TEFL Tip Tuesday: Thinking Outside Box.

Welcome back to TEFL Tip Tuesday! This week I’ve been experimenting in my classroom and it has completely changed the way I think about teaching. These posts usually come from something I learned last semester and now use in class but if there is one thing I know about life, it’s that you never stop learning new things. So this TEFL tip is almost as new for me as it is for you!

I have this habit of getting stuck in a rut, scared to try new things in case it doesn’t work out and disrupts my safe little bubble that I have created for myself. Now I know what you’re thinking, I moved to a completely new country by myself into a job I had no practical experience in, doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of person who is scared to try new things does it?! Well that’s just it, with me I’m either in my safe little bubble or I’m making a drastic change to my life or the way I do things. Recently I’ve been a bit bored when teaching my classes; besides my one grade two class I’ve used the same format in my lessons for almost a year and, well, it was time for a change! It’s not that the classes themselves are boring, in fact depending on the topic I can get some very entertaining answers, but I wanted to find a way for my students to practice their English that wasn’t just a question and answer session with the person next to them. This is what led me to this week’s lesson plan.

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What is the opposite of a staring contest?

All my classrooms have exactly the same layout; about fifty students at square desks, split into seven rows, squeezed into a medium sized square room. This was the box I needed to think outside of. I was taught the PPP structure of lesson planning in both of my TEFL courses and I really do believe in it but it can be difficult to get such a large class to participate in a communicative production activity that isn’t centred around them sitting at their desks. Add to that the fact that my school has strong focus of textbook led lessons, the thought of doing any kind of activity that involves rearranging the classroom has always slightly worried me. So, naturally, I decided to dive right into the deep end and do a lesson on directions that had the students practically turn their classroom upside down.  I first split the class into two teams. Three people from each team created a maze and five people from each team were blindfolded and directed through the maze by the rest of the class using the new target language. The first team to navigate all five people through the maze were the winners.

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This looks like madness but I was assured they had a plan…

Now, I’m not recommending that you start with something as drastic as turning your classroom into a maze but I am suggesting that you think about how you can use the classroom differently. How can you engage your students in a new and exciting way? I made the game a bit mysterious by sending the five students from each team out of the classroom before I explained what was happening, this made the students who remained in the classroom feel like they were in on a secret and therefore more engaged when I explained to them that they were going to create a maze out of desks and chairs. The students outside of the classroom found the mystery exciting and were eager to impress their classmates and win the race through the maze. This got the whole class working together (with a few exceptions that tried to sabotage their own teammates, but there will always be at least one troublemaker when you teach over one thousand kids) and made them excited to use the English they already knew as well as the new language they learned at the start of the lesson.

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Working together!

The most important thing that I learned this week is that although thinking outside the box can be scary and the results can be uncertain, it is so worth the risk! I’ve always found that using games and fun activities works best in my classrooms but now I know that I can take it to the next level and I encourage you to do the same!

For more TEFL tips why not check out one of these posts?

TEFL Tip Tuesday: What’s it all about?

I had a thought recently that maybe I could share what I’ve learnt over the past year on my blog for people who are looking into teaching English as a foreign language. Coming into a classroom as a new teacher can be daunting and sometimes it is nice to feel like there is someone right there with you when you are faced with forty (or more) new students all staring at you expectantly. That thought turned itself into an idea and that idea is TEFL Tip Tuesday!

Essentially every Tuesday I will post a tid-bit of knowledge, a helpful hint or a fun way to get your students involved in the classroom and really loving English. The novelty of having a foreign teacher will always mean that your classes will be more looked forward to than their usual school English teacher but it can be hard to get students to focus in class, especially when you don’t speak their language! Hopefully through these posts I can share with you what I find useful and maybe, just maybe, you will find these things useful too.

If you have any questions about teaching English abroad then please feel free to leave a comment below, message me on Instagram or pop me an email. I’ll be posting a blog with my most commonly asked questions soon as well, so watch this space…

 

For now why not check out some of my previous posts about teaching abroad:

Staying Put: 10 reasons I can’t leave China quite yet.

I am about a month away from completing my internship here in Sanxiang and the original plan was to move on from here to Vietnam at the beginning of August… but I just can’t quite do that, turns out China isn’t finished with me yet. I have been offered a job  at the middle school here. It might not be teaching my adorable little first graders, but it meant a chance to stay in China for another six months, an opportunity I just couldn’t turn down!

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Blue skies on campus.

There are so many amazing things about living and working in China, but I managed to somehow slim them down into my top ten reasons why I’m staying in China:

 

1.Life is Simple: I’m not going to lie, I found life in the U.K. stressful, the pressure once you come out of university to go straight into a job and start your career is a lot to handle! This is especially true when, like me, you aren’t even one hundred percent sure a career in your chosen field of study is what you really want. I was stuck working in the same part time job I had taken to get me through university. I was working to make money and as much as I enjoyed parts of waitressing, it was obviously not where I wanted to be. I tried to find a grad job (admittedly I didn’t try very hard) but found the process anxiety inducing. Some may say the same about uprooting your life and moving it half way around the world but for me it just made sense. Life in China is a simple as working at a job I love, it might not pay much but that has never been a motivation for me in terms of finding work. The hardest part of my job is planning a lesson that will keep forty six-year-olds entertained for forty minutes, then I get to go home and relax for the rest of the day! The most stressed out I have felt since arriving in China was the weekend where my USB stick went walk about and I thought I had lost all my lessons, then Monday morning it turned up in class, simple as that. This is possibly the least stressed out I have been in my adult life, that alone is reason enough for me to stay.

 

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You try being stressed out when there are two hot springs in your town.

 

2. The people are friendly: It is impossible to walk anywhere without someone saying “hello” to you or waving at you from across the street. You smile at someone walking past and they smile right back at you. Westerners in China are somewhat of a rarity which means that quite often you will be stared at but not once has it made me feel uncomfortable or weird. They aren’t staring to be rude, but because they have most likely never seen a westerner before, that and the fact that pale skin is considered beautiful here and I have never been able to catch a tan in my 24 years living on this Earth! Almost anywhere you go in China you will be asked for your photograph, if you want to feel like a celebrity then this is the place for you! Maybe this is just because I live in a relatively small town, but I don’t think I have been anywhere in China where the people aren’t genuinely friendly. It is such a contrast to back home where, my tiny little village aside, smiles are most often met with a blank face at best and a suspicious look at worst. It’s just the British way, but I much prefer to walk through life smiling outwardly and receiving smiles in return.

 

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I challenge you to go anywhere in China and not get asked for a photograph. (this photo actually has an interesting story but I’ll save that for later)

3. Everyone wants to help you: Not only are Chinese people incredibly friendly but they also have the most generous spirits. They are so helpful it is almost unbelievable, and they don’t want anything for it. No matter if you are friends or complete strangers they will help you and expect nothing in return, except maybe a WeChat add. I actually had a shop assistant insist on helping me pick a deodorant only last week. I know it is their job, but where in the U.K. could you go and have someone actively try and help you pick out a deodorant without it being considered ‘a little bit weird”? Obviously, I needed no help in this task and yet I received it anyway, I already knew what deodorant I wanted before I went in there to buy it, but how do you explain that when your Mandarin level is below beginner? I also walked out with a VIP card so no complaints here!

 

4. The food: Unpopular opinion but I am not a fan of traditional British food. I find it bland, boring and mostly fully of meat, the only British tradition I am partial to is maybe “Chip Shop Chips” and even then, I would never say I crave them. In China finding vegetarian food is so easy and it’s not just a boring old salad like everywhere in the U.K. seems to want to feed us vegetarians. My first choice in just about every restaurant is, of course, egg fried rice but I have also found a love for Hot Pot (just don’t pick the spicy option), Chinese BBQ (grilled garlic aubergine and spicy tofu is incredible) and my new favourite meal Egg and Tomato. This is served everywhere from the canteen to higher end restaurants and I have even learnt to cook it for myself, I love it that much! The food in China is just some of the best food I have ever eaten. I eat so much healthier here and I actually want to cook for myself. For once in my life I’m not living off of pasta, grated cheese and tomato ketchup (although I’m not going to lie, there is always a bottle of ketchup in the fridge for emergencies).

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Egg fried rice IN A PINEAPPLE!
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So simple but so good.

5. Cost of living: Honestly, I am not lying when I say I earn next to no money, I am an intern after all, but my small monthly allowance is more than enough to live on and that is taking into account my ridiculous shopping addiction! I can do a weekly shop for around ten pounds if I am smart about it. If you know where to look for it, fruit and veg are so cheap it feels like stealing. I take away plain rice from the canteen for no cost every day to use when I cook my evening meal and even eating out never costs more than a tenner at a time (I’ve even seen us have a meal for two for under a fiver)! Everything is cheaper here, even alcohol; a cocktail can cost as little as three pound and there are no entry fees for clubs or bars. I get my nails done every few weeks, something I would never be able to afford back in the U.K. but here it only costs about six pounds! The cost of living in China made the decision to stay here all that easier.

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So pretty and so cheap!
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Cocktails in Friends Bar are only £3!

6. Public Transport: This is something else that is amazingly cheap here in China, but not at the sacrifice of quality or cleanliness. I have used the subway, busses and DiDi (China’s answer to Uber) to get around in China and all three have been pleasant experiences. My most used form of transportation is probably the bus, it is cheaper than DiDi and there is no subway in Sanxiang as it is not a big enough town for such a luxury. The bus costs about 50 – 80p to travel between towns, some of which are about an hour away from us here in Sanxiang (imagine getting the bus from Aberdeen to Dundee for 80p). The busses are always on time, clean and they are, possibly most importantly, air conditioned! Take note First Bus and Stagecoach, China knows how to run a bus service.

 

7. Speaking Mandarin: I think learning another language is probably a plus side no matter where you choose to live abroad but honestly nothing makes me happier than when I say a full sentence (well an almost full sentence) to one of my students in Mandarin and I watch it blow their little minds! “Teacher you spoke Chinese!” and then they start talking to me one hundred miles an hour in Mandarin and I have to try and tell them that actually “Teacher only knows that one sentence in Chinese and now I have no idea what you are saying to me.” In all seriousness though I have never been the best when it comes to learning languages, despite really wanting to be able to, so when I pick up on random words or phrases that Chinese people around me are saying I feel like I have really achieved something. I am still nowhere near even being able to have a conversation in Mandarin and don’t even ask me to read the characters, but the longer I stay here the more I will pick up and it is definitely one of the best things about living and working in China.

 

8. There is so much to explore: I have been in China three and a half months and I have visited three of its provinces, I have barely scratched the surface of what this incredible country has to offer. Of the three provinces I have travelled to each one has me with a completely new and different experience. Firstly, there was my week in Beijing for orientation, this was a big city experience like I have never had before. from the bright lights to the crowded markets, the incredible great wall of china to the peaceful gardens of the Forbidden City; Beijing was a month of experiences packed into one week. Then there is the unreal natural beauty of Zhangjiajie Natural Forest Park in the province of Hunan. Sandstone Quartz pillars as far as the eye can see and more rain forest than anyone person could hope to explore in one life time all make Zhangjiajie feel like another planet and don’t forget the imminent threat of a monkey ambush to keep you on your toes. Finally, we have my current home province of Guangdong, I am discovering more and more about this area of China every day. I am still finding stumbling upon new places in my own town of Sanxiang let alone the bigger cities of Zhuhai, Zhongshan and Guangzhou. How can I leave now when China still has so much more to offer?!

 

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If you don’t know where this bar is you’ll never find it!

9. I feel inspired here: I have always been a creative person, I didn’t choose to study a creative subject to pay the bills, but I had fallen out of love with my creative side back home. Maybe this is what happens when you work so hard at one thing for a long period of time (try six years of studying art and design in the same city you grew up in), but I think I just desperately needed a change of scenery. China definitely has no shortage of inspiration, whether that be for photography, blog post or any other creative projects I manage to sink my teeth into while I’m here! Living in China has definitely allowed me to revisit my creative side from a different angle and I find myself actively searching for places to go in my spare time that allow me to practice my photography, write an interesting blog post or even create exciting content for a video.

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Sunset is my favourite time of day

10. No two days are the same: When I tell people I teach the same lesson plan twenty times a week to roughly eight hundred students I guess I can understand why they might think my life can become a bit repetitive at times but every day is a completely different experience. What works in one class might be a complete disaster in another, what keeps one class entertained for forty minutes might only hold another classes attention for ten minutes and it is through these challenges that I find myself constantly motivated. At home I think I had fallen into a rut, working four or five days a week and spending at least the other two or three (if not more) in one bar or another, occasionally a club if we were feeling particularly adventurous. I’m not saying I hated my life at home or that I wasn’t having fun but I knew the world had more to offer me than this and I also knew that I had more to offer the world. “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Maybe one page is enough for some people but for me, I need to fill the book and then start a new one.

 

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My first graders make me laugh everyday.

So there we have it, I’m staying in China! Not forever, there are too many countries out there for me to pick just one and stick to it, but for now if you need me this is where I’ll be…

Moving Abroad: How to do it and why you should!

Lonely Planet Books about China

Moving to a completely new country can be a terrifying idea. Leaving everything and everyone you know behind, packing up and moving your whole life to another part of the world might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for some it might be exactly the right move (pun not intended). I’ve been living in China for three months now and while I might not be an expert on all things relocating related, I like to think I have learnt a thing or two in the past couple of months. If you are trying to decide if moving abroad is for you and want some words of worldly wisdom then, well, I guess that’s why you clicked on this post (unless you are just my number one fan and read everything I post on here… Hi mum!) so keep on reading to find out how to do it and why you should!

 

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I am not a glamorous traveller…

How to do it:

 

  • The first thing you need to decide is what you want to do in your destination country. You can do almost anything you do in the you home country abroad; from waiting on tables to working in a hotel to teaching to volunteer work. Really if you have the skill then you can take it and apply it anywhere. One of the easiest and most common ways to relocate yourself is to become TEFL qualified. This is exactly what I did, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I got my TEFL qualification through I-to-I TEFL, completing their 120-hour online course all from the comfort of my own home, various coffee shops around Aberdeen and my good friend Hannah’s front room (cheers again Hannah for letting me sofa surf). Pretty much, adding TEFL to your skill set isn’t going to do anything apart from open up your options in terms of what countries you can choose to work in.

 

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I-to-I TEFL
  • Speaking of, the next thing you need to decide is where you want to move to. When I was trying to decide on a place to travel to my plan was originally to go to Thailand, this didn’t work out due to timing issues but luckily second on my list was China and this worked out perfectly for me. Depending on what you choose to do abroad, the options of where you can move to will vary (there isn’t really much need for TEFL qualified individuals in America now is there?) but that is all part of the fun of researching your destination country. My original plan was one year of TEFL in China and Vietnam and then waitressing/bar working my way around Australia. That plan has changed slightly but my point is think about what your skills are and where you can apply them and choose the destination that best suits you. Another important factor is also, obviously, where in the world has always fascinated you, what culture interests you the most and what do you want to get out of your time living and working abroad? All of these things should affect your decision, I started with the idea of moving to South East Asia because visiting this part of the world has been at the top of my to do list since I was in secondary school (literally I made a binder on it and everything) and let it grow arms and legs from there until I ended up teaching English in the South of China!

 

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Ready to go?

 

  • I recommend finding yourself a company to apply for jobs through if you are planning to teach English. I-to-I are partnered with a company called ImmerQi who specialise in teaching internships and other work placements in China. From providing a week orientation in Beijing to the help and support throughout my placement (Ben I hope you are still reading these because this is the genuine and sincere shout out that you have been so desperately waiting for) they have been excellent! If it is your first time working abroad then going through a company like ImmerQi gives you that little bit of extra reassurance in case something goes wrong. It also means you have someone to fight in your corner if things aren’t up to scratch at your placement or like me you need a meal allowance because you are allergic to everything in the canteen .

 

  • Visas, they are a pain in the back side but an important and mandatory part of moving abroad, so what are you going to do? Apply for them, that’s what!! And don’t make my mistake and leave planning your visa application to the last minute. Honestly it was one of the most stressful months of my life! Even if you can’t apply for your visa until a month before you leave, make sure you get all of your documents organised and ready to go for when you need them. Your company should tell you what you need to do in order to apply for your visa, whether it is a placement company like ImmerQi or your new employer, it is in their best interest as well as yours that your visa is present and correct. Also, this probably won’t be their first time employing someone from overseas, so they are really the best people to ask all the technical questions to. Another invaluable source of information is the embassy you are applying for your visa through, I phoned the Chinese embassy in Britain multiple times and even ended up emailing back and forth with them to make sure everything was perfect in my application before I sent it off, Visa applications are expensive and non-refundable you do not want to mess them up!

 

  • It is sad but true, we can’t get anywhere without a little bit of money to help us along. As well as a bit of help from family members, I worked as a waitress from October to January to save up enough money to make my dream of travelling the world a reality. Everything adds up so keep track of what you have paid off and what still needs to be paid. Flights, visas, vaccinations and insurance are the most expensive costs that you will have to deal with when moving abroad, they are also the most important and should be at the top of your list. After these are dealt with you need to think about spending money, you probably won’t receive your first pay check until a month after you arrive at your destination country, so you will need a little bit of money to live on until you do eventually get paid. Then you need to buy a rucksack, first aid kit and a travel organiser (trust me this is an essential if, like me, you have a tendency to misplace important things…) Once all of this is out of the way then you can go and buy that perfect bikini or sundress to take with you to your new tropical destination.

 

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Chinese Yuan

 

  • I absolutely hate packing, I overpack like my life depends on it, I’m a “but what if I’m suddenly invited to the Oscars of China and I have nothing to wear” kind of packer. Basically, my years as a girl guide had a lasting impression on me and I like to “always be prepared”. The issue with this is that you end up with a rucksack that weighs more than you and won’t close without excessive force that you somehow have to get from one side of the world to the other. Not ideal, especially if you are travelling alone! It is in times like this I need to bring in outside help and as my Grampa wisely pointed out “you only need to pack for two weeks really, and then you can just wash everything and wear it again”. Words of wisdom duly noted and with my Nana supervising and questioning everything I tried to pack into my bag I managed to pack only the essentials. Anything you find yourself needing once you land can most likely be bought at your destination (I told you I needed to pack my blue denim shorts as well as my white denim shorts Nana…) or if they can’t be bought then they can always be posted over by a family member, if you really need it that desperately!

 

Why you should:

 

  • Living in a completely different country is such an incredible opportunity. China is actually the second country I have lived in, Scotland obviously not included, I spent three months living and volunteering in South Africa. When you visit a country for a short holiday you only get a snapshot of how that country works, maybe pick up how to say “Hello” and ask for the bill in that countries language and maybe have a cultural experience or two depending on the type of holiday you choose to take. Living in a country for an extended period of time allows you to truly immerse yourself in the culture. For me the thing that appeals most to me about travel is the opportunity to learn about another culture, this is why pool holidays or Ibiza has never really interested me. Before South Africa I had been on one holiday abroad and it was a pool holiday with a friend and her family when I was 16; I had a lot of fun on that holiday (I think because of the company and it was where I discovered my love of tofu) but I wasn’t involved in any of the planning, there was no sight-seeing and I didn’t feel like I learnt anything from my time there. At 18 years old and three months in South Africa later I knew what kind of “holiday” I preferred; solo, action packed and plenty of opportunity to learn about the country I am visiting.

 

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The hospital I volunteered at in South Africa: 2012 was a good year for travelling but a bad year for my hair…
  • Moving away from everything familiar is also an opportunity to learn about yourself. This is especially true if you travel on your own, being solely responsible for yourself in a foreign country makes you learn a lot about yourself very quickly. Travelling alone for a long period of time means you have to learn to rely on yourself, your own sense of judgement and puts you fully in control of your own life. In South Africa I learned a lot about how to budget my money while travelling, I became a lot more confident in myself as time went on (the first night I arrived I cried myself to sleep, I had never felt so alone, by the time I it came leave I wanted to cry because I didn’t want to go) and I discovered that I could do a lot more on my own than I had thought possible. Since then I have achieved so many things that I don’t believe I could have done if it wasn’t for those three months in South Africa. In China I have discovered that I have a keen interest in language and how different languages grow and develop over time, I have realised that I am actually quite brave (turns out I am the only one in my flat that isn’t scared of cockroaches, who’d have thought?!) and I have found a job that I absolutely love!

 

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How could I not love my job when I get to see these adorable faces everyday?
  • Working and volunteering abroad forms some of the strongest friendships you can find in this world. I have made some incredible friends and even more incredible memories from my time in South Africa. Thinking of those memories and friends will always make me happy no matter where I am in my life. When the opportunity comes to meet up with those you formed friendships with while living abroad it will be as if no time has passed, you know a friendship is solid when you only see each other every four years but it’s as if you only saw them yesterday (Hey Lynda, if you are reading this, two year until the next reunion)! When you live and work so closely with people who are just as far away from home as you are, are completely new to the whole experience just like you are and share the same passion for travel as you do, how can you not end with friends for life?!

 

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2012 vs 2016: Like no time had passed (glow-ups are real people)!

 

I hope this has been helpful for somebody out there, I know I could have done with a post like this before I left the U.K. for South Africa back in 2012, but I don’t even think I knew what a blog post was back then… Feel free to email me with any questions you might have about moving abroad or teaching English as a foreign language!

Mountains, Monkeys and Magic: Zhanjiajie, Hunan, Day One.

The 5th of April marked the Tomb Sweeping festival in China, as a result our school here in Sanxiang was closed from the 2nd to the 6thof April (to allow people to travel home and celebrate the festival, which involves visiting ancestors and burning paper offerings for them to enjoy in the afterlife). They call this a holiday in China but it’s not a holiday as we might imagine it back home. In order for the school to be closed for five days during the week it had to be open both the weekend before and the weekend after the festival so that the kids didn’t miss any education time. This means a seven-day work week, a five-day break and then another seven-day work week. As you read this I am at the end of my seven-day long week and, if I’m being honest, it actually passed by pretty quickly, so I can’t complain. Our five-day break was completely jam packed and maybe not the relaxing holiday that some people might choose to sandwich between two long weeks of 9 – 5 work, but it was exactly what we were looking for!

 

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Adventure crew!

 

 

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Ready for take off!

 

Zhangjiajie is home to the sandstone quartz mountain pillars that were the inspiration behind the planet of Pandora in James Cameron’s “Avatar” and to visit it’s national forest park is to feel as if you have truly been transported to another world. As far as the eye can see the pillars extend into the haze of the jungle’s rising mist, from the top of these peaks the bottom of the valley is indistinguishable from the tops of trees that look small enough to be held on one finger. Wrapping your head around the scale of this landscape is not easy, it takes the eyes a while to adjust to just how high up you actually are.

We arrived in Zhangjiajie late on Sunday night/early on Monday morning and after a small confusion with airport pick-ups and check in times we were shown to our rooms for the night. We managed to fit in a couple of hours sleep before being up at nine thirty to begin exploring. The staff at our Hostel were so helpful, organising our tickets and supplying us with a map of the park before we set off in the morning. They told us how to squeeze everything we wanted to do into our short amount of time in Zhangjiajie, where the best viewing spots were and what days were best to do what activities on! The rooms had everything we needed, we chose to stay in the dormitories, and you could order an extra mattress for your bed if you found it to hard (to be honest if you are not used to Chinese mattresses I would recommend doing this when you check in). If you are thinking of heading to Zhangjiajie yourself then I couldn’t recommend them enough and I have linked their website below if you want to check them out!

 

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Hostel bunk.

 

 

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Also, did I mention they had a company dog…?

 

The main park entrance was only a five-minute walk from our Hostel past a busy little street of market stalls and small restaurants. We decided to stop here for some breakfast and to stock up on snacks for the day before heading to the park gate. From there you could catch a bus to just about any spot you wanted to visit in the park. We started our day by catching the cable car to the top of the sandstone quartz peaks and the views from the cable car were absolutely incredible. From here we caught another bus through the mountains to the first viewing point which gave as a panoramic of the mountains with pink blossoms framing the landscape perfectly.

 

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Cable car to the top.

 

 

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Blossoms and mountain views.

 

The next stop was the walk up to Tianbo Mansion which boasts one of the best views of the peaks in the park. The walk totalled about one and a half hours, up and down, including multiple stops for photographs and a break for some spicy tofu in the shade of one of the many food vendors. For the most part this walk was fairly easy, if steep in places, but the last five to ten minutes involved an arrangement of metal ladders that had been welded to the side of one of the stone peaks. It was well worth the climb though with a 360 view of the mountains and forest below them. For a small while we even had the top of the peak to ourselves, a secluded island in a sea of trees and tourists.

 

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Ladder to Tianbo Mansion

 

 

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Practicing using my tripod and voice activated setting on my phone at Tinabo Mansion.

 

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Tianbo Mansion.

 

 

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Spicy Tofu.

 

 

After this I thought “there is no way the views can get better”, turns out I was wrong. The next and final stop for the day was the famous “Avatar Hallelujah Mountains”. This was the longest walk of the day, we had been told we needed three and a half hours to complete it, we did it in two and a half. The walk started much like the others had that day with a collection of souvenir stalls and places to buy food, but it soon faded out into a wash of reds mixed into greens of the trees as we approached “the natural bridge”. Red ribbons with wishes written on them were tied to any free branch, beam or fence post with the belief that a higher power will grant them. With a slight breeze blowing gently around the mountain top and the sunlight dappling the path through the trees as we walked along it, it definitely felt like if a wish was going to come true anywhere, it would be here.

 

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Fence of wishes.

 

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Ribbonsin the wind.

 

 

As we crossed back over “the natural bridge” we saw exactly how it got it’s name and, to be honest, my stomach did a mini flip as I realised what I had just walked over. Two peaks are joined by a thin, in comparison to the peaks themselves, natural walkway of sandstone that crosses above the sheer drop into the forest below.

 

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The Natural Bridge.

 

Rounding the corner we were greeted by the “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” itself, marked by one of the blue “mountain banshee” creatures from the film waiting to welcome visitors into the area. Not alone on top of the peak, the “mountain banshee” had plenty of company in the form of Macaque monkeys that took advantage of the tourists and their food. They were not afraid of us at all and I even witnessed one dive bomb a man in order to steal his cake, plastic wrap and all (they are to Zhanjiajie what seagulls are to Aberdeen, only maybe slightly cuter).

 

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Avatar Mountain

 

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Cake to crumbs in one minute.

 

 

From this point there was the option to take a cable car down to the bottom of the peaks or to walk down the steep steps into the valley. We chose to do the latter, purely because we didn’t want to pay the 72 yuan it cost to take the cable car. This turned out to be the best decision we could have made because as we began our decent we were treated to the most fantastic view of the day. Dozens of sandstone quartz peaks with forest running through them like rivers of green stretched out before us as far as we could see and we were the only people there to see it!

 

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Walking down to the valley.

 

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Stone pillars as far as you can see.

 

 

It took us about half an hour to get to the bottom of the valley, from which we could finally see the scale of where we had just been. On all sides we were surrounded by stone peaks towering above us like the skyscrapers of London or New York City. A river ran through the valley and we stopped for a while to take in the scenery, fully believing that there was no way we would make the last bus back to the hostel at half six. We followed the river between the peaks and finally in ones and twos started to see other people heading in the same directions, maybe we would make the bus after all.

 

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Walking between the pillars.

 

About ten minutes from the end of the path we came across another group of Macaques, with a lot less people around to distract them from our presence one monkey took quite an interest in us and actually ended up on top of Karin’s head, leaving me with no idea what to do and my bananas were about one hundred meters back in Justin’s back pack. So for about five minutes Karin stood with a monkey on her head while I panicked about it doing a pooh in her hair! Finally the boys caught up and unfortunately I lost a whole bunch on bananas to the Macaques of Zhangjiajie’ National Forest Park.

 

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Karin and her new monkey friend!

 

Traumatising monkey experience over all that was left to do was walk back to the bus and try to process the incredible first day we had just experienced.  We’re still not entirely sure how we managed to do a three and a half hour walk in just two and a half hours but somehow we did and I had the sore feet to prove it!

Trip Info:

  • Zhangjiajie 1982 Chujian International Youth Hostelhttp://www.booking.com/Share-ayycez 135 yuan (£15 for 3 nights)
  • Zhanjiajie National Forest park ticket: 248 yuan (about £27.60) allows entry to the park for 4 days.
  • Cable car ticket: 72 yuan (about £8)

“Can I eat that”: A Coeliac in China

Most people who know me will know how difficult I am to feed. I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease at the age of eight; this means I cannot eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and (indirectly through cross contamination in mills) oats. When I told people I was moving to China for five months one of the most common responses I received was “China?! But you can’t eat noodles or soy sauce. What are you going to eat?!” I’m not going to lie this was a concern for me as well, I never eat Chinese food at home because the risk of contamination is usually too high. Add to that the obvious language barrier and well, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

Having said all of that, I have never let my Coeliac Disease stop me from travelling before and I wasn’t about to let it stop me this time either. After a conversation with the ImmerQi team here in China, via skype, I was reassured that food would not be an issue. On arrival in Beijing we were each handed a name card along with our room key, on the back of mine was a hand-written note explaining in both English and Chinese that I am allergic to gluten (still not entirely sure everyone in China knows what gluten is but it seems to have served me well so far). I used this every day in the canteen in Beijing and they knew exactly what I meant.

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Allergic to Gluten

I was placed in a Southern Province of China, I assume this because in the South it is more common for people to eat rice than noodles. As part of my placement meals are provided by the school cafeteria, I found after the first week that this was a bit of a hit or a miss for me in terms of what I could actually eat so I decided to apply for a meal allowance from the school instead. This was initially turned down. I applied a second and the this was accepted, thanks to the efforts of my awesome ImmerQi contact Ben and my wonderful school contact Rani. I will now receive a food allowance along with my living allowance that is already provided as part of my internship on the fifteenth of every month.

Eating at restaurants has been an interesting experience, I find myself spending more time asking “can I eat that?” than actually eating anything. It’s a long process but eventually you get a meal out of it, even if everyone else is finished by the time yours arrives.  It helps to have someone with you who speaks Mandarin if you don’t speak it yourself, this way you don’t spend the whole meal trying to communicate through google translate (not to put down google translate because I have to say it can be an absolute life saver in some situations).

 

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Create your own Hot Pot

 

I think the key to being a Coeliac in China is to have patience; be prepared to explain yourself, sometimes multiple times, it’s just one of those things. Coeliac disease and gluten intolerances aren’t really a well-known thing in China like they are becoming in the Western World. Also, it helps if you like rice…

 

 

Some tips for a travelling Coeliac (whether you are travelling to China or France, Tanzania or Morocco):

 

  1. Before you leave the country visit this website http://www.celiactravel.com/cards/they have an explanation of Coeliac disease translated in just about every language. Print a few out so you can hand them to your servers in restaurants. I have been using them since I went to Portugal in 2010!
  2. If you don’t have the card with you have “I am allergic to gluten” saved as one of your top phrases on google translate and LEARN IT! Before you go, while you’re there, up to you but if you can say it and show it then people are much more likely to take you seriously when you say you can’t eat something.
  3. If it doesn’t look gluten free, it probably isn’t. Don’t risk it! There is absolutely nothing worse than being glutened abroad, especially if, like me, you tend to travel alone. Try explaining to 3 people you just met why you need full use of the bathroom for the next hour…
  4. Be prepared. I always have snacks on me; not just because I like to snack but because if we go out to eat and it turns out there is nothing there for me, at least I have a back-up to keep me going until I can find a proper meal

What I realised in 2016

Since 2016 was famously the year of realising stuff I decided to write a list of everything I realised last year (feels weird writing last year when it was only two days ago).

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full video (30 seconds of your life you will never get back) : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWkYXtnAuu7VTLPwUcRSB6A 

 

  • I realised how much I can achieve if I put my mind to it and stop procrastinating!

I am the world’s best procrastinator, I’ve seen myself be in uni for three hours and achieve nothing, but when I really focus on something I get the job done and the results are worth the time not spent looking at pictures of cats on Instagram. I talk about what I achieved last year in my previous blog post so I won’t go into to much detail but it turns out when I set my mind to it, this little dyslexic human can get an A in Critical and Contextual Studies!!

  • Likes on social media are really unimportant and actual human interactions hold much more value than those on a phone screen.

I used to really worry about the fact people weren’t going to like something I posted on social media, to the point where my flatmate was ordered to go through my Instagram at least once a week and like anything I posted..but I realised that is  just absolutely ridiculous. You are worth so much more than the amount of likes your last selfie got. Who you are off screen is far more important than who you are on screen and no amount of Instagram hearts and Facebook likes can ever compare to quality time with real life, present human beings.

  • Friends who you haven’t seen for four years but when you finally meet up with them it is like nothing ever changed are the best kind of friends!

I took a trip down to the South of England in September to visit some new friends I met thanks to my adventures in Tanzania but while I was there I also took the time to meet up with a really good friend I met while living in South Africa. It was honestly one of the best things to sit and have a proper catch up, because as much as we keep in touch you just can’t beat a good old fashioned chin wag! Friends we meet while travelling are like no other friendship you can make, that shared experience bonds you for life and it is a hard bond to brake! (If you’re reading this Lynda then Happy New Year, love ya! Oh and you are coming up to Scotland this year if it kills me! We have a hill to climb!)

  • Travelling and Photography are two things that truly make me happy. Apart from maybe dogs…and cats…and rabbits. Ok Travelling, Photography and Animals are the things that truly make me happy.

New places and new experiences are worth more to me than anything I can think of and capturing those memories as they happen through your camera is what I love about the power of photography. The year I visited Germany, Tanzania and just took some really nice small trips to various places in the UK and it has been great. Hopefully if my driving lessons keep going well I can pass my test this year and go on even more mini adventures all over Scotland, just me and my camera (and anyone else who wants to join us).

I also became a vegetarian this year after thinking about it a lot I realised it just made sense to me not to eat meat. However, if you follow me on twitter you might know that drunk me disagrees. After about three vodka cokes all I seem to want is a McDonald’s cheese burger but I’m getting better at sticking to the chips, baby steps baby steps.

  • Bras are not always necessary. #freethenipple

I honestly never thought I would wear an outfit that required the absence of a bra but this December I wore three outfits that required just that! It is still an absolutely terrifying concept to me but I am actually pretty proud of myself for having the confidence to go braless. I know that it probably isn’t a big deal to most people but for me it’s a lot.

  • I own to many things.

Around the middle of summer I watched a documentary on channel four called “Life Stripped Bare” if you haven’t watched it then I recommend you do but also be prepared, it is very bizarre. To give you a brief run down of the programme; people volunteered to have all of their possessions removed, from their mobile phones to their clothes, absolutely everything was taken away! They then picked an item each day that they felt was essential and they could go and collect it from storage. It pretty much stripped them back to basics and showed them what they could and couldn’t live without. Having said that the show wasn’t as deep as it sounded, one of the volunteers picked their onesie as their first essential item so, yeah take from that what you will. Any way it did make me think about the about of useless tat that I own, not to mention the ridiculous amount of shoes and clothes that are currently in my wardrobe, so since watching it I have been really slowly trying to get rid of the things I don’t need in my life. So far a lot of clothes have been bagged up/given to my sister but I still have a long way to go until I am back to only the essential items. I might not ever get there but I can  at least try. Also I don’t know how I’m going to fit all my stuff back into my parents’ house when uni is finished…cross that bridge when we come to it I suppose.

  • Turns out I’m allergic to dairy as well as being a Coeliac, fantastic!

After returning  from Tanzania I kept getting what felt like gluten pains when I knew for a fact I hadn’t eaten any gluten. I had, however, always either eaten a lot of cheese or had a glass of milk around the same time that I was in pain. So I made a conscious effort to cut dairy out of my life, after having a chat with my GP, and what do you know I feel so much better! One day I’m just going to end up allergic to every item of food known to man kind and have to live of lettuce for the rest of my life…

  • Lastly I realised just how lucky I am to be in the situation I am in.

I feel like I write about how lucky I am all the time but I really truly am. 2016 wasn’t a great year in terms of world events; the war in Syria, terrorist attacks, the Zika virus and so much more awful things have happened. It really makes me appreciate the luck of growing up in Scotland, I always feel safe here. I can’t imagine how it must feel to not feel safe in your own home and for that I am truly grateful everyday. Another thing that made me think about how lucky I am was a movie called “I, Daniel Blake” about a man in the benefit scheme who to be honest gets quite badly done over by the system. I highly recommend watching this film especially if you don’t know how the system works, it really opened my eyes and also brought home how easily you can end up in such a hard situation.

I’m sorry that post ended on such a sad note but I think it was one of the most important things I realised this year. Just appreciate what you have because you never know how long you’ll have it for. The world is a scary place to live in right now.

Anyway that is enough of my late night ramblings for one day. I am going to try and post something on here every Monday, we’ll see how long that lasts once I get back into a routine for uni (I say back in a routine like I had one before…) but I’ll give it a shot. In the meantime I read this article the other day, maybe give it a look?

Adventure is out there, TFFN!

2016 Only Seems Like The Worst Year Ever For Celebrity Deaths: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/2016-worst-year-celebrity-deaths_us_5865a387e4b0eb586488d8fa

“I, Daniel Blake” trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahWgxw9E_h4

“Life Stripped Bare”: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/life-stripped-bare/on-demand/63815-001

2016: My Year in Review

2016 has been as unpredictable and chaotic as I could ever have imagined. In the same year I thought my entire life was falling apart around me, thinking I had picked the wrong course and altogether wanting to give up and go live in a cave somewhere; I also conquered Africa’s highest mountain, spent a lot of time figuring out what I wanted and put a lot effort into making positive changes to the way I live my life.

At the beginning of 2016 I wrote a list of all the things I wanted to leave behind in 2015 and then burned it. A year on I can barely remember what was on that list but a few things come to mind when I think about it. A lot of what was on there was to do with my attitude towards life; I wanted to stop caring what people thought about me, I wanted to build bridges with people who had fallen out of my life, most of all it was about leaving anything negative behind in 2015 and having a positive year. I can’t say that has been 100% successful, those who know me well enough will know that there have definitely been a few struggles along the way. I can however confidently say that I am ending 2016 on a positive chapter in my life.

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Team RGU at the Summit of Kilimanjaro.

When I think about what I have achieved this year it always out weighs the negative experiences I have had. This was the year I got my first A in University, the year I pushed myself and my body further than I ever have before on Mount Kilimanjaro, I visited Germany, took a 12 hour bus journey to London TWICE, (the second time to visit some of the fabulous people that Kilimanjaro introduced me to), with the help of three wonderful ladies organised what I would say was the most successful Gray’s Winter Ball of the past three years and, maybe most importantly, I rediscovered just how much I love photography.

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My best nine for 2016 on Instagram reminds me just how lucky I have been this year to travel to Tanzania and to also live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Also the middle picture means the world to me, my beautiful mum with the two dogs in one of my favourite places from my childhood.

This year I also started at a new job which, so far, is going well and has put me on track to my hopes of visiting China and working with pandas towards the end of 2017. I feel it is important to enjoy even a part time job and as much as I may dread going to work some days I can honestly say I really enjoy waitressing. When I started at Cocoa Ooze in 2013 I knew it was something I was going to be able to do along with my studies with ease. Unfortunately and much to my sadness I had to make the decision to leave Cocoa Ooze when I realised how much money I was going to need not only for my future travel plans but also just to get me through my fourth year of University. The job I have now gives me better hours to work around Uni and also means I can save my tips away for next year.

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. Hey. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.” – The Doctor “Doctor Who – Vincent and the Doctor”. This quote came up on my Facebook feed on my birthday a few days ago and it reminded me that just because bad things happen all the time that doesn’t have to make your life bad. If you focus on the good things in your life then you have more chance at creating a positive environment around you and I feel that only with that positive environment can you really succeed and achieve your goals.

In short 2016 might have been a mess in some respects but I refuse to let that dampen the love, gratitude and general good feelings I get when I look back at the achievements I have made this year. I wish anyone reading this all the love and happiness they could ask for in 2017. My only goal is to stay positive no matter what life may throw in my direction.

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The Uni family ❤️

I’m pretty much winging my way through life, but if you make a plan there is no guarantee it will work they way you want it to. To me life’s more fun when you let it play out in front of you, adventure is out there. TTFN.

*I use the word positive way to many times in this post. Drinking game, take a shot overtime you read the word positive!

The Kilimanjaro Experience

It’s 12am, it’s pitch black, all you can hear is the sound of your own heart beat and someone being sick a few steps in front of you. It’s cold, it’s windy and all you have is a head torch to guide your way. It’s summit night on Kilimanjaro and it’s about to be the hardest night of your life!

I had such high hopes for this blog post, I was going to write notes from each day, record everything, do a video diary. By the time I got to camp on day one all I wanted to do was eat my popcorn, sip my tea, locate the nearest toilet, curl up in my sleeping bag and pass out! (Which is exactly what I did.)

Don’t get me wrong I didn’t for a second think that climbing the highest free standing mountain in the world was going to be easy, in fact a small part of me was convinced I couldn’t do it but I just told that part to go to hell and kept pushing on. The thing I found both this year and with Toubkal last year was that it didn’t seem to matter how physically fit you were if you weren’t determined to make it to the top. It was mind over matter with me, my body wanted to give up, it was falling asleep as I walked but my head wasn’t going to let that happen.

This is my Kilimanjaro experience (as well as I can remember) it day to day over the six days it took to complete the biggest challenge of my life!

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Our first group photo at Heathrow Airport. So proud of my team together we raised an amazing £72,363.10!!

Day one started at the Machame gate 1640m above sea level, it was a bit of a gloomy day so we didn’t get to see the whole mountain before the climb (probably for the best to be honest…) It was like walking right into the Jungle Book, hanging vines and stone steps all the way to camp. I was glad of the cloud cover if the sun had been out in full force the heat and humidity would have been unbearable. It was quite pleasant walk to Machame camp stopping for a lunch of chicken and chips under the trees about half way.  A couple of times I felt I was going to tumble back down the path, my awful balance and walking poles being attached to my back pack were not helpful, but there was always someone behind me to give me that slight push I needed to correct myself.

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(1) The route we took to the summit and back down.

At camp we met our porters who showed us to our tents (I’m just going to say now that my porter was the best human being I have ever met and I owe him so much because he pretty much did everything for me, including putting aftersun on my very burnt hands, and I love him). We were shown the mess tent and given a briefing for the next day and then it was straight to bed for me because it got unbelievably cold as soon as the sun went down!

Day two the sun was out and we raced the clouds up the mountain. I thought they were going to catch up with us but we stayed ahead of them until they couldn’t climb any higher. I found this day one of the hardest because we had to walk all the way to camp before lunch and it felt like a life time! I also dropped half of my NAKED Banana Crunch bar at our second snack stop and it was heart breaking. Staying at the back allowed for a lot more conversation though I felt like I got to know some of my Brunel team mates a lot better on day two.

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Racing the clouds up the mountain.

Everyone told me about how beautiful the stars look from Kilimanjaro before I went but I can’t say I really saw them properly until summit night. They were there, I was just absolutely exhausted every night when we got to camp that I went to bed straight after dinner and looking up while walking in between 20 something tents is not advisable. A few people stayed up to watch the stars and came back to me with tales of shooting stars and the milky way but I just couldn’t keep myself awake to watch with them.

Day Three was acclimatisation day, we climbed high until lunch time and then back down to sleep low giving our bodies a chance to get used to a thinner atmosphere at higher altitudes. The climb to lunch was hard, breaks were very welcome, but I did not feel any symptoms of altitude sickness and made it to the Lava Tower in the first half of the team. After lunch I decided to stay back with the team members who were suffering from altitude sickness to make sure everyone was doing ok and to provide my encouragement. This was going very well until about ten minutes before camp when out of nowhere altitude sickness hit me and the entire contents of my stomach emptied onto the side of the trail. It completely knocked me for six. I felt dizzy, weak and wasn’t entirely convinced I wash finished throwing my guts up. My head guide, James, had to hold me up for the short distance to camp, my vision was blurry and I don’t really remember getting to the check in point. All I remember thinking was how impressed I was with the members of my team who had been dealing with this all day, I felt absolutely horrendous and could only imagine what it must be like to experience altitude sickness from the morning knowing how far away camp was! When I finally got to camp all I wanted to do was go to sleep but I knew that would just make me feel worse so I made myself go to the mess tent for popcorn and a hot cup of tea, followed by a handful of pain killers and a lot of water. Within the hour I felt absolutely fine again.

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Lunch time before the altitude sickness hit!

Day Four we tackled the Barranco wall. This steep ridge was an almost vertical scramble on which I ripped my nana’s walking trousers she had lent me, almost had my hand pulled off by the guides (they did not know about my dodgy wrist) who yanked us up that wall like their lives depended on it and saw the most spectacular view from above the clouds. This was actually the fun part of the day because they then made us walk down a valley, back up a valley, down another valley and finally back up a valley and into camp. What’s wrong with bridges Kilimanjaro?? I have never wanted to pee more in my life than the last twenty minutes of that day and I was so relieved (in more ways than one) to see a toilet block just out side of camp, there was no way I would have made it through check in without an accident occurring!

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Team RGU representing Scotland after scaling the Barranco wall!

We had made it to base camp! There wasn’t exactly much time to celebrate though, we were to leave again at midnight for summit so it was dinner, toilet and bed! Having said that dinner was still an emotional meal; a couple of my team were very upset because they did not believe they could make it to the summit! I had full belief in every member of my team and to see them so upset made me completely break down into what was the first of many tears in the 24 hours that followed.

Sometimes in life you believe you have been super sneaky and no one could possibly know what you are up to! I tried to organise a surprise for my team along with the team leader from Brunel by contacting the teams loved ones asking for a letter of encouragement to read before summit night. I would like to think that most of the team were completely clueless but one member of RGU had asked me on several occasions if I was organising said surprise. Getting more and more frustrated at this members willingness to spoil the surprise for himself when he finally called me over after all the letters had been handed out I thought it was to gloat that he knew what was going on the whole time and I hadn’t surprised him one bit only to be handed a letter from my own loved ones and have to return to my seat feeling bad for all the times I told him to let it go! My letter is pictured below and while most of the team were sitting in their seats crying I couldn’t help but laugh at my mum’s favourite story of me and my stubborn ways!

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Letter on the left is from my fellow team leader from Brunel Uni! Letter on the right is from my family, thanks to a lovely member of my team for organising that for me!

So here we were, summit night, with two to three hours sleep my nervous chatter had already set in, I had one mouthful of “breakfast” and thought I was going to see it again almost immediately, the cold was unbelievable, the sky was glittering with star light and my water bladder had already frozen solid. For most of the climb I focused on Mars, it was usually directly in front of me and distracted me from the tiny head torch lights in the distance that reminded me of just how far we had still to climb. My day bag was taken off me by a guide almost straight way so I could focus solely on where to put my feet. This guide (who fell over once and scared the absolute living hell out of me, if he had fallen over then all I could think was that there was absolutely no hope for me and my clumsy self!) stayed with me the whole way to the summit and for the life of me I couldn’t pin down his name. I know I would never have reached the peak if it wasn’t for him, shear determination and a packet of Haribo Tangfastics that I had saved specifically for that night.

I almost gave up on several occasions, absolute exhaustion and fear threatened to overcome me at any moment. Every time we stopped for a break I thought I was going to fall asleep. When James said it was time to move again tears came from nowhere, but he grabbed one arm and my guide grabbed the other and hoisted me to my feet, up we went higher and higher until we started to see the sunrise over the clouds so far below us. That was the moment I knew I could do it, my phone had died from the cold so I had no idea what time it was but when I saw the sunrise below and Stella point above and beyond that Uhuru Peak I knew I was almost there, to give up now seemed as impossible as the whole climb had felt 6 hours before and I pushed myself that last hour and a half, to the Summit of the worlds highest free standing mountain.

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All the pain is worth it for that view!

I didn’t summit with anyone but my guide, I was about ten minutes behind the first group from my team to summit. When I got to the rest of the team I was swallowed whole by a group hug and burst into yet more tears at the sight of my team mates tears. Then there was the queueing for photographs (other groups had summited at the same time as us), the realisation that my camera had died from the cold, losing the friendly square that a kind man had given me for good luck on the bus to London, my phone getting a second wind and switching back on for photos at the summit and finally a member of my team collapsing from hypothermia in his legs*. This all happened in about 30 minutes and then it was back down the mountain.

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Me and my Guide at the summit!

Heading down was arguably harder than the way up. Firstly the ground was no longer frozen so it was like walking down the biggest sand dune you have ever seen in your life, secondly it was about eight in the morning and I had had about two hours sleep and thirdly there was no motivation left in my entire body. I’d made it to the top, I was done, I just wanted to curl up on a rock and go to sleep. This was not helped by the fact that every couple of meters I would fall on my back and lie there like an overturned beetle until the  James caught up with me again and put me back on me feet. By about the fifth fall I told him I was staying put and he would have to drag me down because I refused to fall over again. So that is essentially what he did after I had one more cry, this time asking for my mum and pizza. He took my bag on his back, threatened to piggy back me down the mountain, took my hand and led me down the sand dune of death with complete ease despite his allergy to dust (wise career choice there…). When we reached solid ground I got a complete second wind and marched of into the distance only to be met with yet another impossible downward climb and had to sit for about 20 minutes for someone with a bit more technical skill to show me the correct path.

Finally, after what felt like a life time, I made it back to base camp. I was met by my porter who gave me the biggest hug and a cup of pineapple juice which lasted all of five seconds. He led me back to my tent, took my boots off for me, ran to fill my water bottle up, gave me a well deserved fist bump and zipped me into my tent. I should have had a nap here, I was exhausted so it should have been easy but I just couldn’t fall asleep! I spent the rest of the time we had at base camp packing as best I could with my sunburnt hands, eventually admitting defeat I had to get someone to help me stuff my sleeping bag back into it’s compartment.

We had lunch and then set off again down the mountain. I think we had been walking all of two minutes when I had to stop. I couldn’t breath properly, my vision was blurry and I was about 90% sure I was going to be sick. I was right. Up came my lunch, up came my pineapple juice, up came my Tangfastics and, you guessed it, out came the tears. Altitude sickness is not a fun thing, why it only happened to my on the decent I do not know but I am very glad that it didn’t happen before then because I don’t think I would have managed to summit if it had. Instead of the four hours it should have taken me to get down to the last camp of the trek it took more like six and it was pitch black by the time I arrived. My porter, being the absolute amazing human that he is, guided me to my tent, took my boots off for me and even offered to take my dinner to the tent. I refused this last offer as food was about the last thing I wanted. I struggled into my sleeping bag, closed my eyes and passed out till morning.

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Heading back down, the summit in the distance, just before I saw my lunch again.
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Our last view of the summit on the final day climbing down.

The last day was definitely the easiest but it also felt like a never ending trail of trees upon trees. I was impatient to get down but also very aware of how slippery the ground was and if I was to go to fast the likely hood of me ending up on my backside was very high. When we finally made it to the bottom there was an enormous sense of relief. I signed out, took of some layers, found my porter and that was it finally over. This is where my porter very kindly put aftersun on my hands for me and took my day pack off my back. He even carried it all the way onto the bus for me. The final day was a good day for chatting and reflecting on the day before. For myself it still sort of feels like a dream, I know it happened but there was such a big build up to that day and then for it all to be over already is just surreal. This was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, there is no way I would have made it with out the support of my team, my family, my friends and the amazing guides and porters.

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Team RGU and Team Brunel on top of the World!

I took on this challenge partly to prove to myself that it was possible (partly because a certain RAG chair who shall remain nameless convinced me it was a good idea) and also to raise awareness for an amazing charity who do work all around the world. If you would like to donate to Childreach International you can still do so on my fundraising page linked below.

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Representing RGU RAG at the top of Kilimanjaro!

*this team member is absolutely fine and still has full use of both of his legs. The guides acted amazingly and got him down to base camp quickly and safely and part from feeling a little bit silly for not listening to the head guide about wearing more layers no harm was done.

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Everyone loves a good Selfie!

You can donate here: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/aileenmacalister2

(1) http://www.machame.com/machame-itinerary6.htm

Another Life Update and Thoughts On Christmas

December has been crazy, I didn’t even notice it pass. I swear to God it was just Halloween like yesterday, and wasn’t I in Morocco the other week? This month I have been crazy focussed…on everything at once!

Firstly of course there is Uni which, being in second year, has upped the pace a wee bit since last year. I feel like I’m drowning in research images, my printer has been restocked with ink more times than my bank balance dares to think about and I have gone through enough sketchbooks to fill a mini rain forrest.IMG_20140930_201235

Secondly I am still fundraising for Childreach International. I love this cause and I have now personally seen the good that the charity does (for more on this click on the Travel section in the menu bar) but man is fundraising stressful! You first have to make sure that what you are doing is interesting to other people, no point in standing around trying to sell brown paper bags is there? The second thing is that there is a vast amount of organisational skill that goes into planning an event that everybody is interested in, this is a skill that I am still developing. Then when the event finally happens you have to make sure that everything went the way it should and that you have actually raised some money! The big one this month was organising the 2nd Year Gray’s Winter Ball, I will be writing a separate blog post about this soon because that requires a lot more detail than this update is intended to provide.

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Thirdly and obviously most importantly is the Social Life! This is a tricky thing to maintain if you wish to get all uni work and enough sleep to be a functional human being. The social life of which I speak can be down to something as simple as sitting in the living room with my flatmates watching TV, I like to refer to this time as social procrastinating. We all know we should be doing work but at the same time it is much more appealing to sit on a comfy sofa and watch absolute rubbish in the telly!Scan 143490011

To put it plainly I am looking forward to the Christmas Holidays, which for me don’t really start until Christmas Eve because of work. 😦 So I thought I would do a wee list of my top ten favourite things about christmas, and here they are:

10. The food, I know this is usually pretty high up on peoples lists but I don’t really like turkey that much. I usually have a nice Gammon steak. Christmas dinner in my house is chaos because we have there coeliacs, a vegetarian and a pescetarian. This means that my parents have to prepare four different meals; Turkey, Salmon, Gammon and the veggie option.

9. Christmas cards, I love receiving christmas cards! I have been so busy this month that I haven’t had a chance to buy christmas cards for most people. I managed to get the people I post to but even then there is no way the are getting there for christmas! FAIL!!

8. Not having to worry about anything stressful for at least three days! Its true, all you have to worry about is eating food and unwrapping presents and being with the ones you love, what can be more relaxing than that? At christmas I just put the sketchbooks down and forget that Uni even exists for a couple of hours and it is great!

7. Giving presents! No this is not the same as wrapping them, giving them is a completely different experience. When you give someone a present there is an anticipation of what will they think about it and what will their reaction be and have you got it so perfectly spot on that it makes them grin from ear to ear!

6. The Tree! Christmas trees must have multicoloured lights and they must be perfectly decorated so that they look sparkly and pretty! I do not like tinsel on trees, I don’t know why I just don’t. I like tinsel on the edges of mirrors and even cabinets but not on trees.

5. Christmas Decorations, I love sparkly things so obviously christmas decorations are right up my street! The tree is of course my favourite part…actually I might just give the tree its own section!
4. Wrapping presents, I just love to make them all pretty and tie them up with a bows and ribbon and ahhh prettiness!!

3. Christmas songs! Especially the cheesey ones, and when I get them stuck in other peoples heads it is even better!

2. Secret Santa! I love the whole not knowing who your present is from until you open it thing it makes me so much more excited about the whole present giving experience and of course it means as a student I don’t have to worry about all the money I would otherwise have to spend buying every one of my friends a christmas present! Because as much as I love them all I can not afford that.

1. Spending time with family and friends obviously but it is also doing all the christmasy things with them, like baking cookies and drinking mulled wine!

To end this post I would like to share my favourite christmas song with you all because why not!