Set in Stories – Travel & lifestyle blog inspired by stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can improve my craft, which was why I decided to focus my attention on my new project – Set in Stories.

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Set in Stories is a travel and lifestyle website that rediscovers the world through stories – from literature, history, culture, film, music, fantasy and everything in between. My hope is that this will inspire you to become excited by all that this weird and wonderful world has to offer.

I’m also travelling across Europe for about 3 months this summer, so you can also expect some travel pieces as I make my way to the great unknown. Got an idea for my summer adventure list? Let me know here. 

Thank you for your support at Teller Of Her Tales, and do follow me on Set in Stories for the next chapter and new adventures.

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Not sure which to read first? Start Here: 

Finding The Little Prince in Singapore

Finding Wonderland in Kuala Lumpur

Postman’s Park: London’s Almost-Forgotten Heroes

7 things to do if you get lost while driving

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6 great things about living in the future

I heard that living in the moment is a happier, more exciting way of life. There is less to worry about and fewer burdens.

I on the other hand enjoying planning ahead, even if it is just a weekend spent completely alone at home. I do try to keep an open mind and jump into the pool of randomness too, though for the most part, making last minute plans or catching me off guard will trigger doses of stress.

But living in the future doesn’t just mean you never enjoy yourself or are too rigid. There are pros too! Here’s why:

1. It gives you something to look forward to. Bad days melt away a little faster knowing that a good one is coming.

2. It is a way of accessing the world of infinite possibilities. Say when you’re deciding how far you’ll travel while considering time, budget and interests,    imagining what it would be like can be pretty fun.

3. Even if it means complete satisfaction doesn’t last as long, at least more is in the making. So it’s often only the best time of your life…so far.

4. Call them lists. Call them goals. Either way you’re more focus when it comes to achieving something.

5. You take care to calculate your options and tend to make fewer rash decisions.

6. When done properly and in a healthy way, those who organise the what-ifs and work towards turning them into reality can change the world.

On the side note,  here’s my photo for the day. 32 of 100 Happy Days: A little something planned ahead. And with more to come.

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The Things I’d Brought Back From Three Years In The UK

On the 10th of October, I packed the past three years of my life into boxes and bags, and took a 13-hour flight from the UK to Malaysia. Leaving was emotional, as if half my heart had sprouted roots, refused to leave. Then somehow as I starting unpacking, I realised just how much I had brought home with me.

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I’d brought back the concrete walls of UEA and the cobblestone roads of Norwich. I’d brought back the line of ducklings in the river, the swan on the Lake, the sparkle of every firework erupting in the skies.

I’d brought back the three-legged cat, a Battlestar Gallactica Marathon, that funny moment just before a friend slipped on the ice. In my mind’s eye there is a castle upon a snowy hill, an arcade by the seaside and a country house on a landscape that stretched for miles.

Being locked in a lecture theatre when I went in to play the piano. Getting lost from following the silhouettes of too many churches. Watching the sun set and rise in the library (a beautiful and tragic scenery). A picnic in the Plantation Gardens. Smoky barbecues.

Listening to Of Monsters and Men in a corridor of the Union House. Watching plays in the drama studio. Watching musicals. The Woman in Black. Museums. Ice-skating and tobogganing. Playing Quidditch.

There are the wafts of the Wafflehouse goodies and the frothy Cromer waves. Pigs-in-a-blanket, Yorkshire puddings and mince pies. The caramelised apple of Brighton. A pancake dinner. Italian pasta in Florence. S’mores by a student accommodation. The crack of the crème brûlée the same way Amélie does in Paris. The ‘best’ fish and chips. A cup of tea (milk and two sugars, please).

I’d brought back a series of firsts. My first concert. That first time reciting my poems in an open-mic. A first Christmas dinner. London Fashion Weekend. The first time watching two friends walk down the aisle.

Seeing another issue of the student newspaper in print each fortnight. Cooking enough to feed a hundred. Mortarboards in the air. First internship, second internship, third and fourth. The dinner get-togethers. The takeaways.

A level of confidence I’d not felt before. A bigger pair of eyes and an open heart. The realisation that the world is much smaller than I last remembered it. The many, many faces.

I listed these in my head as the taxi drove me away, as I waited for the plane to take off (half an hour later than it was supposed to). Now I realised that I have carried all the memories and faces home and have no doubt that I will carry them with me wherever I go.

I can only wonder if, after three years abroad, I have left anything behind.

Don’t Be Afraid of Going Left, and Thoughts on Idealism

Last month I was at Angel Station in London and I came across this signboard with a quote. I later learnt that it’s a daily creative initiative done by the staff at that particular station, and there’s even a website dedicated to it called Thoughts of Angels (I think it is sweet). I wish I’d snapped a photo of the one I saw that day but like everyone else I was caught in that hamster wheel of the city, going down escalators and up again. And down and up again. Anyway, the quote went something like this:

‘Don’t be afraid of going left. Because even when you are left, you are right.’

Aside from the wittiness of it being ‘uniquely Underground’, it’s thought-provoking. Not that I am saying that this rings absolutely true in every case, but when it comes to working for what you want, it’s a lovely little thought to ponder about.

I’ve been talking to friends recently about ideal working environments and lifestyles. It’s really cool – there’s a lot of travelling involved, a yacht with oysters, an apartment in New York, a commissioning editor, an award-winning film maker and more. (Me? I believe I mentioned it in my bio).

Dreams and desires make for fascinating stories; I recommend listening to someone’s story today. And which is why I’m asking you too: If you can have it, no matter how far-fetched it may seem, what is your ideal way of making a living? How would you like to live your life?

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Why earn bread when you can earn cake?

So what if it’s not ‘practical’, ‘stable’ or ‘realistic’ – I think it’s always good to consider that sometimes and remind yourself about what you are working for. Perhaps it’ll tell you that you need to hop onto the next stepping stone in order to get there. Idealism, in moderation, is generally healthy for your growth.

Perhaps the next time you are going up and down escalators, you might wonder whether a hamster wheel is where you would like to be. Perhaps ‘staying right’ isn’t the best for you. Perhaps you will finally go left.

PS. My two weeks spent at Kyle Books was great. The publicity work meant that I got to experience what goes on within a different area of publishing. I’d only ever done editorial work before that so it was interesting to see how important it is to get the hype of the books out there by liaising with external publications. In the meantime, I’m doing my best to stay afloat in this never-subsiding pool of job seekers.

That ‘unusual’ English Literature degree (according to home)

I know I am not the first and certainly not the only one to step away from my home country to pursue an English Literature degree. And this is no life-changing tale, no big fancy drama. But I know that I am lucky to have gotten this far in three fleeting years, especially given my previously more ‘science-y’ background in high school. So if I may – this is my journey.

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Safety first, so they say

Like many countries, opportunities for art and humanities students are limited in Malaysia. In public schools there is already a huge divide. Being a developing country, the government figured that it would be more beneficial to focus on producing graduates who were experts in science and technology, at the cost of paying less attention to the latter. In Fourth Form, students are asked to choose between the Science Stream or the Arts Stream. For certain schools there might be the Sub-Science Stream, which is similar to Science but offers Accounting in place of Biology. Odds were partial to Science students; you’d never hear the end of things like:

“The Science Stream is for academically good students and the studious/hard workers etc. The Arts Stream is for those who are weak/lazy/ slow-learners etc.” (Which is not true – I know many who perform tremendously well in commerce, although I feel sorry for those who lose their self-esteem because of this conception.)

“If you go for the Science Stream, you have the option to change to commerce if you want to, but not the other way.”

“Science Stream classes get the ‘better’ teachers/ treatment/ class environment.” (Sadly at times not far from the truth.)

In other words, to pick the Science stream (in public schools, at least) is to escape the social stigma. Not having a clue about I wanted to do at that point, I picked what I thought would be ‘safer’.

Taking the Leap

When it was finally decided sometime between then and my first year of uni that English Literature was what I wanted to do, finding information about it was not so straightforward.  It was easy to find out about courses like Accounting/Finance, Law, Medicine/Pharmacy and Engineering, whereas things like Literature, Designing and Performing Arts were not impossible but very unconventional. I remember asking a local uni representative at a career fair in my Fifth Form about this.

“But you are in the Science Stream. You get good grades. Why do you want to take English?” she replied.

Then she started shoving me brochures about some unrelated stuff. I had to excuse myself and walked away.

Honestly I could not have done it without the support of my parents. I know many people are pressured into taking courses with ‘better returns’, either by personal conviction or by their folks. Sometimes I wonder if I would have buckled under the pressure but thank goodness I was told to steer my own life. With all the help I needed I managed to get into university to study English Literature. (To my parents: if you are reading this, thank you.)

People stared at me with bewildered eyes whenever I told them what my plans were. I was also often asked, “So what are you going to do after you graduate? Teach English?”

Which is probably why I have no intention of becoming a teacher.

Doing something you enjoy

For most of my three years at the University of East Anglia, I was perhaps the only international, non-EU undergraduate in my course (I say ‘most of my three years’ to take into account transfer students). Being in the UK, studying English Literature and being around like-minded students – it did a lot of good.  I was shocked by the sheer number of students who had no qualms about going down the humanities route. I have seen the career paths an arts degree can lead to and I am telling you, it is abundant. Who cares about whether it was tough or not: there is nothing to regret, nothing to change if time can be rewritten.

So yes, I know I am not the first nor am I the only one to have gone through something similar. I salute those who have done it in the past because it must have been so much harder then. I hope you’d understand that the conception of “Science is good and Arts is bad” is merely a stereotype. And I hope that no matter which path you choose when pursuing your education, where it is you start from or how you get there, it is something you are passionate about. I hope you are happy.

Why you should do a dissertation at university

I admit. There will be rough times – times when hair-pulling is the only thing keeping your sanity together, when taking a break seemed like the worst crime in the world, and when you come up with multiple plots and excuses to sneak a coffee or snack bar into the library. Seriously, there are a lot of snacks and coffee involved.

But doing a dissertation was an exciting journey for me at university. Given a choice I would do it again. Here are some of the reasons why I think students, with the right amount of passion and willingness to work hard, should do one.

1. You get to do research on whatever you want
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Whether it is an author, historical period, scientific concept or random thought process that you’d like to explore, a dissertation allows you to do just that.

I have had the privilege of reading loads of Roald Dahl tales and watch movies related to the thesis in the name of research. Or like some of the other amazing things my friends have looked into: music in video games, better earthquake warning systems, nerdfighteria,  LGBT in children’s literature, creative writing pieces or even, as a friend decided to put forward very plainly to me, ‘why frogs like ponds’ (I’m sure, as an environmental science research project, it is more extensive than that).

It’s important that you like what you’re doing. It’s hardly work if you enjoy it.

2. Flexibility

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Just because you’re meant to put in a lot of effort into your dissertation it doesn’t mean that you need to eat, sleep and breathe it. At least, not until that few crucial weeks of editing before deadline day.

My advice: set yourself a schedule for that time period and stick to it . Don’t leave everything to the last minute.

Then again, that depends on how your work ethics are. If you are like me, you’d start writing drafts as you go along. Otherwise, adjust yourself to your needs. That’s the beauty in a dissertation, really. You get to approach it any way you want.

3. Better research/study skills

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To make it with your dissertation, you’d need a system. And you’ll learn ways of doing just that, from putting your notes together coherently and finding relevant information.  Incidentally, it would be helpful to invest some time in understanding a referencing system and input references as you go along to avoid getting into a panic when the time comes.

Among others, you’ll learn to manage your time well, solve problems, discuss ideas with peers and work under pressure. Which leads us to the next bit.

4. It boosts employability

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Of course, for certain subjects, a dissertation shows the depth of your research interests and the core skills that come from it. For example, investigating ‘why frogs like ponds’ might show your interest in the study of water quality or effects of pH levels.

But what about other kinds of dissertations? I certainly do not expect to find a job writing a series of Roald Dahl literary reviews. The very fact that you have written a dissertation is proof of your soft skills: good communication skills, ability to handle criticism, ability to think critically or creatively, as well as the research skills mentioned earlier.

5. Everything is connected

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You’ll never know how, when or where you’ll get those sparks of inspiration. Little points in time that make you go ‘that is what I want to say!’ or ‘that would make my dissertation so much better!’

But surely enough, they will come. And when that happens, everything you see and feel seems to make a case for your dissertation. Okay, maybe it’s because you can’t get it out of your head. But with any luck, it would feel as if the whole universe has planned for you to reach that Eureka moment.

6. You feel like the king/queen of the world

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The moment you hand your dissertation in, with your belly full of sugary and caffeinated substances and your brain swimming in lala land from your lack of sleep, you’ll feel like you can do anything.

And perhaps you can.

My name is X and I’m an Introvert

My name is Rachael and I am an introvert. There, I said it.

The point is not that you can probably tell. It is that some people don’t get what the big deal is. Not yet, at least.

Until recently, introverts were frequently associated with words like shy, quiet, antisocial and awkward. They were also described as being uptight, weird, moody and lacking authority or confidence.

And believe me, I’ve had many such terms labelled on me growing up that it drove me up the wall. The thing is, I didn’t consider myself frightened of people or had a problem voicing out my thoughts if I wanted to. I didn’t think I was particularly shy; people just told me I was. Which was why as a child it used to confuse me about what was, for want of a better word, ‘wrong’ with me.

Picture this: your report card is filled with remarks about how you did well in class but you were ‘quiet’ or ‘shy’. As if it was something to ‘fix’. Many remedy this by pretending to be extroverts because that was expected of them. After all, introverts only make up an estimated 25% of the world’s population. It didn’t help that for years the World Health Organisation and American Psychiatric Association classified introversion as a mental health disorder.

No. Just…no.

I have this in my room as a reminder

I have this in my room as a reminder

By definition, introversion is a preference for environments that are not too stimulating and a tendency to focus one’s energy internally. This of course exists on a sliding scale, so there are different degrees of introversion. Some verge on the extreme; others have no trouble being chatty but their social battery runs out faster than their outspoken counterparts and they take more time to recharge.

Thankfully with research today, perceptions have changed. In 2003, Jonathan Rauch wrote Caring For Your Introverts, an article debunking myths surrounding introversion. However, particularly in schools and the workplace, there is still the incorrect assumption that extroverts make well-adjusted individuals and better employees or leaders, even though this trait is no indication of quality of work or competence. If anything, people with more introverted qualities tend to think before they act, face situations calmly and are good listeners. Barack Obama, Warren Buffett and Albert Einstein would agree with me.

I’m not saying that introverts are being oppressed or that either of these traits is better than the other. The point is that we are being amalgamated in a world where it is okay to be different (well, hopefully). So it shouldn’t matter if someone is an extrovert or an introvert – both have strengths we should embrace.