Jingle Bells Batman Smells

The countdown begins, not that I haven’t already been counting the days before I leave the United Kingdom. It seems that for almost two months, I had been trying “to prepare,” however that far back it is hard to get anything set in stone. I was still getting documents ready for my visas and getting passport-sized photos, then approval from the university’s ethics committee for the research, then approval from the department for funding, then having to re-book my flights because the airline canceled them, etc…. Now today I had everything together for my visa for my second country and they decided to take the week off before Christmas. So now, I’m trying to see if I can apply at an embassy in America when I return or while abroad in West Africa.

So we will see how that pans out. Embassies are notoriously difficult to get a hold of, which is frustrating when they want you to email them for an appointment. Thus, shouldn’t I get a reply email confirming my appointment or even answering a general question if I am just getting stuff ready and just want to know what to bring in advance?

Other than my general frustrations and woes with government bureaucracies, how are all of you doing?

Not that I’m expecting an immediate response, but I know with the upcoming holidays everyone is just going through something during the happiest time of the year, right? Ironically, since this is my first Christmas away from my family and I am not planning to cook a gigantic meal, nor does London seem to get into the “spirit” as much as New Yorkers, I feel toned down this year. It could be because I have my head in the books and am more worried about theoretical frameworks (still no idea what that is), rather than thinking about people (that I know). However, being single and hardly knowing anyone here has really just made me able to focus on myself this past month and “getting things crossed off”. It is selfish, but being away from home can have its perks. Unfortunately, London is completely shut down this weekend, which feels very unusual. At least NYC had Sunday/holiday service on the subway and buses.

Taking care of self during this time of year is just as important as looking out for the ones you love. You can easily get wrapped up in other people’s issues and burn yourself out. So here are somethings that I think helped me get through these last few weeks.

1. Start as early as possible. I know it is hard to think about end-of-year things in October, especially when anything can happen between now and then. However, you will save yourself a lot of time getting those “little things” done that may seem only take a minute or two. For example, I knew that I was moving out after holidays and I had to get a key replaced, order some last minute things off of Amazon, and get boxes from my job. Well, had I waited until this week to do that, there’s no way that stuff from Amazon would have made it before I left, nor would I have been able to carry some free boxes for packing from work all at one time. I also did have my key made as it gave me opportunity to shop around for a lower price. Things that I have no time for this week, now that this visa emergency has popped up.

2. Book a spa day. At the end of all the holiday parties and dinners or perhaps right before, you are going to need a couple hours to yourself to get the kinks out. If the spa is not your thing, then get your hair washed or another activity where someone is doing something for you. We all love our family and friends but sometimes having someone do something that makes you feel loved can coax you back from the brink of insanity.

3. Give up your expectations. Whoa, whoa…now put down the bottle. Expectations are different than your inhibitionsstill keep those. So what I mean is that there is no perfect or fantasy Christmas. Yes, maybe we have an idea to specifically go somewhere or do something, however do not give your hopes up for the “perfect experience.” As I opened above, you can see that unexpected shit happens (like government offices closing a week early so they can have their perfect Christmas, which messes up my perfect Christmas). So flexibility, patience, and open-mindedness is key – remember what is a priority for you to get done may not be someone else’s priority. I’ve worked in customer service and although we are supposed to empathize with clients, it’s hard to feel for someone when they are blowing up in your face.

So this is just from my experience, but I hope that you find them useful! If you have any other ideas about de-stressing through the holidays, please share them with me!

@ReporterandGirl or post these ideas on my wall.

Packing Up Again

I still remember that awkward feeling of excitement, nervousness, and reality setting in when I boarded the airplane in January of this year to leave NYC. I had been mostly excited up until November. Then I started feeling nervous when I had to think about saving money (harder when you’re not working) and looking for a place to stay. Then reality hit me in late December, perhaps after I received my visa and cooked Christmas dinner with my family and friends for the last time. January was coming too quickly, I still had lots of packing to do, some stuff to pre-read before the school year starts, and I didn’t (and never would) have enough money saved up.

It took me awhile to call London home and I remember exactly when that was. It was my first night in Copenhagen in late August. I haphazardly planned the trip (bought tickets and accommodations), but I didn’t have any plans for the whole week except to visit a friend outside the city for a day. By the time I arrived, it was late afternoon and I was staying in a room in a nice house-share away from the center, on a street that I couldn’t pronounce. I sat on the tiny bed and thought about the comforts of my full size bed and my laptop with amazon prime where I could fall asleep to a movie. Yes, I had missed my home, London. I was not thinking of New York or how I could call a friend to hang out in Manhattan or Brooklyn, I wanted to go back to London and sit at my pub down the street.

And now the time has come again to pack up and start again. For almost seven months I will be in West Africa conducting field research for my thesis. I have my documents ready and am anxiously awaiting to process my visa. I am unable to sublet my apartment while I am gone, so I had to give it up and will my put my belongings in storage, except for a tumble dryer if anyone is interested in buying my appliance. I’ll be starting over in London again, when I return in the summer. I won’t say Thanksgiving was miserable, but without the dinner and the fuss, it was depressingly quiet and it looks like Christmas may be too. However, I will return home a for few days before boarding at JFK airport again for another stage of my life.

Damn, coming home from college (it soundsso lame after 25). I wonder how everyone looks? Maybe my room looks ten times smaller or my neighborhood has burned to the ground. Hey, I’ve been following what’s been going on in the States. I also kept up with local gossip, I know who broke up, who got together, who left my old job (besides me!), who just had a baby, who is engaged, in short everyone but me. Yep, everyone has moved on and for a moment that makes me feel insecure. I mean, shouldn’t I be an associate director or junior vice president now with a bun in the oven and an anxious first time buyer? Not that I really want to be in that world, but I am re-thinking life as a post-grad student and what contributions I can make in my field at this level. In other words, I don’t see the light yet and I’m a little anxious about that. On top of that, it doesn’t help that my supervisors also seem anxious and that just makes me more anxious, oh and I’m broke.

I’m also fairly certain we are heading into another recession in 1-2 years, so my prospects for a job opportunity when I come out of this will also be poor. Thus, rounding back to the same old question of, “what is the meaning of my life?” Happiness is key, but finding what makes us happy is so hard! And I wonder why, don’t we know ourselves best? Why does it take so long or so many trials to find something that makes one happy? Obviously, someone who is happy has to give me some advice here!

In the meanwhile, I’ll be packing up.

Here I Go Again

packing, suitcase, new home, empty room, moving, starting over

I am making a move one more time in less than 6 months, but hopefully this is where I will put down roots for a while. Although frustrating, it didn’t take me long to cram all my things into two giant suitcases, and my newly acquired books, which I will lug around like chains of academia for the next few years, in a separate carry-on.

Although I have been very excited at the thought of finally having my own space, its actually pretty scary. I have gotten used to my house-share and boring neighborhood, and have made acquaintances at my local gym. It doesn’t help that my last day here was the most beautiful day in London and the fair has just opened at a nearby park.

Well, that is life. Hopefully I will settle into my new place quickly and adjust to a different schedule.

In fact, this week calls for quite a few adjustments. Not only will I be moving tomorrow morning, but I will also be starting new work. I found another “temporary rolling contract” at a company that pays better. These rolling contracts seem to be very popular in Europe; thus I guess its common too, for folks to just roll from one job to another month to month. The labor laws in the U.K and the rest of Europe are quite strict once you are a permanent employee, and that’s for government and private organizations. It is difficult to fire someone once they are given a permanent position and the “benefits” are apparently very expensive.

I’m not sure what benefits an employer pays for its permanent employees, because things like healthcare and pension are provided through the government and the taxes paid by the business and employees. If anything, it seems to be just vacation/holiday pay that an employer would shell out-of-pocket for. In the United States, an employer pays for healthcare insurance for an employee and any dependents he/she may have, as well as its common to pay into their private pension (what we call 401K), alongside what the employee is contributing too. Of course there is the public pension, called social security, which Americans get after the age of 65– but most Americans will have their SS, 401K, and maybe another separate private savings called an IRA to live out their glory days in old age.

But I digress –back to moving into my apartment all by myself, in a strange neighborhood, in a country where I’m not established, and as a single woman if I were to get trapped in an elevator or slip and fall and die, no one would notice that I was missing until a few months have gone by.

OK, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. But as I continue cleaning up, please enjoy these first (of hopefully many) pictures of my walk around in sunny northern London! For those of you in Europe if you took any pictures today, tweet me or post it on my page!


A Lost Boy

man child, immature boy, the reporter and the girl, video games, TV, smoking pot, unemployed, no life, loser

It is a few days left until I move into my apartment in London; an exciting, scary, and new stage I’ll enter. Although moving doesn’t sound exciting to everyone (the stress of carrying luggage, and transferring things to another address etc…), this is the first apartment that I acquired and will live on my own – so its a big deal that I get it “right”.  And maybe soon I’ll have a housewarming to show off the new digs once I paint and stuff.

However, I have been hesitant about this, as it shows how invested I am in staying in London — a two year lease and some intensive interior decorating. However, any doubts that I had about moving from my shared-house to my own place was wiped away last night.

I was very fortunate through a friend in New York to be introduced to a girl a year younger than me, but who had a room in her mother’s house that I could rent. I am staying with her mother and brother. They have been very welcoming and I always consider myself lucky that I found her; it helped with my transition and gave me someplace stable and affordable while I looked to step up.

The daughter lives on her own, not too far away with her own young family, and the mother is a nurse who is a workaholic. The son, who is 30, stays at home. When I talked to him, he told me he was out of work and had been for two years — it had gave me anxiety about how difficult it must be to find work, especially skilled work (administrative, professional etc..); and I expressed this to my landlady who is more like my UK  mom now, and she always told me not to worry, I will find something– a month later I did.

Now before ya’ll accuse me of being that immigrant that comes and steals local jobs; this job was asking for a specific language skill-set that I have, although they do have positions there for people without being fluent in another language.

Anyway, things have been fine. Really. I did noticed some things about him that really seem strange.

  • Like sleeping all day but up all night “watching TV”.
  • The strong smell of cannabis from his room and from whenever he returned from the garden.
  • As well as up to this point, there has been only two times that I’ve seen him leave the house.

The first time, he escorted me to the post office to exchange my money to GBP currency, and the second time he was on his way to the job center. I assume it is like the United States when you are receiving benefits, every once in a while you have to go and speak with the counselor and show them that you are looking for work etc… but I mean, even the average person wouldn’t want to stay in their house for weeks without leaving? As well as he tended to get “visitors” more often when his mom wasn’t home. Now these visitors never stayed, except for the 1 or 2 friends that he sits on the couch with; most often the doorbell rings, and he goes and gets it, says a few words to someone and they leave.

I guess these Jehovah Witnesses are really active in this neighborhood, and dedicated too! They will come to the door at all hours of the night.

He finally got a job about a month ago, a temporary rolling contract that seems all too common here; but he’s only working until they remove sanctions from him receiving the benefits. So if the job lets him go through no fault of his own, then he can go back on welfare.

What can I say? The benefits system is very strong here; I know there are people who abuse the system in the U.S. too, but I never had an inside knowledge of this.

On Friday, a family friend from France came to visit me for the weekend. I put her up in my room and slept on the floor of the living room. Friday night was fine, although my roommate had to come in two or three times to get to the garden to smoke. I was gone most of Saturday for a tournament, but my friend and him seem to get along very well, they even shared some wine together that she brought from France. So we went to dinner and came back very late – after midnight — and I was completely exhausted. Between playing five softball games and then having to “look alive” for a night in Camden Town I was dead.

**Good news is, my team went into the semi-finals and won the final tournament!!**

He was sitting in the living room, with one of his friend who actually comes to stay, and when I asked where all my belongings were so I could lay them out, he responded that he collected them and put them in my room. I asked him why, and he said he is using the living room and I needed to sleep upstairs. I was surprised, and then his friend — who seemed to understand what is happening — got up quickly to leave. I asked “where? In your room?” I was really confused what he wanted me to do. Because my guest was in my bedroom, and then there is his room and my landlady’s bedroom. So I explained that we have a guest sleeping in my room, and I was going to take the living room for just the next few days, he got very angry and said that it he didn’t know about this, and he didn’t care that there was a visitor here and I said. “Well, she’s here now and there’s nothing we can do…but I need somewhere to sleep – so if you won’t give me your room, and my landlady hasn’t said its OK to use her room, then I have sleep downstairs. He ended by saying I can sleep there, but he will continue to watch TV every night on, no matter what; and I know he watches until 4 or 5 a.m

So I’m wondering if this is cultural, where if I guess is invite over, you share the bedroom together, as oppose to American tradition when you “give” someone your room for his/her stay?

Or is this gentleman not normal?

So, I have been thinking about this and I feel that his behavior adds up to something abnormal. I mean if your entire life involves around sleeping, watching TV, and smoking — and you take away one of those things then the stable triad becomes an unstable being. To me, I thought it would be a minor inconvenience, but nothing to ever write about — but my life revolves around many different things that breaking a routine for a few days wouldn’t make me angry.

However, this isn’t just a “he”problem its a family problem. This morning I suspected that my landlady doesn’t want to talk about it, or maybe she is just tired. Even his sister seem nondescript when I texted her about how upset he became in front of everyone. So, it sounds like they know or its happened before; because I would have expected a stronger reaction — why is a grown man acting like this?

Its true what they say — that when you have nothing left your family will be here for you. And at one end you have to admire that, it takes a lot of patience to deal with someone who is “stuck” and based from what I was told, has been “stuck” or “lost” since he was teen. We have all been lost at one point, whether its for the 6 months you are looking for a new job, or the two years after that divorce. But how long is too long? Why can some people say its enough and try to find their own way, while others do not? And how do families/social network help with finding one’s way?

So what motivates you to do the things you want to do in life? What are your dreams, hopes, and aspirations? How will you attain them– basically whats the difference between sitting on the coach — waiting for things to happen versus pushing you to reach for them?

Tell me @ReporterandGirl or Facebook.



Growing Roots

being rooted, growing roots, S.C Rhyne, starting over, new life

I’m marking the end of my third month in London by placing a holding deposit on a flat. This was a tough decision for me overall since the system is very different, and I had to not let the estate agent’s high pressure tactics, distract me from thinking through my options carefully.

For the last week I had two apartments in mind, in the same neighborhood with similar features except with a monthly difference of 25 GBP. I fell in love with the second flat since its layout was unique, and on the first impression was presented very well. (It is common to show an apartment or home in the U.K that hasn’t been cleaned. So imagine my surprise walking into a bathroom with a grayish bathtub inside). I placed offers on both places, and spent the week negotiating, the first one — the hungrier agent came back to me with a 10% markdown and asked for the deposit right away. The second one, the landlord (according to the agent) was a little wary about renting to someone without a history in the U.K and so the agent was spending a little more time negotiating with her.

I spent the last two or three days sending emails back and forth asking very specific questions about my deposit, when the cleaning will take place, and how it will be cleaned, my eligibility–since I have been in the U.K less than three months, etc…before I decided on Friday night to send my holding deposit and go through the referencing check. Heck, I was as open and forthcoming as possible — so if I fail referencing they will have to give my deposit back, right?

This wasn’t the apartment I “fell in love” with, but its still a great apartment! I have optimism about redecorating the space to make it my own.

The second agent came back with a positive acceptance on my dream home, but I will wait a couple days before telling her I will withdraw. Who knows what Monday or Tuesday will bring with these other guys?

So, you’d think that last night I went to bed all calm and peaceful with my decision, but I still had many scenarios running through my head. I haven’t seen the lease or tenancy agreement yet of course, but I kept wondering about what if certain key items are not stipulated?

The agency manages the flat, so what if they don’t make repairs in a timely manner? Is it legal in this country to go without heat and hot water for months, because the landlord “can’t afford to fix it”? This is what my landlady’s daughter said, although it sounds rubbish to me. It is a legitimate agency that’s based all over the U.K with a few overseas offices, so it makes me calm but yet suspicious that I will be treated like a number. What if the building burns down or becomes inhabitable for another reason — will the agency provide me with a place to stay temporarily and reimburse my deposit and the couple months that I put down in advance?

One always hopes for the best, but we need to be prepared for the worst case scenario; so I want to be sure that I have protection or recourse. But I have to admit, this worrying may stem from another place. Up until now, I still considered my situation here in the U.K temporary. It really seems like a long vacation, I think about my time in weeks and have a hard time picturing where or what I’ll be in a month or two. My room– in a quaint part of northern London was temporary, my job — collecting data for the finance sector in Central London was temporary and suppose to end next week, and I always joked that I’m just giving this “postgrad thing” a shot, but somewhere in the last week or two that has all changed.

My housing will not be temporary, as I asked for a 2 year lease. My HR person at work acted like I was crazy when I asked her to verify that my 8 weeks are up, “You have a temporary rolling contract, some of these employees have been here a year and only had two weeks off”. And I submitted my literature review which received positive feedback and am now networking with people who are working in the field that I want to be in, and are commending me for taking on this project.

Everything is taking place, in fact even in the beginning of this post I wrote “neighbourhood” automatically, but my American spellchecker caught it and I changed it quickly. It’s a strange panicky feeling in the pit of my gut as I think about how all this is routine now. Waking up, tea and porridge, read a little, shower, hop on the tube – not the subway, my slow computer at work,  grab a few things at Tesco or Sainsbury, come home type up some notes on the computer, check emails…, shower, another cup of tea, see what’s on the American news, text my friends on Facebook, and fall asleep before they can respond because many are on their way home from work.

And while I’m ranting, I could mention I’m almost through with a great novel called, Half of the Yellow Sun, that has been occupying my reading time this week, instead of dry academic writings for my project.

I’m not even looking forward to my Sunday softball game in a couple hours. My shoulder aches and I don’t understand how the temperature is reading higher than yesterday, but its cold and cloudy.

I’m growing roots, but I’m afraid I’ll be stuck again.


Taking a Leap Forward

leaping forward, inspirational jump, over boundaries, S.C Rhyne, The Reporter and The Girl

Wow, these last two weeks have been a whirlwind for sure! Besides starting a new job collecting intelligence for the finance industry; I have also been getting out and about more. Last weekend, I went to Cumberland Lodge, which is on the estate of Windsor Castle. It was nice to be outside of London briefly, we even saw the Queen on her way to church services (the way those vehicles were driving–they were not slowing down for anyone! Seriously, why does she still drive?!). I also spent most of yesterday afternoon playing softball with an amazing group and bonding with them over a pint (half-pint for me), while watching the Man City football game.

Now, comes for the most challenging part: housing. Tomorrow, I will pay my last month rent, of where I’m currently staying and will actively look for a flat. I have been looking on a few websites and saving my search results so that I can have a realistic idea of what it will cost me to live in a certain neighborhood. Unfortunately, I have been approached by two scam artists that wanted to me to deposit money into some “government-backed depository” and mail me the keys.

I found out that government-backed depositories are the real deal here, but obviously, I wouldn’t pay for something I haven’t seen yet. There’s a swindler at every corner!

Thus tomorrow, I’m going to go see an apartment that’s available near the Finsbury Park area. It looks nice from the pictures, but the downside is that bills are not included. So what seems like a good deal can end up costing an extra 200 bucks a month. Plus, it is not as close to work and school as I originally hoped, so add on commuting costs too. But its the first day, so I’m sure there are plenty options ahead! I think a landlord would want to have me as I am looking for something long term and stable– so no need to look for a tenant every 4 to 6 months– and a place that I can treat as my home.

The saga continues….

So as I will not be posting on this date for at least another four years; tell me about a “great leap” you plan on taking in the near future. I wish for you to land on your feet!

Tweet me @ReporterandGirl or post it on my wall on Facebook  or board on Pinterest!