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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Dissertation distress

I am at a point in my studies where I have to consider what my final dissertation should be about.

When I did my undergrads it was fairly simple. I had the motivation of wanting to see if all the voices around me were right. Are PR practitioners unethical? What kind of ethical framework do they work by etc. I have covered this topic before. I conducted this research by collecting secondary data and theory regarding ethics and ethics in PR. I also interviewed four PR practitioners in Iceland.

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Now I have to decide what to write about as my final dissertation in my masters.

As I mentioned in my last blog I have just started the communication part of my studies. I find it very interesting but I feel like I need more before I make up my mind on a specific topic for the dissertation.

I sat a class in Corporate Communications and Reputation Management last week where the topic was Performance, Behaviour and Reputation. It advocated the employees being brand ambassadors and touched on how to encourage them to support and strengthen the corporate reputation.

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This caught my attention. Having been someone at the bottom of the pyramid for years, being uneducated, on minimum wages, I have often wondered why the people higher up the ladder don’t value and see the potentials and wealth in their employees on the floor.

Unfortunately, the mentality in many companies back home is “if you don’t like it, find something else to do”. Everyone at the bottom is replaceable, which to me seems short-sighted and counterproductive in a company that is trying to create revenue and a good reputation. People talk and people talk about how it is to work in certain places. In a country like Iceland word travels even faster than elsewhere.

I did a course in HR in my undergrad and in that course we were told about the worth of employees and how much training can cost, the process of hiring new people etc. We were also told about the assets each employer brings with time spent within the company. The insight people gain etc.

This is something I think managers at different levels sometimes fail to see. They fail to value the knowledge the people on the floor bring by working with customers, using all the processes put in place etc. When someone works with customers all day that person gets to hear what they want, what information they need, what they are satisfied with and what they are unhappy about.

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So, in this class last week we were told about how to encourage employers to express themselves and how communications should flow both up and down. People should feel comfortable about expressing themselves, feel valued and listened to.

I am a fairly straight forward person and I use to do that. I used to express ideas, I used to talk about how processes might be made more efficient and what could be done better for employees, also with regards to customers. I would also talk about what was positive and try to make people smile and feel embraced at work. As a person on the floor I soon discovered this was not well received. I got the feeling the people higher up than me were thinking: “What the hell does she know?” or even “How dare she say that/suggest that?”. It drained all ambitions out of me and in the end, at these different places I worked at I just did my job. Nothing less, nothing more. I saw this happening to so many talented people that I came across while working in these jobs.

Sadly, if ideas from myself or other people on the floor were actually listened to, they would result in someone at managerial level getting all the praise, without us even getting a pat on the back let alone something more.

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The weird thing about all this is that it was not like there weren’t any communication processes in place. There were almost always thick HR booklets on how to do this and that and they would cover how happy one should be at work, how communications within the company should be and that people were encouraged to express themselves. All well and good. On paper.

However, in practice it didn’t seem to work. Out of all the places I have worked at I believe employees opinions and voices were truly valued at two places.

Due to all this it came to my mind whether that could be something to cover in my dissertation. As I said there are processes in place but for some reason they seem to just be there, not actually practiced. Therefore, I thought it might be interesting to talk to someone at a managerial level and quiz them about the communication processes within the company, ask about satisfaction with the processes etc. and then get to talk to other employees at different levels and get their opinion and understanding of the same. Once that would be done I would see if there is a gap in the communication plan/process etc.

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However, as one of my professors pointed out, it might be difficult to get managers to agree on me conducting such a research within their company, unless, maybe, I would do a project rather than a dissertation. Still it would be very sensitive information.

So, I guess I am back at the drawing board. Giving that I am only into my fourth week of this semester and the fact I have already come across one thing that triggered interest gives me hope there will be more.

All I know is I want to do interviews rather than big questionnaires and it HAS TO BE interesting as then the writing will come easy, as it is fun, something I will enjoy writing about.

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Studying PR abroad

The reason I am doing my masters in the UK is that there is a total lack of masters studies in Iceland when it comes to Public Relations. As a matter of fact, I was in the first group that graduated in the field at a bachelor level.

When looking into people working in communications in Iceland what you notice is that the practitioners either got their education from abroad, or which is very often the case; used to work in media.

My undergraduate degree consisted of a lot of politics and philosophy. We also did some creative writing, some media courses and ethics and laws regarding that field.

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Photo by Wendy van Zyl on Pexels.com

We did one course in public relations which was taught by a guy that has been working in the field for many years. We had the options of doing some economics and marketing as well and I did a little bit of both. Therefore, even though I scored a very high average for my bachelors I didn’t feel like I knew enough about public relations and communications. The students I studied with talked to the dean in our university about these concerns and he said we were still equipped with so much knowledge about other things that it would amount to a good PR practitioner as one would have to have a diverse knowledge about society (the politics courses) and be able to build up a good argument (I guess the philosophy came in strong here). He made a decent argument himself, but I was sure I could get a deeper understanding and be able to learn more about the tools PR practitioners use. I was sure I should be able to gather enough knowledge in the field to feel comfortable about diving into the profession of communication. At that point I must admit I did not feel like that. I spoke to the tutor that advised me on my dissertation and told him how I felt. I told him that early on in my studies I honesty felt like I was about to conquer the world, but as I was getting close to the end I felt like I knew so little. There was so much more out there. He smiled and told me not to worry. He said that was a confirmation off how much I had actually learned. The way I understood him it meant I had learned to be humble and realised there is always more one can learn.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last semester at Leeds University we have mostly been focusing on marketing courses as my degree is a masters in “Corporate Communications, Marketing and Public Relations”. As the communications and public relations part of it was the biggest attraction for me, I must admit I am really looking forward to this semester.

The future

In Iceland we do not tend to have internships or graduate jobs. It’s each to their own and sometimes who you know seems to help. I do not know people that could pull me into a nice, convenient job so I know I’ll have to make it on my own and believe that my character and knowledge will get me to where I need to/want to be.

Many of my course mates at school are talking about graduate jobs. I do not see that as an option for me. I have obviously worked for many years. I started working at the age of 16 (part time at that age) and have worked since then (apart from the few years I took off when I had my 2 older kids). Most often I did two jobs as one simply wouldn’t cover the bills. Most of these jobs were service jobs and jobs at kindergartens. I believe that experience should help me when in comes to my future career as once you have worked in service you have dealt with people from all classes and with all sorts of needs and preferences. Even the kindergarten job and being a mum must have prepared me as it involves a LOT of communication and at times clever negotiations. One has to be resourceful and tailor messages according to the audience!

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The other and maybe more obvious reason why I cannot really picture myself doing a graduate job is the fact I simply can’t afford it! I have a family of five, soon to be six, and the main reason I went through university at this (st)age in my life was to be able to leave the struggle behind, along with having to do two jobs and being treated like a doormat, as I wasn’t high enough in the chain.

We are hoping to stay in Leeds as we like it here and we can have a better standard of living here than in Iceland. According to my teacher in Iceland practitioners in Public Relations get a very decent pay, however, my fiancée will always be “a foreigner” in Iceland. He is from the UK and he does not have an education. However, he has years of experience which doesn’t seem to get him anywhere back home. While we lived in Iceland, he did long night shifts in service jobs where the pay far from covered the bills, it took student loans and me doing two part time jobs to be able to get by. On top of that we had to share housing with other people as rent is really expensive in Iceland. You do what you need to do but we both agree that giving our age and family size we like it things as they are now, just us, living together as a family. Over here he has a good job he likes and that actually pays the bills.

So, what initially was a temporary move to a foreign country to study something I couldn’t master back home might become a more permanent arrangement.

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