wooden urn, like a small wishing well, that held Tina’s ashes. One of my fifty-six cousins’ wives was up there talking about the way Tina sped around town in her van with the flame on the side and knew how to evade cops at every turn and while this woman was talking her little toddler son crawled up onto the stage and over to the wooden urn. He sat next to it and banged on it for a while and then, while his mother, oblivious, kept talking about Tina and all her charming qualities, her boldness, her tenderness, her zest for life, the little kid somehow managed to take the lid off the urn. We all watched, open-mouthed, as he started to sift through the ashes of Tina and then fling them around up there, having a heyday playing with his great-grandma’s remains, and his little white-shirt-and-shorts outfit grew black from the dust and so did his face. And then he started putting the ashes into his mouth with his little dusty hands and by this time everyone had noticed, and his father was up on the stage picking him up, a lot of people were laughing now (except for the perpetual disapprovers who looked on in stern horror) and his mom stopped talking at the microphone and turned around and she saw that the boy’s father now had everything under control and he brushed the ashes the boy’s clothes and wiped his face and put the lid back on Tina’s urn and brought the child back to the table and the mother, my cousin’s wife, turned calmly back to the microphone and finished her story about Tina and her van and I learned another thing, which is that just because someone is eating the ashes of your protagonist doesn’t mean you stop telling the story.”

I mean, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. So I did both, and ended up a bit broken. But as I said above, I don’t really see the point in art that doesn’t move you at all, so there we are. This is the story of a dysfunctional family, and of depression, and how we are ultimately able to find peace despite tragedy.

 

So there we are. This took ages to write so I hope someone makes it to the end of all 1511 words! On another day this could have gone in another order, but they’re all great books, so pick up one of them and see what happens and then it will all have been worth writing 🙂

 

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2016, then. What a year.

I don’t normally write long round ups of the year gone by like this, but I feel like I did so much that about 3 years have actually passed, and I don’t want to forget everything! It’s been an amazing year on a personal level, full of learning and travelling and making new friends and incredible achievements. Political developments have affected me a little more than I’d like and have left me with some decisions to make about my future but for now I want to remember the best bits of an amazing year.

I started the year in London, working on trade policy, which was one of the most challenging roles I have done to date but also the most interesting. I developed so much as a person in the 6 months I was in that role and I’m very much hoping to return to a similar role in the future. On a personal level, I attended my TWENTIETH Johnny Foreigner show which was a bit of a milestone and says a bit about how much this band means to me!

And then in March I went to live in Brussels for 5 months to take up a traineeship at the European Commission working in DG NEAR. Enlargement has always been a policy area that fascinates me so finally getting to work on it was amazing, and with my previous experience of trade policy I wasn’t even entirely useless! Working at the Commission was quite the eye-opener. Some of the stereotypes are true – definitely some bureaucracy that could be got rid of – and some of them are emphatically not, such as the assertion you hear  sometimes that everyone takes super long lunches, leaves early and generally doesn’t work very hard. That’s rubbish. My experience was that most colleagues worked very hard and take pride in their work, and rightly so. As well as the subject matter knowledge, I also learned a lot about inter-cultural communication – and moderating my accent and vocabulary, which suddenly seemed to be a lot more Yorkshire than I’ve ever noticed before!

I bonded further with colleagues doing the traineeship at the same time as me, and met amazing new people who I will be friends with for a long time to come. I FINALLY completed my Open University degree, submitting my dissertation in the early hours of one morning at the end of May, achieving the first I’ve always known I’m intellectually capable of but have never been in a place to achieve before. I really polished my French, being certified at C1 level by my teacher there. I took the opportunity to travel to Luxembourg, Leuven, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Cologne… when am I ever going to be within such easy travelling distance again? And at the end of May, whilst visiting Berlin for a long weekend and travelling on the S-Bahn, I received an email telling me that I’d been successful in winning a scholarship to study at the College of Europe for the 2016-7 academic year. And promptly burst into tears.

So, when my traineeship finished at the end of July, I went back to London for a few weeks to get my affairs in order, taking a whirlwind trip of the country to visit family and friends and to finally see Beth Orton in concert! It felt like no time at all until it was time to pack my suitcases again, this time to travel the farthest East I’ve ever been to start an action-packed 10 months in Warsaw, on the beautiful Natolin campus of the College of Europe.

Action-packed is certainly the operative word. I arrived towards the end of August to take introductory courses in economics, law and international relations, and at the end of the first two weeks found myself sitting my first exams and submitting my first assignment. Further assignments followed promptly when the rest of the cohort arrived for further introductory courses in geopolitics, European history and our first course taught in French. And then the real work started! Simulation games, group assignments, salsa classes, choir rehearsals, Polish classes, a study trip to Ukraine, Friday nights getting well acquainted with the local vodka, all topped off with 8 exams sat variously in English and French.

I’m not going to lie, there are times when it has been tough and I’ve wondered what on earth I’m doing with myself. Being trapped on a campus with 130 other people, attending classes together, eating together at appointed times, being unable to get away from each other if relationships get strained… it can be difficult. The workload is more intense than any I’ve experienced before and there have been moments when I’ve genuinely thought I wasn’t able to do it, that I was too stupid, that I didn’t have the stamina. Time comes at a premium and I’ve not been able to do all the travelling I’d hoped I would. And yet I’ve come out the other side and still seem to be recommending it to people thinking of applying for next year. Why?

First and foremost what has kept me going is the people. I have an amazing bunch of new friends, best friends, that it absolutely blows my mind that I didn’t know 5 months ago. They have provided the most amazing support network and I really would not have been able to do it without them. I’ve had some incredible opportunities such as spending a week in Ukraine, in Kyiv and Lviv, exploring the cities and hearing speakers that I would never have had the chance to see otherwise. I’ll be going to Georgia and Armenia in March for more of the same! And I’ve learned so much. About the subject matter, about other people and my interactions with them, about myself, and my limits, and how to push them in a sustainable manner. I’ve been very grateful for the restful couple of weeks I’ve had following the exams, but I’m slowly starting to feel ready to go back in another week.

Of course the year hasn’t been all roses. The vote for the UK to leave the European Union was personally devastating as it throws the career I’ve been working on for some years into jeopardy, and I’ve still not figured out what my next move will be. Other political developments leave me scared for the future of the world. My long-term relationship broke down a few months ago, which although it didn’t really come as a surprise to either of us, is still hard. It’s not easy to accept that after over 5 years someone you care about deeply won’t be part of your life any more. This has led to a lot of soul searching about what kind of relationship I might want in the future, and what kind of person I want to be.

Over Christmas, I’ve spent a really chilled week on the coast of Northumberland with my parents, sleeping, reading, drinking gin and walking the dogs on the beach (not necessarily in that order!) which has helped me to refill my reserves a little and to feel properly awake for the first time in a while. Then I rounded off the year in Sheffield with some of my best friends, watching films and then seeing in the new year with other friends playing board games. I type this in a hotel room in Manchester ready for my early flight to ROME in the morning! I’m staying with a College buddy and looking forward to being shown round the city and taken to some of the best restaurants.

So what’s next? Tomorrow I’m going to Rome, and next week I return to College, being dropped straight back into the deep end with language exams and the start of the compulsory course for my chosen major, the EU as a Global Actor. I’m trying to set fewer goals for myself this year and just spend more time exploring and doing things I actually want to do rather than rigorously planning all areas of my life. Making the project manager in me take a back seat is challenging, but I think it might help my stress levels and my general well being if every area of my life isn’t subject to objective-setting at the beginning of the year and progress reports thereafter!! And yet I keep getting excited about various travel opportunities, such as spending my Easter break in Vienna and Bratislava, and the long trip I’m hoping to take after graduation…

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