Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Reflections on university

I've finished my degree. Essays? A thing of the past. Exams? All done last week.

While some people seemingly couldn't hold themselves back from posting statuses about it the minute our final exam finished, I didn't feel like it was quite that easy. The hardest part was over, sure, but I'm still nervously waiting for my actual degree classification - which won't be released for another few weeks yet - and the subsequent graduation ceremony, which still seems like ages away. This year has been a bumpy emotional rollercoaster and so I can't be completely relieved yet. I'm not feeling that sad or nostalgic at all at the moment, but it's probably only a matter of time... four years is a long time to be an undergraduate, after all. And each year has varied from the next.

Just some of the books I've used over the years...

I guess that most people regard their first year with the best kind of embarrassment. Beforehand, I'd been a bookworm and music-elitist, and I carried on that way, yet expecting friends to fall into my lap. This was terrible for the way I was perceived by others, which, as it turns out, matters a lot when you're new at university. For that, I only have myself to blame. My advice for would-be freshers who veer more to the introverted side is to go out anyway. Pretend to be outgoing, it's a useful life skill. (I am aware not all introverts are necessarily un-outgoing, but that's a discussion for another time.) I know it's painful, but just do it, just for Freshers' Fortnight. Look, despite what films would have you believe, this is simply not a place where you're going to have a bedroom conversation about Camus over coffee. You need to build that rapport with your flatmates, even if you don't intend to ever go out again for the rest of your life and are convinced you'll make friends from your course or from societies. Home (or halls) is where the heart is in this case, and take it from me: the last thing you need is to be tarred as stuck-up. Besides, you may be pleasantly surprised when you get to know them!

For me, second year was the glorious youth that people tend to reminisce. Sometimes I'm not sure why, though; I recently read through my diaries from that time, and I was startled at how sorrowful they were. At times I was so confused and lost that when I look back, I just feel relieved I'm not that person anymore. But I guess that's all part of that glorious youth, somehow!
In any case: I had eventually made some friends, ones I liked enough to share a house with. And what a great house it was. My bedroom, although very draughty in the winter, was wonderful, and 5* compared to the broom cupboard I slept in at home. Life was pretty sweet until aforementioned depression posed a huge problem, and we faced several crises as a house. Luckily, these things had blown over by the time we'd finished our summer exams. We had barbecues and boozy nights in the garden, and the impending year abroad still held hope and promise.
Second year flew by very quickly. Despite all the trouble, if I could re-live any year of my life, it'd be that one.

If you study or work abroad as part of your degree, every experience is going to be vastly different from that of the next person, and incommunicable to anyone else, really, so I won't say much about it here. I suppose the downside of doing a year abroad and then having to go back to your home institution for a year is that you have now seen that life is out there, but then you have to be dropped back into your university bubble. Living independently in a foreign country can be tough, but ultimately you find that you get back what you put in. To go from that sort of independence, back into being babied in some respects, can be quite difficult.

That has perhaps been my main qualm with final year. It's been a tornado of frustration and stress and being on edge 24/7 and bursting into tears in a lecturer's office and cheating on veganism a little bit and hearing 'you look tired' several times a day and the feeling that everything is coming to an end so you'd better make damn sure that you're flawless... even though you're looking to the future, it's so close you can taste it, but you need to be utterly focused on what is going on right at that moment. At least, this what final year was for me in a few words.
Going out had pretty much become a thing of the past because everyone was somehow even poorer and just exhausted all the time (not that I had been the hugest party animal ever). Instead, my friends and I made the most of Orange Wednesdays at the cinema, cooking for each other, and the magic combination of booze and late night telly (there was a lovely off-licence in the neighbourhood specialising in independently brewed European beers).
I did try to enjoy my final year of university life, knowing that this fabled "real world" was waiting just around the corner and that things were never going to be quite the same again. While it hasn't been the most awful year of my life so far, it certainly hasn't been the best. But I learnt to take pleasure in the little things that will inevitably come to characterise this year: rocking up to the studio after lunch on Wednesdays to present my radio show; my job; rolling my eyes as I bought yet another overpriced salad in the tiny window of breaktime I had in my six consecutive hours of classes on Fridays; obsessively checking non-course books out of the library; deciding I needed a "walk" after an evening of work and making that walk a little ten-minute trip to Tesco down the road to buy snacks.

You know, I'm not entirely sure that I've "found myself", which seems to be something that people come to university expecting. But I have certainly made the first steps of a transformation that has already brought me aeons away from the meek girl I was in my first year or so. Maybe that's what being in your early twenties is about; you grow so quickly, and each year is so crucial to your personal development, contrasting so much from the preceding one. So, maybe in that respect I'm normal. At any rate, for the first time in forever, I feel really happy with who I am, and that's something, right?

Now that I don't have deadlines coming at me from all directions, I am learning to live in the present a bit more. And in a few weeks, I'll be graduating from the same stage my favourite band (Belle and Sebastian) have played on, which I don't think many people can boast!