University: Reflecting on First Year

Sunday, 27 May 2018
Well, I did it! First year is in the bag.
Now I just have to wait to find out if I made it through to second year! The last thirty two weeks have been every cliché in the book: a rollercoaster, a nightmare, a learning curve – yadda yadda. Still, I wanted to write this post not only for my own reflection, but also for anyone else taking the plunge this September.


Story Time...

When people tell you that university is a real jump from A-Level, they're not wrong. My decision to go to uni was a bit of a whimsical one; at twenty-two I was certain it was too late to go, so for DMU's Creative Writing and Film studies course to change my mind, it truly meant something. This was the thought I clung to through those dark weeks of term one, feeling lonely in classes, suffocated by the workload and expectations, and just generally overwhelmed by everything new. I held on to that thought to assure myself that this was where I was meant to be and the only person who could make or break this experience, was little ol' me.

After steadying myself over Christmas break and getting a real kick of encouragement from my first round of results, I went back to term two feeling a lot more motivated and grounded; my feet were much more firmly under my desk. I knew the town better, I realigned my expectations of my social and professional life and went back to harnessing my energy into doing what I wanted, how I wanted – achieving good grades and forging worthwhile relationships, without killing myself. This term was definitely my favourite. My deadlines were spaced out so I could actually stop to enjoy experimenting with new forms of writing and expanding my perception of cinema.

By term three, I was presented with my third and final fat heap of assignments, cracking out at least 9000 words between 27th April-11th May. The fact is, university is one of the biggest and, hopefully, life altering experiences I'll ever commit myself to. I've always been diligent but I've never cared about anything or worked as hardcore as I have for this degree. Everyone always talks about university being the time of your life and a complete lark. Apparently, kids only ever spend their nights drinking and eating chicken nuggets. While that's true in some cases, for others of us, there are also many nights spent in the library, buried under a mountain of books, translating the incredibly complex and pretentious language – which actually describes something relatively simple – and literally dreaming of scary lecturers squawking about your unwavering deadlines. Okay, that last one may just be me...

You know, if someone had told me back in August just how hard the work would have been, I'm not sure I would have gone ahead with it. I've seen so many peers drop-out and I completely understand why. For a brief period in November, my finger was dangerously close to that big red button, but I pushed on through. I pushed through the financial strains, the loneliness, the weight of the work, and  being so stressed out that my skin had a nervous breakdown – hello raging eczema, blemishes and inflammation, I hate u – and I'm so glad I did! I realise now that I have learnt so much in the last thirty two weeks which will alter my life forever; they already impinge on my daily life now, from discovering that poetry is seriously cool stuff and that it's okay to be a bit anal about that damn comma, to learning the history of cinema across the globe and becoming aware of the many complex and prevalent issues, particularly for women, in both these industries. Outside of my degree content, I've also learnt to navigate a new city, budget and live alone, network, meeting some brilliant new characters that I hope will stay with me beyond this experience. 

Without a doubt, university is the most challenging chapter of my life yet. It's terrifying. But that's a good thing! I truly feel like my degree is preparing me and opening doors for my career path. This isn't a waste of time, I made the right move on the chess board back in April 2017. Hopefully, it'll be even more exciting as the years go on.




So, Three Lessons Learnt...

Be open to networking and get involved. Making friends has always been my downfall, as I've never been a forthcoming person. Being thrown back into shifting networks and meeting new people, I recognise now that if I'd have been more active and open to new connections early on, I'd have made more fulfilling friendships, quicker. Note to self: extend the olive branch. You might just end up screaming with laughter in the local pub by the end of the year, with someone who wouldn't even make eye contact with you for the first three months.

Lists and spreadsheets are my best pals. I know setting up a spreadsheet or pre-emptively organising your time to manage your spending / workload might sound 'extra adult-y' but I found it incredibly calming and useful to have a routine to manage my expectations, especially when those unwavering deadlines were hanging over my head. Organisation skills are a forte of mine and I actually really enjoy it, so at uni when trying to stay ahead of the game, it's never been more handy.

Work is important, but it's not everything. Despite work and deadlines usually being number one on my hit list, the university experience is so much more than that, and striking the balance is so important. If you're a perfectionist like me, it can be hard to resist the temptation to work yourself into the ground and let the stress crush you completely. This is one of the things I really want to focus on handling better in the future; yes I want good grades, but I also want to stay healthy. Taking time out to see friends, saying 'yes' to fun opportunities and taking care of myself, is just as important.

How was your first year at uni, or what are you looking forward to about starting?

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