Where are they now? Bella Qvist
What did you study at Sheffield?
I first came to Sheffield to visit a friend who was studying here and I immediately fell in love with the city. I had recently finished school in Sweden, I was working in a cafe in Stockholm and I was trying to decide what to do next. I wanted to become a journalist and I knew I wanted to go abroad but I wasn't sure where. I had my eyes on Berlin and London but when I visited Sheffield I liked it so much I thought I'd check out what the University was like. When I found out the UK's number one journalism department was in Sheffield I was sold. I applied and in 2006 I moved to Sheffield to study Journalism and German, giving me the combination of media training and time spent in both the UK and Germany - perfect.
What attracted you to study at Sheffield in particular?
The fact that the department and the University was well renowned played a big part in choosing where I went to study - as did the city itself, which I found to be very friendly, open and welcoming.
And what was your first impression on arriving in Sheffield?
My very first impression on arriving in Sheffield was that I had landed somewhere in the middle of the English countryside and I had no idea where I was, haha. My friends who were coming to pick me up at the station had overslept from partying the night before and so I sat down to wait at the station before they finally showed up. We then took a taxi up to Hunter House Road, high up above Hunter's Bar, and I was amazed at how steep the hills were, how nice everyone I spoke to was, and how free I felt being here, doing my own thing and shaping my own future. It felt like a place where I could be myself.
What were some of your favourite things to do in the city, aside from studying?
I won't lie; I enjoyed the nightlife in Sheffield and I probably spent a bit too much time at the rock club, Corporation. I have always been a big music fan and so I spent a lot of free time going to concerts there and elsewhere in Sheffield and the neighbouring cities. It was a brilliant opportunity to not only have fun but to interview upcoming bands and practise my interview and writing skills. My English wasn't brilliant when I first arrived but it improved over the years, much thanks to supportive friends and tutors. I also always loved the closeness to nature that Sheffield offers and spent many a weekend relaxing in a park or going for walks in the beautiful Peak District.
Did you get involved with any clubs or societies?
Not really, actually. I was part of RocSoc, the rock music society, and the Scandinavian society towards the end, but I didn't engage too much with them. I instead found the Germanic department to be really good for making friends and organising activities. In fact, it was particularly great in my final year when I came back from my year abroad and I was coming to terms with my sexuality. Here I found support in one of the German language tutors and by taking part in the German theatre production I made friends for life – and I met my long-term partner, Cyd.
After graduation where did your degree take you?
To start off I travelled to Heidelberg in Germany for six months to volunteer at a school for children with different disabilities. I wanted to get away from academia for a bit and made great use of my German skills here. After that I spent a few months looking for jobs in Sweden but without success; my skill sets were more suited to the UK job market and so when I saw on Facebook that DIVA, Europe's best-selling magazine for gay women, was looking for an intern I applied. They gave me the position and I booked a flight to London, spent a month sleeping on friends' sofas and had the time of my life working in a busy newsroom, doing my dream job. The placement gave me the confidence to go on to set up my business as a freelance writer and I moved back up to Sheffield where I also took a job at Coffee Revolution at the Student’s Union. I balanced freelancing with the cafe job for some time and eventually, as work picked up, I took the plunge to start writing full time.
You’ve worked for more traditional media like the Guardian, as well as through more social media through your YouTube Channel; what do you think are the main difference between the two?
There is a lot to say about this topic but I actually think that, although there are many differences; the main one being the citizen journalism drive behind social media, the two are merging more and more. Traditional media uses social media and video to a greater extent every day and a lot of social media is embracing live broadcasting and long-form writing. I have written about social media for the Guardian and last year I wrote a chapter on YouTube for a book called 'Counterculture UK - a celebration' and the future of tech and media is something that greatly interests me. Today traditional media couldn't exist without these newest channels but we are, equally, always going to need good old news reporting, critical thinking, investigation and analysis, so I can't see the foundations of journalism as such going anywhere. Whether paper news will continue to exist in the future however, I am unsure of, particularly because we have come to expect a different speed of news flow; to be up to date with the latest developments, thanks to social media.
Just recently you got to take part in coverage of Eurovision; how was that?
Honestly, it was a dream come true. I have always wanted to report on Eurovision - watch out Graham Norton! - and so to be in Stockholm, my home town, to see behind the scenes, write and film and meet other Eurovision fans like myself was beyond mind blowing. What was particularly great, also, was to see the level of citizen journalism at play. I learned lots and will no doubt be back.
You’re very active with work around equality and diversity. How do you feel Sheffield compares to other places you have visited?
Sheffield is a very open city on the whole, as is the University, but it needs to be better still. If I compare the UK to Sweden, which I often do, I can easily see that Sweden has come much further in terms of equality, rights and discourse at large, both when it comes to gender and sexuality. I am proud to see the University and the Students’ Union do well in LGBT equality lists and it is a great indication of the work carried out here but we mustn't become complacent. The conversation around equality and diversity must continue, especially at an educational institution like the University of Sheffield.
You’re still connected to the University as an alumni volunteer. What sort of things have you done, and why did you want to get involved?
I contributed to a session on media advice for student journalists, which was great! It felt really good to be able to help out budding journalists today and to hear their thoughts on the future and I hope they were able to take something from my experiences.
What are your current goals, and where would you like to go next?
I have so many ideas and I am sure you will see more of me soon but ultimately, and this is going to sound cheesy, I want to keep writing and keep working to create a better world for all.
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self or an aspiring journalist?
Believe in yourself. It may be easier said than done, especially when you are used to being discriminated against in one way or another – be it because of age, sexuality, gender, skin colour, ability or background, but do, really do. I still struggle with my confidence from time to time but when I follow my instincts and I believe in myself, things tend to go well.