I wonder what you think of when you hear the word ‘student’? Do you think of sex, drugs, rock and roll or do you think of the youth of today bettering themselves through higher education? The truth is, the most authentic student experience lies somewhere in the middle.
All students experience that first rush of freedom when they first go to university. Whether it’s spending all your student loan during the first week of freshers, joining eight societies at once or eating a pot noodle for every meal of the day (because no one could tell you that you couldn’t!). However, for every new experience, there is a new responsibility whether that be cleaning, cooking or money management. If you’re smart, you’ve figured out that you will need these skills before university. If you’re … well ‘preoccupied’ … you won’t know how to turn on an oven or a washing machine! This was definitely true of me and some of my friends I made in first year!
No matter how many different ways my Dad taught me to slice an onion (diced or sliced), nothing could have prepared me for my first year at university! I like everyone was sold the university brochure life of being constantly surrounded by friends, meeting the love of your life and partying every night whilst somehow managing to get a first in your degree?!? Hats off to those who achieve all of these things, I know it is possible for the very few!
So, I moved away to university believing that I was promised this gold standard experience! But like many things in 2020, my vision of university life took an unexpected turn! I’m here to tell you what it’s like to get the ‘Bounty bar’ of university experiences, how you can get through it and how I’ve grown stronger because of it. Freshers, hold onto your hats!
One of the most exciting things I enjoyed before the summer of university was imagining what my dorm room would look like! I had carefully picked out a VERY pink, VERY Kath Kidston theme for my dorm room! And to my giggly fresher’s glee, I had lots of space to put it in when I got the biggest room in my halls flat! (Show off but shout out to Room 8!). I was so excited to unpack everything, wave goodbye to my parents and finally be the kick-ass independent woman I had always wanted to be! I’m so fortunate in the fact I LOVE my parents so much! I love them so much that I had only ever spent four days away from my parents and twin brother before moving out! Which brings us to our first hurdle… homesickness!
There’s a point for freshers where they suddenly realise, they are not on holiday and they have upped and moved to university. For most, this is after induction at their first 9am lecture, if you’re lucky it might take till Christmas or the end of the first year before you’ve even realised you now live at university! For me, the cheery-waver-offer-of-her-loving-parents, well it took me… 2.5 hours! Which, (traffic-free) is actually the time it takes to travel between my university and home town! I remember the exact moment I began to feel homesick at university.
To pinpoint it, I had just had a microwave curry meal ( that was nothing like my mum’s homemade curry!), hand washed my plate (no dishwasher’s in halls!), sat down in my dorm room and thought…. FLIPPING HECK, WHAT HAVE I DONE!!! I had just moved my entire life to a different county to everyone I knew and loved, all dependant on me being able to become a paramedic!
AH! Now Freshers, when this panic does set in (big scale or small-scale light bulb moment), it would be wise to find your new flatmates. Thankfully, due to a VERY emotional Snapchat story (or sob-chat in my terms), they came and found me! It was such a relief, as although they had managed to avoid feeling homesick on the first day – we were all in the same boat! Also conveniently made for a great ice-breaker?!
NOTE TO FRESHERS: You do not need 8 different sized frying pans, but you do need tissues! If only for freshers’ flu – which you will get even if you only hit the clubs twice! Sadly, this homesickness carried on for … well most of the year! It turned out that being on my own for the first time ever in my existence (as I’m a twin!) made me realise so much about myself. I had truly felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath me. I had left for university SO excited about the city I was moving to – yet felt too scared to explore it on my own.
I had been so confident that I was so strong and independent at the age of nineteen; yet my struggle to ease into the routine of university, making friends with strangers, keeping on top of everything and having my own back for the first time felt IMPOSSIBLE. I was left in tears every day of the first term for what seemed like the whole day, with absolutely no confidence that life at university would get better.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to drop out nearly every day before Christmas. It is beyond sad, that I became this way. But it is worth mentioning as I found out from several of my friends that this is a common experience at university, just not the shiny version of life that is advertised. I’m here to tell you that if you get this end of the stick during university, IT IS OKAY.
The things that got me out of this rut? Well, it’s not a quick fix, it took determination and resilience to build a happier life for myself. I recognise some factors that got me through were by nothing I did but by what others did that I could cling onto. One of these things was the support of my loving family, the tearful video calls and the constant optimism they were able to give me when I had lost my spark in my darkness. Whether it’s a family by blood or the friends that have become your family, hold them close and let them help you!
Possibly the biggest factor in my holding on was my faith in Jesus. It says in the Bible that God has a plan for all of us to ‘prosper not to harm’ us. In believing that everything happens for a reason, I was able to understand that maybe my struggle was just a ‘refining through fire’ and that good would come from it. Maybe writing this and it’s potential to help someone is that good. Other honourable mentions for turning things around: a thankfulness jar, inviting friends out and round your flat (shout out to SAS club!) and messaging your course mates who might just turn out to be your bestest friends! Having this resilience has helped me to be a better student paramedic. That is a whole ‘nother feat in itself.
Life on an ambulance was hard to adapt to in a time where I was struggling to swim through the tide of my own life. But with time, resilience, searching for joy and lots of herbal tea (among the above mentions), I have adapted! I have never been prouder of the work that the NHS does and the humans that act like superheroes during not just a global pandemic but every day. I can personally tell you it is INCREDIBLE and I would clap for them every night if I could!
Bottom line is, the struggle this year has brought has made me who I am and who I believe I am meant to be.
Life might not always be rosy, but that doesn’t mean good can’t come out of it! It is through being out of our comfort zone that we grow you will probably struggle in some way… but the best things are always worth fighting for. I am now entering into my second year of university. Although I have grown throughout this year, I am FULLY aware I am not the finished masterpiece. That is MORE THAN OK. I am entering the new academic year with GENUINE confidence in myself and a realistic perspective of life (still keeping my splash of optimism!).
So whether you’re experiencing this strange lockdown life or going off to university yourself. Good can come out of even the worst of times. It turns out either experience of university that you have, can be a good experience. Even if you reach into the chocolate box of uni life and pull out a bounty- remember this and that strength came from it. There are never 365 days of badness, sometimes you just have to work extra hard to find the joy in it. But you will and it will be worth it.
Parents would become teachers, once nameless neighbours would become friends and society would learn that the most neglected workers were, in fact, the most vital.
But, what will the history books recollect? The streets lined with clapping families, the able fetching shopping for the elderly or windows filled with messages of hope – pictures of rainbows that promised this shit shall pass. I hope it’s all remembered, but with the good came the bad. Society will never forget those that lost their lives and the thousands that tirelessly treated people, with no hesitation or thought for their own safety.
For those of us that stayed at home, that was the year that we found pleasure in the small things. We went on walks and actually enjoyed them, smiled at strangers because for the first time since World War Two; this was something we were all in together. And, whilst many of us had it easier than others, we were all united in our uncertainty at what the future would hold.
On the contrary to what many journalists initially said, Covid-19 did discriminate; it had a bank balance bias. It picked on the already ill, the elderly and those that had no feasible choice but to work. This was the year the poor would get poorer. Students would pay for tuition they would never receive and rent for a house they would not set foot in. Countless international students would be forced to stay put, far away from family and all alone.
Many third-year students would never get their end of year shows, exams and graduation ceremonies. Never getting to spend one last Summer in their student houses, abruptly saying goodbye to a city or town they had come to know as home.
Countless people would lose their sources of income, no furlough, no way to pay their bills. Domestic abuse would rise, suicide rates would soar. 2020 was the year we realised the businesses and people that cared. Not the Waterstones, or Wetherspoons of the world, but the Joe Wicks and Captain Toms.
Holidays would be cancelled, weddings postponed, and funerals attended by none. Those that died in care homes would never be forgotten but, the politicians that massaged the death statistics would be held to account.
It was the year we took as a lesson, to seek out connection in a world that can feel so disconnected. We learnt the members of society we need, the ones that work without flaunting their efforts. Not the billionaires or pointlessly famous celebrities, but the doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, retail workers, delivery people and everyone in-between that just did something to help in their own way.
How will this moment be illustrated in the countless films that will no doubt retell it? With rainbows and window waves, with facetime chats to loved ones – or by the sprouting seeds planted during hours spent in the garden.
Upon leaving our homes some returned back to their old ways but for the masses, everything changed. Individuals continued to cook and bake they persisted with reading and writing and finally, society saw the value of the things they had ignored.
And, we would all walk, everywhere.
2020 was the year we waited out the rain, in the end, a rainbow would appear.
Time and time again, people have created photo projects of people being told they’re beautiful. Truthfully, I’m bored to death of this.
What if instead of placing emphasis on appearance we thought about people’s quirky mannerisms, dirty laughs and other odd attributes . That is exactly what we did, revealing to a group of strangers messages from their loved ones; explaining just why it is that they appreciate them.
As you can imagine, their friends weren’t going crazy for their fantastic faces or sets of steel abs. Alternatively, appreciating characteristics like their zest for life or their fascination to learn.
Moving away from home to University is odd. In my experience, I went from a small town where everyone looks like they’re photocopied straight from a Topshop Catalogue to a huge City. In Bristol, people more closely resemble the Tweenies. Since swapping Joni Jeans for Dickies, I’ve been questioning more than ever my own ideas of attractiveness, and what being beautiful really means.
Whether we do so consciously or not, the varying height on which we place beauty ideals in respect to our own lives is interesting. What are your ideas of standardised beauty? What ticks your boxes?
The origin story of the word beautiful is extensive, transcending all geographical and linguistic barriers. However, in almost all cultures it is a term solely reserved for women.
Why is this? Is it because our existence is valued more on the basis of our exterior?
The definition of standardised beauty ideals has changed through time, from the unibrowed women of ancient Greece to the porcelain coloured skin and accentuated foreheads of the Georgian era.
The digital era presents its own handful of new expectations. A recognisable theme throughout all these periods, is the lengths in which a lot of women feel they need to go to in order to visually appease and satisfy.
We’ve moved from scrawling charcoal across our eyes and putting leeches on our cheeks to achieve the perfect rouge to putting jelly tot looking blobs into our bodies so we’ve got the perfect boobs.
Who are the people you choose to have in your life? The ones that make you laugh till you’re in pain, the ones that remember how you like your coffee or the ones that you just look good in photos with.
Appreciating appearance isn’t worth nothing, it’s just not everything.
In the end, looks fade and what are we left with? I’m trying to place higher value on the things that take a little digging to find, in others and especially in myself.
How is it that this year has simultaneously flown by and moved at a sloth’s pace?
Adhering to the massive cliché that I am and it being only a few days into 2020, I’ve been trying to figure out what the f**k this year was. Honestly, I don’t think I’m the only person that’s been feeling a little baffled. If years of our lives were given titles like books or films, I think the past 12 months of my life would be named ‘heavy’.
It feels like something’s been sat on my chest. And it wasn’t until I gave myself a week at home to gather my thoughts that it dawned on me that I’d been operating in autopilot. Until you leave a big city, you often don’t realise you’ve been holding your breath the entire time.
We are a generation of extremes, especially as students. Obviously, the odd individual falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. However, the majority either neglect their studies and focus on their social lives; or stay in the library till the early hours downing a litre of coffee.
Before finishing for Christmas, the people around me, made it so evident why we are called the burnout generation. A friend jokingly said he’d scheduled his breakdown in for just after his deadlines, explaining he didn’t have the time. Why do we feel guilty and wrong for trying to take care of ourselves?
Taking into account that we spend a vast amount of our time looking at screens or plugged into some sort of tech, why do we never think to recharge our batteries when we’re running low. We wouldn’t wait till our laptop’s battery died to do something. 2020 won’t see me creating crazy resolutions that I will have abandoned by the end of January, instead I’m just going to try and do more of what makes me laugh with the people that make me laugh most.
Plenty of people aren’t bothered by the beginning of a new year but, the transition of the 31st to the 1st is my favourite time of year. It’s another book in the saga of our lives, with all the best characters rolled over. This year is going to be my year but I reckon we can share;)