I’m going into my second year at the University of Exeter this September, so here are a couple of things I learned when I first moved away.
One.// Independence is bittersweet. When I moved into my university accommodation last year, it was the first time I had moved out of my family home for any period longer than a holiday. It was a very tearful day and I was suddenly alone on the other side of the country. But I was also finally accountable to no one but myself. Although I hated having to do my own washing and I found out I’m really terrible at turning Netflix off and going to sleep, I also loved being able to go for midnight strolls around my campus and not having to explain why I was leaving and where I was going, ever.
Two.// Your roommates can be your best friends. I’ve heard the horror stories about roommates, and I’ll admit that when I went to university I was absolutely dreading having to live with other people. I thought I’d have to suffer through a year of hiding in my room or sitting through conversations which held no interest for me. Instead, I met some of my best friends and we had a hilarious and fantastic year.
Three.// No degree is complete without extra-curricular activities. I was shocked when I found out just how little time was actually spent in the lecture theatre and seminar rooms. By no means does that mean that I don’t enjoy my degree; on the contrary I love it. But participation in more than just your course around the university means that your degree is more fulfilling, more wholesome, and it really does help to prepare for your career. You can tailor your degree experience to gain the most you possibly can, if you join the right clubs and do the right activities, from working closely with the administration as a tour guide or student liaison, to being president of the debate society.
Four.// Haribo and Malteasers are not a meal plan. In any respect. So I might hate food shopping and I definitely hate cooking for myself, but after trying to live off of chocolate and sweets, I came to accept that it’s not the right way to go. Whilst this might be the easy and comforting option, it leaves you feeling sluggish, unhealthy and lazy. If you’re not a huge fan of cooking, try implementing as much of a raw diet as you can.
Five.// If you can’t cook, you learn to. Or you make a friend who can. Relating to number four, this is a very important one. I’m not a huge cooking fan but at the same time I’m not completely inept. Moving away from the glory of home cooked meals means you learn to cook pretty quickly. Or, if you’re like my flatmate (who will not be named) and can’t cook pasta successfully, make friends with one of the best cooks in the flat.
One of my more successful attempts at cooking
Six.// No matter how small your room is, it becomes home. My room was classed as a ‘single standard’, which meant that it was pretty tiny. I had a single bed, small wardrobe, shelves, desk and sink area. It had exposed brick and old carpets, but it became my home within a month. I decorated my noticeboard with brightly coloured wrapping paper and covered it with postcards and other sentimental nonsense, I packed my shelves with books and ornaments, and I made sure there was plenty of my belongings scattered around, in order to never feel like I was staying in a hotel room.
Seven.// Black coffee is God’s gift to students. If you’re going to a morning lecture, staying up late to finish an essay or just trying to slug it through a dull part of the course, black coffee will become a staple of any student’s existence. Since I don’t really drink dairy milk, soya has been my go to, until I started to experience the unsightly mess of separated soy in my morning/afternoon/anytime coffee. This is due to the reaction of the acids in the milk to the hot coffee, and warming the soya only makes the separation worse, meaning the only thing left to do is let the coffee cool slightly. I just never have time to sit around while my coffee cools in order to put milk in it, so black it was. I do, however, put sugar or a syrup in it to vary the taste. It’s the perfect drink for any time of day, and I can guarantee that it will be one of the cheapest beverages to buy on campus.
Eight.// If you get to know your tutors, you’ll thrive. Thanks to my work on the student staff liaison committee last year, I was fortunate enough to get to know a lot of the higher ups in the History Department, and the College of Humanities, which has afforded me many opportunities I wouldn’t have been considered for otherwise. But on a simpler level, getting to know the people who teach you can really help your learning. University lecturers can be incredibly intimidating with their doctorates and their prestigious publications but they’re there to teach students who share their passions. Once you’ve struck up a relationship of any kind with your tutors and lecturers, they become more accessible to you and will often allow you to pester them more regularly than students who don’t make the effort. They start to get a feel for what you’re passionate about and can even dedicate their time to helping you pursue your goals outside of the course. I’m connected with some of mine on LinkedIn and they’ve given me endorsements as well as aided my networking for journalism, something I’m incredibly grateful for.
Nine.// The local community is amazing. When I got to Exeter, I wasn’t really concerned with integrating myself into the local community, but now that I have it’s something I recommend wholeheartedly, and I don’t mean just the campus. The town your university is based in has a vested interest in the students who learn there, because they want to keep the education and the jobs thriving locally. But more than that; they can be some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. In November, I had a bit of a meltdown about how much I was missing home, about problems I was having at university and general life, and went to watch the sunrise over the Cathedral. It was beautiful and contemplative, but what made that morning special was that I was approached by some of the wardens of the Cathedral and invited inside for morning mass and tea. They were so excited to talk to me about my university experience, and I loved being able to ask them all about their lives. I had even found a woman who had lived near my home town and taught at my secondary school decades ago. I wouldn’t describe myself as overly religious, but this small act of kindness from the elderly men and women at the Cathedral made a difficult time much more bearable.
Ten.// Missing a few lectures isn’t the end of the world. Okay, so I had it easy on this one because all of my lectures were recorded, but even so; you don’t have to go to every single lecture. Some will be things you’ve already studied before university, other lectures you can catch up on with a friend. If you’re ill, busy or even hungover, don’t beat yourself up over not attending a couple. Of course, it is dangerous to make a habit of not going to lectures, as they prepare you for seminars and your summative work.
Eleven.// You can be completely yourself at university, fearlessly. University doesn’t have the same shackles as any other form of education, from dress codes to clubs. Whether you’re a budding musical theatre star or secretly never want to change out of your pyjamas, you can do whatever you like. I, for one, didn’t change too much when I went to university; I still wear hoodies, jeans and converse far too often and I’m too happy to play the devil’s advocate in a classroom setting, but I’ve also realised that I like preppy fashion and that I’m very interested in the way universities are run. These years are the ones which allow you to discover yourself.
Twelve.// Home is a beautiful place which takes on a new meaning. The first time I visited home from university, I could have cried over my dinner. Real home cooked food! Unlimited wifi! A real sofa! The dogs! These are all things that, until that September, I had taken for granted. Now they’re all things I can’t get enough of. Of course, there’s that whole family aspect which I suppose I should mention… I’m kidding, it’s great to be able to go home and see the family, and spend time with them. You become much more aware of your family dynamics and gain a new, unique position in the family. There’s no doubt that this will always be my home, but the chance to gradually move out whilst having this safety blanket is one that should never be passed up.
Thirteen.// Confidence will come to you. I know a lot of people are naturally extroverted and confident, but for the rest of us it’s a hard thing to come by. Throughout secondary school I wasn’t the most sociable of students, and it’s pretty evident due to my disposition that I’m not a huge fan of most forms of interaction. But by the end of the first year, I was participating in all my extra-curricular societies and activities, speaking up in seminars and, with a fair amount of anxiety, presenting an award to one of the best lecturers at the university. Confidence will come to you; how long depends on the individual. If you feel like you need the day to hide away and read, or sleep, or ignore the world, then take it. But if you’re given opportunities, seize them with both hands. You will never regret it.
Presenting at the Teaching Awards
Fourteen.// I’m finally an adult. This is the scariest thing I’ve learned at university. I had finally become an adult when my parents drove off in our empty car, leaving me in Exeter. At that point I could make a mean cuppa soup or rice and cheese, and I didn’t want to make friends.
But when they came to pick me up in June, I had become close to all of my flatmates, completed my first year at university with grades I was proud of, and although I wasn’t going to win Masterchef, I at least had a more varied meal plan. (Sweet potato fries all day er’day!)
My point is, I didn’t think I’d become an adult at university. I thought it would be moving out after my degree which would propel me into adulthood but actually, just having that complete control over what I did and when I did it changed the way that I lived, worked and perceived myself.
What did you learn in your first year at university? If you’re heading off this year, what are your hopes?