2020: The Year of Learning

Since 2013, I've been writing annual summaries of the year past. Each year has a theme, based on what I've learnt or experienced over the last 12 months. 

To state the obvious, I have no idea what's coming up in the following years. So, when I declared 2017 the 'year of change', I was pretty confident that the end of university and the start of 'adulthood' really would be the biggest switch up in my life - probably until I had children. 

Of course, had I known an international pandemic was coming our way in three years' time, I'd have probably suspected that bigger changes were to come. 

Nevertheless, an alternate title that is also very much deserved is the year of learning. 2020 included some of the toughest months and moments of my life, and the year was a huge learning curve for me.

I started off 2020 in Sydney, under the Harbour Bridge, seeing in the new year with my favourite person. I had three months ahead of me in Australia, and I am so lucky that I made the most of the first quarter of the year, with absolutely no idea of what was to come.

During those three months, I was forced to learn my first big lesson.

At the start of January, I noticed that my skin was raised and dry at the back of my neck, and within a couple of days, it had spread down my neck, across my torso and stomach, down my arms, all the way to my thighs. I was covered in small, scaly red spots.

I'd never had acne growing up, I had never experienced any kind of rash, and I was regularly complimented for having smooth skin. I couldn't understand what was happening, but I was told by my GP that I had Pityriasis Rosea, which would take 6-12 weeks to go away. After 2.5 months, it finally started to fade, but I had scars up until August.

Something that to many, seems very small, threw me off balance. I had very little self-confidence during those months. I was in Australia, wanting to wear bikinis and short dresses and no sleeves to bear the heat, yet I didn't want to show any of my skin in public. I was worried people would think I was contagious, or make comments. 

I had to compartmentalise all of this, and not let it impact my quality of life - but let me tell you, it was bloody hard.

I wasn't going to post a picture of my body during this time, but I actually think it's important. Because what I learnt in those 10 weeks, was that my body was not worth any less, just because of the rash. It didn't deserve to be hidden, it didn't deserve anything less than what it had before. And I'm not apologetic to be posting this picture just because it's not the aesthetic people are used to.

Really, this kick-off to 2020 should've been all the warning I needed that the year wouldn't be going to plan.

In mid-March, I headed to Melbourne for a couple of days to catch up with friends and experience a new city. By this time, Coronavirus had infiltrated Europe, and I knew that I needed to get to New Zealand, my next destination, ASAP, so that I had somewhere to live during the next couple of months of 'unknown'.

I literally couldn't have timed it more accurately, as the night I landed in Auckland, was one hour before Jacinda Ardern announced mandatory quarantine would be implemented at midnight. Other than this, life was still normal throughout New Zealand, and whilst my friends back home where heading into lockdown, I celebrated St Patrick's day in an Irish pub, crammed against hundreds of sweat bodies.

However, the next day, New Zealand announced a nation-wide travel ban. There were just 20 cases in the country, and yet all travel between cities was banned. Something the UK has never enforced, even now, almost 75000 deaths later.

I woke up to a text from my parents. My very chilled, 'oh she's got wanderlust and we can't keep her in one place' parents, who have always accepted my travel plans and always supported me. Even when those plans involve me landing in a foreign country with £100 to my name (woops!).

Essentially, the text read that they thought it was in my best interest to come back home. If anything happened to me on the other side of the world, they wouldn't be able to get to me, and vice versa. No matter whether it was Coronavirus or a car crash, we would be stuck thousands of miles apart, with borders closed between us. 

Ultimately, I agreed. I booked my flight home to London for the very next day. It took 46 hours, and I transitted through Los Angeles and Vancouver. But, I made it.

My New Zealand adventure, and once-in-a-lifetime working holiday visa, lasted just five days. 

I landed in the UK and moved back home for what would be the longest period in six years.

My freelancing work had been almost all dried up - now was not the time to be a travel writer - I had a tiny income from smaller clients to keep me afloat and pay my monthly phone bill, but otherwise, there was no purpose to my days.

Living back home, in lockdown, in the UK, was a lot. I can recognise the privilege I have of having a loving home to return to, warm food, a kind family. But that doesn't diminish or invalidate the complete u-turn my life had taken. I felt completely lost, incredibly sad, and pretty much empty.

My family during this time, became a lifeline. I'd always been lucky to grow up in a household full of laughter, but 2020 really showed me just how lucky I was. We were constantly finding new ways to make lockdown easier: weekly quizzes, family Mastermind, a month of Come Dine With Me, and a LOT of alcohol were the key to this.

The biggest learning curve for me hit like a truck in May 2020, following the death of George Floyd. The Black Lives Matter movement brought with it a whole lot of questions, accountability, and reflection. 

I spent hours consuming blog posts, films, documentaries, and reading articles all from Black creators, attempting to learn as much as I could about histories and cultures that I'd been incredibly ignorant to previously, and how that ignorance was pioneered by a systematically racist society.

I don't want to focus too much on myself here, but I feel like my world shifted during this time. It led me to question not only my position as a white person but also as a straight woman, living in a Western country. In short, I grew. 

A couple of recommendations:

13th - A documentary by Ava DuVernay, named after the 13th amendment of the US, essentially freeing slaves unless they are convicted of a crime - and how this continues to impact the incarceration of Black people in the US. 

When They See Us - another Ava DuVernay work of art, this time it's an incredibly eye-opening series about the true story of five black men wrongfully convicted of rape in New York. 

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race - a book by Reni Eddo-Loge. Eddo-Loge openly requested that where possible, people borrow her book from others, and donate the price of it to a charity that supports the Black community and making change, or a Black-owned business. If that's not possible, buy the book from a Black-owned bookstore: here's a list of Black-owned book stores in the US, and in the UK

And here is a short article on why it's never ok to say the n-word, even in a song. 

If anyone wishes for more recommendations, please feel free to send me a message on Instagram, and I will send you links. Alternatively, I have a highlight named 'Links to Learn' focused on Black history and racism. 

The later summer bought with it a life far less strict.

It contained a lot of socially distanced picnicking, which eventually turned into non-socially distanced picnicking, as restrictions were lifted, and we even managed to squeeze in a couple of girls' nights with friends. However, the biggest surprise of 2020 in my world, was that I started to run. 

Nope, you didn't read that wrong. I began Couch to 5k in 2020, and continued to run regularly all the way up to November, when we entered lockdown in Germany (that's coming up). 

So, lessons learnt during Lockdown part I? 

1. There is nothing wrong with moving back home - particularly during an international pandemic - it is not synonymous to regression.

2. I've never been more convinced by how lucky I am to have the family I do. 

3. More than ever, I've realised how incapable I am of staying put. I'm constantly itching to do something new, to meet new people, do be in a new environment. Even 2020 couldn't take that out of me.

4. It turns out there really is something to this 'exercising for your mental health' stuff. Starting Couch to 5k was a game-changer for me this year.

5. The UK Government truly is every single bit as incompetent as I thought. And it's not just Brexit-related.

I made up my mind that in the Autumn I wanted to get out of the UK. Brexit was coming, and I wanted to do what I could to be in the EU when that happened. 

It wasn't meant to be long-term, but the UK was driving me crazy, and I needed to get out. 

So, on September 19th, I landed in Munich - ready for a German adventure.

After spending the first few days exploring Munich, I had an Airbnb in Nuremberg booked. The rent in Nuremberg is far cheaper than Munich, and I knew I wanted to attempt to save some money whilst here. I was offered permanent accommodation in the Airbnb, and ended up moving in.

I was lucky enough to spend two months exploring Germany before lockdown 2.0 happened.

Germany's initial lockdown wasn't too bad. There were no restaurants, bars, or social activities open - but the shops all were. Essentially, it was tier 3 in the UK. The weather was nice, so we even ventured to the nearby city of Wurzburg, to explore and drink beers overlooking the water.

We went into the city to drink gl├╝hwein (mulled wine) on the streets, and we continued to drink beers in parks and eat Drei in Wegler (a German streetfood of three mini sausages in a bread roll) from the local stalls.

But December brought with it full lockdown. Where I'd previously hoped to make it home for Christmas, I now knew it was basically impossible. 

So, we celebrated small. 

In this lockdown, I've learnt a lot about myself, my strengths and weaknesses - and I've also learnt how to play chess.

In many ways, the dark, cold weather and the lack of support system has made it much harder than the British lockdown. But in others, it's easier. This time, it was anticipated, and having got through it before, I know I can do it again. 

This year is the first year in a long time, that I've decided not to do New Years Resolution. The biggest lesson learnt this year is that nothing can be predicted. So if I enter 2022 surrounded by friends and/or family, that will be enough.

Love, Alice x

(Photo collage of 2020 below)