Cross Border Cultures

The Wisdom Teeth are Out

In the past two weeks there have been a couple of articles and viral videos that have been gaining a lot of attention, one on a national level, and I feel as though one permeated more on a local level for us Californians. I want to use one as a plateau for the other, in conveying some cross cultural concerns.

I’m sure most of us have had a chance to see young Amandla Stenberg’s video “Don’t Cash Crop my Cornrows”, and if you haven’t, you probably should. This is a great video on cultural appropriation in the black community, Amandala comments on black culture and its influence with in the hip hop community and fashion world. She refers to white rappers such as Eminem and Iggy cashing in on this culture that was created around them, she goes on to say, “The line between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is…

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The Wanderlust Loner: Wandering in search of truths and chocolate

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I had two plans for tonight; one with a dear and life-long friend who I’ve not seen in months (and before that, years), the other whom I see almost daily. Both of them cancelled. With no one to say goodnight to and a deep hankering for chocolate, I hit the streets.

There is something about venturing out at night in your home city after returning from abroad that weighs on you a bit. It’s a nostalgia, a slight pang of sadness, small regret and a recognition that both you and it have changed, and the distance is irreparable. Beneath this, it’s the subtle acknowledgement that you will still always have your history and the marks left by it.

Roaming around the city through streets lit up by a Saturday night crowd, I found everything one would expect. I found an old friend just as she left to join a cab with her friends. I found a couple of new night clubs and bars scattered down a street that was once full of industrial warehouses. I found a mural off the main strip that was adorned with poetry about love and humanity. I did not, however, find chocolate.

At some point I lost track of what I was looking for. After a while I found myself staring inside a cafe whose floor was littered with cardboard and paper cups. I was studying the Marzocco on the counter and rummaging through memories of London and latte art when it suddenly dawned on me; I was searching for life, for movement, for authenticity.

This is what living on another continent does to you. It breeds within you a lust for authenticity, and for a deeper sort of connection to the world around you. It’s like stretching your stomach when you eat too much; it stretches an already insatiable hunger for real human experience and a veritableness that can only be found in cultures who have known the horror of revolution and the satisfaction of a falling empire. Each time you experience the kind of rich and prolific lifestyle that comes from years of cultural transmission and oral tradition, it’s hard to look at your old life the same. Standing there looking at a fake Italian espresso machine and the plastic placards on the wall, I knew I wouldn’t find my chocolate here.

All of us who have left feel that same combination of sadness, regret and nostalgia that I did in front of that cafe, albeit to varying degrees. It’s a symptom of leaving an unfamiliar you’ve grown used to for the familiar you’ve begun letting go of. The pain of leaving that unfamiliar lies in knowing that the place you’ve left and all who are encompassed by its vibrance will move on without you unaffected. Cities are but giant microcosms, constantly developing, changing, relentlessly moving forward with whatever intricate combinations of plans they’ve written. To leave the microcosm is to separate yourself from it.

You’ll find yourself constantly trying to satiate an appetite that will forever return with vengeance when you leave. You’ll Google tickets to Amsterdam at 2am, or TEFL programs in Barcelona, or teaching English in southeast Asia, or work visas in Australia. You’ll circle the drain looking for ways back out of the country until you can’t take it anymore; you’ll finally pick one and stick with it or, you’ll readjust.

If you leave, you’ll commit yourself to working like a dog until you’re packing your suitcase and on your next plane. If you stay, you’ll become part of your old microcosm again, this time with something more. You’ll (somewhat reluctantly) settle back into what you once new, but with a sense of wisdom and self-security that you didn’t have on the mantle before. You’ll share it with those who show an interest, and hope that in some small way you’ve lit the same fire for them and inspired them to do more, if only for themselves.

I left the flat in search of chocolate, and came home understanding what I’d really gone out seeking in the first place. There are no doses of cocoa powder and sugar that can fill the void left behind by a life abroad, but there are infinite wisdoms to be found in the heart of someone with wanderlust. It’s something we all share, with each other, with others, and with ourselves.

The Transition: Like a bad ex-lover, it always shows up


Since returning to the States, I’ve had several conversations with my International loved ones about our experiences leaving London, missing London, pining for London, being angry at London for refusing to embrace us permanently, and feeling sad and lost and confused without London.

After one such conversation with a typically light-hearted, more optimistic friend of mine, it became clear to me just how universal this experience is, and how one experience seems to transcend all cultural boundaries: The Transition.

The Transition is scary. The Transition comes after a period of permanency, stability, security. The Transition comes when you think your future is certain, guaranteed, secured. The Transition can come when your arms are open and ready to embrace and ride with it, or can knock you off your high horse when you least expect it to.

So many of us who have left are still reeling from the intensity of the Transition. Not only have we been kicked out of the academic cocoon with no safety net, but we’ve been kicked out of the country, away from our temporary homes and our permanent friendships. But while I have blogged about the U.K.’s direct intention to do so in the past, this blog isn’t about the bureaucratic processes that cause this sometimes unwelcome and difficult-to-prepare-for Transition, but about the emotional process.

When I left London in December, I left so much behind me. I left a place that had begun to settle over the course of 15 months. I’d established a family of sorts, comprised of close friends, flatmates, a cat who climbed in my room at 4am each night and cuddled between me and my partners’ knees, a collection of grocery stores aisles and cafe couches who had begun to provide small comforts to me in my home away from home. In fact, my home away from home had become the home that I would soon be going away from.

Four months after adjusting to The Transition, I’ve only just found a part-time job pouring coffees and cleaning counters. Not a glorious move for someone with a Master’s, and that’s been a sobering reality for me. I’ve caught myself thinking in negative loops, wondering how I’ll ever make it to see London or my partner again, how I’ll afford to pay rent and save for tickets, at the same time. I’d sit on Skype and cry, panicked that I’d never see the life I love so much again, panicked that it had somehow ceased to exist without my consent.

But one day, while chuckling at work in San Jose with an Egyptian coworker about her British beau, I began to feel less disconnected from my life in London. Suddenly, in the brief absence of panic, it dawned on my for the umpteenth time in my life; the heavy-weighted sadness, the anxiety elephant sitting on my chest, and the unpredictable, erratic trails of thought – this is all The Transition.

As anyone who has ever lived, studied, worked, or otherwise moved abroad will tell you, it teaches us so much about who we are, what we’re capable of enduring or achieving (or both) in ways that you could never imagine or anticipate without experiencing it. And as I’ve said before, returning to the homeland is an experience that we are equally unprepared for. But the lessons we can take from it can apply to so many different parts of our life.

While I was listening to my sweet friend share her anxieties about graduating and trying to negotiate her wanderlust wither her desire to be home with the pressure of suddenly making more serious life choices, I was thinking of my return from Dublin to California. It occurred to me that my transitions now (London to San Jose) were not all that different from my transitions then (Dublin to Santa Cruz). While I had realized this a thousand times over already, suddenly I was struck with the profundity and power of realizing that sometimes the most powerful thing we can do in a transition is recognize that in the grand scheme of things, what we’re grappling with can simply be reduced to a temporary Transition.

Because The Transition comes, always. Whether we’re aware or not. Whether we’re prepared or not. Whether we want it to or not. The Transition comes with death, when we have to readjust to life with the absence of someone we love. The Transition comes with life, when we have to readjust to life with the presence of a new (and sometimes exhausting, and sometimes incredibly rewarding) being to care for. The Transition comes when an opportunity arises that we’ve always wanted but feel not ready for, the fear of regret if we don’t take it and the fear of regret if we do. The Transition comes with failure, when we land face-first on the pavement in broad daylight in the middle of Times Square and have to stand up with millions of onlookers. The Transition comes with success, when we’re standing completely alone at the top of Mt. Everest and we have no where else to climb but back down the mountain and no one their to spot us while we do.

Why does this matter? Because it’s perspective. Knowing this elevates you out of where you are. Transitions like this often mean that we can’t see what’s ahead of us, which is precisely what makes it so difficult. Whether we are goal-oriented people or not, often times our “light at the end of the tunnel” comes from fixing our gaze on something that’s ahead of us and using that as a marker, so as to propel ourselves forward from where we are. But when you’re in a transition with no security in sight, moving aimlessly into an abyss can feel overwhelming. Understanding The Transition is important because it’s that understanding that allows us to let go of our fixed gaze and just rise above the overwhelm. We learn how to trust to process, have faith that we’re moving towards something, anything better than the insecurity and instability, and most importantly, to stop our anxieties from paralyzing us so much that we feel we can’t move in any direction.

I think what’s the most powerful about understanding this is learning the ability to let go of the future, experience the now and trust that you will be somewhere amazing again eventually. Whether this means literally in a Parisian flat kiddie-corner from the Louvre, or it means riding the emotional life-highs that come with reaping the rewards of long-term commitments, or taking some new risk (i.e. starting your own business, applying for a PhD, taking a new job that’s challenging you out of your comfort zone, or learning how to windsurf, insert-your-form-of-risk-here), you will experience some form of metaphysical bliss that is comparable to the bliss you felt living abroad. It will just take time and some adjusting to where you are now, because that’s how life works.

Yes, The Transition comes when you don’t expect it to, or maybe even when you don’t want it to. But sometimes, the things that come when we least expect them end up being the most rewarding periods of our life if we just open ourselves to the experience and give it a chance.

One of the hardest parts of being in the States has been accepting the distance between my partner and I. I’m not only missing the comforts of the life I’d built, but I’m missing the familiarity and the happiness I felt in the life I’d built with him. This was impossibly difficult for me to let go of. I’ve had a hard time even willing myself to look for ways to settle here, out of the pure fear that it will mean I will settle so much I never see him again. But after yet another conversation with another dear friend in a similar situation, I began to understand that this fear in itself was creating a pain so intense, it might have been the very destruction of everything we had built. So I let go.

Letting go is key to moving forward. When we tether ourselves to the past, we restrict ourselves to something that no longer exists and holding ourselves back from experience new things. When I let go of our past, our relationship reached another level of honesty, clarity, and effortlessness- and so did my life here. Jobs started falling into place, opportunities started popping up left and right; suddenly, life began forming its own direction around me that made sense only after I’d tread 1/4 mile of it.

I’m sharing this because no matter how many times I think I’ve mastered The Transition, it always comes back to teach me something new. But I only learn what it has to teach me when I’m open to it; when I don’t, I end up exhausting myself and earning wounds in the fight against it. What I’ve learned this time ’round is that actively changing your mindset almost entirely determines the outcome of that process.

So for now, I’ve moved towards taking the positive road and have made The Transition my friend. But how did I manage this? A few tangible changes I’ve made:

  • Journaling – Each night, I write a little about my day. I include it all; the hard things, the painful thoughts, and at least one positive gratitude to keep it balanced. Writing seems to always release my inner tensions, and help reorient me to the present by somehow letting it go on that paper.
  • Thinking and talking positive – Whilst in my worst phases coming home, I realized that I was turning lemons into stale, rotten ones by emphasizing the negative in my mind and poisoning my friendships with it. One day I got so tired of listening to myself b*tch that I finally just forced myself to turn around and keep it more positive. I don’t regret or feel guilty for the conversations spent in negativity, because trudging through the thick of the pain was part of the process that would have been seriously interrupted had I not shared it, but I am grateful that I managed to turn it around and get back on a good track, and that I did that through my relationships.
  • Allowing nostalgia – At some point, like an old relationship, I started letting myself be nostalgic about London and all it entailed without feeling bad about it. I let myself just remember it for the sake of re-experiencing it in some small way, and without the guilt of feeling like I was inappropriately dwelling on something, I started to enjoy my little day-dream trips without them taking me too far away from where I was in the now. This was my less cliché version of “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
  • Reading – I think one of the best hobbies I’ve picked up has been getting back into non-fiction. I randomly picked up “A Clock Without Hands” by Guy Burt at the library one day, on no basis other than that it was in the non-fiction section and that it was set in both London and Florence, two places I’d been during my U.K. stay. Reading this book, although it’s completely unrelated to anything I’ve read or done in the past few years, has been a sort of cathartic vacation-of-the-mind for me that reconnects me to my past in a way that kind of expands on it with new stories and adventures in the present.
  • Volunteering – This is by far my favorite one. After months of struggling to find jobs anywhere doing anything, I basically said “Hey, f*&% you job market” and started giving my skills free to organizations I deemed worthy; refugee committees, community gardens, local non-profit art galleries, and of course, the Bacon and Beer festival. While this has provided me with some pretty cool opportunities (potential blogging jobs and job opportunities), the best part has really just been networking and creating a full life of activity and productivity that I have more jurisdiction and control over. And it just feels good. No one bosses around a volunteer because shit, you’re working for free!

So there’s my twopence. The Transition is a relentless son of a bitch who always comes round, but if you just don’t allow that to hinder your life experience, there are sage wisdoms to be taken from each The Transition’s many visits. The key is all in how you approach that.

So – what’s your key to dealing with The Transition?

7 Things you should know before applying to Brunel University


My year and a half(ish) abroad was full of unbeatable experiences, intellectual opportunities, and exposure to different values and lifestyles. The collection of loved ones I took away from it all is, in itself, enough to say that the jump is worth it.

With that said, I can say with absolute certainty that by the time we International students leave Brunel, we leave with the promise that we will never let another International make the same mistake again. London is a city robust with opportunity and high-class education. With options like Imperial, Queen Mary’s, UCL and LSE, there’s no need to fall into the same trap that the rest of us did.

1. Brunel University is not in London. While yes, technically the university (which is located in Uxbridge) does land in Zone 6 of what is deemed to be “Greater London”, you may as well be in the shire with the hobbits. With only two lines (Metropolitan and Piccadilly) running to one stop at the very end of both lines, and at a station where there’s closures half the time, you might as well be taking in the train (which we often do – taking the train fro West Drayton to Paddington is twice the price but half the time). The rent is cheap, but have no illusions that you’ll be going to Central; unless you want to wait in Central til 5am or take the night bus back that will get you home in the same time, your days off campus into Central will feel like a field trip and your parties in Central will be limited (until you start schmoozin’ your friend’s boyfriends’ roommates’ secondary school friend who goes to Imperial).

2. The International Finance administration is a hot mess. Before leaving to Brunel I was awarded the Brunel International Scholarship- which ended up causing me more financial harm than good. Despite coordinating with the International Finances Office months in advance, they did not account for the scholarship funds and thus misappropriated my student loan from the U.S. government. This led to stacks of financial amendments, and a fraction of of the funds deemed appropriate for liveable expenses. Above all, in the end it came out in a meeting they had miscalculated administration fees and conversation rates, so hundreds (possibly even thousands) of dollars were lost to the International Finance Office in the process. But was I reimbursed for this? Nope.

3. In fact, the administration in general is a bit of a mess. During the Visa process, I was sent the wrong document and told it was my CAS (possibly the most important document in the application). So when I turned that in with the application, The UKBA emailed me and told me I had 48 hours to turn in the correct document- at which point, Brunel told me they had not administered it because they were waiting on documents from me. Documents they had never, ever asked for. Lucky for me, the situation ended amicably and I made it to the UK with a legal passport, but International students quickly discovered that we all had a similar story so BE WARNED and BE ORGANIZED.

4. The amenities leave something to be desired. If I had a dime for every time someone complained about the faulty printers and wondered where the hell our tuition was going, I could buy the school enough new printers to stop the complaints altogether! Though the school boasts of being equipped with technology and cutting edge equipment, most of this is reserved for the Engineering schools and/or Sports Science departments. Outside of this, anything that they do offer breaks down on the regular and racks up lines like Primark during a clearance sale.

5. There is no accountability on postgraduate course supervisors. I could get into some horror stories about Master’s and PhD level supervisors throwing students under the bus and putting them between an academic rock and hard place during their most vulnerable points in their career. I was fortunate to have one of the most insightful, supportive, and above all available supervisors among my group of friends and coursemates; however, many others were not so lucky. I’d heard stories of supervisors using students’ papers to secure a bi-line, threatening to fail students for minor infractions, escaping any and all office hours (and even the country) and then docking students’ grades based on their “poor performance and communication”; the list goes on. So take heed and find a good supervisor, because this can make or break the experience – ESPECIALLY at Brunel.

6. If you live on campus, get ready to move out with no support THE WEEK OF YOUR DEADLINE. In our programme, the dissertation – which was a 15,000 word APA style independent research assignment that determined the outcome of our MSc – was due 19 September. Our move-out date? 7 September. The university offered no extensions, no support finding housing, no low-cost on-site or off-site accommodation and no extensions or mitigating circumstances for our dissertation. Now, while “planning ahead” might seem like the only way around this, keep in mind that as students, very few of us were working enough (if at all) to afford deposits and rent, and even fewer had the security to sign 6-12 month contracts (which was expected of almost every renter). Also, a potentially graduating student with an expiring visa doesn’t look attractive when compared to the other 150 applicants fighting for the same affordable room/studio/flat, so keep that in mind.

7. Congratulations, it’s over! But don’t expect Placement & Careers Centre to help you find a job. In the final weeks of our Master’s whirlwind, several students (myself included) marched to the PCC in hopes of getting the support and resources we needed to find work. Instead, what we found were a bunch of desk-bound suits showing us Indeed, Glassdoor, Reeds, and other sites we’d all heard of, and lending us unspecific CV/Resume tips we could have Googled in the 10 minutes it took to walk there. All information we had, no networks to help us in the door. Though we merely constitute a small statistic of students, not one colleague of mine found work through PCC – and in fact, 6 months later, the majority of my and my partners’ classmates (including British folk without visa or nationality restrictions) STILL have not found work, and the PCC has STILL not been a resource to any of us.

Now keep in mind, this blog is not reflective of the programme I was in; while the larger administration of Brunel seems to run with the bureaucratic logic of Henry VIII, my particular programme (Cross-Cultural Psychology) was an outstanding (and unfortunately under-funded) exception to the rule.

While there are upsides to attending to Brunel as a postgraduate student, I was shocked by the overwhelming negative feedback I heard from students and even more surprised to hear it among veteran students whilst the internet (so far as I had scoured it prior to attending Brunel) seemed to be devoid of the criticism. So I’ve added my (and a few others’) twopence to the digital conversation.

So fellow Brunel graduates and postgraduates – what are your experiences as a student Brunel? What do you think should future students know before applying or attending?

Trials of the LDR: What it’s like loving from a distance


In a recent post on LDRs (long distance relationships), I talked to all ye blog-folk about the ups and downs of being in a long distance relationship and what to ask yourself before committing. With the consent of my loved one, I want to go into more detail about what it means to be in one. I’m airing out my $h1z.

Being in a long distance relationship is one of the most painful forms of love I think one can experience, especially when your communication is limited. I thank the universe on the daily for modern-day technologies like Viber and Skype, because otherwise I think I would collapse entirely.

Like I’ve said before, one of the hardest parts of being in a long distance relationship is communication. Suddenly, your love languages and pet peeves are no longer your biggest concern; now it’s making time for each other, accounting for the time differences, making sure not to miss that Skype date, trying not to take it personal when you don’t hear from your extra-significant other for 5 hours, adjusting and bridging the gaps between it all with trust.

When my partner first left the States after our Christmas vacation, I fell apart. We took turns crying and comforting each other and promising we’d overcome the distance. I also promised him I wouldn’t watch him leave the airport, but then I hid crouched on the top of an escalator while 20 or so airport patrons eyed me suspiciously so I could watch him weave through security; I couldn’t handle the thought that I might a regret a single second I didn’t spend memorizing his face before he left. He wasn’t moving to New York for a temporary stint, or to Boston for graduate school, or abroad for a 2-year development contract; he was boarding a plane back to Europe indefinitely. Our pockets were empty and nothing was coming through the financial pipelines. We had no idea when, or if, we would ever see each other again.

Since that day, nothing has changed. Neither of us have jobs, we’re both struggling to put food on our tables and pay for a bed to sleep in. We’re literally a world apart, but yet we fight to figure out how to survive without letting go of the future we painted together in our head over the past year.

I feel like most of the blogs I read about long distance tend to gloss over the hard parts and convince you it’s going to be fine. No one talks about the fact that you’ll cry yourself to sleep (and sometimes, awake) for the next three months. No one tells you that you’ll pick a fight because your partner didn’t sign onto Skype exactly when you agreed to. No one tells you that every day will be its own test, or that every bump in the road will make you deeply question whether you’re both going to make it. You’ll remember how the hours spent physically together felt like minutes, but in your partner’s absence each day will suddenly feel like a year.

Going out feels like walking through jello with weights strapped to my feet. I try to tell myself that the only thing I can do is move forward until we move together, but every breath feels like a betrayal, and every step feels like it’s taking me further away from him and from our life together. Focusing on anything that doesn’t directly relate to going back feels impossible. Laughing with friends feels like one big fat lie. But despite all of this, giving up and moving on is absolutely inconceivable.

Sometimes it feels like a marathon race; each day we get through is a mile run with blistering, bleeding feet. My closest friends are my hydration stations, my best books are my gel blocks. When I try to read blogs and relate to an LDR community that tells me it will be okay, all I see are stories of people who knew when the distance would end and I’m reminded exactly how uncertain our future is. I try teasing apart the problems and walking myself through them one by one, but like a bad 80’s hairdo it’s just too much of a mess. Questions about when we’ll be together are tied to questions about my career choices (or lack thereof). The nostalgic ache I feel for his bad jokes and Greek recipes is the same nostalgic ache I feel for the River Thames and long rides on the Tube. You can’t separate the pain when it’s blended together in one long memory.

My typical Zen(ish) approach to problems doesn’t apply here, because “just be”ing doesn’t get me a job or a bank account stacked enough to buy my vacation back to London. There’s no guidebook for navigating endless long distance relationships, and there’s definitely no “Dude, I know exactly what you’re going through right now” when you’re returning from a year-long stint abroad to a city where almost nothing and no one has changed.

Now, while I recognize this subject diverges from my typical “international student life” theme, I can’t help but use this to give future students a fair warning of what falling in love with a European does to your soul when there’s an expiration date on your Visa. And selfishly, I can’t help but write this simply to ask for empathy from the people around me who don’t understand why I keep trailing off at the end of my sentences and/or staring out the window with a blank expression as lost as I am in my thoughts and/or breaking in to sudden and inexplicable sobs whilst junking on New Girl episodes or watching kittens on Facebook. Or at least just explain that last bit a little..

And thus, I close with a semi-appropriate quote written by someone I know absolutely nothing about outside of Wikipedia:

And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
-Khalil Gibran

The Ever-Changing Traveler: Do our values really change when we move abroad?


Arguably one of the most difficult parts of picking up my life and moving 5,000+ miles across the Atlantic was leaving behind my network of “critical friends” and jumping into a less critical, more traditional world. I’m not going to lie, before leaving my comfortably leftist cocoon that is the Bay Area, I was afraid that somehow leaving behind my community would mean leaving behind my values, too. The experience begged the ever-unanswered question, how does one resist negotiating her hard-and-fast values without isolating the world around her? Ultimately I think the answer is going to look different for each of us, because it largely depends on what (or whether) you’re willing to compromise, what you’re hoping to gain from your experiences, and most of all why you’re on the move.

In the world of cross-cultural psychology, the consensus among researchers is that one’s culture largely dictates one’s set of values (though how and why culture determines this is still debated). Dr. Shalom H. Schwartz, one of the most revered and established cross-cultural psychologists in the field, has spent his career grafting one of the most widely referenced theory of values. His theory has led to research about how which values are important to each culture, to each gender, how they’re affected by political regimes and social movements. Time and time again, Schwartz’s theory has given us the tools to understand that each culture and/or nations emphasizes a different set of values, and has shed light on how this shapes our personal identities.

By now you might be thinking, what the hell does some Dr. Psych in the Middle East have to do with living abroad? Well, Schwartz’s value research is actually quite significant for those of us claiming to be global citizens because our values are essential pieces of who we are, increasingly so when we travel. While traveling inevitably exposes us to new values, the reasons behind our migration and the length of our stay really determines whether these values will stick.

Whether or not your migration is by choice, or whether or not you’re moving permanently, or whether or not you feel attached to your home culture are all things that affect what cross-cultural researchers call “acculturation” – in other words, adjusting to and “acting like” the new culture. (Mind you, the culture’s openness to accepting you and the level of prejudice you face is a whole ‘nother conversation.) In fact, a lot of research points to the fact that our age is a major determinant to; the younger you are when you (permanently) move, the more likely it is that your values might shift towards those of the new culture’s. All of this to say, for students who move abroad for the short-term (i.e. 1-5 years) it’s unlikely that your core principles are going under the bus on our way into town. Still, you will face some confrontation that can be both harsh and rewarding, and it’s good to be prepared for it.

Growing up, I was never one to passively accept the value systems imposed on me- half because I questioned everything, and half because I was a rebellious little sh*t on a mission (what that mission was, however, changed as often as my outfits.) Needless to say, I ended up falling in with the counterculture and rejecting most conservative mainstream American values. So for me, living abroad presented a bit of a challenge between trying to settle in without harshly negotiating my politicized values. More than this, though, it was a seriously beneficial opportunity because it gave me a chance to test my progressivism in a sea of new perspective and evaluate which held water and which didn’t (so to speak). For my own sanity (and arguably my own comfort), I made a point of it to network and build up my “critical friends” community early, jumping on board with a Feminist reading group and then registered for London’s Feminism Conference in 2013. For the most part, I just wanted to keep that part of my heart n’ soul active, but eventually I realized that despite the many similarities, feminism in Europe has a different face than that of the U.S; this was where the learning truly began.

As a feminist abroad, the arguments I once had about my social structures were stripped completely out of context. Countercultures by their nature often hold beliefs that oppose those of the mainstream, and politicized countercultures (i.e. feminism) often prioritize these beliefs based on the inequalities that their mainstream structures impose. The pathway to inequality is paved by each context’s sociopolitical history, and so the pursuit of social justice is dependent on the complexities of that history. As a West Coast native, I learned quickly the value of humility as a feminist in a new cultural context. Quite frankly, West Coast elitism just didn’t fit into the international equation because suddenly your once-limited world opens up to an almost startling depth of perspective when it comes to how deep the corruption runs in the veins of the earth’s politics, and you’re forced to reconcile your priorities with the priorities of those who now surround you.

In hindsight I wouldn’t say my values changed, but I would say that my experiences as a traveler and as an expat added some international insight to my feminist fanny pack (heh heh, get it Brits?) When you’re a student abroad, I (and several cross-cultural studies) would argue that you aren’t immersed in the new culture nearly long enough to completely alter or reverse the 20-something+ years of indoctrination your homeland has already done. But the experiences do give you perspective and the contrast needed to understand the full context of who, what, when, where, why, and how’s your value system came to be, which is critical for any human being’s personal development if you don’t want to walk through life an ignoramus.

So in sum, your values likely won’t change but might be altered slightly, but only in the sense that they improve based on that you’ve gained tremendously valuable (*pun intended) life experience to back it with. If you’re coming from a critical perspective, you don’t suddenly leave all of your beliefs sitting on the shelf back home while you rage like an Ivy League frat boy and reek havoc on your new environment; you take this mindset with you, and view everything from the eyes you always looked through.

For those of you who’ve traveled with a different, less political set of values, what are your experiences? If you’re a student who has moved abroad for a few years, what advice might you bestow upon the next generation of expats?

Going the Distance: Are long-distance relationships worth it?


My short answer is this: nobody knows but you.

Long distance relationships (LDRs) are unbelievably difficult. Before meeting my partner, I swore up and down that I would never put myself through one of these horrendous, torturous, seemingly pointless relationships. But here I am, doing it. The reasons behind why many of us chose to put ourselves through this can simply be reduced to this: we love who we are with, and we want make it work.

Over time and through my many relationships, I’ve learned one thing for certain; the heart knows what it needs. If you listen to it with patience, acceptance, and openness, you will find all of the answers you need from the very beginning. Only you know the inner-workings of your relationship.

You can certainly last the strain of separation, if both partners agree to it on mutual terms. Any healthy relationship that is built on a strong foundation of genuine friendship, respect, trust, and loyalty to the commitments decided amongst you and your partner (polyamory-inclusive) can be navigated through most forms of struggle. With that said, the harsh realities that a long distance relationship entails are something to be seriously considered, and above all discussed by both partners, before making that decision.

I find that in many cases, partners go with this laissez-faire mentality that “it will either work out or it won’t,” but this is complete bullshit. As most LDR veterans will attest, your relationship needs a goal, an expiration date, a plan that you’re both working towards in order for it to work. Plans can change, so long as you’re constantly working towards the same future.

Based on my experience and the many conversations with fellow LDR peeps, these are a few questions to consider:

1. What’s the plan, and is there an end date? The average separation period for LDRs in the States is 14 months. Many LDR veterans say that having an end point to work towards can be extremely helpful for both partners. Since nearly a third of LDRS start off in college, it’s no surprise that partners tend to be goal-oriented. In fact, 70% of LDRs fail because of “unplanned changes.” So it seems, one of the most predictive factors of LDR success is whether or not you’re working towards what LDR experts call a “proximal relationship” – basically, being able to cuddle not through a screen.

2. How’s your communication? If you groan upon hearing the same old “communication is key” cliche, brace yourself; communication is by far the most important factor in making the distance work. The evidence now suggests that faulty attachment and “psychological distance” can impact communication barriers. Attachment refers to your bond with your loved one, and so, in laymen terms, this basically means that if your bond breaks, you psychologically experience the distance, and it can break down your communication. As it turns out, this indirectly affects your satisfaction and commitment- which means the more psychological distance you feel, the less you want to stay. Strengthening that bond through communication is essential.

3. Check in with yourself- how’s your anxiety? I’m not going to omit the truths here that due not just to separation but to unemployment, finances, and the general instability of life, I’ve had struggled with my fair share anxiety (including frequent panic attacks) in the absence of my partner. And psychologists have found that in fact, elevated anxiety can lead to insecurity about your relationship. In my case, I found it helpful taking steps I needed to in order to restore balance within my life, so that anxiety doesn’t negatively affect the relationship. There are plenty of ways of doing this: journaling, meditating, breathing techniques, yoga (which you can now find all over YouTube), to name a few.

4. How far apart will you be? The average LDR relationship has a separation of about 125-150 miles. While this doesn’t necessarily predict whether or not you’re gonna make it through, it does indicate how difficult it will be to travel to each other. Financial stress has been suggested to end relationships, and a longer distance means international phone calls, expensive plane tickets, travel expenses etc. While this seems trivial, it can be a huge hindrance to the relationship; if your partner gets sick, or has an emergency, or if you don’t have a job and you haven’t seen your partner in three months, the strain of that expense can inevitably take a toll on you and your relationship.

5. Ok, you miss him/her/them- but how’s your social life? Take it from the queen of isolation, socializing is both essential to surviving the pain of separation, and at times excruciating to do. When you have a reality you love more than anything that’s 5,000 miles away, nothing can completely take your mind aware from it. As juxtaposed as they are, there are two things to avoid: 1) Too much isolation, and 2) Too much distraction. The key, as with all things in life, is to find a balance between these two. While some say that replacing the time you would have had with your significant other is dangers, others say that isolating yourself too much can be equally hazardous. My advice: make time for your friends and get out of your routine, but make sure you’re regularly spending time with your partner in whatever capacity you can.

6. What’s the point? This is, by far, the most important question. What is the point? Though the dynamics vary between relationships, there’s no denying that across the board, LDRs can be excruciatingly painful at times. So ask yourself, why? Why do you love this person? What makes you want to commit yourself to this person acknowledging that you’re gonna sacrifice the many benefits of having a significant other? Was it a vacay-romance? Are you committing to the person, or the idealized version? I’m not suggesting in any way that the distance won’t be worth overcoming, or that it can’t be done, but I am suggesting that before putting yourself through hell, you might want to make sure you’re doing it with the right person, for the right reasons.

Why do I need to ask myself this crap if I know I love this person, you might be asking? Here’s why.

There will be days where he is too sick to stare at a screen and tell you if he’s okay or not, days where you won’t hear from him, days where those of us notorious for worrying too much will think the worst and begin sifting through news stories. There will be days where your friends will hear from her when you don’t, or taker her out to the pub and you won’t be able to. There will be days when a Skype call doesn’t replace that arm around your shoulder, or that big spoon to your little spoon, days when that stuffed animal your best friend brought to cheer you up won’t kiss you back like your partner used to. There will be fights that can’t be recovered from with a soft I’m sorry and a gentle kiss on your forehead. There will be no make-up sex to make you feel close again. There will be no sex, period. There will be no shoulder to cry on when someone in your family dies, no one to hold your hand when you’re freaked out about the future, no one to wake up next to in the morning.

These are the things you give up temporarily for distance, and you owe it to yourself to first explore what for. Going there doesn’t mean that you will chose not to, it just means that you’re legitimately weighing the pros and cons with your partner before going knee-deep into the Hard Times Valley.

Experienced LDR veterans – what have you learned having been through the mill? Or those of you in or about to be in an LDR, what questions do you have for those of us who are older, wiser, and arthritis-ridden?

Reverse Culture Shock and Graduate Depression: The best part’s over, so now what?


When doing your research about moving, living, or studying abroad, you’ll undoubtedly find that experienced expats have tons of cliché tips we’re willing to share about our ups and downs. There’s a hefty handful of common stories that get recycled, all of which are key preparations for any expat in the making. Among the many experiences you’ll read about and have to brace your britches for, perhaps the most commonly referenced is “culture shock.” Culture shock, which is more accurately referred to by psychologists as “acculturative stress,” can be roughly translated as the stress we feel when we’re suddenly confronted by a new environment, complete with new foods, new laws, new languages, new social norms, etc. In sum, culture shock is that paralysing fear that scares you $h1tless because you’re in a place that neither your body nor mind are familiar with, and the following process of dealing with this (sometimes vomit-inducing) fear until you adjust.

In a recent article about the complicated realities of moving abroad, Geeraert and Demoulin- two psychology researchers at University of Essex who study the effects of acculturative stress- highlight how some of the complexities of culture shock differ between students and other migrants. Authors Geeraert and Demoulin argue that students are “typically highly motivated, they are placed in local families, and they receive support from the exchange organisation throughout the experience,” and point out that “these circumstances will be very different from many other migrant populations.” (This distinction will become clear in a minute…)

Reverse Culture Shock

What you won’t typically find on Dr. Google, though, is what is called “reentry” or “reverse culture shock,” which refers to the culture shock one experiences when migrating back to their home country. Often times, this adjustment period comes as an unfortunate surprise to those returning from their lives abroad. As Margaret Wang points out in her book about culture, preparing students for this re-adjustment period should begin before they ever leave their home turf. But as she also points out, most universities and study abroad programs don’t offer what she calls “reentry training,” and thus often utterly fail to prepare students for the shock they’ll experience when they return home.

Reverse culture shock is basically another form of acculturative stress that takes place when coming home. Living abroad for any extended period of time inevitably tests your limits, expands your comfort zone, and gives you exposure to the world in ways that eventually become your comfort zone. But whilst you’re dabbling in new activities, consuming new foods and adjusting to new customs and territories, your loved ones back home are adjusting to your absence and moving on with their lives. And so, while most things remain the same, you come home to two very stark realisations: 1) Your close friends and family have built a life without you in it and 2) you’ve changed in ways that many of them won’t and/or can’t understand. Arguably the most difficult part of the re-adjustment process is the realisation that very few people back home understand what you’re going through.

I speak purely out of my own experience here, but I can not stress enough how important it is to try to prepare yourself for this process, keep in tune with your needs and reach out for resources when you need them. The first time I went through re-entry shock was as an undergraduate student when I returned from my quarter abroad in Dublin. Reintegrating to my normal routine after four months of eye-opening experiences was a process I slightly resisted and didn’t fully understand. Luckily for me, I also had my best friend and college roommate, who had just studied abroad in London, to share my misery with while we slept on air mattresses in our shared flat for the next 6 months.

Now, keep in mind that there are gravely significant differences between the experiences of students and other migrant populations. As Geeraert and Demoulin pointed out, students have the privilege of returning to a university that offers many health and wellness resources for anyone who struggles throughout (not to mention rapidly ongoing stream of events and projects to jump into and move forward through.) Those who are moving back home after working abroad, living abroad, or especially after having lived in asylum are going to have very different sets of resources and circumstances, and thus the process is going to look different based on their situations.

But the shared take-home message I’m trying to convey is that coming home is difficult because you are not the same person you once were; life abroad changes you, for better or for worse, and so relating to what you once called “home” isn’t going to be easy as you might expect. In lieu of this, it’s even more important to pay attention to your needs and honour them as they come up. Note: The tips I share at the end of this blog are accessible to people returning from all types of circumstance, and don’t require to you to have money or access to specific resources.

Graduate Depression

For students like myself who are returning after a full programme (i.e. an entire Master’s or Bachelor’s programme) abroad, however, there is an added stressor that needs to be recognised and prepared for, and that’s what bloggers now refer to as “post-college depression.” Often times, graduates who are suddenly confronted by the real world go through periods of melancholy while they readjust. In some cases, graduates can even exhibit serious signs of depression. Hannah Webster suggests in her recent article about graduates coping with depression that this period is often either instigated or affected by one’s loss of identity, sudden financial stress, unreasonable expectations and/or family pressure. (But really, what recent grad hasn’t cringed after being asked “What’s next?” for the umpteenth time?) Some authors argue that the unprecedented rates of student loan debt juxtaposed by spiking unemployment rates and the recent push against college graduates towards low-income jobs is also to blame.

Whatever the straw that breaks your back, the melancholy and depressive bouts students face after graduating can have severe implications. Stories (like this one) of students committing suicide after graduation seem to be popping up more and more as loan debts and defaults increase. Our futures are being capitalised on before we ever see the opportunity to make something of ourselves, and that reality has our generation in a global panic. To make matters worse, we YoPros are flocking to the big cities in search for our fleeting opportunities, leading to a rent market that is impenetrable and rent prices that are becoming astronomical- like London’s, which I could no longer afford by the time I returned to the U.S.

Makes for a bad combo

Why are you reminding me of these depressing realities, you might ask? Because the combination between readjusting to your own culture and transitioning from the comforting academic bubble back into the real world, can be really, really detrimental to one’s mental and emotional well-being. Especially if one is lacking the necessary resources (i.e., health insurance for therapy, which a broke post-grad would need insurance for) or the necessary social support (who have since moved on with their lives since you’ve left them for your adventures overseas.) Feeling sad and nostalgic about the place you’d begun calling home and somewhat worthless about your uncertain future and pitiful career prospects is not an ideal grab-bag of emotions to be experiencing all at once.

So, now what?

In the wise words of Baz Luhrmann, “the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience; I will dispense this advice, now.”

In my years of experience working with art therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, yogis, fitness trainers, natural gurus, crunchy health-types and otherwise creative types, I’ve come to learn one very pervasive truth: self-care is important. Through the advice these friends have shared and lots of personal trial and error, I’ve pocketed a handful of trusted tips to pull out in moments just like these where the funk is real and the uphill before me is daunting.

1. Start a routine. Coincidentally enough, this is one of my greatest pieces of advice for getting through the initial culture shock, but it also works the other way around. Chances are that by the time you left your adventures abroad and repatriated to the homeland, you had struck up a routine in your old life. Coming home doesn’t mean you have to drop that routine. One of the best parts of going abroad is bringing what you’ve learned and the ways in which you’ve changed back with you. So, incorporating something you once did into your new life might be a really great way of reminding you that yes, it happened, and yes, you’re a better person for having had the experience. It also doesn’t have to be something you learned abroad; I will get real personal here and admit that my personal cure for tough transitions is Gilmore Girls. One episode each night. I MAKE NO APOLOGIES.

2. Make a plan. One of the toughest parts of returning is feeling that the most exciting part of your life has ceased. If this is the case, give yourself something to look forward to! You don’t need to drop your savings on a ticket right off the bat, but make a plan for the distant-enough-to-save-but-not-SO-distant future. Pick a timeframe, start planning your next adventure, enjoy doing research in the meantime, budget your life around it and just enjoy being part of the wanderlust community. Never again will you return from a trip feeling your travel bug has been sufficiently fed, but you will forever be planning ahead and giving yourself something to keep motivated with and it keeps you moving forward. Whatever your plan might be – adventures don’t always equal travel. Go get that PhD, start that business, get that thesis published, write that book, record that song, start that blog, etc. There are numerous ways to move forward in your life, the key is just to do the moving forward.

3. Find the beauty. After graduating with my Bachelors, I picked up a temporary job at a remote camp in the Pacific Northwest. I remember sitting in my room, staring at the world map on my wall with my very dear friend Shay Button while sharing our tales of burning inner wanderlust, and admitting that I sometimes felt something was missing because I wasn’t abroad. And what she said to me next I will never forget: “I know what you mean, and I think it’s why, no matter where I go, I try to experience the world through the same eyes I did when I was in Italy. I try to carry that open-hearted, open-minded wonder with me everywhere I go.” In that moment, she taught me how to take home one of the best experiences of living abroad we each have; pure, unadulterated, unwavering openness. So, I encourage you to bring this openness into your life in any and every way you can, and use it to find the beauty in things you once saw as dull an unexciting. Sometimes, finding beauty in the mundane is enough to transform our mentality and improve our whole perspective.

4. Write it down. Feeling über angsty? Feeling nostalgic about your times abroad? Missing those loose ends? Full of stories with no one to share them too? As unfortunate as this is, it seems that those who don’t share our experiences as travellers sometimes feel that we sound obnoxiously privileged and, at times, a bit patronising or condescending when we do try to share them. To be fair, they’re absolutely right; shoving tales from an experience that someone else may not have had the privilege of having down their throats is, in a sense, selfish and unfair. With that said, one of the most important forms of processing the experience and reintegrating back into your own culture is talking about it, is sharing it, is connecting with others through it. So write it down. Write it in a journal, a private blog, a public blog, create a scrap book, write a song or poem about it, a memoir, a novel, create a film or a slideshow with pictures. Do something that gets the memories and the feelings associated with them out of you and into something tangible that you can come back to as many times as you want. Then, if you so chose, you can share it to those who actively show their interest in hearing about and seeing.

5. Run, run, run. Let me start by saying that this is very much my personal way of dealing with rough transitions; I run. In fact, I arguably do 1-4 on this list while I’m at it because I start a new running routine that works me towards a goal (i.e., 10k or half marathon) and I use my running routes to find hidden treasures in my new (or old) surroundings. In fact, running has been shown to cure depression where medications can’t, and so it’s my main fall back and what I immediately turn to when I feel my general life-mood slipping into that unhealthy sort of deep. But running isn’t the only cure; I think the key take-home message is to find a way to incorporate daily or every-other-daily movement that elevates you out of your depression. Swimming, dancing, kickboxing, yoga (Yoga with Adriene’s 30-day Challenge is a great place to start!) are all great ways to keep your blood moving, your mood elevated, and your heart and mind healthy. Pick your poison, but push yourself to get out – even if it’s just a relaxed, calm, half hour walk around the neighbourhood, every bit helps!

Share your tips, or ask away! If you’re about to head home, what have you done to prepare? Or what would you like to prepare for? If you’ve studied abroad and come back, or you’ve done the living abroad and the whole shebang, what was your experience coming home? What did you do to cope?

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Needle In A Racist Haystack: Job-Hunting in the U.K. for Foreigners

Few experiences have brought me to understand the meaning of the simile “like finding a needle in a haystack” quite as deeply as job-hunting in London as a non-EEA/EU citizen.

Prior to coming abroad for my Master’s programme, I did a bit of research and found that many non-EEA/EU students were leaving the U.K. shortly after their studies because they couldn’t find work. Though I knew this, as a friend of mine who (who is beyond competent, responsible, and intelligent enough to easily find work) had studied for 2 years in Manchester returned jobless and tired from the hunt. Then, within my first 2 weeks at Brunel University, I met a fellow postgraduate from California who had just completed her dissertation and was gearing up to head home for the same reason. And I kept thinking, these are Master’s students for %$@#’s sake- what the hell is making it so hard to find work?

After some time living, experiencing, and reading through the many uncensored sources of media in the U.K., it’s become obvious that the U.K. makes it difficult for foreign nationals to stay intentionally. Up until a few years ago, students could apply for what was called a “Post Study Work Visa”, which was classified as a Tier 1. However, this visa was pulled in order to make way for new legislation for immigration. From here on out, foreign nationals can only stay under the Tier 2 work sponsorship visa. In order to apply for this, companies now must meet a set of criteria, pass the ‘resident labour market test’, fill out a bucket load of bureaucratic paperwork and financially sponsor any and all foreign nationals they hired into their company. In laymen’s terms, this mean that the British government pulled any avenues that made it easier for foreign nationals to find work and started asking British companies to prove that any foreigner they hire is more qualified than any British or EU citizen whom also may have applied for the position.

So now, the U.K. has very cleverly pitted foreign national applicants against the EU and British applicants also hunting in an already extremely tough job market. To make matters worse, in my experience EU members are finding it quite difficult themselves to find jobs as non-EU members. Many of my EU compadres from uni have been applying since May and have put out between 500-700 applications with only a handful of interviews; only a few of these friends have managed to find permanent work. Of the many postgraduates hunting for work, the first to score a permanent position was home-grown British. And good ol’ GB is starting to get a global reputation for her lack of empathy, as this could explain the significant drop in Tier 4 student visa applicants from non-EU and non-EEA citizens in recent years. But while students are suffering from investing tens of thousands of pounds into a British degree without reaping any benefits from the British workforce, we are small pawns in the grand scheme of the British worker’s war. One that makes the struggles of a U.S. student with an accessible job market to return to seem pretty minor.

Since the economic collapse that echoed around the globe, the U.K. has taken several measures towards ensuring “British Jobs for British Workers.” UKIP, one of the nation’s most notoriously conservative and patriotic parties, has led the march behind excluding non-British citizens from the increasingly tough job market. As countries like Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, and Spain have endured some of the most devastating effects of this collapse in the European Union, workers have begun to migrate to the U.K. While many of these workers come in search for opportunity, they are instead welcomed with bitterness and blatant rejection. When asked to comment on the fact that Bulgarians and Romanians make up over 25% of the city’s increasing population of “rough sleepers”, UKIP’s spokeswoman simply replied that:

“This is surely proof that unrestricted immigration is forcing upon Britain migrants we would be much better without. It makes absolutely no sense for people from countries with some of the cheapest housing in Europe to come to a country with some of the most expensive and end up living on the streets as a result. It is clear that we need a comprehensive points-based immigration system that allows into Britain only those who make a net contribution to our society and who have the skills required for a job.”

In other words, rather than help our fellow Europeans and their countries let’s just shut and their problems out of the country so we don’t suffer with them. What’s even more upsetting about this quote is the hypocrisy is that despite wanting to keep ‘those who make a net contribution,’ they won’t even help the international students who have invested in British education enter the workforce. The proof is in the pudding that [not-so]Great Britain is a racist @$$ country – the very same party that claims European workers are the problem has paid foreign workers to distribute their party’s leaflets as they claim “[their labour is] the cheapest.

While there are loopholes for non-EEA and non-EU citizens, such as the Tier 2 work sponsored visa or even the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneurial Visa (for those of your who have been itching to start up a business), the hidden fine print makes these visas both expensive and extremely difficult to get. To sum things up, job-hunting for foreign nationals (and even for EU citizens) in the U.K. is very much like finding a needle in a haystack. Only the haystack is made systemically impenetrable for those who are not British, and those who are are given protection while they search.

Goodbye, Grandma: A blog on grieving a loss while studying abroad


In my last blog, I promised bloggers some  more candid posts on the ups and downs of studying abroad. At the risk of sounding redundant, I really believe it’s important for students considering to live and study abroad to be given the full picture of what they’re getting into. From here on out, I’m gonna start to tailoring my forthcoming blogs to offer a more balanced landscape of what it’s like to be thousands of miles from home… Starting with this post.

This past week, I lost my grandma. The cons of study abroad don’t get more real than this, folks. Losing a family member when you’re thousands of miles away from your family is one of the most difficult experiences you can have when studying abroad. Depending on the circumstances, it might not always be the loss itself that hurts so much as the fact that you are not able to grieve with loved ones.

Grieving means something different to everyone- some grieve with anger, some with silence and solitude, some with symbolic actions, some with art, some with the company of their loved ones. These differences even vary culturally, which can make it really difficult for the usually fabulous new friends you’ve made living abroad to understand what’s happening. We often take for granted how much of an impact it has being around (or near to) the people who understand your grief and understand whom and what you’ve lost. When you’re a country apart from your loved ones, it’s much harder feeling connected to their grief, and this can make you feel isolated, alone, and can sometimes deepen the pain of that loss.

Over the course of the last year, there have been three significant losses in my family. Through all of them, the two most difficult emotions I’ve struggled with were guilt and sadness for being so far away. The occasional bout of homesickness makes it hard enough to rationalise and negotiate your reasons for living abroad (whether it’s to study, work, experience new cultures or to be with your partner) against how much you miss home. When a traumatic or painful event happens in your family or circle of friends, though, this negotiation tends to resurface in a very intense way and can even bring you question your decision to stay.

The bottom line here is that if you carefully consider and weigh the pros and cons before making the decision to leave, it can keep you steadier when $h1t hits the fan. If you are a careful enough planner and you have the resources to manage it, there are things you can do to soften the blow; e.g., keeping an emergency sta$h for last-minute plane tickets home, or keeping a friend (abroad) whom you trust in the loop if/when someone gets sick in case you need a sudden shoulder, or locating your nearest M&S for a last minute stop for proper chocolate, ice cream, DVDs and PJs.