Formal?

Formal, prom, debs – whatever you call it, I’ve dreamed about since I started secondary school. The long dresses, sparkly makeup and grown-up up-dos shown in photos of smiling girls that adorned social media for weeks after the event. Of course not all that glitters glows and the blisters from the high heels, the morning after the night before hangover and being left with a dress that you will probably never wear again are all downsides to formal but that didn’t matter to me, I just wanted to experience that rite of passage.

But the thing is, I won’t experience it.

I don’t have enough money, nor a date and quite frankly I don’t think I’d be welcome to my ex-school’s formal.

It’s heartbreaking in a way, but I keep telling myself that it would be foolish to waste away my savings on one night. I could spend that money on travelling instead or at least put it towards student accommodation for next year but that isn’t quite as glamorous as formal.

Now thar I recognise the question of formal is out of the picture I guess that part of growing up is accepting that you won’t meet all your childhood dreams. When the day of formal comes around I’ll just have to avoid social media and find something else to entertain myself.

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I know I wouldn’t belong there.


Today I went to my first ever university open day and to be honest I wasn’t impressed. It was my local university, QUB, and I was attending their family open day. Despite registering both of my parents they both copped out at the last minute so it wasn’t really a family affair. My college hasn’t started back yet so going to the schools open day wasn’t an option which made my day a lonely experience. 
I entered the computer science building and was told I’d missed the first lecture so I decided to walk around their displays. It was then I realised that something was off. It was all male students. Not one single woman to be seen. Maybe all the women were just sensible enough to stay away or perhaps were having a coffee break but it just sent alarm bells ringing. I don’t want to be the token female on the course. I know it will be a long time before we truly see proper female representation in the IT sector but being the only woman in a large group of men makes me kind of uncomfortable.

So I left the computer science building and went to the marquee where there was subject information. At the computer science stall there was a woman (finally a sign of female life within the school of computer science!) and a guy who gave me some leaflets and then referred to me as “sir”… I was so embarrassed that I walked away. 

I was pretty upset at this point but I powered on through the rain to Whitla Hall where they had finance information. This was a useless exercise since it was all aimed at English students. I guess they’re more important since they pay twice the amount of Northern Irish students. God, I felt so lonely by this point. There were families sipping cups of coffee clearly satisfied by their day and then there was me who was all alone and soaking wet from the rain.

I gave up at this point and went into town and bought myself an ice cream. I know I need to realise that it was just a bad day: it was probably just coincidental there were no women to be seen in the computer science building, the guy in the marquee probably referred to me as a man by accident and I guess nowhere really looks nice when it’s lashing rain. 

Despite that I just had this gut instinct that I wouldn’t belong there. It reminded me of when at age 10 I went to see prospectice secondary schools with my parents. I’ll never forget driving up the lane to one school and just knowing that I shouldn’t be there. Of course, I ended up there for five years due to peer pressure and pushy parents. On the other hand, in January 2016 I went to see the college that I’m now at and I knew instantly that it was the right place for me. So I think instinct has a role to play in where I go to university and it’s telling me that I won’t be going to QUB in September 2018. 

My Problem With Taylor Swift

Here goes nothing.

Taylor Swift’s stance on feminism bothers me.

Taylor Swift smiling at the crowd
By Jana ZillsTaylor Swift, CC BY 2.0, Link

There, I said it. I know she is an inspiration to many but she says things like the quote below and then tries to tear down other women like Kim Kardashian and Katy Perry. I don’t know where the saying comes from but it has always stayed with me: “Women shouldn’t tear down other women”. Okay, yeah there is a lot of controversy around the whole Katy and Taylor feud and I believe a lot of it is just media play but sometimes it feels like T.Swift uses it to gain popularity with songs like Bad Blood and LWYMMD,

Other women who are killing it should motivate you, thrill you, challenge you and inspire you rather than threaten you

And then lyrics like “boys only want love if it’s torture” and song names like ‘Look What You Made Me Do‘ are very reminiscent of domestic violence and victim blaming. I think that part of the most recent wave of feminism is trying to highlight domestic violence against men so I don’t think that she is helping feminism with that.

I understand that she recently donated a large sum to The Joyful Heart Foundation after winning a sexual assault case and I really respect that, but perhaps her words just aren’t speaking as loudly as her actions.

I actually do like Taylor Swift  – I like some of her music, even Look What You Made Me Do despite its unfortunate name. I just wanted to get this little gripe off my chest.

“You have been granted a licence for three years”

I used to be excited for the “freedom” that would come with being 17-18 but really all that entails is burdening responsibilities, e.g. learning to drive. I got my provisional driving licence recently, along with a stern warning that it will be revoked if I have any blackouts (not while driving, just in general). Yeah, because of my diabetes the DVA only allows me to have a licence for three years at a time after which I will have to undergo more medical examinations at my own expense as punishment for being inflicted with a chronic disease. I understand that the DVA have a responsibility to ensure that diabetics are fit to drive however the evidence shows that we have no more accidents on average than a normal driver. To be honest this makes me scared to report any abnormalities to the diabetic consultant because regardless of whether or not it affects my driving ability it could result in my licence being taken away. 

And then there’s the financial aspect to driving. I think it was £80 just to apply for the licence, which took four months to arrive. Driving lessons will cost about £20 per lesson and I have no idea how much it costs to sit the theory and practical exams but I can tell you that the money from my savings account is draining quickly. I don’t even want to imagine how much insurance will cost if I ever pass the test. Money has always made me feel very anxious. Going to a school where everyone else seemed to be rich whilst having parents that are neck deep in all types of debt does that to you. I honestly don’t even see the point of getting of getting my licence now when I have no job to pay for a car but my parents insist that I get it now.

Strangely enough though I not worried about the actual driving part. I’ll probably struggle with the gears but I can sail tall ships in the Atlantic ocean, so how hard can a car be in comparison?


Plans

Amazingly I managed to get a place on my dream degree course despite not meeting entry criteria nor being 18. Unfortunately my parents won’t let me go to Dublin until I finish my BTEC so I had to defer. In September 2018 I will be studying BSc Computer Science (International), the “International” bit meaning that I will study a language alongside it and do global citizenship and business. It was the only sensible course I could find that would let me study both computers and Spanish. The university that I’m going to takes part in Erasmus and has links with Chinese, Tanzanian and Korean universities so who knows? Maybe I’ll spend one semester in a Madrileño company and then the other in a Seoul university learning Korean. 

All of this seems so far away but it’s important to plan, especially the financial aspect considering how expensive Dublin is. For now I’m just worrying about driving lessons – I was granted a driving licence for three years since I’m diabetic and my provisional license came yesterday. I can sail tall ships through the North Sea so a car couldn’t be that hard to drive, right? I think the worst bit will be getting insurance because who the hell will want to quote a reasonable price for a diabetic with a history of blackouts?

I know this is all very mundane stuff to blog about but it is what it is. I don’t have the desire to blog about kitsch recipes or global politics right now so it’s just about me. I don’t know where I’m going with this blog, but I’m glad that I have it.

News

Results Day was terrifying. I got a C and spent the morning feeling so angry with myself, but then I pulled myself together and went into town to get a haircut and began to feel marginally better. When my dad picked me up he told me the news about the terrorist attack unfolding in Barcelona and it really put everything into perspective. There was me moping around over a perfectly good pass grade while people had been brutally murdered.

I spent a lot of the day after that watching the BBC news and recognised the little shops that I went to on a school trip when I was 14. One girl bought a penis shaped lollipop and 14 year old me thought it was the funniest thing ever. It’s just so bizarre how a place I once stood and laughed became the place of someone’s death.

So yeah, while I’m not overly happy about my AS result it’s not the end of the world. I’m going to get one paper remarked and resit another which will hopefully bring me up to a B, maybe an A if I’m really lucky. I said that I wouldn’t do A2 if I got a C or below but I’m not so sure now because I don’t want to give my Spanish studies. I’ve studied Spanish for 6 years now and this is the first real setback but for a girl who only had 2hr30min of class each week and was buried in assignments for my other course the week of my AS exams it’s probably a miracle that I passed.

Results Day Dread

Note: I wrote this last week but didn’t publish because I forgot that our modem wasn’t working 

A Level results day is looming nearer and nearer and I am terrified. I only sat one AS this year but I’m more scared than I was about GCSEs. This is why I like BTECs – I knew if I passed each module within days of submitting it and I could always resubmit if I didn’t get a distinction on my first attempt. But with AS/A2 you get one shot. Considering that I spent £370 altogether for my Spanish classes, books and exam fees I literally cannot afford to fail. 

I have no way to gauge how well I did until 7am on Thursday morning when I log onto the CCEA results website. In a way I don’t “need” this AS Level since I’m already doing a BTEC Extended Diploma but this has been my personal vanity project this year to prove that I am cable of sitting A Levels. 

To be fair the BTEC course is also keeping me up at night but for other reasons. You see, I thought I had successfully re-enrolled myself for the second year of the course but it turns out I accidentally enrolled myself on the first year of the course since the option for second year wasn’t available because my tutor forgot to send confirmation that I passed the first year. I phoned the college and they said that they would get back to me once it was sorted out – but three weeks later I haven’t heard anything. So at the minute I’m in limbo. I don’t think I’m in the wrong because my tutor made the mistake, nor did the college send me re-enrolment instructions but at the same time I didn’t phone them until after the re-enrolment deadline so I’m going a bit crazy here.

Despite all my academic woes I’m keeping it together quite well for a person weaning off fluoxetine. So at least I have that going for me.


Busy Summer

I’ve spent a total of 8 days at home since the start of July, which is unlike me but a good thing I suppose. I spent two weeks in Spain and then two weeks sailing around Scotland for sail training (lot’s of love at Sail Training Ireland). Next week I’m doing a Cloud Computing camp just because I can and I have an audition for a theatre youth group coming up. Despite being an introvert being surrounded by people makes me happy.  I’m still on a half dose of fluoxetine, taking tablets on alternate days, but I’ve had no major relapses so keeping busy seems to be working for me. 

In other news I’ve decided to defer any university offers I get from CAO until next year. I was really set on going in September but I’m only 17 and it would be more fun if I’m 18. I’ve got nothing to lose and can’t wait to start my final year at college. I got Distinction*Distinction* in my BTEC (the top grade) and I’m feeling positive about the AS Level results next week. 

So yeah, my goal for the summer is just to keep busy. Things are good right now.

Diverbo Volunteer Review

I took part in the Diverbo Pueblo Inglés teen camp this year and I’ve decided to write about my experiences as there is a serious lack of reviews about it on the internet. Pueblo Ingles is an English-speaking camp for Spanish teens to practise English and for Anglophones to earn a volunteer holiday. I found out about it from a girl that I met last summer (they don’t exactly advertise it) and after promising not to utter a word of Spanish multiple times I was accepted as a volunteer – however this does not guarantee you a place at one of the camps. I won’t name the hotel that I stayed at as that is too identifying and I think Trip Advisor is a better place for that type of review.

My experience with the Diverbo volunteer application process was pretty poor. I wasn’t accepted for any of my first three choices of camp (there must be around 20) so I had to choose new camps. It wasn’t until five weeks before the start of camp that I got confirmation that I could book my plane tickets, meaning that I had to spend nearly €300 on return fights whereas it would have been about €100 had I known in February. Then I was obligated to spend €160 on their Welcome and Departure packages as I was a “minor travelling alone”. For what they are (A night in a hotel at the beginning and ending of the program, dinner/breakfast and an “activity”) it isn’t bad value, but its an extra expense that didn’t add much to the program. It is beyond me why we couldn’t arrive on the morning that the bus left for camp and they couldn’t drop everyone at the airport after returning from camp. Overall a more efficient application process with clearer instructions could have saved me €200 and a lot of stress.

I was obligated to spend €160 on their Welcome and Departure packages as I was a “minor travelling alone”

When I arrived in Madrid I was met by a coordinator, despite the fact that my flight arrived early which pleasantly surprised me. About 15 other teens were waiting for myself and others in our “batch”. Once everyone arrived we got on an air-conditioned coach which took us to the nearby hotel that we would spend our first night in. Almost all teens taking part in Diverbo were at this hotel, making it hard to find anyone going to the same camp as me. After registration, and of course paying my fees for that night, I had no contact with any member of staff from Diverbo. They told us that money for the welcome/departure would only be accepted in cash, which just sounded… dodgy. Diverbo is an established company so I doubt it was for tax evasion but it was odd. They probably weren’t willing to splurge out to set up a secure payment method online. The “special activity” never materialised and I was sent to bed after dinner.

The morning after arrival we departed for our camp destination, at this point we realised it would be little Ireland as out of 25 Anglos there were around 20 Irish people. There were 25 “Anglophones” to 40 Spanish people. I didn’t know how many people to expect but the Spanish version of their website lead me to believe there would be 20 of each. It was a four-hour journey with two stops – one being for lunch which consisted of a sandwich, an apple, a bun and a bottle of water. We arrived to the camp at five and were shown to our rooms. I shared my room with a Spanish girl. She was shy and didn’t seem to want to speak English. The room was basic but clean and had towels which we weren’t allowed to take to the pool. That day we had no snack, therefore I had a hypoglycemia attack at 8pm and hid it because I was so scared. Yes, scared. Our passports were confiscated, we were 10km from the nearest town nor did we have phone signal. I thought that I was about to be a victim of human trafficking, which was quite frankly ridiculous and a result of my anxiety.

There were 25 “Anglophones” to 40 Spanish people.

The hotel was very rural and serene with a river flowing nearby, which is what Diverbo aims for; but this led to another problem – pests. Mosquitoes, flies, ants, mice, birds. The mosquitoes/flies were everywhere meaning that I was bitten all over. One girl’s room was swarmed by them and the director of the program had to come in and swat them with a towel (she still had to sleep in her room that night). Another day while I was strategically hanging wet clothes on the balcony to avoid bird shit, I found a dead baby bird. It turned out that there was a bird’s nest in my balcony. And of course who can forget the dead baby mouse that we found in the pool and had to fish out with a net as no member of staff could be found. The electricity regularly cut out, there wasn’t always tap water and the air conditioning was only on in the afternoon. Fortunately the counsellors suggested that no camp will be held at this hotel in 2018.

The hotel was very rural and serene with a river flowing nearby

The coordinators were very strict about ensuring that no Spanish was spoken. I suppose it’s a good thing but there were a few points when I thought to myself “This person clearly doesn’t understand my explanation in English but it would only take me a few seconds to explain in Spanish and then we could return to our conversation”.

The Spanish teens were very respectful of us, and were intrigued by our pale skin and blue/green eyes. Although one Spanish kids was quite rude to me. One day we were beside the pool and as I was applying sun cream she began to refer to how “blanca” I am to her friend, believing that I did not understand Spanish. I wasn’t happy about that and told them in Spanish that I know and don’t care. Thankfully this behaviour was rare and if caught out by a counsellor they could have points deducted from their team. There were six groups of 10-11 people, identifiable by the colour of their lanyard. You could earn points for “positive behaviour” e.g. leading an activity, telling jokes, going out of your way to help someone but they could also be lost by speaking Spanish, being rude and being late to meals/activities. There were daily challenges to earn points like boat races, Dragons’ Den/Shark Tank presentations, mini Olympics and The group with the most points at the “points recount” each day would get “free choice” of the next range of activities and got served meals first. Well, not quite served as it was a buffet style which brings me to the next topic: food.

  • Breakfast: 9am
  • Snack 1: 12am
  • Lunch: 2pm
  • Snack 2: 6pm
  • Dinner: 9pm

As you can see our meals were evenly spread but it was quite a shock to the system for the majority of English speakers who have a large dinner at 6pm. It was originally suggested that we bring €30-50 for snacks and souvenirs however all was provided for and there were no shops anyway but I suggest that you bring this money in case of emergency. It was all Spanish style food but as it was buffet style even the fussiest eater could find something. They even catered for vegetarians and gluten intolerance. The food was most certainly a highlight of the day. At each table there had to be an even ratio of Spanish and English speakers (impossible considering the 40:25 ratio).

The food was most certainly a highlight of the day.

On the last evening we had a party complete with Coca Cola and crisps. A fellow volunteer compared it to a birthday party a nine-year old would be proud of but at least it was a chance to get dressed up and dance. The next day we had breakfast before the Spaniards left and then lunch before saying our goodbyes to the counsellors and returning to Madrid by coach.

I wish I could tell you that I went straight to the airport, but as Diverbo “strongly recommended” taking the Departure package I stayed once again at the group hotel in Madrid and so began 24 hours of hell. As soon as we got off the bus we had an unnamed Diverbo staff member screaming commands at us like a military sergeant, which I found very disrespectful. At first nobody could find the keycard for my room but it became clear that I was the unlucky person from my camp who had to share a room with someone from another camp. That girl was a nightmare. She came barging in the door at 1am, being yelled at by a counsellor patrolling the corridors. She then began to jump up and down on her bed, flick the lights on and off, yell at people out the window, yell at me to entertain her and blast trap music at random intervals throughout the night – all after telling me she would be quiet since I wanted to sleep.

I set my alarm for 6.30am (although there was no need as I didn’t sleep) partially to escape her, but also to begin saying my goodbyes to my fellow campers departing the hotel. This was heartbreaking since the people around you during the two weeks become family but you have to watch as they drive away, unsure if you’ll ever see them again. As I decided to take the evening flight while everyone else took morning flights, I was left alone in the hotel. As I had to check out of my room at 10am, I left my bags behind the desk and had a nap on a sun lounger under an umbrella. However some cunt moved the umbrella and I suffered pretty intense sunburns from my bikini line down to my toes. I didn’t realise this until I woke up burnt to a crisp with dehydration. Perhaps if Diverbo staff had been at the pool, or had chose a hotel with a competent lifeguard, maybe someone would have noticed. Anyway, I went indoors and told a Diverbo staff member what had happened. They flippantly told me to borrow some aftersun lotion and to drink tap water. Neither of these suggestions were exactly helpful as everyone that I could have borrowed aftersun – including the counsellors – from my camp had left, nor did I have a bottle/glass for water. I ended up taking a couple of ibuprofen and holding wet toilet paper to my burns while drinking from the tap. After all of that I wasn’t even provided with lunch, meaning I went from 7am (breakfast) to 7pm (finding a Burger King at the airport) without food.  We were told that leaving the hotel would void our insurance and transfer to the airport, so I didn’t even dare leave to find a pharmacy or cafe. Try to avoid the Welcome/Departure packages if you are travelling without friends – they won’t check that you have a parent with you, and if they do well there’s not much they can do about it.

What volunteers should bring (other than the obvious and things that Diverbo suggest):

  • Insect repellent (yes, there are mosquitos in Spain)
  • Antihistamines, painkillers, moisturiser etc.
  • An empty water bottle
  • Deck of cards
  • Snacks (things that won’t melt or get crushed in your bag e.g. Pringles)
  • Suncream, maybe a spray one if you don’t want to ask someone else to do your back
  • A beach towel as you can’t bring hotel towels to the pool
  • A handheld fan
  • You will have better phone signal with a Spanish SIM card but if not at least download content to your phone to entertain yourself

Ways in which Diverbo could improve:

  • Have occasional excursions to nearby towns to allow volunteers to pick up necessities (in my case insect repellent and tampons)
  • Confirm dates/locations earlier in the year so suitable travel arrangements can be made
  • Provide clear information on what to expect. Don’t say there will be activities – tell us what they are.
  • Understand that most of the Anglos are from a country with a cool climate, continuing normal activities with 38°C heat is distressing for us

So would I recommend? I don’t know, really it depends on what type of person you are. If you never stop talking, love Spanish food and culture, want sunshine and enjoy games and outdoor activities then I can safely say that you will enjoy it. If you like home comforts, watching TV all day and have irregular sleeping and eating patterns maybe you should reconsider coming unless you want to change that. The Anglos and Spaniards are treated equally and Diverbo take care of you from the minute you arrive.

Personally, if I could repeat the experience I would have signed up for a one week camp instead of a two week camp. Once I was there the idea of a two week camp was daunting and each day felt like a week, but as a counsellor put it, each week also felt like an hour. I feel like a one week camp would’ve allowed me to test the water instead of throwing myself in at the deep end (these do exist but with limited availability). The change over of Spanish students half way through my two weeks was also particularly distressing. You witness these people grow in confidence and just as you begin to form a bond they are torn away from you. None of the Anglos really had the energy to learn the Spaniards’ names the second week, putting the new Spaniards at a disadvantage.

I feel like a one week camp would’ve allowed me to test the water instead of throwing myself in at the deep end

In conclusion, this was a pretty critical review but I feel it provides a good contrast to the limited reviews on the internet. I made some really good friends there: all the Irish Anglos have already planned a reunion and I’m considering going back to Spain in October to visit my newfound friends. Although I wrote about the application process and facilities mostly, it truly was the people that made my two weeks enjoyable. I think that volunteering for Diverbo is worth a shot and if you don’t enjoy the experience, at least you’ll leave with something to write about on your university application and a nice certificate.

It truly was the people that made my two weeks enjoyable

 

Notes:

  1. I speak/understand Spanish fairly well since I’ve studied it for six years
  2. Prices can change each year so don’t take what I say as certain
  3. “Anglos” refers to Anglophones who are the English speaking volunteers at the camp.
  4. I haven’t added my name or camp to this review as I don’t want to be banned from returning to Diverbo.
  5. While all volunteers stayed for two weeks, the Spanish teens only stayed for one so there were two sets of Spanish teens during my stint.

Nagging Thoughts

At the start of May I once again began the process of coming off my fluoxetine. At the review appointment last week my psychiatrist encouraged me to come off the antidepressant altogether, and I really want to, but right now I can’t. You see, this just mirrors what happened the last time I tried to come off them two years ago.

It was the summer and considering that school was one of the major catalysts for my depression which was then stabilised, it seemed wise to attempt coming off meds. It was fine at first, but then I had a paranoid breakdown complete with sleep paralysis nightmares of friends and famiky members coming into my bedroom with machetes, a different person each night. Despite warning all of my friends to be wary of any erratic behaviour I was promptly thrown under the bus and wasn’t invited to anything over the summer which relegated me to my bedroom where my depression, probably closer to psychosis at that point, festered. I wrote some awful things on the blog that I had at the time which were spread around my school come September by bullies. I had other stories spread about me too, e.g. that I bullied my Spanish exchange partner. Someone told the poor girl that I hated her and she spent the rest of her week here thinking that she was in a cruel household when really I just wanted to protect her – she called me her sister before that. Is it any wonder that I ended up on even stronger medication than before? Everything else from that period is just a prescription drug fuelled haze.

Not much of that relates to my current situation except the theme of summer, but those memories are nagging at me right now and I need to get them off my chest so I can sleep. When I’m busy, I’m flying but when I have nothing to do I drown and that is why the summer is such a dangerous time for me. I’m going to spend two weeks in Spain volunteering and then I’ll spend a few days participating in a cloud computing summer scheme ( 🤓 ) in an attempt to give myself a sense of business but in all honesty the summer scares me a lot. I guess going cold turkey will have to wait until September.