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5 Solid Lessons I Learned When I Moved To London For My Postgrad

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This time last year was a very bitter-sweet time for me. On one hand, I was sad because I was graduating from college, leaving a place where I’d spent the last three years of my life. On the other hand, a part of me was top-of-the-world happy because a new phase of my life was about to begin.

I was anxious about what lay outside of that comfort zone between home to college and back, and I was overwhelmed with the memories I had made at this place. Moreover, it was difficult to imagine life without some of my closest friends and my family. My transition from an overly protected younger child in the house to someone who could take control of her own life wasn’t exactly easy.

I had received admission offers from my top priority schools and my dream of studying abroad finally felt like it could come true. Until May last year, I was under the impression that my life is going to change and everything will be sorted very soon. I had my admission offers and all that was left was to pack my bags and go.

Sounds easy, right? Not quite. My journey of learning lessons started much before the actual ‘moving abroad’ bit happened and continued after. While there are countless things that the past eight months away from home, in a different country have taught me, here are a few important ones:

Lesson 1: Finding My Own Identity

In more ways than one, moving out has helped me find my own identity. I grew up with an elder sister and often found myself in her shadows consciously or subconsciously. The experience of living by myself and being responsible for all things big and small – from what to eat for the next meal, to how much money to spend this month – has really helped me detach my personality from hers and be confident about my choices being my own – independent of her or anyone else’s influence. Additionally, I am comfortable in my own skin and confident about what I want from my life. I am unafraid of asking questions – because, one of my first lessons as a postgrad student was ‘no question is stupid’.

Lesson 2: Adjusting To A New Environment

It takes a while to settle in, to find your kind of people and adjust to the twenty thousand changes happening around you. What helped me adjust was learning from people’s experiences, and pick up the best of their qualities. You’ll be surprised by how much people you surround yourself with can have a positive impact on you. In the past eight months, I have seen and met people from different walks of life, and I have been in a very culturally diverse environment.

I was lucky to have found the best of people as my flatmates. Of course, having my best friend move to the same city with me (thank the lords) was more than I could ask for, and that has definitely made this experience much easier.

With my best friend.

Lesson 3: How To Pick Yourself Up And Deal With Failures

During this process of settling in, I have made my fair share of mistakes. I have chosen wrong, taken the easy way out – probably more than I’d like to admit. But living by myself has also taught me how to hold myself accountable. I have learned how to forgive myself, and pick myself up after a bad day. One of my biggest challenges, which everyone struggles with is being homesick. For me, it is almost a weekly affair. I am extremely grateful for the support that I found in my family and my closest friends. I talk to them often and that helps me feel at home, relatively.

What also helps me cope is keeping myself busy with other things like, dance. I am part of the dance society at my new college, and I often go out for walks around my hostel if I feel too lonely. Of course, I have had my bad days – sometimes weeks too. Those are moments where I remind myself what a friend had told me before coming here: “There’s nothing a Bollywood song cannot fix.”

Lesson 4: How to Cook And Other Very Important Life Hacks

One way in which moving abroad pushes you out of your comfort zone is that it forces you to be self-reliant. Things which we take for granted at home like food, clothes, cleanliness – we suddenly become responsible for all of that. While I knew my basics of cooking before coming to London, I have become more of an expert only after coming here. I still burn my omelettes, or spill the tea on the stove every now and then – but mostly I am capable of feeding myself (excluding frozen food and Maggi). What I have also learned is that I actually like cooking on most days and find it recreational. I also enjoy trying new recipes and eating them (that’s a little risky, but equally worth it when you get it right). I have also learned other life hacks like how to stitch buttons, washing clothes, cleaning bathrooms and dealing with a spider in your room. Not all of them have been as fun as cooking!

When I gave cooking a shot.

Lesson 5: A Much-needed Reality Check

I grew up dreaming about the life abroad and what it would feel like. Bollywood, like in most cases, did not help – I had exaggerated the impact it would have on my life, and how great it would feel. I had this idea that I’d get a grand welcome like Rohan from K3G when he first arrived in London.

And that’s probably where a lot of you might be today. If that’s what you are looking for, it’s time you know that is only a very small part of the experience. Mostly, it’s processed in which you must be prepared to make a lot of hard choices. Giving up on eating out, spending money on shopping every month, buying new stationery as a source of motivation – are probably some of the things you might not be able to do. You’ll always feel that there’s not enough money, and there’s no easy way to say that.

My first night abroad was lonely and hard – it meant sleeping on a bare mattress, using my jacket as a pillow, eating a cold sandwich after having dragged my three suitcases across the hostel. I have had a good mix of those hard nights when I had no idea what I was doing here and the ones where I felt like I fit right in, and this is where I am meant to be.

Making a decision can be extremely taxing – with all the stress, anxiety and pressure of figuring your life out; and so I hope this helps a little bit. If you think you are ready for all of the above challenges, which is probably the only thing I was sure of when I first decided to come across the continent – then maybe this is for you. Moving abroad was not the magic wand that I thought I needed for adulthood (I am still looking for that!) – but I wouldn’t do it any other way.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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