A Year in Review

2016 has been a bit of a crazy year for me. So much has happened in the last 12 months, and as I write this blog post I am finding myself in awe at how much I actually did this year – I genuinely can’t believe that some of the things in the following list only happened a few months ago.

Whilst 2016 has been jam-packed with travelling, learning and the like – all great things – I can’t deny that in terms of mental health, this year has not been the best. As I branched out, visiting new places and meeting new people, I simultaneously retreated within myself and spiralled back into a very dark place. Although this is not the aspect of my life that I wish to focus on in this blog, I don’t want to present a version of myself and my experiences that is misleading either; so consider this a disclaimer, a warning that the following images and recollections are just one part of a much bigger, more complicated picture.

But yes; on to the happy side of things.

January – April

I had spent the latter part of 2015 living in a city called Yaroslavl’ (Ярославль)  in Russia’s Golden Ring, situated about 4 hours from Moscow by car or train. After coming back to the UK for Christmas and New Year, I returned to Russia in January in order to finish the first part of my Year Abroad.

Whilst it could be difficult living in abroad (especially because I was living in a small flat with a rather overbearing, albeit lovely 75-year-old Russian lady), I got the opportunity to travel, meet new people, and really immerse myself in the Russian language which I had only been studying for a year before I had to go to the country.

I feel like I got to see many aspects of Russia; I saw it in the snow, I saw it in the blazing sun, I saw the hospitality and friendliness of its people amidst the rampant homophobia, racism and sexism that is still widely accepted in its society, and I saw the way that their media presented the same events that Western media depicted under a completely different lens. In a year that contained Syrian airstrikes, the anniversary of Crimea’s annexation, and increasing tensions with Europe, this insight was particularly fascinating and definitely affected the conviction with which I form opinions based on British news outlets.

It was travelling, though, that I loved the most, and in this second half of my time in Russia I attempted to travel as much as possible. I visited other cities in the Golden Ring – Rostov Velikii, Suzdal’ and Vladimir – and spent time in both the true Capital, Moscow, and the cultural Capital, Saint-Petersburg. I also went further out, stopping in Kazan’, Tatarstan’s Capital, Sochi, home of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and even Georgia and Armenia, where I discovered the true extent of Russian influence on surrounding countries; below are some of the pictures I took on my adventures.

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May – July

These few months for me were mostly downtime. I volunteered for a while at the local food bank, redecorated my bedroom for the first time since I was about four (the pink carpet and walls had long been something I cringed about instead of enjoyed), visited my friends in Oxford and started anti-depressants in an attempt at ending the cycle of depression that had been gradually getting worse throughout my time in Russia.

I also used this time to read, and read a lot. I had no urgent deadlines, and audiobooks especially were a good way of entertaining myself whilst tidying or painting my room. I won’t go into too much detail about my reading here, though; I intend on making a separate post about the books I enjoyed the most in 2016.

August

This was the month I finally went to France for a couple of weeks. Unlike the majority of my friends on my course, I hadn’t secured a job in Paris for the summer, mostly due to my depression and how difficult I found it to concentrate on applications and write positive things about myself in cover letters and the like. But in the end, I feel like this was a blessing in disguise, as it meant that I settled on the idea of doing more of what I love – travelling – with a close friend.

Before August, I had only ever been to Paris and Calais, and considering that I was now on a course full of people who were significantly richer than me and had already been to France more often than they could care to remember (several of them owning second homes over there), I was no longer satisfied with that. I wanted to know what else France had to offer; and inter-railing seemed to be the answer.

We went first to Paris, then to Versailles, followed by Bordeaux, Toulouse, Carcassonne and Montpellier. Each destination added something new to my understanding of France and French culture; for me, the country is now so much more than just “Paris and the rest”, which is the perception that many foreigners seem to have. I saw ruins, catacombs, lakes, caves, castles, tourist areas and places that were rather more off-the-beaten-track too. Now, though, I just want to go back and visit even more places! Perhaps another aim for this year should be to save up enough money to do exactly that…

September

This was when panic hit me about returning to Oxford. Tutors had begun sending reading lists and essay titles and suddenly the fact that I was going back felt all too real. My friends from first year who did Modern Languages, but not ab-initio Russian, would all be on their Year Abroad, and I would have to meet lots of new people and make new friends. This all seemed extremely daunting given my still rather poor mental health.

I did manage to get through the majority of the work that I needed to do before term started, though; and I am quite proud of myself for that.

October – Mid December

The return to university finally came, and it was certainly hectic. The amount of work, as well as its difficulty level, jumped up from first year, but remained enjoyable even though I inevitably fell behind because of my health issues and other circumstances. This term, I discovered that I really would like to apply for a Master’s course at Oxford whereby I would get the opportunity to study the Enlightenment in much greater detail than I am currently able to, and I feel like this has given me the motivation to catch up over the holidays with the work that I didn’t get to finish in term-time.

In addition to this, I began going to ALTs, aka Alternative Ice Hockey – and gosh, it’s so much fun. You get put on a team of 6 people, and play a bunch of five minute games against loads of other teams in a completely non-competitive environment. I seriously can’t wait to go again next term, especially now that I have my own hockey stick to play with!

December

For the first time in my life, I decided to escape the madness that is my family over the festive season and spend my time with a friend in Northumberland, from where I am currently writing. When I told her I’d never been to Scotland before – which is literally just up the road from her house – we made plans to go on a day-trip to Edinburgh. It was such a pretty city, and we stopped for lunch in a great vegetarian restaurant just off the Royal Mile where I did what I usually do in such places and found the best-looking chips on the menu. I did try some other food though, of course, and it was equally delicious.

Now though, I am back in the same state I was in September; panickedly attempting to work my way through reading lists and get a good amount of preparatory work done before term starts in January. Why do I always put things off until the last minute?

Still, New Year’s celebrations are ahead, more friends have come to join us up North and all I can do is hope that the coming year will be as full of adventures as 2016 has been, albeit with a reduced amount of mental health issues.

But yes! This has been my Year in Review; I wonder what I’ll be writing come this time in 2017…

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