Humanities & Social Sciences placements

Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences' students share their placement and year abroad experiences.

Topic: 2015-16

The life of the city, or how I learned to love communes

  , ,

📥  2015-16, Politics, Languages & International Studies

Be aware, this entry is not work-related. I am instead going to talk of what has been the most significant and unexpected aspect in my life in Malaga, especially considering my placement is really not political: Politics.

Malaga is a very politically militant city, with loads of demonstrations, civic activity and communitarian spirit. Back in December I discovered this anarchic commune in the very heart of the city, “La Casa Invisibile” ("The Invisible Home"). It is located in an old building in the very centre, belonging to the City Council and left disused. 9 Years ago, a community of willing citizens decided to try to bring it back to life. They completely restored it, and now the building looks wonderful. They do a number of activities open to the public, in the interest of the civic body, to, as they say, "build community”.

One of the many free talks at the commune

One of the many free talks at the commune

I usually go for yoga lessons and for the very interesting talks that are held there. Granted, sometimes the views represented are quite extremist (we are talking of anarchists after all), but even if I don't agree with all they say, I still really enjoy listening to some widely unorthodox views and non-conformist opinions.

It was my first time in a commune. My idea of anarchists was the drunk, drugged up kids I saw at the general assemblies of students back in high school, much talk of “stick it to the power man”, but not much substance or ideas. That is not real anarchism.
The Anarchism I came to know is about creating community, putting the common interest first, without the need for authority, hierarchy or bureaucracy. In our over individualistic and individualized society, it was a breath of fresh air.

Citizens asking for the commune to stay open ("Right to the city")

Citizens asking for the commune to stay open ("for the right to the city")

The commune has not been the only political experience I had in my time here; I have been to a number of demonstrations as well. Sometimes I don't even particularly care for the cause, it is just nice to march and chant with people, feeling part of a movement, something larger than yourself. Not feeling alone for a while.

Demonstration pro-refugees

Demonstration pro-refugees

VergUEnza (more or less = ShamEU)

VergUEnza (= ShamEU)

All these experiences made me realize how much I moved to the political Centre since arriving in the UK, where the common discourse is much less leftist than in southern countries such as Italy and Spain, that had very strong positive communist experiences (the partisans that were fighting against fascism were mainly communist in Italy, and communist and anarchist in the Spanish Civil War). I would probably not have realized how much my own ideas have changed till engaging with a side of the spectrum that is often derided and misrepresented.

So what has this to do with the placement blog? Well as highly private and unrelated as this entry may have sounded, I think where I want to get to is that is fundamental to live the life of your city: not just bars and cafes, but actually meet normal people in the streets to discover the soul of the place where you live in, to participate in it, and finally to actually know it and live, not merely exist, in it. Once I started living the city, with the city,  I started to finally feel like a citizen, and not just a stranger. It meant stopping feeling so alone, and discovering more about myself.

It does not even have to be participating through politics, just joining communitarian events such as marathons or city celebrations end up creating a link with the place you reside, making it more than just a location and bringing it in the realm of affection. I feel many times students miss out this part, for example knowing the names of all pubs but not of a single street, or being completely unaware of the history of the place. It is a shame, as it ends up depriving them of an experience so much more enriching and worth it. What is the point of leaving home if not to create bonds somewhere else?

(I feel obliged to add a necessary post scriptum: living the life of the city can sometimes be hellish, as I came to know in the so called “Semana Santa”, the week of daily procession held over Easter here in Andalusia. It meant drums, trumpets, and rivers of people under my window from 5 pm to 5 am for 7 days!)

Those LOVELY processions!

Those LOVELY processions!


Bringing the Books to Life

📥  2015-16, Politics, Languages & International Studies

One thing I appreciate on placement is how it brings to life some of what I’ve studied at university. I know I’m lucky, because not everyone who studies a subject gets to do it as such, particularly in the humanities and social sciences.

An idea I dwell upon in my work is security. As with many theorists we’ve been assigned to read, I now spend time wondering if the idea of security is framed in terms too narrow and militaristic, especially in relation to refugees. When we think of that clichéd phrase, ‘threats to national security’, many seem only to think in terms of bombs and guns and perhaps some of Jeremy Corbyn’s less savoury fellow travellers.

But why don’t we think also in terms of gendered violence, environmental destruction, financial insecurity? Why don’t we think at the level of the individual? Questions such as these are at the centre of many debates in academic international relations. At university I thought them to be a bit abstract and pedantic. They seem less so here.

Refugees in transit from the Ugandan border

Refugees in transit from the Ugandan border

They seem less abstract when explaining to yet another luckless human that ‘you may have to return to your country, because you aren’t a refugee’, even though, for example, they need a kidney transplant which they won’t receive at home and you sit together and you wonder how a fear of your own body destroying itself is any less authentic that the fear of militias wielding machetes and kalashnikovs.

The same goes for a woman of 18: ordered back to the Congo, utterly vulnerable, ostracised by her family with no means of sustenance and no social network. Family issues and poverty, I am told, are not ‘securitised’.

The day before I travelled here - in the wake of Europe’s own crisis of compassion - I had an argument with a friend about the distinction between an economic migrant and refugee. He argued that such a distinction was fundamentally unjust. I disagreed. Perhaps in certain contexts I still do. But every day I see the wisdom in what he said.

The original 1951 Refugees Convention was written in a specific context, pertaining to European migrants. Arguably, it wasn’t prepared for a world - post cold war - where the greatest threats to human life are diffuse and small scale, and as likely to come from local groups and environmental factors as armies and dictators. Some go as far as arguing that if we really accept the idea of human rights, there needn’t be a convention for classifying refugees. Rather, we should simply offer refuge to those who can clearly show their rights under the Universal Convention are being violated.

I’m also aware of the potential double bind this line of thinking could create. If we accept that these diffuse threats - from family instability to negligible healthcare - are ‘security issues’ at home, couldn’t this lend a given government credibility in jealously protecting those same provisions? One wonders.

I’m grateful to have an opportunity to reflect on these urgent questions. I’m grateful to be reminded why I chose to study the subject I did.


London Life!

📥  2015-16, Health

Placement Blog 7

This is my 7th blog about my placement year at London 2012 Olympic legacy charity Join In UK.

Count down to the summer…

The last few weeks I have been continuing with on-going projects. With Rio 2016 just around the corner, Join in is starting to plan some events for the summer to get more people involved in sport, which is exciting.

Last week I got the chance to attend the British Olympic Association headquarters in London. My bearings of how to get around London are definitely improving, I didn't get lost or go the wrong direction on the tube for once! It was great to visit another renowned sports association, each meeting room was named after an Olympic Games! My meeting was in ‘London 1948’!




Sport Relief…

I am sure you have seen in the media, Eddie Izzard's completed 27 marathons in 27 days for Sport Relief.  27 days is reference to the 27 years that Nelson Mandela spent in prison. Eddie is a Join in patron, and has represented Join in at a number of events. Everyone in the office has been following his progress over the last month, and no one can understand how his body survived! Especially in the heat! The last day, he completed 2 marathons in a day, which is just crazy! But also incredible that he has put himself through the gruelling challenge to raise money for charity. I enjoy running, but get bored running anything more than 10K! I don’t know how he managed to have the mental strength to do 27 marathons! I think one marathon is an achievement in itself!

Thinking ahead…

Going into the last couple of months of my placement, I am trying to get ahead and think about my dissertation! Previous placement year students have said “collect data and research early”. I have started to brainstorm a few topics for my dissertation, but it still scares me to think about writing 15,000 words on it next year!

I have also been asked by my colleague’s and friends if I know what I want to do once I have finished uni, what job I want. My answer is still ‘I am not sure yet!” Not because I have no idea, but because I feel like I have a few different options now, which is good! I am not sure if I could work in London again though. Although many offices and organisations are based in the city, and I am lucky I work in a quieter area of London, I prefer places where people aren't constantly in a rush to get everywhere! But I do love the buzz of London!

Louise Rose

(Sports and Social Sciences)


‘‘A laughter that will bury you all’’

  , ,

📥  2015-16, Politics, Languages & International Studies

First post of the new year, and it’s already the end of February… time really flies when you are having fun!

This time I want to talk about what I consider one of the most important elements in the working life: good colleagues and a nice working environment.

For most, colleagues are among the first people you speak to at the start of the day, and you often spend more hours with them than with anyone else around you. In a nutshell, working life becomes a major part of your daily life and having a positive working environment helps incredibly.

Besides, we are social beings: we are not made to just stare into a screen for hours without any social interaction or communication to break the daily grind. Sometimes I feel that without people around to talk to I’d be going mad. Misanthropist as I am, I still recognize the need for work chit-chat.

So, it was lovely to realize how kindly my colleagues, and especially the secretaries, treat interns. They realize it is our first serious job and that it can get quite though, so they always try to make a joke and engage in small talk to make time go faster. Whenever I was sad or upset, they had friendly, generous words to make me feel better. They take real interest in our personal life and are ready to share the gossip. Often they even take our sides against other colleagues. From my experience, secretaries are angels.

My office is quite small (we are in 10), and I think this, together with the influence of the Andalusian laid back culture, definitely helps making the environment relaxed and friendly. Everyone knows everyone else quite well and there is an abundance of common socializing moments. Every Friday morning we have a shared breakfast, which is an opportunity to relax and talk of things beside work. Every time there is a birthday the guest of honor will bring cake while receiving a gift from all the rest of us. This month it was my birthday, and I really felt grateful and amazed at the warmth my colleagues showed. It was a very pleasant gathering, and I loved everything, from the personalized card to my present (a pair of violet Converse!).

The team... terrible light unfortunately!

The team... terrible light unfortunately!

Sometimes these chances to socialize happen outside work as well, with drinks with the younger colleagues or tapas all together on special occasions when there is something to celebrate. Once we even went horse riding!


Just another typical day in Southern Spain!

Finally, when the Board of Directors met, on the last day we all went to the restaurant with them: we sat all together with no divide, in a very chilled environment, enjoying interesting stories from around the world and great food (all paid by IASP!).

What I enjoy the most is definitely the shared international banter; some jokes are common to every culture, and it’s always amazing to see how the other intern, who speaks only English, and the secretary who speaks just Spanish can more or less communicate and have a laugh together even without a common vocabulary. After all, "laughter is the shortest distance between two people", as Victor Borge said.

The importance of humor to release stress, and indeed grease the mechanisms to help smoothing resentments by ridiculing a situation, should never be underestimated. A workplace without laughter is a grim grey place indeed, where tensions arise abruptly. That’s why a boss that has the charisma and the humor to make the whole office laugh is a precious thing.

Luckily not everybody lives in the world of the office!

And luckily not everybody lives in the world of the office!

As always, I hope you enjoyed, and stay tuned!


New projects, new skills...

📥  2015-16, Health

This is my 6th blog about my placement year at London 2012 Olympic legacy charity Join In UK.

This month has been quite quiet at the organisation, with business resuming as usual. However, there have been a few exciting projects that I have had the chance to get involved with.

The ‘UK Sport’ athlete visits project…

I first got involved with this back in November. The project involves matching up UK Sport funded athletes with their local sports clubs. The athletes make a volunteering visit to the club, and get involved with coaching, refereeing or another activity. It is a great way for athletes to give something back to grassroots sport as well as younger participants to have a role model. I have managed to arrange a couple of visits recently, and it is really enjoyable to see how grateful the clubs are to have an elite athlete visit their club. It is also inspiring for young people to meet the athletes and have a chance to hear how hard they work and how disciplined their training and competition schedules are. A couple of the athletes Join in has matched to clubs are currently trialling for places to go to Rio, which makes it even more exciting!




Major events…

One of the main features of Join in is promoting volunteer opportunities at major sporting events in the UK. There have been a large number of volunteering opportunities promoted on the website so far this year, some examples include; Hockey Championships trophy, Lords Cricket Ground events, British Athletics Championships and a host of marathons all over the UK. Although Join in is primarily for supporting volunteer opportunities in the UK, the charity has helped promote volunteer roles for the 2016 Olympic Games held in Rio this summer. Those who have been selected to volunteer in Rio unfortunately have to expense their trip, but its still a very unique chance to be amongst the excitement of the event.



‘Skills’ training…

Over the last month I have had the chance to benefit from some ‘skills’ training at work. Different people from Join in have been running sessions based on their expertise. It has been good to have some knowledge in areas I was unfamiliar in, for example, digital marketing, Google analytics, PR, media and a very worthwhile session on CV’s and interviews.

Over half way through…!

I can’t believe how fast placement has gone, I have now done 9 months of placement! But in many ways it feels like I have been working at Join in for along time because I know the people well and how the organisation runs.

Although I still haven't 'warmed' to the daily train commute...

Louise Rose

Sports and Social Science


Ellie & Roisin's year at SHPI

  , , , ,

📥  2015-16, Health, Uncategorized

The London Bike Show

We recently spent 4 days at the ExCel for the London Bike Show. SHPI set up a Performance Hub where we tested a stream of cyclists and triathletes. The testing included body composition analysis, lactate threshold tests on the bike, treadmill and in the endless pool. Cyclists also had a strength and conditioning session along with a nutrition consultation.


On the Saturday we also had the opportunity to monitor the performance of GB Triathlete Harry Wiltshire as he attempted to cycle 100 miles in a fasted state. We took measures of his heart rate, blood lactate, blood glucose and a rating of perceived exertion every 30 mins. We were interested to see how these would change over the 100 miles.


Finally after 3 hours of cycling we started to see some changes and Harry's blood glucose levels had dropped. After another gruelling hour he was finally allowed to break his fast when his blood sugar dropped to 3.9 mmol/L with some coke and half a flap jack. After a post exercise weigh in Harry had lost 5.5 kg in sweat!

Trishow Harry Wiltshire

The highlight of the weekend was by far the abundance of free samples consumed by all, granted they were reasonably healthy energy bars, but we went for the ones coated in chocolate for good measure! How better to spend a Valentines weekend <3




What do you do? Helping expats into volunteering...‏

📥  2015-16, Economics

Sometimes I struggle to know exactly how to answer when someone asks me what I do; it's a pretty unique company, and I have a quite unusual role within it! But it is worth explaining as it's an interesting company with a novel concept.

Simply put, InterNations is a social network for expats.

Expatriate: a person who lives outside their native country. Commonly used to refer to someone who has moved abroad for work.

Think a mixture of Facebook and LinkedIn but for people who are working abroad.

Imagine you're British and have just been posted in Dubai for 2 years through your company. Sure, they'll probably sort out a place for you to live, maybe a car as well and your health insurance, but how about your integration into day to day life?

You have some questions before you go? You have children and want to know about the best schools in the area, you want information on the best areas to live in or know what the weather will be like. InterNations has a selection of country guides full of information written specifically for expats. Much of it is member written content; written by people who have been exactly in your position. If you can't find the answer to your question there, no worries, post on the forum and wait for a response from another expat.

You've settled in to your job but you're not sure how to meet people outside of work? Or your husband/wife is working and you're at a loose end at home? InterNations has a range of interest groups, from beer drinking, to burger eating, to swimming, to networking, to salsa dancing. You name it, it'll be there, and if it's not, you can apply to open a group that matches your interest.

Either on arrival, or prior to arriving, you can check out the groups and join any which sound appealing. Most groups post an activity each month; sign up to an activity, join and meet like minded people! Many people meet friends for life this way, by joining these groups on a regular basis you can really build a close network of friends who share your interests, and who understand what it's like to be living in a country different to the one you were born in.

So where do I come in? One of the interests that many of our members share is making a difference in their community; so a selection of our communities across the world have a Volunteer Group. This gives expats, who are usually more fortunate than others in their community, an opportunity to help people in need, whilst integrating into their community and meeting new people.

From HQ in Munich, we support our Consuls (the expats who take on the role of running the group), giving them the materials and knowledge they need as well as ensuring they keep active and continue to post activities! We are always proud of our achievements so we also spend some time shouting about it! Our volunteers do amazing things every day and we like to share this with the rest of the InterNations network through different communications materials.

You can find out more about the network on our website:


Things You Really Should Know About Munich

📥  2015-16, Economics

Having only ever spent a couple of days in Germany, before committing to a 6 month job in Munich, kind of on a whim, you could say that I wasn't really prepared! So here are just a few things that took me by surprise...

Munich is a part of Bavaria, and this is kind of a big dealBavaria2

A large region in the South-East of Germany, Bavarians consider themselves almost a nation of their own! They have their own dialect, their own public holidays (the most in Germany) and their own customs, different to that of the rest of Germany. People from Bavaria often consider themselves Bavarians first, and Germans second.

Oktoberfest is like a mini festival!Oktoberfest3

Oktoberfest is based in one spot, and doesn't span the whole of Germany! I had visions of beer tents popping up across the city, and across cities all over Germany. In fact, Oktoberfest (locally known as the Wiesn) is contained within one area, and although the drunk people manage to spread out all over the city, the beer tents and festivities are kept to the Theresienwiese. And Oktoberfest really is more than just beer tents; there's a huge fun fair with rides far too scary for me, food stalls everywhere, and tents serving drinks other than beer.

Bike lanes are everywhere Bicycle

And just to catch you out, they don't have the white bicycles painted on them like in the UK. Be prepared for angry German shouting if you accidentally stray into one of these (believe me). In fact, there are a lot of cyclists and I can understand why; central Munich is pretty flat and a bike is a great way to get about!

It gets really hot, and really coldWinter

I have this rose-tinted view of Southern Europe (well, anything South of the UK) and year long Mediterranean summers. Of course the reality is slightly different and the winters get very cold (I have finally bought my first grown up winter coat) and minus temperatures are very normal during the day. But, the summer is long, and warm days can be spent in the English Garden, drinking cold beer and swimming in the river.


"Volunteering. The key to a healthier, happier 2016"...

📥  2015-16, Health, Uncategorized

This is my 5th blog about my placement year at London 2012 Olympic legacy charity Join In UK.


This is my first blog of 2016! December was a busy, but enjoyable month! I went to my first Join in Christmas party; which involved delicious food (and drink!), a quiz and secret Santa. It was also the month in which the #BigHelpOut campaign came to an end…

Trending worldwide on twitter!

The #BigHelpOut campaign was put into action at the BBC Sports Personality of the year at the end of December. Join in and BBC Get Inspired organised for sports stars to make a phone calls to sports volunteers and say a #BigThankYou for all of their hard work. A gold telephone box was on the red carpet, along with a tv screen to make skype calls! Some of the celebrities that made calls included; Dan Carter, Niall Horan, Denise Lewis, The Davis Cup team and Leeds Rhinos. Unfortunately, I was watching the event from home. But it was still very exciting following the event on TV and twitter! The #BigThankYou trended worldwide! It was amazing to see so many sports teams; athletes and general sports enthusiasts get involved with thanking volunteers. There was definitely a sense of achievement in the office the next day.


The sports stars on the red carpet at SPOTY!


New Years Resolutions

January now marks month 8 out of 12 of my placement! I can’t believe I am over half way! It was nice to have a Christmas without assignments or exams to revise for, a number of my friends are in their final year at University so had dissertations to write. This time next year I am going to be in that situation, so I enjoyed the work- free Christmas!

One of the focuses in January at work is helping people tick the box of having a ‘happier’ and ‘healthier’ 2016. As a naturally sporty person I have always led a healthy and active lifestyle. However, there are many people that aren’t and find it hard to get motivated. Some of the common ambitions people have as resolution are ‘ to get fit’, ‘do more for myself’, ‘do something for charity’, and ‘get a new hobby’. Volunteering can help with all of these, whether it’s coaching, marshalling or running the race route. Hopefully we can try and inspire more people to get involved!

I don’t tend to make New Years Resolutions myself; I prefer short-term targets throughout the year, as I am more likely to achieve these!!

Louise Rose

(Sports and Social Science, Department of Health)


A Little Down The Road


📥  2015-16, Politics, Languages & International Studies, Uncategorized

Well, it's been three months now, and it seems like time is right for a little check-up.

By now, I think I've got enough experience to actually be able to answer the question that was always on my mind before starting: how it is like to work? Or better, how it is like to actually work in an office, everyday, for a considerable amount of hours?

First of all, tiring. Tiring over any expectations. At least for me, much more exhausting than anything I experienced as a student (even revision weeks or all-nighters with essays due the next morning!). Honestly, sometimes I feel more like if I were in my mid-thirties than in my early twenties; staying in bed watching tv series has become more attractive than going out for drinks and tapas.

Thinking about, I realized that it depends relatively little on what you are doing. For me, it’s how you are essentially limited in the same place, with the same hours, everyday, so much as to sometimes make it look like a cage. The routine becomes almost something intrinsically draining: wake up every morning at the same hour (though going to bed at the same reasonable time every night still seems nearly impossible!), commute, work. That’s why the weekends become so precious: a priceless drop of exceptionality in a desert of regularity.


Calvin knows

Also, that is why being active helps so much: it is a safety valve to release the excess of energy, to help you de-stress and get back on the track.

Untuning. Another marvellous gift of routine, as I experienced, is how easily you get comfortable with it and how confused it leaves you when holidays kick in. You almost can't figure out how long the day actually is and how much time you have on your hands to do what you like, which makes it even harder to go back to work eventually. This weird paradox also means that sick days actually start to look like a luxury—I’m surprised “Netflix and kleenex” hasn’t become a popularized jargon yet!

Rewarding. Yes, after all there is a positive side, which is one I hadn't taken into consideration before, but it's at the same time the most important one, the one that actually makes you get up every morning. Because working also means to learn, and not at all just job-related stuff.

It means learning to interact on a regular basis with the same people, even if you hate chit-chat and you have the same compatibility level of a Jedi with a Sith. It means that by carrying out tasks you (re-) discover what you like to do, what you don’t care for too much, and what you hate to the guts, so that in the future you will be more conscious of what you are looking for in a job.

Not every placement is going to be about what you like doing: admittedly, most placements are quite mundane, and tasks can get repetitive. Yes, you will not always be involved in awesomely creative tasks that let you explore your real self, while unicorns fly high above in the sky.

But still, this doesn’t mean you can do that outside of what is strictly defined as your job. You will still have quite a lot of time that you can use outside working hours, and not having deadlines is quite calming. Weekends are wholly free time.

In a way, placement year can resemble a sabbatic year in so far as it deepens your self-knowledge, and it allows time to follow your passions. I thought I knew myself quite well, but now, in this position I’ve never experienced before, so to say out of my comfort zone, I’m learning much more about my weaknesses and strengths.

Do I ever have nightmares about my job? Honestly, yes. It is this feeling of routine that creates very suffocating dreams, the knowledge you'll have to go back the next day, and then the day after, and so on for a year, for me that is all something quite hard to put up with. But at the same time, sometimes you are so caught up in your own troubles and bad attitude that you fail to see the silver lining.

I think this is the most important lesson I’m learning: it is very easy to feel like you can’t cope and to get depressed, as most of all routine makes you fail to see the bigger picture. Keeping in mind the small things that made you smile during the day, and most of all being patient and not demanding too much from yourself, helps getting out of the damps.

And when not even that works, going to the beach to watch the sea is always deeply therapeutic!

There's nothing like sea breeze messing up your hair!

There's nothing like sea breeze messing up your hair!

As always, thanks for reading and stay tuned!