Addie, Hannah, and Jo in Chinatown, London 2021

Hannah’s “write way” to success

Featured image – Addie, Hannah, and Jo in Chinatown, London 2021

Have you ever described your career journey as a ‘fruit salad’? It turns out Hannah Feben-Smith, 2022 alumna in Linguistics and Social Anthropology does!

We first met Hannah in 2021 when she took part in the Insights Programme at the University, so it was great to catch up and hear how her career journey has progressed. In her third year of university, Hannah co-founded Whatever Next?, a multimedia project that opens up conversations about adoption, with two friends Josephine Jay and Adaline Bara. Only a month after graduating, they published a book on adoption.

Hannah’s story… how it started

When looking back at my career journey, I like to describe it as a fruit salad. During my time at university, I threw myself into many experiences, meeting people from all over the globe and seldom having a moment to myself. I remember someone told me the summer before I enrolled to “throw myself into everything”. I did just that.

My first two years at university were untouched by Covid-19. I joined two sports teams: the University’s Women’s hockey ninth team and the Underwater Hockey Hippos (yes, this is a real sport!!). I also participated in academic societies relating to my studies, such as the Linguistics, Spanish, or Language Tandem society, and even embarked on the Race2Paris hitchhike. As a young student, I found myself working part-time in hospitality in one of the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) bars during the Fringe festival and occasionally during semester time.

Then suddenly, it was 2020 and Covid-19 struck, and everything shifted online. Over my two virtual summers, I started to look further afield for opportunities and experiences. I joined two summer school-like activities, through the University, both funnily enough with similar names, ‘Insights’ and ‘INCiTE’, I participated in Bright Network’s Marketing three-day internship and later worked with Holt International (an American Adoption agency which ran online camp sessions across the pandemic for adopted children in the US).

During term time, I tested out the waters of pension consultancy with Lane, Clark and Peacock in their Women’s Talent Academy, became a group leader within the Global Buddies Scheme to complete the Edinburgh Award, and acted as a parent for the ABACUS (Association for British and Chinese University Students). In the midst of all the mayhem of my third year, I co-founded Whatever Next?

Skills and experiences that have aided me in Whatever Next?

Each one of my extra-curricular activities and jobs have supported me for my work at Whatever Next?

  • Sports clubs taught me work-life balance as well as teamwork. Notably, my role as secretary for the Underwater Hockey team kept me organised with events and meeting agendas. This is a skill I heavily lean on at Whatever Next? which sees me compiling Google Docs for our weekly meetings.
  • The University’s Insights Programme taught me networking, a skill, which I can’t stress enough! Being confident enough to introduce myself and our organisation to new people on and offline, is an invaluable skill.
  • The INCiTE summer school taught me about intercultural intelligence, cross-time zone management, and tight deadlines – this was useful when working with colleagues halfway around the world!

Whatever Next?


Whatever Next? was set up in 2021, by myself and two friends, Josephine Jay and Adaline Bara, in order to uplift adoptee voices, tackle common misconceptions, and open up dialogue about adoption to those interested!

We share personal experiences as three Chinese adoptees living in the West on platforms such as our website, podcast, and Instagram. We have held numerous webinars, including interviews with BBC Radio Scotland, the Government’s Race Forum, and Adoption UK. Excitingly, we have just published a book with 404Ink called ‘On Adult Adoptee Identities’, which focuses on mainstream adoptive narratives. Check out the news article from the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences (PPLS) for more information:

PPLS graduate publishes book on adoption

Reflections on the skills and achievements gained

The primary skills that I have grown along the way include public speaking and networking, both of which are centred around my self-confidence. Growing up, I didn’t have much confidence, but I have found that the more practice I had, the more comfortable I became. This progress is something which I am proud of the most, even if it moves in tiny steps.

Notable achievements include:

  • Publishing our very own book in 2022
  • The Young Scot Award Winner for Diversity and Inclusion ‘22
  • Creative Edinburgh Student award ’21
  • Awesome Without Borders Grant Funded ’21
  • Securing our Podcast Contract ’21

My tips for students/graduates interested in setting up a project/initiative

  1. Find your niche. Standing out creates a lasting impression that you can use to your advantage. This was even the case when I talked about underwater hockey in conversations; a great ice-breaker!
  2. Brainstorm with someone. Edinburgh Innovations, part of the University, aim to help sprout your ideas and bring them to life. They can help match you with an advisor who can signpost opportunities such as funding or competitions.
  3. LinkedIn! This is a really beneficial networking platform: you can also double up as your online CV. The ‘alumni’ tool is your best friend to see blueprints of peoples’ career journeys which can aid you in figuring out your career path or ask for advice. Just wing someone with a message: most are willing to help, but remember to be polite! Feel free to connect with me (@Hannah Feben-Smith).
  4. Google Drive and Google Calendar are my go-to apps for organising and planning. They are extremely helpful when working in groups and you can access them from anywhere! What’s more, they’re free. (N.B. this is not a sponsorship!)

Thanks very much for this inspirational post Hannah. Looking ahead – what’s next for you?

As we have just published our very own book with 404Ink, called ‘On Adult Adoptee Narratives’, the next few steps are to give talks and promote the book! We will be hosting a book launch with the University’s Anthropology Society on the 29th of September so keep an eye out for the event!

Hannah has highlighted the benefits of LinkedIn for making connections. Did you know that another way to make connections is through Platform One, the University’s online community? 

You can find friendly people on Platform One who share a connection with the University and are open to supporting each other. These include alumni, staff and students who are happy to answer your questions and share their experiences with you. You can join here.



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