Confidence, dread, and crisp-craving crises.

My final exams start in just under two weeks. Excellent occasion to write a blog post about confidence*.

I’ve been feeling quite anxious for the last week, and am currently recovering from the stress I wasn’t even aware I was feeling (seriously, my body had to tell me). One thing that helped in the process was meeting two of my tutors who basically took me by the hand and kept telling me that I did know stuff, and just needed to be more confident and say it. The part of me that is not my inner critic (according to whom I would probably not do anything at all for fear of not being good enough) largely agrees.

The thing is, I wouldn’t rate myself as generally under-confident.


*sorry, I won’t actually talk about crisp-craving crises. But I think you get it anyway.


To find out what made me confident in some and not confident in other situations, I made a list and identified a couple of factors that seem to play a role. Here we go:

“Intrinsic” factors: related to how I feel about the task

1) finding it easy

For example, for my German Linguistics paper, I found that I could complete the work without having an existential crisis in the process. Indeed, I was familiar with lots of the concepts and could apply native speaker intuitions – nice for a change.

2) finding it interesting

That’s kind of obvious, I hope?

3) being passionate about it (thinking it’s important)

That mostly applies to stuff I do with charities. It was a big driving factor in my community-oriented volunteering (at the Oxford Hub), and one of the factors that balances my low confidence in effective altruist circles.

“Extrinsic”/Group-related factors

4) getting positive feedback

The hub committee is a great illustration of this: more often than pointing out mistakes, and certainly more often than elsewhere, people pointed out when someone did something right. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be critical, but reflecting on it, I kind of miss that positive and encouraging atmosphere.

Academically, it’s tutors telling you that you’ve done well, or getting a good grade. However, in low-confidence constellations, it’s easy to think that this was accidental, or that they are trying to be nice. For example, me getting a first in statistics didn’t change my belief that I’m bad at maths.

5) being good in relation to others

See also (4); somewhere in 4+5, there is also something about not feeling judged, but encouraged in the group situation.

Conversely, there is nothing worse for my confidence levels than being in the room with people who either are better or who I think are better than me. They’d have to be exceptionally nice for me to think that they are not judging me.

6) and a difficult and fuzzy one: identifying with it

Is that about past experiences? And how much of that is social conditioning? And why do I not stop believing that I “can’t do” maths or logic? And should I be worried about the fact that I would rate myself as less analytical now than I did at the start of my degree?


I don’t have more time to think about this (there is finals waiting for me), and this seems too complex to just blame it on gendered social conditioning.

Also, crisps…

Yet, quoting one of my tutors:

“you know, if stereotypical white males are allowed to say things they are not sure about with confidence, then you should allow yourself to do so, too”.

I always like to take lessons from my thinking, so what is the lesson now? Just act more confident?! Yeah, lol.

Trying to remember for the future:

  • It did help to remove myself from group situations that convinced me that I was inadequate >> by telling my tutor about struggling and getting one-on-one tuition
  • It did help to seek out people who are good at being encouraging, and stressing that I do know things, as well as showing me how to use them in an exam situation.
  • I’m lucky enough to find most of what I study interesting anyway. YAY I LOVE MY STUDIES (*makes mental note*)

What I’m not sure about yet is whether I should think more about what lies behind “identifying myself” with something, since that might be a phrase I use to plaster up insecurities (“It’s okay to fail, this is not my thing anyway”) or false (and possibly gendered) beliefs… and whether that is something to tackle in the long run.

For now, I’m happy enough that in this moment, I feel sufficiently confident to go through the next weeks and that in the worst case, I have enough vague knowledge on everything to at least make up something. Another tutor quote:

“And when you look at the paper and think that you can’t answer any of the questions, you might as well take that to mean that you can answer all of them”.

Have any thoughts? Just pop them below! Especially if they provide an easy and quick answer to all of this! 😛 

DEUTSCH: Effektiver Altruismus auf den zweiten Blick

For those who don’t understand German: I’m planning (and hoping!) to write an English post about Effective Altruism soon, especially about the problems I (still!) have with it and the things I nevertheless agree with in there. But seen that there’s lots of English material out there already, I encourage you to look for yourselves in the meantime 🙂 

Das hier ist eine Antwort auf Sabrinas Post über Effektiven Altruismus.

Als Hintergrund: ich würde mich selber nicht unbedingt als Effektiven Altruisten (EA) bezeichnen, vor allem nicht, wenn es dabei um bestimmte Organisationen geht. Ich finde aber die Idee, unsere Ressourcen möglichst gut einzusetzen, sehr sinnvoll, und habe in der Unterhaltung mit EAs (vor allem auf der EAG Global Konferenz) viele interessante Anreize mitbekommen. Ich werde erst versuchen, ein paar deiner Fragen aufzugreifen, und dann meinen eigenen Senf dazugeben 😉

[Entschuldige, dass alle meine Links auf Englisch sind, ich kenne leider die deutschen Materialien (noch) nicht so gut]

1.) “Aber was, wenn ich den größten Teil meines Lebens mit wohltätiger Arbeit verbringe? Sollte ich dann wirklich genau dort arbeiten, wo ich am meisten bewirken kann, selbst wenn es mich unglücklich macht?”

Ich kenne keinen EA, die/der denken würde, dass ein Burn-Out irgendwem hilft! Speziell wenn es darum geht, den Großteil deiner Zeit wohltätig zu sein, ist 80.000 hours wirklich hilfreich. Was sie “personal fit” nennen, ist teilweise eine Antwort auf deine Frage: Wenn man nicht glücklich in seinem Job ist, ist man wahrscheinlich nicht so gut wie man woanders sein könnte – die ganze Kunst besteht also darin, die Beschäftigung zu finden, in der der eigene Charakter am meisten erreichen kann. (Mehr dazu auch hier, wo es explizit darum geht, sich erst mal um sich selber zu kümmern, bevor man anderen helfen kann).

Dass das Thema auch in der “EA Community” viel diskutiert wird, kann man zum Beispiel in diesem Artikel sehen.

2.) “Aber wäre es nicht noch effektiver, einen Wandel auf gesellschaftlicher Ebene anzustoßen?”

EAs diskutieren viel über gesellschaftlichen Wandel, gerade weil es so eine spannende Frage ist und potenziell viel effektiver sein könnte als Geld zu geben. Ein paar Punkte, die ich aus Gesprächen mitgenommen habe, ist, dass es hilfreich ist, genau zu definieren, was man mit gesellschaftlichem Wandel meint – zum Beispiel, ob es darum geht, die Ansichten von Leuten zu ändern, oder vielleicht gleich den ganzen Kapitalismus abzuschaffen. Ich habe mich noch nicht genügend mit dem Thema beschäftigt (kommt hoffentlich noch!)

Wie man es bei so einer bedachten Bewegung erwarten kann, gibt es viele verschiedene Antworten auf deine Frage! Viele EAs versuchen momentan, genau das herauszufinden. Eine Liste kannst du in diesem Artikel (“Effective altruists love systemic change“) finden.

Allerdings habe ich auch ein Gegenargument (“Beware systemic change“) gefunden.

Der Artikel ist etwas Arbeit zum Durchlesen, deswegen unten ein paar Ausschnitte. Die generelle Idee scheint zu sein, dass wir potenziell mehr Schaden anrichten, wenn wir nach “systemic change” rufen, und dass “man vs. nature” (also zum Beispiel Krankheiten bekämpfen) sicherer ist, als “man vs. man” Konflikte anzufangen. Auch hier finde ich es wohl hilfreich, im Hinterkopf zu behalten, worum es uns bei “systemic change” geht (ich habe so das Gefühl, dass das bei dir anders aussehen könnte als bei ihm – würde mich über eine Erklärung freuen!)

“Highly educated people used to studying science might just be more likely to fall for the streetlight effect and go with the side that promises more quantifiability, rather than the side more likely to be right.”

“A quick run through the history books shows that smart people trying to effect systemic change have an imperfect track record. I won’t say that they’re unusually bad compared to other demographics, but certainly nothing as stellar as the “let’s just not be morons” theory might lead one to expect.”

“There are many more ways to break systems than to improve them.”

“if everyone gave 10% of their income to effective charity, it would be more than enough to end world poverty, cure several major diseases, and start a cultural and scientific renaissance. If everyone became very interested in systemic change, we would probably have a civil war.”

3.) Ein letzter Punkt, der mir besonders am Herzen liegt! Erst als ich auf der EA-Konferenz war, hatte ich das Gefühl, den Anreiz der Bewegung zu verstehen. So lange mir spezielle Antworten präsentiert wurden (zB “Spende Organisation X”), fand ich das nicht besonders spannend, und ich hatte immer ein bisschen das Gefühl, dass damit auf mich herabgesehen wird (“Sobald du erstmal wirklich rational bist, wirst du das auch sehen”). Dann, als ich EAs wirklich kennen gelernt habe, hat sich mein Bild verändert – ich habe gesehen, dass sich EAs in vielen verschiedenen Bereichen engagieren und neugierig und offen auf meine Bedenken reagiert haben. Ich habe sogar auch dazu eine tolle Zusammenfassung gefunden, und zwar den Artikel “Effektiver Altruismus als Frage, nicht als Antwort“. Damit bin ich voll und ganz einverstanden, genau wie mit der Grundauffassung, die ich bei allen EAs angefunden habe. Ich formuliere das als “Deinen Verstand benutzen, um (so viel wie möglich) Gutes zu tun”. Es ist zu erwarten, dass spezielle Moralprinzipien unterschiedlich aussehen, und zum Beispiel dass wir unterschiedliche Prioritäten haben (zum Beispiel denke ich nicht, dass ich plötzlich nur noch nach Afrika spenden und nicht in der eigenen Gemeinde oder an mir selber arbeiten sollte).

 

Why I won’t tell women to be “extra careful”

Being suspicious of men began when I was twelve and a classmate walked up to me, outright groping my emerging breast.

This story already shows the seeds of a dynamic I still experience and tried to properly put into words only yesterday when a male friend asked me to. There is: the shock and disbelief that someone just invaded my private space, without even hesitating. The perceived helplessness, which is hard to admit for someone like me who thinks of themselves as strong. But apparently, I can be able to articulate what I want in many areas and still feel helpless in other situations. A comparison: the same kid threw snowballs at me on the way to school and I had no problem at all reporting that. In the groping situation, a teacher was even closer, in the same room. Yet, it didn’t even occur to me to say something.

I can’t fully reconstruct what happened in my head nearly ten years ago, but I can try to understand better what is now happening to me and probably many other women on a regular basis.

ronnie-pic-2

Spoiler: Won’t stop doing this and more.

This post is not only about travelling. But we travellers need to talk about it.

The discussion I had with my friend was sparked by internet articles around the theme of “sexsurfing” – couchsurfing being used for hooking up with travellers. I hadn’t heard the term before, but was aware of it happening, at least through my share of creep messages through the platform (“Come to my place. I only have one bed, though. *wink* “).

And, yes, there are actual people writing guidelines on how to find “naughty couchsurfing chicks”.

I had a hard time explaining to my friend all the things that made me angry in there, and how my experience might be different from his.

One reason for this is that it is really hard to talk about moments in which men did things which made me feel helpless and ashamed. I’ll try with a small selection: someone trying to force a kiss, or masturbating while watching me sleep, or following me around the streets. Some of my experiences are more coercive and manipulative than this, some less, but they contribute to the feeling of perpetually having to guard myself. Maybe you should ask a female friend about this if you want to empathise, I assume that many other women spend a lot of time taking precautions for their safety, even in a subconscious, automatic way.

If there are reasons to be afraid, why not tell (other) women to be careful?

When I think about all these moments, I don’t want to talk about them. Because. I have this horrible feeling that it’s kind of my fault. Even after knowing what victim-blaming is and that it’s wrong, I just can’t help but immediately relativise my experience. “This guy did this disgusting thing? Well, yeah, but I did put myself into a bad position there” (insert: I shouldn’t have smiled at him/ I shouldn’t have been out on my own/ I shouldn’t have fallen asleep on his sofa … In my head, I can hear a chorus of relatives: “You shouldn’t have travelled alone!! We told you it was not safe!”).

This is why it makes me sad to hear so much well-meant advice, even from fellow female travellers (“Of course, you have to be extra careful as a woman. Here are ten ways to guard yourself”). Adventurous Kate, for example, writes a post that explains the background of why travel safety is different for women better than me, but her conclusions are just as disheartening.

Summary up to now:

  • Sexual situations are different from others. I might be a self-confident person otherwise, but still less able to assert my limits in front of men (especially if they are hormon-driven, not particularly aware, or don’t care*) and to assert my rights afterwards. The feeling of guilt/shame is part of that, but also some other dynamics I’m finding too hard to explain right now.
  • Perpetually telling me to guard myself against men makes me feel like it’s my fault when men do things to me.

*I have met many many men who are not like this, who are sensitive and kind and able to respect me as a person whatever conflicting interests we might have. (You know. Not all men…) Keep trying everyone.

So. What should we do?

I don’t like fear. The logic that tells me to not go to other countries is the same that would like to keep me inside, confined to what a “decent girl” is supposed to do or be (what even is that nowadays?). This logic takes away my agency, because I only have the choice to react to the world, and to be defensive about it.

That doesn’t mean that I would recommend someone who has just started travelling to put themselves alone next to a road in the night if they have never hitchhiked before. That doesn’t only apply to girls.

For the record, I’d tell anyone who asks me about hitchhiking to try it in daytime with someone who has done it before, or just with another friend, and in situations where they have a chance to chat to the drivers before entering the car, e.g. by asking in service stations. This is mostly because I think you should be able to feel in control (so that you kind of know what you’re doing at least most of the time, in a very broad interpretation), and that this is more likely to be the case if you proceed in small steps. Just like bicycle travellers recommend novices to first try to do a day- or week-long trip before going for around-the-world adventures. Kind of sensible.

I think: women, like anyone else, should get the chance to discover the world and grow doing it, because there is no other way to get equipped dealing with it.

If I were to stay home, I wouldn’t have had as much exposure to these disagreeable situations, but I also wouldn’t have learnt to tell men when they ought to better back off. The balance between exposing yourself to the world, learning step by step, and doing something outright foolish and putting yourself into great danger is delicate. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to be reckless, even though I think I should be able to be foolish if this is a right accorded to men, too.

At some point, I will explain in more detail what we can learn from my namesake Ronja Rövardotter and her philosophy of how to guard against danger and fear.

But for now, I wish you a great new year, with all the adventures to learn from, all the freedom and love…!

Inspirations.

All of us know these moments when we look at what someone is doing and think “this is great! I wanna do that, too!”. This ist he first time that I am consciously in the position of that someone. A friend of mine (Alex) just told me that he is going to hitchhike across Germany next week, his first ever solo hitchhike!

Without wanting to take ownership … (well, okay, I’m proud)…just saying: the only time he ever hitched before at all was this July, when we both travelled back South from a Parkour gathering in Edinburgh. Admittedly, there are more impressive ways to have an impact on other people’s lives, but, well, hitchhiking is pretty cool already and I hope he won’t be the last person I can persuade to give it a go!

The good thing about inspiration is that it travels in all directions. In the same chat in which Alex told me about his travel plans, he made a joke about putting on a hitchhiking-badge. And I thought “What hitchhiking badge? We need a bitchhiking badge!”

Another inspiring friend – Susanna, who happens to have a history in feminist jewellery making – then drew this super cool logo for me:

bitchhiker-copy

 

Wahoo! I can already see feminist travelers carrying it into the world. Love being inspired.

How it began II

Well, okay, I’m back already.

My post last week made me remember an article I wrote in Morocco but never published anywhere. Going back a bit further back, this will introduce and expand on one of my big themes: trust. Enjoy and discuss! (Seriously, I’d like your views: do you think I’m being stupid doing what I do?)

Morocco: tales of trust

Sexual assaults and terrorist attacks – these and other fear-laden buzzwords pop up in the minds of many when talk is of anything Arab. This is why I decided to hitchhike and couchsurf my way through Morocco, all alone and female and suchlike. If not a rational way of convincing others, this journey was meant to at least confront and hopefully overcome the creeping fear of the unknown within myself, by countering my own distrust with openness.

Hitchhiking – from the Sahara…

My solo journey began in the Sahara, on a long and unnaturally straight road with view on bright orange dunes. From there, I started hitchhiking all across Morocco, through heat, rain, and snowstorms. On that first day, the director of a youth centre picked me up and gave me something of a guided tour on the way to his destination, including views of the most extensive oasis in the world, wedged into a landscape of red sandstone. A young man, who I was first very weary of, surprisingly did not try to rape me, but instead helped me find a café with an internet connection. That night, I was adopted by a family who shared their enormous plate of couscous with me, bathed me in generosity, laughter, and music, and urged me to stay a little longer and to bring my family the next time.

…into the snow.

The following day saw me stuck in a snowstorm when trying to cross the Atlas mountain range. While still waving my finger Morrocan-style on a spot where road conditions weren’t too bad, I was approached by a man about the age of my father who convinced me in his native-like French to take the bus instead. For the two hours we spent on the bus, we talked about the bombings in Brussels which had happened that same morning, but also about apple trees, painting and life philosophy. He encouraged me with these words: “good things always attract good things, so if you believe in the kindness of others, you will be met with kindness yourself”. One view he held was that to be a proper Muslim, one had to be kind and generous towards others – something I saw implemented throughout my journey, be it with me, the elderly, or beggars on the street.

After the Atlas experience, I spent some days getting lost in the labyrinthine alleyways that make the medina, the old city of Fez, the biggest of its kind, to then move on to the sky blue lanes of Chefchaouen. After two whirlwind weeks, I finally left the country on a ferry towards Spain, clutching my last Moroccan oranges as if to keep them as souvenirs of this place and the new friends I was leaving behind.

merzouga-tanger

There also were moments when I did not feel at ease, like when I was spoken to in Arabic while the car seemed to take strange back roads –  moments which always resolved themselves when I safely reached my destination.

Assaults and conclusions.

Only one encounter, on the last of all days, was able to intrude into my picture of a place filled with openness and generosity. Just before leaving his car, a middle-aged men started groping my butt, which didn’t end with me being physically harmed, but left a strange aftertaste. I was baffled about this even more since he was the only person who kept telling me “you know, it’s dangerous to hitchhike!”. I couldn’t help but wonder whether there was a link between this distrust and his own behaviour, as if believing in the badness of other people somehow made him feel licensed him to be disrespectful himself.

He left me on a tiny roundabout, and while I watched the cars driving, a question started circulating in my head: Can I still trust? I decided that I could, and that I had to. Risks are real, but fear would ultimately result in me adopting a worldview way too similar to the one of this guy.

If nothing else, the heartfelt generosity I encountered in Morocco convinced me that trust is something we need if we don’t want to drown in a world of fear. I decided that I want to be one of these who trust, and hopefully inspire trust. And so I set off to hitchhike the 2.500km to Strasbourg.

[….which brings us back to last week’s story. I start liking retrospect-storytelling]

How it began (maybe).

With University having kicked in, I probably (realistically) won’t write anything much anytime soon. And even if there’s lots of stuff to talk about (my first time coaching Parkour, and my four Couchsurfing guests last month, for example), it’s not the same as travel storytelling.

I’ll use the chance to return to the origins of “Bitchhiking”, that article I wrote on my journey hitchhiking non-stop from Morocco to Germany.

Those who haven’t read it through Facebook (or fancy a re-read), here goes.

We should be able to retell stories (as opposed to always expecting new output) and look at them in the light of recent experience. If anything, I am more convinced of the need to spread trust, even by what some people might regard as reckless methods.

Anyway, instead of reading my waffles, I suggest you watch this video by Inna Modja instead. And her other videos. I just read about her as “representing the self-conception of a new generation of migrants”. Make of that what you want. Her feminist rap in Fula (a language spoken in around 20 West and Central African countries) is also pretty cool.

 

Playlist: Ramblin’ Man and remembering the ocean…

Summer is nearing its end, but there’s no reason not to reminisce with some great travel-songs. Featured today: Moriarty and Boulevard des Airs – they have in common that both started off in France, although one of them sings English-language folky-stuff, while the other does classic French-style mix-up-stuff (hmm, never was good at describing music)

Have fun!

Boulevard des Airs: Emmène-moi

 

“J’suis comme un grain de sable

Perdu dans l’océan

J’ai perdu mon cartable

J’ai perdu mes parents

Emmène-moi voir la mer

Fais-moi boire l’océan

Emmène-moi dans les airs

Aime-moi dans le vent”

Here‘s also a version with English subtitles and the full lyrics. Enjoyy.

 

Moriarty: Ramblin’ Man

Hear the clip here (it’s so edgy you can’t even find it on YouTube).

“I can settle down and be doin’ just fine

‘Til I hear an old train rollin’ down the line

Then I hurry up home and pack

And If I didn’t go, I believe I’d blow my stack

 

Oh, I love you baby but you gotta understand

When the Lord made me, He made a ramblin’ man”

… Read the full lyrics here.

 

 

Three Euros, 840km, and, er, a couple of hours.

Oh, I forgot to mention fences. Like those around the service area on the motorway. Our friends at hitchwiki had left us clues on how to leave Bologna, so we took a bus out of town, investing all our remaining money spare 30 cents or so. What we didn’t know was that the area was under construction, so a lot had changed, and we couldn’t see a (legal) way of getting into the rest area. Also, it was hot. And our backpacks heavy. And then, a car came out the gate and its driver told us he’d call the police if he caught us entering.

We backed off and he followed us in his car, gosh.

– “Where are you, going, anyway?”

– “We want to get towards Modena, then Milan”

– “Ah, well, then you’re on the wrong side anyway, this one goes to Florence. If you want to get to Modena, take this underpass, walk around the fence, and there’ll be an entrance”

– “…Okay…”

He was right. We didn’t quite believe it, the way all around the fence was long, we nearly gave up – but we had a ukulele and could sing and hope we’d see some figs on the way and ultimately, we slipped through a gap right into a super-busy service station.

By that time, it was already 5pm, also because we’d spent all morning cooking up random leftover food in the hostel kitchen (you have to eat, right?). After some starting difficulties, we got a ride by a Neapolitan lorry driver, then by a guy driving Italian branded goods over to rich people in Switzerland, who got us up to the Swiss border. We watched all the full cars (“I mean, it’s okay that people want children, but why do they also have to take them on holiday??”) and the sunset and thought about where to put up our tent. Before we had to, however, we met a young German couple coming back from Rimini. We spent most of the night together, until they left us about 70km before our final destination. It was something inhumane like 4am, but we quickly found a really sweet Turkish-born truck driver who brought us closer still. Still in darkness, we asked in a car that turned out to be going to a games convention.

Since my house wasn’t exactly on their way, they dropped us off in another suburb and we had a lovely sunrise walk to then join (or rather: wake up) my family for breakfast.

That journey is over, and incredibly, this part of summer, too. I’ll be back in Oxford in a week or so and there will be no time for travels for the whole year, until that degree’s done. Well… I don’t really believe it (yet).

For now, a song including the line “This is how the summer ends”. Not quite coincidentally also the song we sang during that last Italian sunset.

Beautiful Bologna.

Lina and me started off profiting from the cheap Italian trains again (after, of course, having another ice-cream in Jesi for breakfast) and arrived in Bologna in the afternoon. As those things go, it was evening by the time we had visited the city and felt like we could move on, and, you might guess, we realised that it was getting kind of too late* to hitch out. Since it was our last evening in Italy, we felt like we should treat ourselves to something, and, more importantly, finally try that street music thing. Bologna is fantastic in terms of acoustic, since all the sound bounces off the arcades you find everywhere in the city centre. We had fun, and some other people seemed to enjoy it, too, some even put some coins in our orange hat.

After a short while, we realised that we might want to find a place to sleep (before one of the single men about could offer to, ugh, host us), but that was no trouble, since we had money and internet and felt like filthy rich kids. We went to a hostel and got the offer of taking a private two-bed room for only 2 Euros more than what we’d pay for two dorm beds. We opened our wallets wide and pulled out the 50€ he was asking for – we had just about enough. Then, he asked for just one Euro more, taxes. We looked at the heap of coins in front of us, and at our empty purses. After a moment, Lina opened her bag and fumbled around until she produced a certain hat still containing the circa 4€ we’d collected before. Hah!

We felt less rich, but daring (since we knew we wouldn’t take out any more money before reaching home). Moreover, we took a thorough shower and stained the brilliant white towels with our dirty feet.

____

*Okay, it’s never too late for anything. But standing on a road for the whole night is decidedly less fun than sleeping.