10 months in Leeds…

As the #prstudent blog competition is coming to an end I have been looking over the past few months. Over my studies, my blog, my personal life etc. and I can truly say I have grown a lot. Whilst going through this growth I have also learned a lot about myself.

Study life

When it comes to school I have discovered:

  • I am rubbish at closed books exams that count for 100% of my final grade.
  • I am not as good at small talk as I thought I was (I will however try to suck up all the questions and topics my hairdresser comes up with, next time I go for a cut).
  • I am very good at cooking, baking, cleaning (with a toothbrush even) and at upholstering furniture when I should be working on assignments (at least I have other things I could fall back on as professions if my comms path doesn’t work out).
  • When a person is 34 years old and a mother of 3 and doing a masters in England she might not party and socialise as much as she imagined before she arrived , as she’s likely to be the one of the oldest students on the course. She might also be the only mum and she might even get the nickname “mamabear” as she looks out for her co-students like she would her kids and friends.
  • Home cooked food and homemade pastry will make you friends anywhere, across professions, cultures, age, gender etc.

 

(On these pictures you can see my skills as an upholsterer, I’ll have that to fall back on if everything else fails!) 

When I started these studies I believed I had learned some stuff at my Icelandic uni when it came to comms and PR. However, I did sit down with other students and the Dean and we told him the course was lacking theory and tools. What I didn’t realise when I sat down with him was how right I was! As I finished my undergrads I said I didn’t have the confidence to say I was a PR person or even to claim I had much knowledge in the field. I did however have a lot of knowledge in philosophy, politics, ethics and some in media. All well and good and are all topics that will help in a PR career. However, recently, when I spoke to a girl that did the undergrads with me  I told her that there was so much we missed and that even though I will definitely need some real-out-of-school experience , I feel so much more equipped to work in the field now as I have lots of tools in my toolbox! Before studying in Leeds, I hadn’t even heard of a stakeholder map! Believe you me, it is so logical and so much common sense, but it BLEW my mind! As if you have never heard of it it’s not common sense.

One of the biggest surprises I have had since I started my masters course (apart from the pregnancy!) is the fact I am now considering a PhD. When I started I met other people on the course that only saw the course as a step towards a PhD and they knew that was where they were heading. I shrugged, I told them it was too academic and theoretical for me. I wanted to study something hands on and then go out into the world and start earning experience and money to provide for me and my family. Only about two weeks ago, all of a sudden, I changed my mind. Well, at least I started considering the possibility of doing a PhD.

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There are many things to consider in regards of further studies and finances are the biggest obstacle. I want to stay in the UK so I would want to do it here, however, it is very expensive as I’ll have to pay as an international student. This is probably my biggest frustration since I came to the UK. I have had such mixed messages from the university and I ended up sending an email regarding this to the admission team. I explained how I was being treated by society and the university as a person within the EU but then when it came to fees I wasn’t. This is a part of the reply I got:

“As an EEA citizen, you do not require a visa, and like EU citizens you have no time limit on your residence in the UK. In this context, you are not regarded as an International student. However, as a non-EU citizen, it is possible to hold ‘Overseas’ fee status. In Higher Education in the UK, ‘international student’ and ‘overseas fee status’ are not interchangeable terms as they refer to different things.”

So, basically they CAN charge me more and therefore they WILL. I have heard one can get funding for a PhD and I guess my next step is to look into that and see whether that would be a possibility for me.

A letter to the future me

When I started my course I came across many amazing teachers. People that were incredibly clever and full of information but I will never forget when I met my comms teacher. She’s an incredible woman, she’s so bright and expects a lot from her students but at the same time she has an infectious energy and positivity about her. Her laughter is what we would call “dancing” in Icelandic as it’s out loud, warm and comes from within. She wears the nicest clothes and they are as colourful as her personality!

If we wouldn’t say “Good morning” loud enough in the mornings she would make us stand up and do a little exercise. She was our Monday morning teacher and what a great and energised way to start the week! She has truly been an inspiration!

When the first semester started she gave us the task of writing a letter to ourselves. We were supposed to find a value or a quote we liked that resonated with us.

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My letter to myself

When the second semester started we were handed these letters again. I didn’t want to open mine straight away. I was still waiting for my results from the semester before and I just wasn’t feeling as “on top of things” as I wanted. Therefore, I waited. A few weeks ago I opened the letter. It brought a smile to my face. It read as following:

“Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life. There is just one thing that makes your dream impossible: the fear of failure” -Paulo Coelho

This year, to achieve my dream, I have to plan and be disciplined. I have to reach out and read more than what the teachers tell us to. Watch YouTube, follow the news etc. Having said that even though I have a goal, which is the degree and later on a good job, I must enjoy the journey. Enjoy the fact I live abroad with my family, that I’m in university etc. Therefore, I have to step outside my comfort zone, play, be goofy. Reconnect with the fun me!

                                                                        Live – Learn – Enjoy!

And have I done these things? Proudly I can say I have, in most cases. I have talked at another university when given the amazing chance to do so. I spoke at Club7 about myself and my story. I entered a blog competition and I am in an IABC committee that is planning a comms event.

Blogging now and then

As I have covered before, I started blogging when told about the #prstudent blog competition at school. I didn’t enter to win. I entered to make a portfolio and gain some experience in writing in English.

It took off a little and I was told I was one of the top contestants. I got competitive and put a lot of energy into it and at the same time felt it was very therapeutic. The only thing I knew, was that I wanted it to be real and authentic. That way I would never have to make sure I was “in character” as it was just me.

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I also used the blog as an opportunity to tell my story with my own words. Sadly, I know there are people out there that tell my story and they do not paint the nicest picture. One of these people uses every given opportunity to sabotage me and whatever I build.

I do not want to get into a fight, nor do I want to bring that person down. All I want is to tell my story from my point of view, with my own words and this blog seemed like a good way of doing so, when I saw it connected with the subject and when it was appropriate.

However, doing so threw me off track a little. I did have to take a break during Christmas as I simply had to prioritise all the things that were going on. Soon after Christmas I started writing again but never seemed to make the list. I didn’t understand it and enquired about it. I got the explanation the competition was for PR students and should cover related topics, one way or another. That was a very fair point and I started writing my blogs with that in mind. However, I knew I had missed the boat. I hadn’t been mentioned for a few weeks so I was not competing for one of the top places anymore. Nonetheless I decided to keep going, both because I enjoy writing and finally I was onto the comms/PR side of my studies (last semester was mostly marketing) but also because I wanted to push and compete with myself. I still wanted visits on my site, gain followers within the PR/comms industry etc. as this competition is more than just the title of winning. It’s the net of people that might know about ones existence, the people one could ask for advice, that one can learn from etc.

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The blog has also helped me to connect theory from uni to real events in the news or that I come across in life and that is very valuable as it deepens ones understanding.

I believe I will continue blogging, maybe take a short break while I finish my assignments. I may blog about comms, PR, being a mum, a fiancée, a friend and a human being in general. I will use it to keep connected while on maternity leave. I will also let you guys know what I decide on studies, whether I’ll study more or start seeking for a job!

….any pointers regarding PhD funding, jobs etc. etc are most welcome!

Have a great Easter break and take it from someone that is afraid of most things, fear of failure can be crippling  and can and will stand in the way of us achieving our dreams if we let it!

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Motivation is the key to success!

I went for a job interview the other day where I had to fill out a form. On the form was a question that read: How do you motivate yourself? Underneath the question was a really small box where I could hardly fit my name let alone all the ways I use to motivate myself.

After the interview the question kept coming back to me as I had never really thought about what keeps me going or what I do to keep focused.

As I lead a varied, even sometimes a hectic life where I have to juggle many balls at once I can often hit a wall. The wall can seem so big that is can seem impossible to get over it with everything that is going on. There are, however, a few things I do to overcome these hurdles.

Number one:

Plan, plan, plan and plan. It may sound dull but once I have things mapped out I can see that they are do-able. It helps me unclutter and prioritise. As I have a fairly big family to run there are many things that need to be considered. For this I use a few methods:

The Huge Calendar:

I put things the whole family needs to know on this. When people are coming to visit, when the older kids go to see their dads, football practices, my big school assignments and to remember to get money out for the kids’ school bus (We use to forget this and have to rush last minute every week to get the money out). I put the Huge Calendar up on a wall where the whole family can see it and the kids take turns in crossing out the days as they pass. I always hang up the current month and below it I put the coming month as nothing is worse than realizing last minute something is about to happen. This way we always have an overview of the coming weeks and everyone in the home knows what is happening and when. Each person even has their own colour!

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My Diary:

My diary contains most of the things that are on the Huge Calendar. It also has all the reading I have to do and assignments, small and big. It also has all the personal “mummy stuff” in it like: Renew passports for such and such, book trains etc. I highlight each thing I have finished. I LOVE highlighting stuff! It gives me such pleasure to be able to tick things off!

Menus:

A busy home means little time. When you have many mouths to feed you start dreading the daily question of: “What’s for dinner?”. I solved this by sitting the family down and getting everyone to brainstorm what to have for dinner for the next 2 weeks. This way everyone gets something they like, and I always know what’s for dinner and it spares me headache and angst! It also saves a lot of money as one doesn’t have to go to the store as often. Sometimes we reuse old menus and sometimes I get my cooking books out to get some new, fresh ideas as it is easy to get stuck in a rut regarding this.

The Envelopes:

Due to security, I am told this is not something one does in the UK, so we have worked out a safer way of doing this over here. In Iceland we used an envelope system. This system was applied to our finances. We were both working low paid jobs and didn’t have much left at the end of each month. By using this system, we managed to do things we wouldn’t have dreamt off before. We had envelopes marked “Week 1”, “Week 2”, “Week 3” and “Week 4”. In each one we put money for grocery shopping for the relevant week, usually a big shop in the first week, smaller in 2 and 3 and then a fairly big in week 4. We also had separate envelopes for “Petrol”, “Bits and bobs” (when we had to nip to the shop for a loaf of bread or milk etc.). Last but not least the envelope called “Live a little” in which we put a little bit aside to be able to go to the movies with the kids, go out as a couple for a meal etc. It is really important to budget for some fun as well, other wise the whole system goes out of the window as it is easy to give up when budgeting if there is no fun involved.

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Goals:

As planning the mundane and day to day stuff is not fun on its own I also make a list of things I want to achieve that year (usually based around the academic year as I have gotten use to working around that in the last three years). One of the years this list had things like: Try out all the swimming pools in the Reykjavík area (I did not get to check that one out as there were more of them than I realized), go to Tenerife (we managed that, even saved up for it using the envelopes!), cook new food once a week (mostly achieved), travel around Iceland (we did it in 27 hours and therefore didn’t stop much, but still, around we went!) and so on! Making that list was fun. Having to think of fun things to do throughout the year, for me and my fiancé, for all of us as a family and for myself. It is so important when life is busy and feels like all you do is eat, sleep, work to have things to look forward to and to have goals, even though they are not bigger than trying out new swimming pools or cooking something you haven’t cooked before.

Goals

Number two:

As you can see above visual motivation in the form of crossing things out of lists gives me pleasure. At one point in my studies life was quite hard. I had a big load of assignments at school, my fiancé was battling severe depression and anxiety, I was working a lot and the kids were a little more demanding than usual (as they seem to be when everything else is). I was about to throw in the towel and quit school. I thought I could not do it and it seemed to be such a big task. Thankfully, I took some time and thought about it and rather than giving up I found way to motivate myself.

Sort of a list but not really:

I printed out a list of all the courses I had to finish to get my bachelor’s degree. I put each term separately into an Excel sheet. This included the name of each course and how many credits I would get for it. Some I had already finished. Then I took a highlighting pen (as I love that pen!) and highlighted what I had finished already, which was about one term and then some. It was so empowering to see the courses I HAD finished, the credits I had already earned, and no one could take them away from me. It made me want to keep going. I had this on a wall above my desk and every time I sighed or thought about giving up I looked up and thought “No, you can do this, you can’t give up now, just see how far you have come!”. Every time I finished a course I highlighted it until all of a sudden it was all done!

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Inspirational quotes:

I decided I needed something more to inspire me. I looked online and through an ocean of quotes and eventually I found 3 quotes that suited me. There were many good ones and many that made me feel all warm inside, smile or giggle but after a bit of research I choose the following: ,,If you can dream it, you can do it”, “If your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough” and “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t”. Here I was working on my self-doubt as previously discussed, and as I am a big dreamer, I can get a little lost in my dreams but then disregard them as just that, dream. I needed to remind myself that in fact I could and would make them a reality.

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Number three:

On top of all that I kept reminding me how far I had come and why (which you know all about due to the blog I posted last time, if not, click here).

I have gone through so much in my life and I had to grow up quickly. I have often had to rely on myself and just pull through. I was only 17 years old when I decided not to let other people or events define me. Things happened that were out of my control, but when I turned 17 I decided to take control of my life and from then on be responsible for where it would take me. I did loads of very spontaneous things in the years to come and many stupid things, but I don’t regret any of them as they shaped the person I am today. Even after difficult times I have gained some experience and usually had some fun along the way.

The hurt little girl, rejected teenager, the single mum, the divorcée etc. has come out on the other side and will only keep climbing that wall, even though it is cliché: The sky is the limit!

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The path to here

Do I ever wonder why I am here and whether I am good enough? Whether it will all be worth it in the end and wonder if it will be the investment I told myself it would be?

Yes, yes, yes and yes!

I can be a master of self-doubt and criticism. My plan, however, is to become a Master in Corporate Communication, Marketing and Public Relations. Whenever I am in self-doubt I remind myself why I am here, how I got here and where I am going.

The why part is easy. I became a mum at the age of 23, I had no education, I had been stuck in dead end jobs that didn’t even cover the bills and I had ambitions and believed life held more for me than this. When I became a mum I also felt this huge wave of responsibility hit me. I could do more, I had to do more. I had to show my little girl how beautiful the world was, live life to the fullest and be a good role model for her.

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At the age of 25 however I still didn’t have an education, no flashy nor well paid job BUT I did have one more child and worries as I was a single mum of two and stuck in a rut.

In panic mode I called an aunt of mine, older and wiser. She told me to get back to school. She said she knew that was what I wanted to do and that no matter how well paid the job would be if one had this urge to study it would always be there nagging away in the background. She also pointed out that while studying I could get student loans and they would cover anything me and the kids would need. To a single mum of two in desperation and loads of bills to pay that sounded like a great plan.

So that’s what I did! I completed the Icelandic equivalent of A levels in a year (it should take 3-4 years), as by then I was already a mature student!

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As I graduated with a very high average I took the only rational step and enrolled into law studies! My only advise here is, don’t do something because it seems rational, do it because you have a passion! As my heart was not in it and I didn’t enjoy it I left university about a month later. I still had to pay the tuition fees and told myself I wasn’t cut out to study at a prestige institution like a university.

At that point I took a break, got married and moved to the Middle East where I lived for about 10 months.

When I returned I was not only a single mum of two but a divorcé! Just that word made me cringe and I always felt the need to justify it. I had nowhere to live nor a job. Well done Heiða!

Quickly I sorted out a nice little flat in central Reykjavík and got a sales job which I knew nothing about and was not sure I had the confidence for. My then boyfriend (now fiancé) thought the world of me and believed in me more than anyone ever had in my life. He knew sales and told me the do’s and don’ts. I LOVED that job! I loved walking into different businesses every day and talking to different people. For the first time I woke up and looked forward to going to work. Unfortunately, it didn’t pay the bills. Therefore, I took a job in a store where I stacked the shelves and sold cleaning products and stationary. I worked long days and had no passion for the job whatsoever.

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When I browsed through Facebook I kept getting this ad on my feed, staring me in the eye, poking my subconscious and daring me to click on it. Facebooks algorithm found me! It was an advert from a university. It was an expensive privately-run university. It was a BA in Media and Public Relations. For a long time I resisted the urge to click on the link, I had tried university, it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t good enough and when I would (not if) quit I would still have to pay high amounts of school fees and God knew I couldn’t afford that!

I didn’t share these thoughts with anyone. Eventually though, the algorithm got the best of me, I clicked the advert and read about this degree. It sounded wonderful! It sounded like something I would actually enjoy! I might be able to get an education and a job I actually like and live up to those dreams and goals I set up with when I first became a mum.

I called my boyfriend and told him about this crazy idea of mine. As before he believed in me and when I mentioned the fact we would be even worse off debt wise if I couldn’t do it he wouldn’t hear any off it. He told me I was brilliant and could do anything I wanted. We would make this work.

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I enrolled and did my bachelors through distance learning.

The next two and a half year flew by. They were incredibly challenging, difficult, hectic, sleepless, tiring and manic. I had to plan every day carefully, so the kids would get to where they needed to be and that there would be someone to take them there, feed them, get them to sleep etc. as both me and my boyfriend had full time jobs. I worked shifts, 12 hours a day approximately 4 days a week and he worked night shifts every other week. I also had to plan when to study. I also had to make allowance for going to the school every 6 weeks for lectures and seminars over a period of 3-4 days as my school was in the countryside. Sometimes it worked out fine, sometimes I simply had to take the kids with me. I changed jobs two times and added a second job on during my last term. I miscarried 4 times. We moved houses two times. During my last term of course work I was finally pregnant (heavily), doing two jobs and studying full time. When I look back I am not sure how I did it. But having great support goes a long way. Being organised, passionate and stubborn gets you the rest.

Once that term had finished I gave birth to my third child. Six weeks later I was doing an internship at a production company and writing my dissertation.

When I was approaching the end of my studies I realized I knew loads of different theories, but I didn’t know how to apply them. I didn’t feel the confidence I had imagined I would feel after all this reading and studying. Therefore, I decided to do further studies.

I am from Iceland. The group I graduated with was the first one with a PR education from an Icelandic university. Therefore, I knew I would have to look outside my home country to chase my passion and my dreams. I did loads of research and applied to two universities in the UK. I got into both of them and today I am a student of Leeds University.

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I believe that once I have finished my degree here I can achieve anything. I will be able to live those dreams I had as a 23 year old mum. I will be a good role model to my children, I will have a job that pays the bills (and hopefully then some), I will be able to manage my time more than I could in my previous jobs and I will be waking up in the morning (or if it’s up to me around lunch time) and going to a job I enjoy and am passionate about! We spend too much time of our lives at work not to enjoy what we are doing!

This path has not been easy, it has not been straight, but I firmly believe it will be worth it!

And in a way it already has been as I have made friends for a lifetime, I have pushed myself beyond my limits (quite a few times), I already have an education that no one can take away from me, I have learnt a lot about myself, I have gone out of my comfort zone many times and I have gained life experience that is impossible to put a price tag on.

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