We spoke to a nun on why you should forget grad jobs and join the convent
Pushing for pay packets isn’t for everyone
Anouska Robinson-Biggin became a nun not long after graduation when she felt something deep was missing from her life.
Dramatically shunning the well-trodden grad scheme path, flashy city boys and living each day for pay packets, she decided to make the plunge and join the convent.
After 11 long years of training, Anouska, 39, finally became a fully fledged nun in January of this year.
She told The Tab: “It wasn’t something I always wanted to do. I first thought about it when I was 16-17 and then it died out – I thought I’d go to university and then thought nothing more of it.”
Trained nun Anouska originally went to Stirling Uni to study History and Religious Studies.
“I loved Stirling. The course was very good for me and I enjoyed the mix and match of two subjects and was really involved in the chaplaincy.
“From there I was able to work out what my faith meant to me.
“There was a lot of support and a lot of banter – we’d get on and share stories.
“I was very clear that I didn’t want to drink massively, but I don’t look down on anyone else who did.
Everyone has a flatmate who drunkenly breaks down their door at 4am to show you the cone collection they recently acquired, but Anouska reckons she got off lightly.
“We were quite lucky. If I had a few flatmates who had heavy heads the next day it’d be like ‘yeah you ‘alright? yeah no problem.”
“There was no judgement, we just sort of coexisted.”
But it was after graduating and studying a PGC at Leeds Trinity before Anouska decided to dive into a religious life.
“In my mid twenties I had everything the world tells me would make me happy – a job, degree and a house – but I wasn’t.
“It was almost like something more that I needed or wanted for my life, to complete the picture.
“Bit by bit I woke up a bit and thought about looking again at the idea of religious life.
“It’s now been 13 years from when I met the congregation until I made final vows in January this year.”
Most people think new recruits have to hand over all their personal belongings and delete their Facebook – but Anouska insists it wasn’t too bad.
“I didn’t have social media anyway, but I did lose my mobile phone.
“But it wasn’t a case of it being taken from me, it was just that it didn’t work in France where I was training.
“I think at the time I was just ready to go for it.
“I needed to get rid of my dog and my cat and had them adopted. I sold my house to repay student debts.
Unsurprisingly, preparing to become a nun is a lot different to turning up to lectures and the occasional seminar with a storming hangover.
“Training to be a nun was very different to university. There you have a sense of being part of a very big group, whereas for me I was part of a very small group or an individual.
“It’s more focused on working with yourself. It’s about personal reflection and giving your input.
“University lectures are in rooms of 200, but those numbers don’t exist for training to be a nun.
“I was with 36 other novices in France, but in my own group it was just me in my year. Not everybody would stay but the majority wanted to carry it through.”
The days can be long and hard when you get a grad job, and the journey towards becoming a nun is no different.
“As a postulant – the first stage of training – I just worked in school. I’d get up for my own prayer, pray in community, go out to school, come home, cook and pray together.
“As a novice you don’t have paid work, and so I moved to France and had a 30 day silent retreat.
“From there I worked in a nursing home, a youth centre and went on pilgrimage – all to give the idea of being sent in the name of the society.”
“Then you reflect on that experience.”
These days Anouska’s life is more static, being based in London since January this year.
“Now I get up about 5:30am, personal prayer, community prayer – two days in university chaplaincy at Goldsmiths and London South Bank, with three days in a young adult ministry.
“We have communal meals, generally quite simple meals – something with pasta or rice. But you’re free to cook whatever the group likes.
“We say we live an ordinary life. That means food you can buy easily that’s easy to cook – but healthy.
“On celebrations we drink wine. It’s not so much things are forbidden, it’s more everything in moderation.
“We would have a glass of wine but wouldn’t sit down and drink it for no reason.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the grad scheme application cycle, but Anouska thinks students should be open to a life in the church too.
“Honour the possibility, but don’t write it off if you don’t know anything.
“Get a good spiritual director, who will journey with you on that path and listen to the patterns of things of what you desire.
“I had my local parish priest who was very good – Father Andrew in Doncaster.
“For me it was the best decision I ever made. I’ve never woken on a morning and thought ‘what have I done’.
“For students I’d say go for it, I just love it to bits.”