I’m turning 30 this Sunday, eek! Whilst I’m feeling quite settled in my current life: I’m in a stable relationship, we have our own home, with a lovely kiddo + another on the way, and I’ve figured out what I want to focus on in this season of life… it’s still a pretty big milestone!
So please join me on an indulgent walk down memory lane, including the highs and lows of my twenties… You might learn a thing or two about me! Bear with me, the photos get less pixelated as we go along… Though in fairness I was a bit pixelated during parts of my early twenties!
20: finishing my bachelor’s degrees in geography and history + moving to Los Angeles
I was quite relieved to be at university after two years of “prépas” (a weird intensive French system). I did quite well at the exams at the end of prépa, so I was able to enroll in two bachelor’s degrees. I enjoyed studying geography and history, and even managed to find time to work part-time for a charity that helped university students find their feet in the professional world.
I was overjoyed at getting into UCLA and moving to the United States after years of watching Gossip Girl and Laguna Beach (anyone else? haha), though I think my experience in Los Angeles actually exceeded my expectations! Despite having studied at quite a few universities now (!), UCLA still is the one that I feel the most attached to.
I can’t really think of one… maybe breaking up and getting back together with a boyfriend a few too many times? I have to say, I’m (mostly) not bitter about any of my relationships ending. There were quite a lot of frogs to be kissed in my early twenties to find my prince… Haha that’s even too cheesy for me!
Getting into UCLA, travelling to Seville with my girlfriends (where the photo above was taken), getting really involved in campus life from the get-go at UCLA.
21: studying geography at UCLA + starting a master’s in Sustainable Territorial Development
I turned 21 in the United States, which was fun, because back in Europe it doesn’t make a lot of a difference. It meant I could go to bars and clubs with the many international friends I made. Life at UCLA wasn’t all about partying though: I very much enjoyed my geography classes and I joined a few clubs (like the hiking club and the random acts of kindness club). I was also very lucky to have savings from my student job, help from my parents and a scholarship to study abroad, so I did a fair bit of travelling. This was probably one of the best years of my life, which reminds me that I should head out of my comfort zone and try to experience more things now!
While I was at UCLA, I knew I wanted to keep exploring the world and didn’t want to finish my master’s degree in Bordeaux. So I applied to an international master’s in Sustainable Territorial Development and I got in! The first destination was Padua in Italy, which involved eating plenty of pizza, ice cream and coffee… and a little bit of learning about geography and statistics (please don’t test my knowledge of statistics)! I travelled with friends from my master’s to Rome, Pisa, Florence and Verona.
Most of the year at UCLA was amazing. I guess the low point was when my international friends starting leaving at the end of the school year and I realised it was over.
Too many to list! My great relationship with my flatmates at UCLA, travelling to Northern California, Mexico (I fell in love with the country and would love to go back), New York (also want to go back), the Grand Canyon… I had great fun with the friends I made there (Los Angeles, not the Grand Canyon, ha!) and to crown it all off, I won the “Outstanding International Student of the Year” award.
I also learnt to cycle over the summer (yes, at the age of 21!), which served me well during my master’s degree.
22: from Italy to Belgium to France
My master’s degree involved changing universities mostly every term, so after an easy ride in Italy, I moved to Leuven in Belgium. Some of my classmates didn’t enjoy that term as much, but I really liked the classes I took at KU Leuven. I also made friends with a group of Spanish and Greek students, which was often fun!
At the end of the term in Belgium, I moved back to my parents’ in Bordeaux (a common thread throughout my twenties!), then onto Paris for the new school year.
I clearly had itchy feet when I was 22: I travelled with a friend to Malta, then went on an organised student holiday to Naples, on my own to Amsterdam (loved it!), to London to meet with some UCLA friends, and then travelled with classmates to Novi Sad and Belgrade in Serbia. During the summer I met up with a Californian friend in Barcelona, where my friends from Italy very generously hosted us.
Not much… though I didn’t enjoy Italian men’s tendency to whistle and catcall! I did also have a boyfriend in Italy who wasn’t very emotionally mature… Nothing terrible happened, but it was a bit of a waste of my time.
All the travelling! Learning about things I was very interested in: urban planning, green infrastructure… I also loved the snow in Italy and Belgium, and I enjoyed cycling everywhere (most of the time)!
23: finishing my master’s in Paris and Rio de Janeiro
I spent some of the winter in Paris, then flew to Brazil: the part of my master’s degree I was super excited about! At the beginning of our time in Brazil, my classmates and I all travelled to Mato Grosso do Sul, where our university was, for a field trip in the Pantanal. It was a once-in-lifetime experience: we met indigenous people, slept outside, saw caimans and capybaras, swam with big fish, ziplined over a river in Paraguay… and I got eaten alive by mosquitoes!
I made a lot more progress in Portuguese than my token efforts at Italian or Dutch. This came mainly from being brave enough to just try speaking the language and accepting that I’ll make mistakes. It also helps that (in my experience anyway), Brazilians are super friendly and chatty!
In Rio de Janeiro, I lived in a big house in the artsy neighbourhood of Santa Teresa with a Brazilian family and many international people. We had barbecues every Thursday… which often meant hangovers every Friday. I still managed to submit my master’s dissertation (on public spaces in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas) and do an internship with an NGO called Catalytic Communities.
I also traveled on my own to Buenos Aires and São Paulo to go to events around placemaking.
The carnival was all a bit overwhelming: we essentially landed in Rio when it was already underway and it was a bit too much to process so early on. I’m also not a fan of the Brazilian creepy-crawlies: as well as the mosquitoes, I got bitten by fleas, eek! I mentioned frogs earlier on, but in Rio I think I was kissing toads sometimes haha! Because of procrastination and lack of communication with my supervisor, my dissertation wasn’t as amazing as it could have been.
Despite all its challenges, I love the city of Rio: nature is everywhere and it just has a vibe that I have yet to experience elsewhere (you can find my travel guide to Rio here: part one and part two!). I made friends with my fellow interns at Catalytic Communities and with some of the residents of the big house I lived in. I really enjoyed doing research on a topic I was very interested in. I also did a summer course entirely in Portuguese on urban ecology and green infrastructure, which was a great experience.
24: looking for a job and moving to the United Kingdom
Just after turning 24, I passed my master’s and flew home to Bordeaux. After all the focus on my master’s dissertation and making the most of being in Brazil, I was a bit lost. I started applying for jobs… and got a whole lot of silence back. I knew I wanted to move somewhere outside of France (where I had lived for twenty years): I had dreams of living in Barcelona, Amsterdam or Berlin. But I didn’t believe I had the language skills to work there, so I thought: why not the United Kingdom? It’s where my family is from and I speak the language, so that’s what I focused my job search efforts on.
I travelled to London and Edinburgh for job interviews that I didn’t get. I went to a conference in Stockholm (where the photo above was taken) to network with people involved in public places. Eventually, the founder of Treeconomics took a chance on me and I moved to Oxford to do an internship with them. During that time, I had an interview with Canary Wharf in London and I got my first “grown-up job”!
In the early days of living in the UK, I also decided to go vegan (though I took some time to fully make that transition)… and I met The Man! We actually met at a retirement home, where he was morris dancing and I was visiting family. We starting seeing each other very regularly and I quickly deleted the dating apps on my phone! When I moved to London, we would alternate spending one weekend there and one weekend in Abingdon.
The main low point was feeling discouraged while applying for jobs for half a year after my master’s. Until then, my life had followed the rhythms of the academic calendar and there was a plan, so it felt very strange suddenly being in the “unknown”.
I experienced a terrible whisky hangover after my job interview in Scotland… Which was very unpleasant, but in a way it has saved me a lot of money and time as after that I mostly stopped drinking alcohol!
I struggled when I moved to London: between the short days, the corporate job and the busy commutes on the underground, it didn’t really feel like the life I had hoped for, despite the nice salary!
Even if it was for a short while, I enjoyed living in Jericho in Oxford. The main high was finally being in a relationship where I felt we were both committed and open with each other.
25: leaving my corporate job and working as a research assistant
As mentioned earlier, the corporate job and I were clearly not a match made in heaven. So after about five months, I quit without much of a plan. Fortunately the universe (or the connections I made!) had my back and I got a job as a research assistant on a tree-related citizen science project called Treezilla. I moved in with The Man in a lovely flat in Abingdon and worked three days a week. I loved the job so much that I put up with commuting three hours there and three hours back every time!
The aforementioned corporate job!
Working on a project I loved, with people that I got on well with.
26: starting my PhD and getting engaged
As much as I loved my research assistant job, it was only an 18-month contract, so I needed to find something to do next! I applied for PhDs for the second time (the first time was a rushed attempt while in London) and got accepted at the University of Reading. There was a bit of overlap between the two, when I was starting my PhD, but also doing events on Saturdays as part of my job. They involved doing presentations and talking to volunteers about measuring the benefits of trees… As much as I enjoy spending time with my laptop, I find that kind of thing super energising!
After quite a bit of nagging from impatient me (!), The Man proposed a few weeks before I turned 27. He somehow managed to pull it off without me having any clue what was going on – you can read the whole story here!
Maybe the stress of going through the PhD application process: it involves quite a bit of paperwork, as well as following up with people who are providing references (while trying not to sound too pushy).
Getting engaged of course! I also enjoyed the low-pressure early days of my PhD, where my main job was to explore the existing literature around my research topic (citizen science in Rio de Janeiro… blending my two interests at the time!).
27: enjoying research and heading back to Rio
As I mentioned above, I enjoyed the low-pressure first year of my PhD. I went to a winter school in Switzerland called “science meets practice”, but I got a bit frustrated when I was denied going to a summer school essentially because of red tape. The challenges in my PhD really started to appear when it came to planning my fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro. Essentially, I was going to be doing research in the favelas of Rio, which made “passing” my risk assessment and getting insurance difficult. There was quite a bit of uncertainty about the fieldwork dates and we had to plan “giving up” our flat in this already stressful situation.
I arrived in Rio depleted from the to-and-fro with the university administration. I did have a good birthday there though: we got sunburnt walking along the bay and we went up the Sugarloaf. I say we as The Man came with me both times I went to Rio for my PhD!
The photo above is from the Oxford half marathon. I’ve been running more or less regularly during my twenties: I ran my first official 5K in Belgium, then 10K in Paris and so far the half marathon is the farthest I’ve run.
The administrative headache ahead of my fieldwork in Rio… I actually got so overwhelmed by it all that I accidentally booked The Man’s flight for the day before mine!
Reading around topics I was interested in, as well as attending the winter school in Switzerland. I also did some “demonstrating” work, which I enjoyed: leading seminars for undergraduate students and even being paid to go on a field class to Amsterdam!
28: third time in Rio and getting pregnant!
There were a few months between both fieldwork phases in Rio. Less than two weeks into the second phase, I discovered I was pregnant! This was a happy surprise, but nonetheless it affected my energy and my ability to focus on my research. I spent six months in Rio, going to meetings and interviewing people about citizen science projects, while also growing a little human inside me. I talk about my pregnancy more here and here.
I was really quite tired during my first trimester and I lost ten kilos (!). Between that and my already wavering motivation for my research, I didn’t collect as much data as would have been ideal. I can also remember a terrible interview when I was in quite a bit of pain and the person I was interviewing just wouldn’t stop talking (and he drove us around, so I couldn’t really escape)!
Living in Urca, a calm neighbourhood in Rio, where we were a short walk from the beach. Having The Man there to help feed pregnant me haha. Feeling Baby J’s first kicks.
29: being a mum + quitting my PhD
Baby J arrived a few days into me being 29: our birthdays are six days apart! It’s a cliché, but to say he changed our lives would be an understatement. Of course, there’s all the love I feel for him. But as a side note, I now realise how much fricking time I used to have when I didn’t have a little human relying on me for survival!
We had quite a rocky and emotional start, which I go into more detail about here. But we quickly got into our groove and I enjoyed the routine of looking after him and then working on this blog during his naptime. I’m actually more productive now than I used to be when I had all the time in the world to procrastinate!
The nine-month maternity leave from my PhD ended in August. The break gave me an initial surge of motivation, but the reality of all the work yet to do, combined with discovering I’m pregnant again led me to reassess my priorities. So… I decided to quit my PhD and focus full-time on my family and business! This is all very recent, but I’m feeling relieved from taking the pressure off my shoulders and from prioritising what is important to me.
We also bought our own home this year! We starting visiting places when we got back from Brazil and bought a hum “fixer-upper” in January. I’m glad to say that we moved in this July. The Man is doing all the hard work while I decide on colours and accessories, ha!
We were due to get married in May, but because of the coronavirus restrictions, that has been pushed back indefinitely. We did have quite a lot on our plate at the time between raising our first baby and renovating the house, so it wasn’t the end of the world!
The first month with Baby J was tough, especially because of the pressure to breastfeed. Also giving birth was flipping painful haha. I am grateful to have recovered very quickly though! Again with this pregnancy, I felt quite low and tired during my first trimester.
Falling in love with Baby J and moving into our own home as a family! Also deciding to pursue what is in alignment for me, even though it’s scary to leave the “smart” and “stable” option of the PhD behind.
Back to you
Wow, thank you for still being here! Please share in the comments below how old you are and how you feel about milestone birthdays. What are your goals for the coming years? Do you want to live abroad or start your own business? If you want help defining what you want from life (and then pursuing it in a smart way!), I strongly recommend you check out my goal-setting bundle!
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