Let’s Talk: Sometimes University is Hard

Something I have noticed that many student bloggers do, and I am very much including myself in this, is to write short and snappy articles outlining how you solve ‘x’ problem; ’10 Tips for X’ etc etc.

Now, I’m certainly not about to advocate the doing away with such content. It’s quick and easy to read, digest, and from personal experience I know that it can often be quite helpful – before starting university I read a lot of ‘Top Tips for Freshers’ guides and they helped me feel a little less nervous.

However, today I want to address something which can’t be solved in a round 400 words, something which I wish people had said to me before I started uni.

And that is that university is hard. Like, really hard sometimes.

Perhaps you think this shouldn’t come as a surprise, we all know that universities are places of academic rigor (or at least they should be) and so we can’t expect it to be plain sailing all the time. However, the problem is that we are sold an image of university which is something like this:

[Picture] “A sunny field under a blue sky, groups of students laughing and carefree – more often than not, not looking at the books which lie open in middle of their circle of friends.”

Or perhaps:

[Picture again if you will] “A serious looking student sitting in a well-lit library. They are clearly working hard but their face is a picture of health – no bags under the eyes here”.

And sometimes university is like this. Often it is fun and you are surrounded by your friends for much of the time, and studying a subject you love is fulfilling.

But-

Sometimes it is stressful and can feel like you’re knocking your head against a wall. Sometimes despite your hard work you don’t do as well as you wanted to in a class. Sometimes things going on at home or in your social life can take over and distract you from your goals.

I’m writing this because this is what happened to me last year. There were things going on at home, one of my parents was very ill, I was making poor decisions when trying to balance my social life and studies – all of which was compounded by the fact that I had high academic expectations of myself and felt that others did too.

This is not to say that I didn’t have any good times second year. I had some really amazing experiences and memories I will treasure for a life time, but I was also stressed and unhappy for a lot of it. Being home for the summer has allowed me to take a step back, catch my breath and reflect on what went on.

I can see now that a lot of the time I was making myself stressed… because I was stressed? Whenever anything became difficult or didn’t turn out as I hoped, I turned it into a reason that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t a good student, rather than just seeing it as a natural setback that happens to everyone.

Talking to other people I have heard lots of similar stories. We all imagine that everyone else is finding things easier than us. That we are somehow uniquely deficient when it comes to the things that we want to be good at.

So, in summary, there is no easy answer to this. I’m still working it out for myself. But I think it’s good for students to know that it’s ok for things to not always be ok. Sometimes uni will be difficult and you will be stressed, but everyone else is feeling the same.

University is hard sometimes, but also, sometimes it’s bloomin’ amazing – and at the end of the day I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

(Here’s a really great video by the vlogger, Lucy Moon, addressing similar issues)

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To any UEA LGBT+ freshers

I know that the events of the last few days have been heart-breaking and scary, I know that for young people wanting to come out it might seem more impossible than ever, but I want to tell you now that at UEA there is a community ready and waiting to welcome you with open arms.

Over the last year I have been too caught up with my work on the Drama Society committee to be involved in many of the Pride (our LGBT+ society) events, but as a fresher they were somewhere I knew I could go and make friends and feel safe. It is an incredibly open and supportive community and I would really recommend you coming along to at least the welcome social at the beginning of the year.

This week their commitment to solidarity and activism was sorely needed following the events in Orlando, and a vigil was held in the campus square to remember the victims.

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Photo: Eastern Daily Press

Things seem awful at the moment but I just want you to know that uni can be the time when you learn to express yourself, your identity and your truth in the most supportive and loving environment imaginable. So please don’t feel when you arrive in September that you need to hide anything about who you are or who you love.

Enough words have been said by more eloquent people than me, trying to describe a tragedy for which there are no words, and therefore I would like to leave this post with a poem which I came across recently and which has stuck with me:

dirge without music

How to House Hunt…

Now is the time of year when students across the country are scrabbling to secure their housing for next year. Some of them may be first years on the lookout for their first ever house, and some of them are second or third years who for whatever reason aren’t staying in their current accommodation.

Luckily for me, I’m staying right where I am. I lucked out both in terms of housing and housemates so aside from one change in the team line up, due to one of my housemates graduating this summer, we’re staying as we are.

However, one of my housemates and I were discussing just how unusual this is, to be happy with both your choice of housemates and your choice of accommodation one year on from that original contract signing.

I don’t pretend to have any particular wisdom on the subject, good fortune more than anything led to a situation where by the November of my first term at uni I had found who I was going to live with in second year (One of my housemates is the first person I met at the ice breaker on my first night at uni).

But I think there are a few pointers that I can give to help ease the house hunting horror.

  • Firstly, and this will seem like a very obvious one, work out what you can afford. You need to include not only the monthly rent but also the cost of bills if they are not included, the cost of transport if you are going to be travelling in every day, plus the basic costs of living such as food.
  • Decide how far you are happy to live from uni. I live right in the centre of the city and I love it. I’m very near the shops and clubs, and only a five minute walk from the main bus stop so I don’t have to worry about whether the next bus is a 25 or 26 (this is a problem all UEA students above second year will understand). Personally I think it’s best to either live very close to uni or to move right into town. A lot of student housing falls somewhere in between, leaving you too far away to walk to uni and too far away from town to walk home after a night out. Bite the bullet and pick a side.
  • When on the phone and looking around properties, remember to put your best foot forward. Nice houses go very quickly and the landlord will have plenty of offers to choose from, so make sure you’re the nice bunch who say things like, ‘we’re not much of a party house’, even if it’s not true…
  • Once you’ve found a place, don’t sign anything until a Student Union advisor has gone through the contract with you. This will protect you and the landlord from surprise costs or unreasonable demands. These things are legally binding, so make sure you fully understand what you’re getting in to.
  • And lastly, before looking around houses, have a discussion with your future flatmates about your expectations for the next year. Is one of you planning on bringing people round every weekend? Does one of you have a secret passion for the violin they’ve not mentioned before? These aren’t reasons not to live with someone, but they are things you should know about beforehand. It’s also worth checking whether any of you are very keen on having things like a bath or double beds which not all properties have.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to be thorough enough with your planning and house hunting that there no nasty surprises once you move in – or at least none that you can be held responsible for.

Best of luck to everyone looking, and don’t forget that there’s loads more info on the HomeRun website!

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Last year’s booklet – How time flies…

When the going gets tough… the tough occasionally need to take a break

You may have noticed that this blog has been a little quiet recently, and mostly this has been due to my heavy workload at the moment combined with all of the extracurricular stuff I’m doing (there’s a reason directing is meant to be a full time job).

However, life also has a habit of throwing you a curveball just when you think you’re managing to hold everything together. My mum found out recently that the cancer she had had previously has come back, and that she will need to undergo chemotherapy for the next few months.

I’m not putting this on my blog for attention or sympathy, but because I have promised her that we won’t dance around the issue or use vague words. I’m writing about it because this is a blog about student life, and these are exactly the kind of problems that can come out of nowhere and disrupt it.

No one tells you when you are applying or arriving at uni what to do in these sorts of situations, but they must happen to thousands of students every year. I’m lucky that UEA has a very supportive Student Union which runs a regular drop-in clinic where you can ask questions, and all of my seminar leaders have been very understanding. It’s far better to have a ten minute chat with them about it, than to try and hide at the back of seminar which you haven’t been able to do all the reading for and hope no one asks you a question.

I have also been blessed with kind and supportive housemates who I am eternally grateful for.

My advice to anyone going through a similar situation is that you shouldn’t be afraid of taking a break. I woke up one morning last week with only half an hour to go before my first seminar started. Normally I would have sprung into action and accepted that whilst I would have looked worse for wear, it would be worth it; however having been ill the previous few days on top of everything else, I knew I didn’t have anything I could particularly contribute. For the first time in my student life I skipped a seminar, and therefore I had the time to get up and prepare for the rest of my day, and the other two seminars I had. And to my surprise, the world didn’t come crashing down. I felt better because I wasn’t pushing myself when I was already down.

Now this certainly isn’t going to be a regular occurrence and I’ve made sure that nothing vital was missed, but it was an important learning curve for me. Sometimes you just can’t do it all, and as long as you’re honest with those around you it’s fine to take a break for your emotional and physical wellbeing.

Hopefully I’m going to be back on track from this week but if I need to take things a bit slower, I know it’s not the end of the world.

Coping with Results Day 2015

Ah Results Day, I remember it… a bit.

For me it was two years ago now so of course it’s a little hazy, but that’s also because after checking I had got into uni via track I went straight to a friend’s house for cocktails.

It was a good day.

We were lucky in our friendship group as everyone had gotten into their uni even if they’d missed their grade offer, but I know it doesn’t always work out how you’d like it.

For those of you who got the results they were hoping for, congratulations, but to anybody who missed their offer or just didn’t do quite as well as they had hoped, don’t despair. Everyone will be telling you what you should do next, ringing your uni, going through clearing, etc, so here’s my alternative list of what you should be doing over the next 48 hours*:

  • This your results day, don’t let other people’s opinions about what constitutes doing well bring you down. If you’re happy with your set of results then screw the rest of them. Haters gonna hate.
  • If you are disappointed then try not to wallow in it. It’s not constructive and it won’t make you feel better – what will raise your spirits is a Ben and Jerry’s sandwich (I speak from experience).
  • Try not to give into panic and make rushed decisions. Going to university is a big investment, both of time and money, so don’t accept the first offer you get. Consider the possibility of waiting another year to start, this way you don’t have to make snap choices that might come back to bite you. Gap years are scary and exciting in equal parts, but they will give you infinite opportunities to grow and when you do get to uni you will know that you’re doing the right thing for you.
  • Just because you might not be off to uni in September doesn’t mean you can’t still celebrate finishing school. Getting through A-Levels in an accomplishment in itself so go party! You’re young!
  • Or, and this is just as valid a choice, if you don’t think you want to be around people celebrating getting into their first choice university, take some time out. Tune out of all your social media and don’t watch the news. A night in with pizza has cured many a sore heart so it’s not an option to sniff at.

I hope some of this proves useful to people, but what I think I’m really trying to get at is that you need to do what feels right for you. Not getting the results you want is a temporary setback, just as getting into your first choice of uni only guarantees where you are in September – what happens after that is up to you.

So chins up everybody, it’s all going to be ok.

*This list is to be read in conjunction with all the other advice your school will be giving you about things like Clearing, etc

Take heart, soon UCAS will be a distant memory...

Take heart, soon UCAS will be a distant memory…

Avoiding the dreaded ‘Summer Slump’

I realise that a lot of my recent posts have been fairly serious/ political in nature, and whilst they are an important part of my blog, I want to try and even that out with some of the more pleasant aspects of student life.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I find it impossible to get things done over the summer. All sense of schedule goes out of the window and I’m reading until four in the morning or not responding to emails for nearly a week. I call this, ‘The Summer Slump’.

This occurs because all those things you didn’t do during the term, e.g. the shows you didn’t watch, the books you didn’t read, the people you didn’t see, are suddenly no longer the forbidden fruit. You can shamelessly indulge in all of them and this simply overloads the system.

Consequently, nothing gets done.

Whilst there is no cure for this seasonal funk it is important that you attempt to fight it off, for if you don’t then by the time September rolls around your brain will have turned to mush. I speak from experience.

Unfortunately I can’t offer any full proof methods of keeping the slump at bay, but I can offer these tips-

  • See old friends. It sounds obvious but it’s like chicken soup for the soul, and it gets you out of the house – an important step in any attempt to combat the slump.
  • Have a reading/watch list. Undoubtedly there will have been a lot that you haven’t found time to check out during the term and crossing even a film title of the list can feel like an accomplishment after a month of no academic work.
  • Do something (a project for instance) that imposes some form of schedule on you. It’ll stop you feeling like you have wasted a day and will give you something to look back on by the summer’s end. Running a blog for instance…
  • Keep that brain ticking over. I know what gets to me most is the lack of classes to give me a mental workout. Like any muscle you need to keep flexing it if you want it to stay strong. Don’t lose all your hard work from the previous year by not touching your subject for three months. I download podcasts from iTunes and iTunes U to keep me thinking over topics I covered this year, and to prepare for next term.
  • Most importantly however, take a moment to enjoy the fact that for the next few weeks you aren’t reliant on your own cooking. Savour it (literally) whilst it lasts.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle for productivity over the summer is the internet. Why commit to doing something for a whole hour when you can just commit three minutes at a time to cat videos?

This is probably why most of my reading gets done when I’m somewhere without access to wifi.

Speaking of which, I am going to be in deepest, darkest Wales for the next two weeks so it may be a while before I can write another post.

Until then enjoy your summers and best of luck averting the Slump.

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What I’ve got through so far this summer (Ok technically I’m rereading The Song of Achilles for the dozenth time but still)

First year students: you don’t need all the answers

Deciding what, where and if you should even be studying at university is a massive decision. From the age of around thirteen, when students begin picking their GCSEs, they are making decisions about what they want to do for the rest of their lives. However, the scariest part of all is that even once you’ve arrived at university – you still might not be convinced that you’ve made the right choices.

I arrived at UEA feeling incredibly nervous. I wasn’t sure if I’d picked the right course and as a deferred entry student it had been years since I’d seen the campus, one which I’d agreed to live on for the next three years.

Perhaps I wouldn’t be cut out for university level studies? What if I didn’t get on with anyone?

Those first few weeks are now a whirlwind that I can barely remember. I met many people and attended many socials. What quickly became clear, was that everyone was just as scared – some were just better at hiding it than others.

In many ways, university life was different from my expectations:

  • Fresher’s week wasn’t the carnage I had been led to believe
  • Professors aren’t actually that scary
  • Unlike A-levels, you don’t have to live by a rigid marking scheme

That isn’t to say that there weren’t hard times. After my first term I realised that joint honours English and drama wasn’t the right course for me, so I switched to single honours English literature – and it wasn’t a drama (pun intended).

There were times this past year when I didn’t think I was good enough. I once had to complete four essays in one week and there were many tearful calls home. But much to my surprise I managed it. In fact I not only managed it, but I excelled. University pushes you academically and socially, and you will be amazed by what you can achieve.

The biggest piece of advice I can give to someone considering university is that you’re not trapped by the choices you make at school. If the course or the university isn’t working for you you can switch. For the first time your education is solely in your hands, and the exciting bit is that you can make it into anything you want.

I’m looking forward to starting my next year of university. I know that I will be studying something I am passionate about and living with people who support and inspire me. The friends I have made this year are some of the best people I have ever had the privilege to meet; their creativity and kindness are part of what makes university life so special.

Throughout my school career I thought I needed all the answers. The question of where and what I should be studying at university seemed like something I could easily get wrong. What I have learned this year is that choosing the wrong course won’t cause you irrevocable damage, but it will help you find your way to what you really want to be doing. It needn’t be a drama.

(This article was originally posted on The Guardian online)