Almost four months after my ICS placement and it is still something I think about every day. My Malawian family and friends I dream about re-uniting with and miss them immensely; sharing a life altering experience creates an unbreakable friendship. Although my days of waking up to a rooster alarming at five thirty or telling stories like The Ugly Duckling under a mango tree are now over, there is so much about my experience that remains. Here are a few invaluable things I learned along the way:
1. I was a product of my culture
It is very hard to truly recognise how strongly environment influences attitudes without observing a completely different culture. Living in Africa made me aware of how my western attitudes were flawed as I could examine them in retrospect. Body image, for example, is something that is massively affected by media outlets and other cultural inputs and then goes on to reflect on individual's identity. This became interesting to me when I met Malawian women who idealised larger and curvier figures -the opposite to the catwalk thin models I was accustomed to. Initially I welcomed what I considered a 'healthier' body image but that outlook did not last long. A conversation with a close friend revealed that Malawian ideals are just as harmful as any other. She had what would be considered a typically 'ideal' figure in the western fashion sphere and yet told stories of women like her who would go to dangerous extremes in pursuit of the fuller figure. This cemented how much media outputs can whitewash what is a rainbow spectrum of human attraction and how dangerous this can be. Any sort of cookie cutter figure will only end up damaging the majority who do not fit it. This cultural exchange reminded me of what I had forgotten: that beauty cannot be whittled down to any exact shape or size. It falls down to individuals to catalyse change because businesses will not. The beauty industry is just that - an industry - and if money is to be made from insecurities, insecurities will be manipulated. It is down to us to think smart and love ourselves.

2. I have so much to be grateful for
I grew to be incapable of feeling sorry for myself. Somehow, a part of me healed during my time in Malawi. It is hard for me to determine exactly what caused this but I think it was partly due to working every day with some of the kindest, tenacious and uncomplaining people I have ever met. Everyone on my team had faced troubles and yet were now working-purely because they felt it was right- to create a better future for others. My media team counterpart, for example, had lost his father and lived with his mother, miles away from the office yet never complained about the difficult commute. His life was unquestionably full of more strife than mine had been, and yet he could not contain his smile and never thought to complain either. He was continually making others laugh as he was the joker of the group. He taught me there is nothing to gain from complaining. Things I had taken for granted before-such as education and healthcare - I am now more thankful for. In fact, I am much more grateful for everything I have ever been given because I know now that nothing is owed to me. In the roulette of life, I could have just as easily been born in the poorest country in the world so I am now aware of how lucky I truly am.

3. I know myself a lot better
Being cut off from television, Facebook scrolling and any other distraction forced me to be fully present in the moment. I learnt more about myself and the world because I spent time staring at sunsets instead of phone screens or journalling my emotions instead of blocking them out. In the UK, I found it a lot easier to ignore my feelings because there was always a distraction device at hand. I had lost touch with my inner self and even my environment. The lack of vices left me alone to face some of the most difficult nights battling my self-consciousness, yet - instead of opening Facebook - I grabbed my journal and finally made a breakthrough with myself. Malawians definitely know how to live with presence, an invaluable skill I am thankful to have learned. Being more aware, I began looking at my surroundings with all the curiosity of a child again which filled me with joy. Being more mindful also lead to soaking up the minutes of silence spent gazing into the lake or up at the milky way (which is breathtaking away from light pollution). I slowed down and realised how easy it is to drop the mindset that creates stress. I finally found my 'happy place' gazing into the serene, seemingly ever reaching Lake Malawi. It is a peaceful place that I carry with me always now.
Although my time in Nkhata Bay is over, the country, it's people and my memories are an integral part of me. I changed in unexpected ways and grew as much as I was aiding the development of my project. Nothing is the same for me now, although my home town Grimsby is entirely unchanged, and so Malawi, my home for three months, will always be a part for me.

Written by ICS Alumni Roseanna Anderson (Team Masomphenya, January - March 2016, Malawi)