A Conscious Effort – Maastricht Goes to Calais

A Conscious Effort

My readings for this week’s tutorial presented me with a number of interesting, believable and profound statistics I felt were worth sharing, and commenting on. Sandra Mathison states that as of 2017:

  • The world population is 7.5 billion people
  • Half of the people in the world live in poverty
  • 22,000 children die each day due to conditions of poverty
  • 805 million people do not have enough food
  • 5 million children die each year before they are 5 years old
  • 165 million children under 5 are stunted from malnutrition
  • 750 million people do not have adequate access to safe drinking water
  • 2300 people die each day from diarrhoea
  • 214 million women lack access to family planning
  • 1 in 7 children in NYC are homeless
  • This year, in British Columbia 4 people will die each day from opioid overdoses
  • 34,500 people flee their homes every day to avoid violence
  • 1 in every 113 people on Earth has been driven from their home by conflict, violence, or human rights violations
  • Two thirds of illiterate people in the world are women

Most of these, I found rather staggering and quite incomprehensible. But if these statistics are correct, on reflection, I can see how believable they are – and this is the problem. There’s an element of this article which is subliminally reiterating how lucky many of us are. Myself, writing this in the (relative) comfort of my student house will probably never suffer any of these injustices in the entirety of my life, and there I am, critiquing the comfort of my student house when 1 in 7 children are homeless in New York.

These statistics are simultaneously useful and useless. Indeed, they make us think that we’re lucky and we may take two or three minutes to reflect on happenings around the globe. But for many of us, like myself, it rarely extends beyond a momentary thought. This, I believe, is because we are so far removed from the things that are happening throughout the globe, that they almost seem surreal. It is perhaps why, I was mostly staggered by the statistic about children homeless in New York. I am writing this, because that was the statistic that shocked me the most. This disappoints me, considering Mathison states that 805 million people do not have enough food. Incomprehensible – that is the problem. We ‘lucky ones’, are so far removed from these problems that, even though we are aware they exist, our help does not often go beyond a momentary thought.

I go back to the 1 in 7 children homeless in New York. A much more ‘real’ statistic that many of us can perhaps relate to, despite being unable to relate to the millions, almost a billion, without food and water. I suppose the problems are relative. Though, this shouldn’t be the point, and one should treat the more significant problems with the same consideration for children knowingly homeless. But indeed, it’s difficult to relate to, and with a pinch of salt, I ask, what can we do?

Maastricht Goes to Calais

A number of people I’m in contact with at university, including my housemate, are part of an independent project– Maastricht Goes to Calais. A volunteering project providing material and emotional support for the 800 refugees in and around the destroyed camps in Calais, France. The problems faced by these people, again, are incomprehensible, and a lot closer to home than one might ordinarily appreciate. Some perspective, for those unaware of the severity of the global refugee epidemic. According to Amnesty, the number of people fleeing their homes due to war and conflict, environmental and social degradation stood at 92million. Today, the figure is 244million, an unprecedented increase, and something which cannot be ignored, especially when the global problem is becoming a European problem, too.

My point here with regards to Maastricht goes to Calais also relates to those affected by homelessness in New York, in addition to those included within all of Madison’s statistics. One can become involved with the project in Maastricht by simply providing a baked cake for a fundraising sale, a retweet or repost of information, to encourage knowledge and participation alike, that can go on to make a huge difference, knowingly, or unknowingly. The problems around the globe are a shared problem, whether we hold them to be far from our day to day lives, or close to our hearts. What I am trying to convey, is the magnitude of such problems that I had done little more than think about until now; the global issues are not something which you can easily, or perhaps should devote your life towards combatting, as the problems are seemingly endless. This was something that I had not quite appreciated until I spoke to my housemate about the project and issues faced by those at Calais. I reiterate that the problems are seemingly endless, but nonetheless, any contributions of time and devotion can make a larger difference than you may have initially appreciated.


A Master’s Degree Abroad: A Study in Complacency II

‘Oh shit, things are a little different here’

The ‘second language’ English is perhaps the most difficult things to come to terms with. Not with regards to day to day life, but within the University itself. There is a common conception that everyone in the Netherlands speaks phenomenal English. Largely, they do, but it does differ from time to time, and make life a little problematic. Sitting in my tutorials, I frequently have to look past grammatical errors which misconstrue meanings, tenses which convey an entirely different meaning and so on, which ultimately affects my ability to learn and actually, understand what is going on. Adjectives and conjunctives in interesting places require much more concentration than I previously appreciated.

Without meaning any disrespect to my colleagues, it makes learning an extremely challenging experience. However, this is the way of life, the way of the world and the way of business. I must be more open minded. I for instance, speak no second language. For some of my counterparts, English isn’t their second language, but third or fourth. It’s an amazing achievement, to be undertaking a degree in a language other than their own. It just so happens, that English is an extremely popular second language and the language of international business – 70% of Germans speak English as a second language, which equates to two thirds of the whole population of Great Britain. I wish to reiterate, I need to be more open minded.

This does not make up for how difficult it can be. Without the natural fluency one possesses from being a native, even Great British sarcasm doesn’t fair too well, neither does speaking quickly, or colloquially. You observe this in every country when speaking a non-native language. But coming from a university and a country which all too often takes for granted its ease in communications, possessing a native language which dominates the world stage, it has been difficult to adapt.

Though, having said that, I’ve begun to understand how important the English language is, ironically, for completing one of the main premises of the European Union – social integration. Europe is a phenomenal concept, something which I increasingly love, being able to hop from one country to another, only using the local bus services. The dynamism is held together by the English language. I feel therefore, somewhat disappointed in myself that I expect full fluency and for them to make themselves easier to understand for my own benefit. My conscious reflection, continually looking at the ways I perceive things as a result of this year is something which I will take from my international experience, if anything. Increasing open-minded-ness, however difficult it has been to start with.

A Master’s Degree Abroad: A Study in Complacency I

Where to start?

As I sit with a ‘very English’ cup of Earl Grey, with milk, I contemplate how my life has gone astray this year, at least, compared to how I thought it was going to go. I currently study European Studies at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, essentially European Politics. Strange for a Brit, right? (I’m not going to get into that…). I am currently half way through the year, about to embark on a stressful and difficult semester starting my research thesis until the end of June.

Coming out of Swansea University with a reasonably strong degree, a circle of friends and having had a great few years etc. etc. I felt ready for anything and in search for a new challenge. A new challenge for me, meant a completely new environment.  I was riding on a whole load of confidence, which was of course, about to be wiped away with one clean swoosh of the Flag of Europe; never have I ever been so ready to become part of the Brexit Camp. No, that’s not true.

Though, it does speak an element of truth, my opinions and perspectives about Europe haven’t been embedded further, rather, subverted and challenged at every opportunity. No longer do I ride the wave of English youthful, graduate complacency (that I have basically completed a climb of Mount Everest blindfolded) but I no longer feel so confident in my abilities of an above average, reasonably hard working student. It’s cliché, but it’s a rather large world out there. We truly are an insular, unintegrated nation, sailing on driftwood in our pseudo ex-colonial sense of self-importance, being left behind by the rest of the continent. I never appreciated this until I moved here.

Admittedly, I cannot speak for all those undertaking bachelor’s and master’s degrees across Europe, as of course, universities hugely differ in administrative and teaching style, but, from a British student of politics’ perspective, I am keen to offer some insights into my time abroad thus far. In a series of blog posts, I’ll dissect my time in Maastricht, and hopefully offer you some interesting, first-hand experiences which will either enlighten you, inform you further, or make you think what a total load of shit.


Cliché surrounds making yourself happy: the ‘do it because you’re the only person that matters’ type ethic is used to fill blank walls with similar sounding quotes, and appears meaningless and almost laughable that somebody needs a daily reminder to make themselves happy. That’s what it’s about, isn’t it? The pursuit of happiness. That’s what counts, and what matters. Whichever method you find tranquillity in pursuing this ongoing journey towards finding fulfilment, satisfaction and contentedness, you physically cannot let anybody tell you otherwise. If you do, it ceases to be an individual journey, and ruins the ethic entirely, however cliché, it must be individual.

It starts with a ‘lightbulb’ type epiphany: you’re sitting in a car doing 140mph on the German-autobahn and somebody in the seat next to you tells you that they don’t care about a life changing decision you’ve made, or you’re wandering through a field and stepping over a small brook, and the wind which rushes through you shifts your mentality, or you’re deep in the metropolis, surrounded by people following a similar pursuit (however many of those metropolis dwellers confuse money for happiness) and you look up at the skyscrapers and realise it’s futile. It does not matter where you are when you gain this certain light, but what matters is that it usually occurs at a critical juncture in your life, at a crossroads when you’re looking around and observing, trying to make a snap decision which exact route to take.

Scarily, it is individual, so intimate and personal that you fail quite to put into words just how this scene or scenario has made you feel and changed your entire outlook as a result. It’s been a long time coming but hits you as a wave of rushing cold water, soothing and refreshing, but cold nonetheless. You realise there are certain aspects of your current life that you have to change and other avenues that you have to pursue, deciding in an impromptu fashion to take a small cobbled street to the left of you in the hope that it’s quicker to get where you’re heading.

As you pierce the shell of an egg with your two thumbs in order to crack it, you don’t think about the shell being torn apart and ripped in two. Instead, you think about the bright yellow yolk inside, moulded into the white about to trickle into your pan of melting butter. Indeed, as you slowly start to cook your egg, and grind some peppercorns on top, place the bread in the toaster, you realise that the splitting of the shell was necessary to accomplish this. Similarly, coming to a realisation that there may be certain people or things in your life which at the moment seem vital to who you are, but to get where you want to be, may become a hindrance is a difficult thing to comprehend. It cracks your outer skin slightly, and slowly makes its way down to your core, perhaps even influencing your important decisions.

This is the danger with an individual pursuit like happiness; you must, to a certain extent, dwell on the equal amount of loss and sadness before you experience any type of meaningful gain, and it remains an impossible task, to know what’s right. Putting into words such an intimate walk of life risks being so wrong, so far away from the reality of it, and what is happening in another person’s soul. That is the beautiful intricacy of the human spectrum, there is as much Individual struggle as collective struggle. Perhaps that is the reason why many people choose to laugh at a constant reminder that you have to do something to make yourself happy; seeing such words which have been unexperienced cracks their shell slightly, only insignificantly, it is a mere dent on their exterior, nothing has quite penetrated their being yet. Without realisation and comprehension, however difficult, what hope can there be of action?

Wild Eyed

I suppose a lot can change in seven months. Potentially not so much about a town; a few more houses maybe, people coming and going, the usual. Yet, when it comes down to the linear change in that time, however quickly the days and hours go by, your perspective and the way you ultimately view things has changed the most. You’re still largely the same, your morals are still similar, your goals and ambitions perhaps too.

However, stepping off a train and entering a city which you’re more than aware will unlock vital-parts of who you are is bound to promote an almost surreal sense of ‘where the fuck am I? what the actual fuck am I doing here?’ Of course, you know that it will create some positivity and it will show itself to be the right direction for you, but the first time you step over the picturesque footbridge into the town, your need to be transported back to the place you’re most comfortable is at the forefront of your mind. Peering over the edge, forty feet down is the cold, but flowing river.

You see the river as yourself; upstream is where you’ve come from, meandering throughout your life, through towns and places, interacting with people and the environment alike. You remember all the faces of people that have made an impact upon you, and looking into the horizon, you understand how those important figures have impacted your present self, as you go to peer back down to where you are in the present. The water is unfamiliar, constantly changing, just as your mind is in a new place. Left or right? If you go left, will you go on to meet people who are entirely different to the people you may meet if you veer right? Will such a simple decision significantly impact your life? You do not know. You will never know. There’s beauty in that.

Crossing to the other side of the bridge, seeing the water travelling to its destination, an entirely different, and new sensation overcomes you. It’s like you’re over a millpond, beautifully tranquil, comforting, but not eerie. You’re standing at the edge of the jetty, the morning mist is gently hovering above the water, with the outline of the surrounding mountains peering through the gentle cloud. That’s what you imagine. Forty feet. That’s doable.

A surge of newly found confidence fulfils you, you aren’t who you used to be, this is you at your most you. There is nobody you have met yet, nobody to change you into a force of habit. Deciding to put it to the test is an extremely nerve-wracking concept. You decide to go. The forty feet dropped in a matter of milliseconds, and the thrill was second to none. The exhilarating sensation of a plane ever so gently leaving the ground is a similar feeling, a sense of adrenaline, the start of a journey looms.

You expect a splash of coldness, but water in Northern Europe when the leaves are a golden yellow will never be welcoming. What you receive is an overwhelming chill, but something you need regardless of the icy cold. If anything, it’s refreshing. Luckily, the current isn’t strong. Leisurely you can swim, but the most sensible thing is to get to the bank. You feel almost cleansed of the other side of the river, the past haunting and creeping behind you. You have delved into the new; experiences and interactions await. Letting go of the comfort, through deciding to go to a new city, a new culture and country, diving into the unknown is something completely necessary in your being, however hard it might be.

Sitting on the bank of the river, knowing you’ll slowly warm up serves as an excellent point in time to reflect on what has happened, as ever so clearly, you can see your metaphorical past, present and future in the form of a river flowing. You owe a great deal to the past, which has carried you to where you are now, through serenity and storm, challenges and success. A combination of all those things is where you need to be. Secondly, the bridge being crossed is the transition from old to knew, and a drastic decision has been made in order to accomplish that. You chose to jump. Weighed up all the options, of safety and security, of excitement with a mix of determination. The bridge reflects that, from one to the other, an image of transition and transportation, a vital element of the journey. And now, running your hands through the grass, turning your head downstream, with only the faintest glimmer of the horizon and future in your sights, you understand that drenched through and almost cleansed of everything that came before you, this is the place you need to be.