Some Thoughts for New WCMT Fellows

At the start of this month 150 new Churchill Fellows were announced. That means it’s been just over a year since I could talk about my WCMT Fellowship – which seems insane! My Fellowship adventures started at the beginning of January and finished at the end of February, so I’ve had some time to decompress and attempt to make sense of the reams of notes I made over the course of those 8 weeks. I wasn’t able to go to the new Fellows’ seminar to share my excitement and experiences, so I thought I’d share a few points here.

Leaving the UK.

If you’re a previous Fellow like me, please comment below and share your tips for new Fellows; and if you’re a new Fellow, I hope you find this useful! Happy to answer questions if there’s anything I’ve missed too, just leave a comment or contact me on Twitter 🙂
If you’re not a new Fellow/don’t plan on doing long trips any time soon, this is probably not the post for you – it’s going to be pretty long!

Planning
  1. Plan your trip with a gap at the end before you need to get back to real life. For me, I only really started to make proper links between the conversations I was having towards the end of the trip, and having an extra week at home before I went back to work was really good for letting all those ideas stew without other things needing to take priority.
  2. Plan trips carefully, taking into account the potential for jet lag. I was either cocky, stupid or ignorant when I booked my flights, and I definitely paid for it. Flying from Washington DC, to the UK, to Berlin, and then to Singapore within a few days was not my finest moment, and my jet lag in Singapore ruined the first few days completely.
  3. Leave space in your itinerary for unexpected meetings, new connections, and downtime. You did not travel across the world to have to say no to meeting new people, similarly, you did not travel across the world to sit in various branches of Starbucks. Make the most of the time you have – that means meeting people you might not have expected to but also sightseeing and visiting places you otherwise wouldn’t get chance to.
  4. I get lost wherever I go, I have a terrible sense of direction and I knew I’d be reliant on Google Maps to make sure I could find my way around. With that in mind, I chose hotels in Singapore and Hong Kong that came with a ‘Handy‘; a smartphone that is docked in each room that comes with free local data. I got free mobile data through my network (EE) when I was in the USA and Canada, but having a Handy was incredibly useful when I was in Singapore and  Hong Kong because my mobile data would have costed me £6 per day to use.
  5. If you’re visiting places where English is not the first language, I’d recommend having a few select phrases memorised or at least written down. I had hotel addresses saved in various languages which was particularly useful when I needed help trying to navigate public transport, and I don’t eat meat so I had a few versions of ‘vegetarian’ noted down to make sure that I could communicate that in cafes and restaurants.
Packing
  1. Packing cubes are life changing. I packed for the first leg of my trip without packing cubes (completely forgot I had them), and didn’t appreciate them until the second part of my trip. A previous Fellow recommended them and I thought he was over-egging their impact, but they really do make travelling to multiple destinations so much easier.
  2. Buy a travel adapter that covers multiple territories, and take an extension cable. The placement of sockets in hotels has become one of the most boring topics that I can rage about (seriously though, why is there never a socket next to the bed for a phone charger, and next to a mirror for hair dryer/straighters?!).
  3. Make a formula for your hand luggage – take the minimum you need and try to leave lots of space in case you buy things and your suitcase is too heavy (I like books, standard airline weight limits do not). Standards that I always include in hand luggage: a mini toothpaste, toothbrush, hand cream, tissues, mini pack of wipes (for grubby fingers or to take makeup off etc), a book, headphones, a booster charger for my phone, small supply of medication (in case your suitcase gets lost), a spare pair of contact lenses, and my glasses. Everything else is extra bulk that you end up dragging around airports, wishing you hadn’t.
  4. Luggage is important – use something that you trust not to break because this is absolutely not the time to see the contents of your suitcase whizzing its way around the baggage reclaim belt. I used AWAY luggage – the large suitcase and the everywhere bag for my hand luggage. It’s now the only luggage I’ll ever use. It’s sturdy but relatively light, and the AWAY packing cubes fit perfectly.
  5. Pack clothes with the intention of doing laundry – there’s no need to take enough outfits to last you 4 weeks when you take take enough for 1 or 2 and wash them. Whilst I’m on that point too; don’t do laundry in hotels! The price is extortionate, and if you use a local launderette you can often get them back within quicker turnaround time. I used a drop off launderette in New York that charged by the kilo and meant I could have everything apart from the clothes I was wearing, washed for less than $10.
Money
  1. The funding that you received from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust is enough to cover your trip, but bear in mind that you might want to do more than just cover your trip. I saved some money of my own to add to the funding I got for the Fellowship, meaning that I was able to spend a bit more on areas of the trip that were important to me (always staying in hotels rather than hostels, going on day trips to places further afield etc).
  2. Make sure you have at least some cash in each currency you’ll need. In places like the US I used my card all the time (remember to 1) tell your bank you are travelling before you leave, and 2) check for potential charges!), but when I got to Singapore and went out of the airport to get a taxi, I was surprised that the taxis only took cash.
People
  1. Find a ‘connecter’ – this is actually a piece of advice I was given by one of the wonderful people I met in Toronto (hoorah for you, Dawn Bazely!). I met her in the first stop of my travels, and a self-described ‘connecter’, she linked me up with lots of other people. Some I couldn’t meet because they were too far away, but I was able to Skype them after Dawn introduced us, others I met the next day. People that know people are your best friends whilst on a WCMT Fellowship!
  2. Meet people you think you disagree with. This is a weird situation to describe because I don’t want to mention names, but look for the people in your area of research that appear to have opposing views to you. Talking with these people will stretch your ideas, challenge you, and strengthen what you get out of the Fellowship. I met with a few people that I thought may hold opposing views to me, but after I’d heard their reasoning it was clear that we weren’t so different, and that taking their concerns into account was important if I ever wanted my Fellowship to achieve anything.
  3. Not all conversations need to be planned. I spoke to people looking around art galleries, science museums and exhibits – I didn’t know any of them before and I don’t know any of them now, but when you’re travelling alone you tend to have lots of conversations with other people that are travelling alone, or groups of people that feel a bit sorry for you wandering about by yourself. Those conversations can be just as valuable as the ones that are intentional.
Note taking
  1. This probably goes without saying, but taking notes after (or during) each of your meetings is crucial. I took two audio recorders with me, but ended up not using them because I was often meeting people in busy places where the sound quality would have been too terrible for me to ever want to listen back to. Instead, I used a pen & paper. I didn’t take notes during all of the meetings because I was conscious of wanting to really take part in the conversation, but after each meeting I spent 15-20 minutes writing notes to make sure I’d captured everything.
  2. As I said, I used a notebook – not a laptop, iPad or anything electronic. That meant I was entirely reliant on not losing the notebook. That was fine, it was small enough to live in my handbag, and it only came out for me to take notes. Still, I took photographs of each page after I’d written them, just in case. I prefer writing notes to typing them because I remember them more easily, but if you decide to go down that route I’d definitely recommend taking photographs just in case your notebooks gets lost.

At the very beginning of my Fellowship journey I was so overwhelmed, I don’t think I really believed it was going to happen until I started meeting people, but the main thing is to dedicate yourself to your project, and enjoy it! It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. Now to convince my boyfriend to apply for a WCMT Fellowship so that I can piggyback onto any future travel plans..

Returning home.

3 thoughts on “Some Thoughts for New WCMT Fellows

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