“Who are you wearing?” (Hilton. P, 2017)

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Just over 3 years ago, my 18-year-old self, boarded a one-way Aer Lingus flight to London. As I sat in my overpriced seat I was confident, more confident than I had ever felt in my entire life. I had just left my Mum, pretending to cry into the sleeve of her jumper, outside WHSmith in Belfast International Airport to pursue my dream of working in Television. Fast forward 3 years, I return, to the same sight of my crying mother, with my tail between my legs and my bank account £1000 overdrawn, having failed to secure Holly Willoughby’s daytime slot.

Living in London introduced me to a great concept, I previously had not heard of, called ‘growing up’. I would have voted myself, the least likely out of my undergraduate course, to pursue a Master’s Degree, however, somehow, I have found myself back in Belfast, learning about this concept of “public relations”. Image may contain: night and outdoor
As interesting as I find myself, I have learned to find PR even more interesting, since starting my MSc. My only real experience in the field of PR stemmed from my part-time job in a restaurant, dealing with the public all day, every day. I learned more about ‘people’ waiting on tables in that small restaurant that I had in the previous 18 years of my life. If I could take one thing away from the customer service industry, it would be the idea of “giving the people what they want”.

Like Jade, in the iconic “Bratz” movie, I have a “passion for fashion”. Growing up, when most boys my age were idolizing Gary from Geordie Shore, my only interests were the panel of judges on America’s Next Top Model. The fashion industry is ever evolving, and this week, the biggest piece of news in the industry was Gucci’s decision to stop using real fur in their designs.
Fur in the fashion world has always been a controversial topic, however, it is an issue I have always remained relatively neutral on. Recently I have begun to think, is fur really necessary in the fashion industry? For years, organizations such as PETA have campaigned against the use of fur in the industry, but why now in 2017 has such an iconic brand such as Gucci decided not to carry on using real fur?

I recently was reminded in my Strategic Marketing module, of this idea that you should “give the people what they want, not what you think they want”. Which perhaps is what Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizzari is now beginning to do. In PR, we learn about the idea of ‘publics’, does this mean that Bizzari has decided that his customers do not need real fur anymore?

Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA said “The writing was on the wall: Today’s shoppers don’t want to wear the skins of animals who were caged, then electrocuted or bludgeoned to death. Until all animal skins and coats are finally off the racks of clothing stores worldwide, PETA will keep up the pressure on the clothing and fashion industry.” (Holt, 2017)

Gucci, along with other brands such as Ralph Lauren or Stella McCartney has been able to adapt to ‘give the people what they want’ which is becoming refreshing, seeing as other brands such as Versace, stick to the conservative idea of ‘tradition’. I said previously, that I have always remained neutral on the issue of fur within the fashion industry, however, after Gucci’s decision of taking fur off the catwalk, my opinions have swayed. The fashion industry and current trends change season by season but the issue of fur has been a long-lasting battle. Should other brands now follow in Gucci’s footsteps?


Before enrolling on this course, I would have never thought about issues like these in this way, however, my eyes have been well and truly opened to the world around me. In the PR industry, likewise with marketing, I have learned that we cannot sit on the fence. Opinions are a great thing, and questioning others’ opinions, is also great.

This time next year, I hope to sit again on a flight to London. Although this time, I am not after a seat on the “This Morning” sofa.

Jordan Spry is studying for an MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Advertising at Ulster University. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram: @jordanspry_

Once upon a placement…

In June 2016 I began my placement in The Walt Disney Company EMEA in London as Regional Communications intern for Disney Channels.

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Writing this now it is hard to believe that it has been four months since I have finished my year-long (AMAZING) placement with Disney and as this is my first ever blog post I thought that an insight into the best year and experience of my life would be a great place to start.

This was my first job in PR and in the beginning I had zero confidence and like most people beginning their placement journey I did doubt my ability and was hyper conscious of doing a good job and completing every task to the very best of my ability. I also had the added worry of moving to London, a city where I didn’t have a network of family or friends. Daunted about the prospect of tubes and the size of London when I first arrived I can honestly say it is an amazing city and living in London has made me more independent person. It is a city I am very glad to have called home for a year.

Looking back I am very proud of myself for taking the plunge as it was the best decision I have ever made.

My role was Regional Communication Intern for Disney Channels and I was across franchises such as Star Wars and Marvel.

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The Regional Communications team supports campaigns in Europe, Middle East and Africa. On a day-to-day basis I liaised with PR managers across EMEA – this involved ad hoc requests, distributing assets, setting up phone opportunities with talent, playing a key role in organising asset creation days and talent tours and EMEA coverage reporting.

I was extremely lucky to have such a wonderful team who encouraged me and gave me roles of responsibility throughout my time as an intern. In addition the strong network of interns enhanced the experience even more.

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As the only Irish girl in my department there was a slight language barrier in the beginning and the spelling of my name confused 99.9% of the people I worked with, experiencing more variations on the pronunciation of my name than I can even remember! But my Irish brogue and slang did provide many entertaining moments and laughs I still look back on – explaining an appropriate response to “what’s the craic” being a highlight!

The PR department in Disney is very busy but it is best just to dive right in and learn as much as possible by absorbing all the information you hear and by taking advantage of every experience there is too offer.

My top five placement tips from my time with Disney:disney5

  • Communication

Obvious to start with I know, but good and continuous communication with your managers and supervisors is key to ensure that you complete every task to the best of your ability and to manage your work load.

It is also vital, especially in PR to make contacts and the best way to start that is through effective communication, taking note of who you are communicating with and what you want to achieve.

Throughout this experience I have relied strongly on the ability to communicate effectively whether it be through good interpersonal skills or clarity, focus and accuracy in my writing skills which are the foundations of effective communication in PR.

  • Organisation is key

Without sounding too like Monica in Friends, organisation is Vital. I had my trusty diary and my daily to do list by my side at all times to ensure that I kept up with deadlines and important dates and embargoes. By keeping a diary of key dates and events this ensures that you have a more informed view of what’s happening around you. A placement student that is highly organised with key information on hand stands out.

  • Participate

No idea is ever too small or too silly, as Walt Disney once said, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing, that it was all started by a mouse.”disney3

In the beginning I was hesitant to put forward ideas especially in a group context but as the year progressed I began to understand that no idea is a silly idea and that your managers are eager to hear what we as placement students think. Don’t forget we are the social media generation: we are a useful tool to PR practitioners.

  • It is ok to make mistakes

The age old mantra “you learn from your mistakes”. I found this to be very true. Everyone makes mistakes as long as your correct your mistake and learn from it, as one wise person in Disney once said to me, “its PR not ER”.

  • Lots of tea and treats

My wonderful managers had a slight addiction to tea and throughout my year on placement I found that a cup of tea and a biscuit goes a long way especially on a busy day!

New experiences can be daunting and at times quite beastly but just remember, the beauty is that you get out what you put in.

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Caoimhe Fitzpatrick is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @caoimhef_95

THE BANALITY OF NUCLEAR THREAT: My Time in Korea

THE BANALITY OF NUCLEAR THREAT: My Time in Korea

Just a few weeks ago I was packing my bags, preparing to head off on a little bit of an adventure in Asia. My brother, who has lived in South Korea for five years now, had invited me to visit him in Seoul, where he’s currently settled.

And although it meant missing one or two classes from my Communications & Public Relations course, I figured the travel experience would be worthwhile, despite it being my fourth visit to South Korea (and second visit in 2017!). Okay… So I love to travel, and I’m especially fascinated by Korea; its history, its culture, its economic dominance in Asia, and of course, its love for Kimchi (a sort of fermented cabbage delight).

But as I was packing, I couldn’t help be aware – even nervous – of the fact that I was about to spend two weeks essentially locked in the crosshairs of Seoul’s nuclear neighbour just 35 miles north of the city. At a time when tensions on the Korean peninsula are at an all-time high – North Korea’s recent ICB missile test, Trump’s twitter tirades and ‘declaration of war’, as well as the US Army’s show of strength dangerously close to the border of North Korea – a vacation in South Korea was seemingly ill-advised.

Closing my eyes, sticking my fingers in my ears, yelling “la-la-la-la-la-la-la”, I went anyway.

And what I found was remarkably the opposite to what I had expected before setting sail. I mean, I had been to Korea several times before, but not when relations had manifested into physical or visible acts of provocation. I was expecting to witness a subdued Korean people living in an atmosphere of extreme uneasiness, almost as if conflict could kick off at any moment between the two Koreas – or at least that’s how CNN portrayed it.

The reality however, couldn’t have been further from my expectation. I found a Korean people apparently unfazed by the recent hostilities on the peninsula. People I met were either happy to greet a tourist, or just too busy glued to their smartphones to even care. Nobody even bats an eye when a Korean soldier in uniform uses public transport. Their concerns appeared to be much simpler; a few minutes-late subway train was considered much more of a catastrophe than the threat of mass nuclear annihilation.

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Nosedive: Subway passengers using their smartphone on their commute.

Besides, my visit to South Korea coincided with Chuseok, a major thanksgiving festival and week-long public holiday for all Koreans. I’m told it’s a pretty big deal. So maybe spirits were relatively high, with people being simply too busy with family festivities to even fathom the possibility of all-out warfare.

Or maybe Koreans have become so accustomed to the threat of nuclear annihilation that it has now become part of the norm, almost banal. Similar to the violence during the Troubles; no matter how horrific the event, it just became expected and part of the daily narrative.

But as with any trip to South Korea, my brother and I visited the final frontier between North and South Korea: the Demilitarised Zone, or, ‘the DMZ’, if you’re cool.

Ironically named, the demilitarised zone demarcates the physical border between the two Koreas, and despite it intended to be a neutralised area, its actually the most heavily militarized border on the planet. So it’s a bit of a misnomer to say the least. Tourists are required to go through several security checks before embarking on the guided tour, and we were even made to sign a declaration of responsibility in the event of our deaths.

The tension on the DMZ is palpable. Soldiers from opposing Koreas engage in an incredibly tense standoff from the safe havens of their respective jurisdiction, and we were even lucky enough to hear the distant mumbles of propaganda music played by North Korean soldiers, in an attempt to intimidate tourists visiting from the Southern side of the DMZ.

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The Demilitarized Zone demarcates the physical border between North & South Korea. (22/09/17)

Upon returning (safely) from the DMZ, I asked my brother’s fiancé how Koreans really feel about the threat of conflict breaking out on the Korean peninsula and whether she thinks the U.S are helping or exacerbating the current situation. Sun Joo Choi, 35, from Boryeang, outside Seoul, told me,

“Most [South] Koreans really aren’t very concerned about the threat by North Korea. People having been living with this threat for so long that they no longer take it seriously. They are far more concerned about what is happening locally with our own politics in South Korea than they are with a rhetorical threat by Kim Jon Un. But the U.S are definitely not helping to resolve any tensions right now.”

So if that is true, that people aren’t at all fazed by North Korea’s nuclear programme, have the media got it wrong? Are they slightly misjudging the current public opinion in South Korea to the recent hostilities? Do they care more about the bread and butter issues than they do about North Korea? Or does a genuinely credible nuclear threat actually exist on the Korean peninsula as to warrant extensive media coverage?

Or maybe, more accurately, as the Guardian reported, some South Koreans are far more worried about the threat of U.S President Donald Trump, than they are their nearest neighbour.

 

Conán Meehan is an MSc Communications & Public Relations student and Executive Assistant for International Student Marketing & Recruitment at Ulster University. You can follow him on Twitter @ConanMeehan

Stepping out of my comfort zone and taking the placement year plunge

I spent a few days looking for inspiration and thinking of topics for my first ever blog post. I scrolled through Twitter and looked at articles in the news to find something interesting and current to write about, and something that people would want to read. But my mind kept floating back to my placement year. I figured it would be fitting for my first piece of writing as a final year PR student to provide a little bit of background information about me, the year that brought me here and provide some context to thoughts I’ll share in future posts. And as for addressing a specific audience… 2nd year PR students this one’s for you.

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I arrived back in Belfast this summer after completing a year’s placement with the UK Publicity team at Warner Bros. Entertainment UK in London. My mum said to me recently that I “left Belfast a student and came back an adult”. After finishing my first two weeks of 4th year with drive and a determination to work hard and ‘hit the ground running’ I feel like she could be right (after all, mums always are).

I’ll be completely honest, I didn’t get the flight to London for my interview that day dreaming of getting the job. I’m a home bird and even moving to Dublin, nevermind London wasn’t really what I had in mind for the year. In fact, it scared the life out of me. I applied for the Warner Bros placement ‘for the experience’ and as practice for the many applications I planned to fill out for the Belfast placements that were due to be advertised in the following weeks. But nevertheless I found myself boarding the first of my many BFS-LDN flights for the assessment day and consequently saying “Yes please” when my soon-to-be boss called to offer me the position.

Moving away from Belfast was a huge deal for me and having never thought I’d even get the job, the prospect of packing up my life and moving to London was incredibly daunting. But I am a firm believer in ‘everything happens for a reason’. I surprised myself and never looked back!

I am very lucky to have been given the amazing opportunities and experiences I had during my time at Warner Bros. I worked on the publicity campaigns for some of 2016 and 2017s’ biggest films, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemWonder Woman and Dunkirk, and learned from the most amazing people in the industry. I worked at premieres and events that many PR students would dream of being part of. It was a rollercoaster and probably the best year of my life (so far)! I never dreamed I’d be a part of such an amazing team or work on the incredible projects I did. But it is true what they say, you only get out of something what you put in and I worked harder than I have ever worked before.

The good times and captured highlights didn’t come without time, energy, late nights, early starts and a new reliance on caffeine (shout out to Café Nero at Holborn station). Photos on a red carpet were only the end product of what was usually weeks of hard work. But nothing worth having comes easy! I learnt more in those 13 months at Warner than I have in all my years of education combined. Hard work, commitment, resilience and initiative are things they can’t teach you at uni.

As for London life, I loved every bit of it (apart from the central line…avoid at all costs)! As one of Belfast’s biggest fans, it turns out that the best thing I ever did was to spend a year away from it. I embraced every opportunity London threw at me and made the most of everyday in what I believe to be one of the best places in the world!

I couldn’t imagine now not having done my placement at Warner, being the Publicity intern or moving to London. It was the scariest thing I have ever done but among the many things I learned along my placement year journey, is the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone, challenging yourself and just going for it. You might think something is not for you, but you’ll never know until you try and you may just surprise yourself!

 

Paula McKay is a 4th year PR student at Ulster University. She can be contacted at http://www.linkedin.com/in/paulamckay55, and on Twitter @paulamck55

 

Survival Guide to University – From a Final Year to a First Year.

This is a guide to help prosperous first year students get the low-down on all aspects of university life.

Let’s start with what you already may have figured out by now – no one is here to hold your hand! Probably the most difficult adjustment I felt when joining university was the strange feeling of being left on your own. For example, on my first day I was clueless about the documentation needed to register, or registering in general.

Of course I wasn’t alone, several friends were as oblivious as I was, if people tell you they know what they’re doing within the first two months – they’re lying… Most people are generally as clueless as you are, they just hide it better!

There may be guides to help you, but they disappear after the first week, the second semester rolls in and just when you think you have a handle on life at the Poly, block 21 appears on your timetable. Don’t bother standing in the mall, ferociously scanning the Jordanstown map with minutes to spare, you’re not going to find it. FYI – it’s in the Dalriada building.

You might think, “Why would a PR student need to venture to a medical building?” Well Freshers, welcome to Jordanstown’s wonderful, questionable, layout; the gift that keeps on giving.

Rest assured there will be days you will sleep in for your 9am lecture after a complete rager with your culchie housemates in the Bot, followed by a house party on Rugby Avenue. Do not do as I did and assume a taxi will take you there promptly – it won’t. In fact you’ll end up 30/40 minutes late and £15 poorer and the taxi will more or less drop you off at the lough and expect you to walk the rest of the way. Speaking of transport, if you’re planning on getting the UniLink, be sure to be there early, the first few weeks are when everyone tries to make an effort, meaning the queue for the bus will be packed.

In your first few weeks of class, suss out who the rich kid is, who has (luckily for you) decided to bring their car, lives in the Holylands and thinks they’re a cut above public transport. They are your first class ticket to free, comfortable journeys to class every day, and save you from the misery of a horrible hangover surrounded by people at 8am on a Goldliner.

Essential side note – when you’re hungover the Spar sausage rolls and a Starbucks caramel latte will be your almighty Saviour.

The final and most important tip to university is to say yes to every opportunity that presents itself, unless it’s people trying to sell you roses outside the Bot on a Wednesday. You will never be as carefree and have as little responsibility as you have now. HAVE FUN. No one looks back at their time at university and thinks about all those golden weeks (it is a fantastic achievement though).

First year is all about going on pub crawls around the big smoke, trying new things, meeting different people, and waking up to go to the Hatfield at 11.30am (another one for the culchies). P.S. The Hatfield is not the place to showcase that snazzy pair of Nike trainers you bought when the loan came in, trust me. A half zip and a lanyard with the keys to your swanky new dungeon in Damascus will suffice.

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Purchasing Hatfield merchandise is always a good idea.

P.P.S. – when it comes to the end of the year and house inspections are looming, if you have a bedroom door off the hinges, a light fixture in the kitchen ripped from the ceiling and a broken fire extinguisher, (or any other household damage) the Holylands Handyman Jimmy and some trusty old superglue will save your dignity and of course, your deposit. Thank me later.

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Annie Shivers is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She is on Twitter @ShiversAnnie and LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/in/annie-shivers-9085b810a 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mayday – Why Theresa Should Have Taken Some Improv Classes

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll have seen how badly Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference went.

First off let’s reiterate just how important the leader’s speech is at any political conference. It’s the only bit anyone outside the conference really pays attention to. In recent years they’ve become dull because party leaders simply cannot afford to mess up so they play it safe. If you want to find the last Leader’s conference speech that was as disastrous, you have to go back to 2003 and Iain Duncan Smith’s infamous “quiet man” speech.

Mrs May took to the stage with all the usual pressure and then some. This year’s was even more important as she recently led the party to  a disappointing General Election result, there’s tension in the cabinet and Brexit negotiations don’t seem to be going well.

With that in mind it couldn’t have gone worse.

You’ll have read about the voice loss. You’ll have read about the sign falling apart directly behind her. But the part of the speech that got the most coverage was undoubtedly when comedian Simon Brodkin gave Mrs May a P45, supposedly from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

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Look at that! That is brutal! It’s iconic and it’s going to follow Mrs May around for the rest of her political career. There’s not much she could have done about the sign falling apart and sure, she could have rested her voice to try and avoid the cough, but once it started she could only struggle through. The one thing she had full control over was (as the stoics tell us) her reaction to the stunt.

Ignoring the question of how a man got that close to the prime minister,  May’s reaction completely fed into the image of her as an unemotional character. By all accounts she is a very warm person but in this instant we can see a microcosm of how people perceive her. Distant. Staring ahead. Droning relentlessly on.

Eventually she took the P45 from the comedian, placed it gently on the floor and continued on with her speech. As he was escorted out by security, she tried a joke about Jeremy Corbyn but by then the whole thing had gone on too long and it didn’t really land.

While Mrs May is undoubtedly damning every comedian under the sun, any comedian worth their salt would be able to tell her how to have handled it. This guy was just a heckler. I’ve worked with loads of comedians and they all have their own ways of dealing with hecklers, because being heckled is a part of being a comedian, it’s a skill they have to learn. The best advice I’ve heard for hecklers is “cut them off early and use the crowd”.

To explain what that means, let’s imagine the situation had gone differently. Imagine if instead of trying to ignore the comedian, May had reached down, taken the P45 out of his hand and spoken directly to the crowd. Remember she’s addressing conference, this is her crowd, it’s the heckler who’s in enemy territory (this is the same with comedians and their hecklers). Now imagine May had said to the crowd something like “This man wants to hand me a P45, but I say we’ve got too much work left to do, are you with me?”

The crowd would have gone wild for it. If May had ripped up the P45 while she said it, the party faithful would have torn the roof off the place and the press coverage would have shown May as triumphant, not awkward; victorious, not embattled.

It’s easy to think of what you should have said in hindsight of course and if I’d been in May’s shoes I might have just cried when I saw that P45, but there was a moment where she could have turned it around, she just didn’t have the skills for it.

I think there’s a really important lesson to be learned here, one that has come up already in my studies and that’s the importance of creativity. Suggesting to the Prime Minister of the UK that she sit in on a comedy class would probably have you laughed out of the room, but  May has for a long time had the communication problem of seeming like she’s incapable of reacting to other people naturally and in that context comedy classes could be a creative solution to a genuine problem.

So my question is this; What’s the most creative/left field/wacky solution to a communication problem that’s worked in real life? Tweet, email or comment, I’ll update if I find any really good ones.

 

Jason Ashford is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Political Lobbying at Ulster University. He can be found on Twitter @jasonashford89.

Pourquoi ?

Pourquoi, the French word meaning why. A question that I’ve been asking myself several times since moving from Toulouse, situated in the sunny South of France back to the cold, rainy hills of Donegal. I was happy there, felt settled and have made some lifelong friendships. One word stands out in that sentence to me. Settled. In my eyes, being settled in this context is synonymous to being in your comfort zone. Does anybody like the feeling of change? It can be rather scary and overwhelming at first. Anyway, I decided a change is what I needed to gain a career I’ll enjoy.

During the first week of uni, our lecturer, Conor McGrath, told us to question everything in PR – including his own words. I find this a refreshing outlook to have in life in general. Mind you, since moving home, I’ve already had the joy of attempting to answering why the simple things in life are the way they are to my four-year-old niece! Is it just me or do we seem to lose this curious nature the older we become? We don’t seem to question anything until it directly affects us.

 

 

During the same week, someone else asked me about the master’s course I was going to be studying. When I told them about it, the response I got was ‘Oh, public relations, are they going to train you how to answer the phone?’. Oh, touché my friend. A few hours later, I was reading the first paper we had been given for our seminar the following week. One part of the paper stumbles upon the professionalisation of public relations. It briefly comments on how there are few people outside of the profession that accept it as that: a profession. It made me realise how oblivious many people are to what is behind PR and the power in which it holds from the way we view the world to how we view people in the media. Perhaps this ignorance plays to the advantage of PR practitioners. Or am I already feeding into that stereotype of PR practitioners being nothing but untrustworthy beings out to do us all wrong?

Having just finished my second week on the course, I find myself questioning one event. PM Theresa May’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference. Firstly, the lyrics ‘Who knows why it’s gotta be this way?’ from Rihanna and Calvin Harris’ song ‘This is what you came for’ filled the room as she entered. Why pick this song? I’m guessing this is her attempt to form a link between herself and the younger supporters of the party?

Those who attended the conference got more than what they had thought they came for. You couldn’t make it all up. Between a P45 being handed to her by prankster, Lee Nelson, to her coughing fit that went on for what felt like a decade, to the Chancellor giving her a lozenge to somehow help the situation, to her coughing some more, to the letters of the slogan on the wall falling behind her mid-speech. Not long after the conference she posted this on Twitter:

 

 

Right, so she is making light of what just happened. Top marks for having a witty response on social media within hours of the event happening. But can anything help her reputation at this point? Today, the day after the conference, numerous ministers have been backing her publicly. However, former Conservative minister, Ed Vaizey, has suggested that numerous MPs feel it’s time for her to resign. Her lack of leadership is evident but who would replace her during this crisis?

I have many British friends living in France, currently EU citizens living in another EU country, wondering what Brexit has in store for them and their livelihoods. Theresa May isn’t exactly giving them the picture of hope. Likewise, she isn’t giving me any hope. I live a short 15-minute drive to the border of Northern Ireland and I had no say in the Brexit vote yet the outcome of what is yet to come will potentially affect my town and community.

I would say I had a mild interest in British politics up until around two years ago. Like I said at the beginning, we don’t seem to question anything until it directly affects us…

Louise Harvey is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Advertising at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @louiseharvey_ Instagram: @louiseharvey93