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Studying In London Wasn’t The Magical Experience I Expected It To Be

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Going abroad from India still manages to create the same buzz as it did years back. Everyone in the family automatically assumes that the West would be so enticing that you might never come back to India. So, even the ones who have never met you for ten long years would be happy to travel miles to meet you, thinking that this would probably be their last meeting. Adhering to the societal norms, your parents make you visit every possible relative and hold frequent dinners or luncheons so that family members can have enough of you before you leave. Inevitably, you become the celebrity in the family, creating a spectacle which lasts until you finally board your flight, and when you are bound to cut yourself off from all contacts. In my case, this was the flight to London. I remember the last call just before my flight from one of my relatives who said that I should come back soon and they would be waiting for me.

It is amusing when I think how back then, when everyone wanted me to come back soon, I was thinking that masters in London would be the best experience of my life with ultimate independence. Nine months from then, I am in a state where I feel that this one year which I thought would pass in the blink of an eye has been the longest year of my life. Even now when people from India anticipate my dreamy experiences from London, I disappoint them with none. Let me break this to you: each place has its own set of flaws, there is no magical place or experience. For a student like me, masters in London has been a huge investment without substantial returns.

The investment is not just financial but physical, mental and emotional. Coming from India and living in an individualistic society like London is not a cakewalk. There have been days when I kept gazing at the ceiling of my room for hours because I do not have the liberty to be around people, as and when I want. Every time I look around my room, there is no one, just me and my shadow. On days when I couldn’t talk to my parents in India, I didn’t hear my own voice for a whole day or even longer. The very independence and seclusion I wanted for myself had taken a toll on me. It requires a great deal of optimism and motivation to convince yourself that life is great in a foreign land. Interacting with classmates and making friends was difficult, but this time I don’t blame my introvert demeanour. It was people’s unusual level of stress and anxiety that I wanted to escape. I realised that I was encircled by a huge bunch of people who were anxious and stressed, like never before. Some blamed it on the grey London weather, others had serious life crises to resolve. Every group assignment meant dealing with panic attacks of some group members. While I understand it is hard for a lot of people to deal with things and everyone’s life is not as simple as it might seem, for me, this meant boosting myself with twice the amount of optimism that I would require and this was NOT easy. Maybe, it was just me who happened to meet such people, but I tried hard not to lose my grip on life.

When I first entered my student accommodation, I was shocked by the sight of it. Moving to a first world country inevitably entails the expectation of basic modern housing facilities which I realised was wrong. If you are unlucky like me, you might end up in an old construction with dark rooms, smelly carpets unchanged since they were first put, dirty walls, a dim yellow light unsuitable for normal reading conditions. This does not end here. In the bathroom, I have two separate taps for cold and hot water which you have to keep pressing every second because they do not run continuously and the water in the shower goes off every ten seconds just like the one in the basin and also, by no means can I control the temperature of the shower. I was lucky to have taps that continuously run in the kitchen but they were separate for hot and cold water. So, washing your utensils in -2 °C can be real fun.

These are just a few basic infrastructural inconveniences, if I go on with the internet and elevator issues, you will probably think that I lie about living in London. Well, I live in the most well-known area of Central London, paying the standard rent that is same for most student accommodations that are a part of the University of London. But, I guess I was just unlucky.

However, I was just as lucky to have my close friend shift with me to the same country for her master’s. As much as I am grateful, it also involved dealing with a lot of changes for both of us. While you are used to seeing each other in the same class and same setting every day, it is not easy to cope with the change of college, curriculum, social circle among other things. Even before you realise, the subject of conversations, interests and a lot more change. Finding a middle ground and tackling the differences take their own time, so one has to be ready to expect that kind of situation.

Moreover, masters is a very different experience with a course like mine which is purely academic. It involves more self-study than classroom study. Sometimes, I think it is too much about the ‘self’, and I am bored of being all by myself. Being used to more classroom hours in India, it was difficult to imagine just two hours of class in a week per subject in London. My masters is a calculated degree of 20 weeks. People often tell me that it is not just about the academic curriculum, it is about the multicultural experience. I wouldn’t possibly deny if I didn’t come across the biggest lesson of masters being an individual experience where most people prioritise networking over making real bonds.

Moreover, even the best colleges do have a set of not-so-proficient professors. The fact that I am studying in London does not change the sad state of academia. Often the idea of studying abroad blinds us to the ground realities and the possibility of bad experiences, the grass is not always greener on the other side.

However, there have also been some really interesting lessons despite the lack of classroom time. I was intrigued by the knowledge and skills of some of my professors. What I like most is the informal and honest relationship I could share with the professors without being a victim of politics and favouritism, unlike my traumatic experience as an undergraduate student in India. Here, the professors inculcate a culture of no competition within the classroom, enabling us to learn from each other’s experiences. Every individual’s opinion is valued, and above all, we are treated as adults. Each student is made to feel special and capable in his/her own ways leaving no room for value judgement.

I make myself feel close to home by cooking all kinds of Indian food that I can manage here with the limited resources. Visiting Indian shops for monthly grocery shopping has been the most exciting task for me but when I see that a packet of Lay’s Magic Masala has become my life’s luxury, it sure breaks my heart. If I haven’t complained enough, London’s traffic can be pathetic too, and yes people do blow the horn. The underground is no less, people can push you here just like they did in Delhi’s metro and Mumbai’s local trains. Walking on a not-so-busy street at night can be as scary as back home because well, some things don’t change, they just appear different.

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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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