When my car rolled away from my house on 18th September last year, the last thing I saw was my then seven-year-old sister in her nightie, waving energetically through the window. I promptly burst into tears and didn’t stop for about ten minutes. I’d spent most of the summer with her, in her silly, innocent world of CBBC and crazy dancing, having left a positive chapter of my life (A-Level exams not included in the ‘positive’ part, btw) behind me. So to leave her for more time than the carefree days I’d spent with her, to a place where I may not for a while have made any real friends, was pretty crushing. I tearfully typed a caption of an Instagram post as we entered the motorway, making fun of myself. I was happy to know that many others had reacted this way to leaving their home life behind.
My first year at university has been both more and less than I imagined. I went out less; I for a while felt alienated from many people on my course; and I still do assignments with the ‘am-I-even-supposed-to-be-doing-this’ sort of dread that, I assumed, no one must have when deciding on a university degree. But it’s also been so much bigger than that. At this point, I can say that I was put with the best people for me to live with in my first year: accepting, caring, exactly my humour and most strikingly, firm friends for life. That’s what uni halls do: if you’re with the right people, the experience of living with them day in, day out creates a bond that you never really thought you would have for yourself.
I’ve now finished everything there was to do in first year: coursework, exams, meetings, celebrations of survival… and now, with results looming ahead of me, I feel like reflecting on the year as a mix of good and bad. And as we all know, the bad usually turns out to be for the good in the end.
Everyone needs their space – but especially me, or I will die.
Living with people teaches you a lot about yourself. It’s a totally different dynamic to making yourself look presentable, going into school with some mental preparation already in the bag, and talking to people only fleetingly. As an introvert, hometime was my golden hour, even if most of that hour was sitting on a bus going at 10mph. I could let my guard down, have a cup of tea, watch some crappy TV and be alone for a few hours. I love being alone – probably too much. I think if I could marry my own company, I probably would. Seen that ‘NASA’ t-shirt around with that slogan? You get the idea.
The transition to uni was therefore one I had nervous questions about: was I going to be pressured to socialise 24/7? Are people going to think I’m rude for not speaking to them, even if I’ve still shown my face? It’s been a fear for me ever since those early days when people said things like “she never talks” or “it’s like she has no emotion, she just sits there” – I felt a bit like an alien. Now I’ve got more confidence, I still need that time in a quiet place to recharge, otherwise I will go nuts. No, not shouting and screaming nuts. That’s the whole point. I will say nothing, it will eat me up inside, and I’ll end up bolting out of the room if I have to be with people for too long.
Living in halls can make you feel pressured to spend as much time with your flatmates as possible to look like a friendly person. But the fact that you’re living with them means you don’t have to do this – they’re at close hand when you do feel like socialising, and they should understand when you need a little time to yourself.
Me enjoying a lot of space x
Arts degrees seem just as much about having a ‘brand’ as being good at writing essays
Don’t you sometimes look around you and think okay, I know I’m not totally dull, but all these people on the surface look so much more interesting than me? Is it just me? Okay, if it’s a lot of other people, then maybe I need to rethink this whole thing. Comparing yourself to others is one of the most human things you can do. But I can’t help feeling like there’s an unwritten rule in arts degrees to make sure everyone knows you have your own cool, edgy style, and you’re more worthy of doing that degree because of it. When you’re still not sure of your own sense of style, it’s easy to feel lost amongst the tie-dye t-shirts and Doc Martens. At the end of the day, the only thing that truly shows how worthy you are is what you end up producing. It’s hard, but worth it, to refuse to be swayed by how ‘cool’ you feel you have to be to create.
Even at uni, you will probably still have that ‘I’m not doing a science so I must be stupid’ feeling
In first year I’ve lived in a flat of people all doing a logical or scientific degree of some kind, and it often saps out your self-esteem when you don’t at all understand the conversations they have over the kitchen table. The last time I vaguely understood maths was probably Year 8. When these subjects were compulsory, I dreaded the lessons – having a question on the Physics syllabus fired at you in front of the class was akin to a nightmare, and I couldn’t understand what joy people got out of making circuits or plotting graphs.
The problem was, if you weren’t good at these subjects you felt you weren’t intelligent at all, and the people who were good at them often didn’t see English or Art as things worth being good at. That feeling still follows me around when my time is taken up by English Literature lectures, or the frustrations of planning a piece of creative writing: what is any of this for?
So even though I strongly believe the arts are just as valuable as the sciences, it still worries me deep down that I’m not going to get anywhere in life. This is something arts students have always had to fight against, and will have to keep fighting against. Oh well, Old Joe still loves me…
Love is about communication, conversation, laughter and trust
Thankfully, I have found happiness in a relationship this year. It’s the first one I feel completely stable in, and brings me more excitement than I ever thought I deserved. It’s the four things I’ve mentioned – communication, conversation, laughter and trust – that have made this happen. You need to talk to each other when things go wrong until they’re not anymore. You need to get something new out of each conversation you have. They need to be able to make you laugh until your sides split. You need to be able to live your life knowing they have all your trust.
At this point in my life it’s become clear that relationships need to be nurtured, and if you don’t water them, they will die. Similarly, you can’t only nurture yourself and leave nothing for the other person, because relationships don’t last on selfishness. While this stage in my life is fairly unstable, with the prospect of graduation in only two years, I need to make sure my relationships are the opposite.
The people you went to high school and sixth form with aren’t the whole world, but you shouldn’t throw away those memories
For many people, going to university is a fresh start from everyone they’re leaving behind. You often meet lots of like-minded people, and it’s easy to pretend that these are the only people that matter and you don’t need anyone else.
Even though this feeling is great, I also often forget that a lot of those people from the past have brought me happiness, and I shouldn’t immediately discard the memories we share. Maybe once one of these people was your best friend, and you spent hours together watching funny videos and playing games on your Nintendo DS’s. They were a solid foundation in your life for a while, and even if there were problems later on, it’s good to show that you enjoyed having them ride the wave with you for a little bit. Even if you occasionally give their Instagram posts a like, or say happy birthday when the day comes, the internet can bring people just that bit closer together. If there’s a chance you can get in touch every once in a while, it’s worth it, because life really is short. Considering the terrible things that have happened recently, it’s never a bad idea to let people know you’re thinking of them.
So, I think I should amend the title of this post to ‘Things I already knew, but which the uni experience gave me a kick up the bum to remember’. It’s true – I already knew these things. The difference is that you are constantly going through new experiences to reinforce these lessons, or to make you look at things from a slightly new angle.
Here’s to second year and new life lessons! (Please be good to me…)