Tuesday 14 August 2018

Lessons Learned at University

Look at me, a big smile on my face because minutes before I had graduated from University of Dundee, with a First Class Honours degree in MA English and Creative Writing. I walked across the stage (I was the tenth person I believe) and got bopped on the head, and screamed and clapped the rest of the way through. I'm not normally one to blow my own trumpet (I took piano and flute for a start) but I am so damn proud of myself for achieving the grades I did, getting an A for my dissertation which I actually really enjoyed writing, and for all the other personal gains I made along the way.

There are so many lessons to be learned at university. And not just in your classes. I feel like I completely grew as a person when I went to uni. I had a year of college where I do feel like I stepped away from the girl I was in school, but I know that during the past four years of uni I really learned more about myself, and what I want and need. I may eventually write a post about more practical tips for going to uni, but this post is a list of the things I personally learned, from friendships to missing your mum. I've also roped some of my friends into sharing their most important lessons too!

A tiny disclaimer: Please bear in mind that I loved uni. I'm even going back for a postgraduate degree (an MLitt in English Studies) because I love learning, literature and l... Dundee. I know it's not the same for everyone, but I feel like I graduated as a better person, and even though I don't completely know what the hell I want to do in my life, I know I'm more sure of myself than I ever have been. Onto the post...
Your confidence and sense of self will make leaps and bounds. Uni can be quite a stressful, anxiety-inducing time, it's true. But it is also the biggest contributor to my growing confidence in myself. I'm not the most confident person, but through uni I am comfortable speaking out in class, giving my own opinions, talking in front of groups of people, talking to strangers, and can see how my writing and analysis skills have grown immensely. I'm a quiet person by nature, but I learned I am not quiet-minded. I found myself doing things which I never thought I would before. It doesn't make things less terrifying, but now I know I can handle it.

You're not boring if you don't drink. Knowing your limits doesn't make you a dull person who can't enjoy themselves. Neither does just wanting to take a night off or just plainly not liking the taste of alcohol, or whatever other reason you may not want to drink. Over the past year I'd say 90% of the time I've had a few drinks I've had headaches on the night, so it's just not worth it to me to drink lots. I've learned that I enjoy a social drink, and I've recently got into gin and I am enjoying trying new ones, but the fact of the matter is that I absolutely hate the feeling of being drunk, and I don't really want to cause myself physical pain via those headaches, and that's totally cool. Additionally, people just don't care. I know drinking culture is huge at uni, but in my four years there was only a handful of times I felt I had to explain what's written in this paragraph to anyone.

Don't feel ashamed for enjoying uni. Lots of my time at uni was spent listening to people complain about classes or assignments. I 100% understand that university or academia in general is not for everyone, but it really does annoy me when I hear people complaining. I don't think some people understand how much of a privilege it is to be at university - in Scotland we don't have to pay for tuition, and it's something I think too many people take for granted. I like going into a class and hearing an interesting lecture from a person who is so excited about their research. I like giving and hearing opinions about texts, and reading all of these books and articles which I might have not known about otherwise. I like forming my own opinions and talking about them with other people. There's a strange air around uni that it's cool to not care, but actually, I think it's great to be excited about learning. Uni is just a waste of time otherwise.
Don't feel ashamed for doing well. More often than not, at uni you will hear people talking about how badly they've been graded in an essay, or how they haven't studied for an exam, or how they can't be bothered doing their resits. And you know what, studying isn't my favourite thing - shock horror. But when I put lots of effort in, and get a good grade, I should feel proud of that. Especially because I quite often enjoy the process of researching a topic I've picked myself. Yes, it can be gruelling, but I get satisfaction from seeing a project through to the end. Because there's such a big focus on how badly we're all doing, it does sometimes feel awkward to say that actually, I did get an A for that essay. I think it's the fear of coming off as a massive geek, the classic high school cliche. Grades aren't everything, of course, but they are still something to celebrate. Instead of being ashamed for doing well, be proud of yourself.

Opportunities are there when you look for them. University can be quite overwhelming at first, so I don't blame anyone for not immediately searching out new things to do - I will hold my hands up and admit that I didn't really participate in extra-curricular things in my first two years of uni. I felt like there wasn't really anything there for me because all I heard about was sports. However, when I got to the end of my second year and had made a few close friends, I realised how much there was for me to do. Throughout my years at uni I have had an internship, two jobs, become the fashion editor of the uni magazine, won an award, sat on the English, Film and Creative Writing stall at multiple open days for the uni, and attended a whole host of different events. Not to mention all the people I've met through all these things. I've made such a supportive group of friends, was in a relationship for two years, and found mentor figures in tutors.

You can't make people like you. I was really lucky with my coursemates throughout uni, in that I feel like we all got on so well, and even if you weren't ~proper~ friends with someone, they'd still be up for a friendly chat while waiting in the hallway. However, I had a nightmare situation with flatmates in which I admittedly had no backbone. I let them walk all over me, and it took an annoyingly long time for me to finally accept that I couldn't make them like me, no matter how nice I was to them. Some people just aren't worth your time! No matter how many lovely people you meet, there is always bound to be someone who doesn't vibe with you. Think of the phrase you can be the juiciest peach in the world and there will always be someone who doesn't like peaches. Your energy is best spent on yourself and the people who do get you.
You're an adult, so you will be treated like one. You are expected to organise yourself, to be a self-starter and to look after yourself. You can't just expect someone else to tell you exactly where you need to be, to go, or what to do. Email alerts sent straight to your phone are your best friend, as is an academic diary (whether paper or digital) and if all else fails, a group chat with course-mates to double check how do I reference a quote from a website again? Your tutors will treat you as if you've got your shit together. So if you don't? Go ask for help and they will happily lend you a hand. Being an adult doesn't mean knowing everything all the time. If anything, being an adult is knowing that asking for help is ok. You can't rely on other people to help you out without voicing that first.

It's ok to go home and be cared for. Yes, your independence is great, but sometimes you just need home. It's not good to run away from your problems, but it can be beneficial to just go home for a few days and have your family around you. If I'm having a stressful time, it's nice to be around my home comforts, having family movie nights, and having someone else cook my meals for a couple days. And even if I'm not stressed it's fun to go and visit anyway for a break from the uni routine. It puts your uni life in perspective, and gives you the time to properly switch off for a little while. There's nothing wrong with wanting your mum's advice, your dad's pizza, and your sister's hugs.

It's ok to not know what you're doing when you graduate. It's a small group of people who come to uni knowing exactly what they're doing afterwards, and an even smaller group who actually get a job straight after. Some people go into a career which doesn't have anything to do with the degree they studied, but the years of study and personal growth still prepared them for it. It is not a waste of time to study something which you thoroughly enjoy, because eventually you will find a way to mesh it into a future career. Yes, life is short. But there's also no reason to rush. You will find your way.
And now, a few lessons from my friends. Keep in mind they are all talented creative writers, which is how they've all shown me up on my own blog...

For me, the best thing I learned at uni was the importance of doing something you want and love. To spend around 4 years of your life on something you love makes the experience all the more memorable. The emphasis should not be on doing a degree that will get you the best paying job but a degree that you will find interesting and enjoy studying.

University taught me a little about study and a lot about life. It was a period of instability that forced me to take control, whether or not I was ready for that kind of responsibility. It challenged my mental health, my bank account, and my liver. It may not have been the easiest ride, but I learned plenty of important lessons along the way: leaving things until the last minute never works out well, talking out problems is better than isolating yourself and pretending that everything is fine, living alone can in some ways be harder than living with people you dislike, and many things besides. University experiences taught me to take time for myself, and to listen to my heart but also to my friends and family. It taught me to ask for help whenever I need it, whatever I may need help with. I may not have left university with a concrete idea of who I am and what the future holds, but I left it as a more mature and ultimately better person.

Sometimes, always, there are those who stand out in a crowd—not because they are the
one to step up front and kneel to rise again.

What makes them stand out is that they don’t seek out attention at all; they bow before
the world and remain there. They are cracking the stiff spine to find a language so lovely
one cannot but whisper its words aloud and watch the letters wrap themselves in all the
silent spaces between the lonely and the loved. These people are the combination of
many things—humility, kindness, sincerity, quiet resolve and endurance.

I have learned many things at university. How to embrace culture. How to listen. When to
speak. What to say. The time it takes to scribble down a list in the library. How many
skips on Spotify to save whilst studying. Where to find the best Chinese Crispy Rolls. The
most calming woodland walk to escape city centre bustle.

When to give-up and rest. The lyrics to subtitled songs. three lenses on an old camera.
How to save pennies. Public-speaking. Interview-questions. Sitting quietly—with other
people, all alone. To love without all the rest—without knowing what comes next.

I have learned many things at university, and still, I think the most valuable lesson I have
learned these past three years is how to find those who stand out in a crowd. The ones
whose gracious speech is as sweet and soothing as honey to the soul.

The biggest lesson I learned at uni was that versions of yourself expire. Naturally. If you hold on to them, they’ll start rotting any new versions that you try to become. A lot of students are driven, obsessive, academic types – those types can spend so long pursuing a vision, at the expense of everything else, that by the time they manage to conjure it into reality, it’s already irrelevant. Dead weight. It took a long time for me to get that into my head, but eventually I stopped pursuing ideas of myself that looked or sounded nice – “friends forever”, “top of the class”, “his girlfriend”, “a scientist”, “a thin person”, “a boho gal”, “a novelist” – and learned to write something off quicker if it wasn’t making me happy. So I guess the biggest thing I learned at uni is that I don’t know very much about myself at all. But at least I read a shitload of books. And made some stellar friends – including you, Emily. Love you xoxo

(Also – make your bed as soon as you get out of it. It stops you crawling back in, and you will want to crawl back in some days. So trust me, make your bed. You’ll feel better.)

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