The fourteen-year-old Connor was probably secretly quite ignorant, as well as insecure, prudish, horribly narrow-minded and the size of an average moon. He was a stubborn creature of habit, living in a bubble the size of his postcode area, steadfast to the idea of living, working and existing within the UK. Bizarre for someone who was starting to realise that his academic career was geared towards foreign languages. The twenty-two (going on twenty-three (gulp)) -year-old Connor is radically quite different. Why? I owe it to the Year Abroad, of course.
I’ve been in Exeter for a week now and while there have been ups and downs (and I don’t mean just the hills), I’d say that things have been pretty alright for the most part.
I was greeted in Exeter last Sunday with a partly sunny, partly cloudy day by the incredible Welcome Team from the University. From making sure that all the confused faces coming out of the terminal at Heathrow found a friendly face with a smile, to ensuring that everyone found their way to their humble abodes for the next 4 or 8 months, the Welcome Team made a fantastic first impression.
I had mixed feelings about coming back to Exeter. Although I didn’t want to leave my family, and the comfy house and home-made meals, I was looking forward to seeing my friends, getting back into a studying routine and being more independent again. After getting used to living by myself, it was difficult having to live with family again. I really enjoyed spending time with them though, my sister Tanisha and I spent a lot of time together. She starting working at Superdrug and I loved training her and working with her, it was so much fun. I didn’t get as much revision done as I was planning to; I worked 35-40 hours a week at Superdrug and wanted to spend time relaxing with my family. I really don’t know where all the time went, 3 months has flown by!
I was over the moon to find out I had passed my end of year exam. Despite all the stress, I think the majority of my year passed. Everyone tried so hard, we all got what we deserved.
I am extremely excited to be coming to the University of Exeter from Canada on exchange. I’m originally from Toronto and I study at the University of Ottawa. I’m sure being Exeter is going to be quite a change for me from but it’s one that I’m looking forward to!
In so many ways I’m glad I’m not a fresher anymore! I really hate awkward small talk and your first year is full of it. So, what subject are you doing? What halls are you staying in? Where are you from? It gets a little repetitive. You can be a maverick and open the conversation with a curveball question like “So what type of dragon would you have, if you could own one?” But, as much as I like pondering such scenarios, in my experience, people don’t like to be caught off-guard. You will meet a lot of people trying to act ‘normal’ (although, everyone’s weird on the inside) therefore you might play at being ‘normal’ yourself.
A friend that I work with is starting university this October and so I’ve been thinking of various tips and pearls of wisdom I might give her. I found the first 3 months really hard but I don’t want to tell her, or anyone, that for fear of putting her off. She’ll have a great time, I know that for certain, but not everyone will have an amazing experience. So here is what I have to say to you, my fellow misfits.
Having said my goodbyes and arriving at the central station in Munich, I was not sure what to expect of the year ahead of me. I had set goals such as integrating myself with the locals, improving my German and taking advantage of Munich’s central location to travel around Europe. Each of these goals was given attention throughout the year and was a stepping stone in helping me to develop as a person.
A week from today, I will be seated on a plane flying from Toronto to Glasgow. It will be the longest plane ride I have ever been on, the longest day of travel I’ve ever had to endure, and the most terrifying journey I will have ever experienced. It will be the first time that I will be completely and utterly on my own. No friends. No family. Just me and a boarding pass.
I am thrilled.
Of course, I am scared beyond belief, that I cannot deny. But if you were to know me, you would know that this is my lifelong dream. It’s something I’ve longed for, prayed for, ached for, and I almost didn’t let myself have it.
Until one day, I made a decision.
Is it really four years since that fateful day? I’m talking about that day. That day when, surrounded by my peers, many of whom were drowning in anxiety and perhaps a little over-exaggerated hysteria, I sauntered into the school hall, whose smell of cheap wax and Wotsits I can still smell to this day. There, lined up before us, were three folding tables, with a smiling woman from reception behind each one. After she sifted through the envelopes in her box labelled ‘J – Q’, and handed me mine with a saccharine smile, I realised that somewhere inside the envelope in my hands were the four most important letters of my life. Four letters which were rather unfairly now the pinnacle of my academic life. Four letters, which, behind my back, had in a way begun paving the way for the rest of my life. It was strangely monumental.
Well, I’d like to put that much weight on that moment I opened my A Level results, but I’d already received a text message from the University of Exeter first thing that morning, so I suppose I didn’t need to subject myself to the smell of crisps and awkward conversations with the headteacher that afternoon. ‘Congratulations!’ the text read, telling me that I’d already secured my place. It took a while to register, as I rubbed the sleep from eyes, before deliberating falling back into bed or heading down to find out how I’d really done. I did the latter, of course.
This time of year is incredibly stressful for students awaiting results all over the country, especially those waiting to find out if they have got into their university of choice. I’m not lying when I say that results day was the most important day of my life to date. It was a horribly daunting thought that the contents of that envelope would determine where I would be living and what I would be doing for the next 5 years of my life. Having to go back to school and retake, then reapply and go to all the interviews again seemed unbearable. However, on the other hand, a year out might not be so terrible. I planned on retaking the subjects I hadn’t achieved so well in, getting as much work experience as possible and maybe a well-paid part-time job on the side. In fact, universities often prefer older students, who have had a year to mature and gain experience relevant to their degree. It shows determination, resilience and commitment. Having a well-thought out back up plan is invaluable; it takes a lot of pressure off of results day. Although I preferred to get in first time, I knew I would be okay either way.
I had received two conditional offers to study medicine, both asking for 3 A’s. Many of my friends had received 3-4 offers, with different universities asking for different grades. They had their first choice university and aimed to fulfil their grade requirements, but then also had other universities offering them a place if they did not do as well as expected.
Discovering that I had achieved my grades was the best feeling ever; I cried my eyes out and so did my mum.
Have you ever had that thought whilst watching some young child genius on the TV, who can recite Pi to a billion decimal places whilst playing Bach as a warm up before they cure cancer, that you’ve seriously been underachieving in your life? That your whole life up until this present point has somehow been wasted? Moreover, you feel like you were never likely to be that successful at such a young age and probably never will be; this kid is 5 and already has surpassed your life’s expectations. A depressing thought, I know, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve been having this feeling recently myself. A friend of mine just went traveling around Europe for a month. Another has an amazing internship lined up. An old school friend is engaged and just bought a house. I’m not in the least bit jealous of the last friend – the thought of a mortgage and a marriage is enough to scare the pants off me. Nevertheless, what all three of my friends have in common is that they are pursuing their respective dreams. My dreams seem permanently on hold and stagnating right now; I feel like I’m constantly waiting for them to come into fruition, appearing before me in a puff of smoke. When the opportunities do come about I chicken out – the reality is almost too much to handle and I get scared!
This summer is all about jobs for me. “Are you going on holiday?” my friends ask. *Chuckle* Not likely! First, I had to set myself up for the 3 months I am away from university. To be quite honest, I was in desperate need for the money – I cannot live off my ‘home-made’ chilli con carne every day for another year. But this wasn’t my true intention; what I really wanted a job for was to get out of the house. I catch cabin fever very quickly when I’m at home because, unfortunately, my home has never felt like ‘home’. I used to live in a beautiful town called Tunbridge Wells; my friends would remind me that while I lived there I couldn’t wait to get away from it but anything is better than the suburban, white picket fences that are closing in on me now. So, to Tunbridge Wells I had to go, to reclaim my new found adult-independence and freedom (but also to earn some money to buy a Nerf gun so I can shoot my new house mates in September.)
As you may have picked up on by this point if you are regular peruser of this blog (or, actually, if you have seen pretty much any of my other posts) I am a huge fan of lists. In-keeping with this trend, and in sight of the fact I’m entering my final week at uni for this academic year, I decided to create the Ultimate Bucket List for a first year student here at Exeter.
Disclaimer: Some of these aren’t specific to Exeter and are more general first year university achievements. There is also a distinct lack of clubbing/alcohol related challenges due to my own personal preferences on that front, but a quick Google has revealed the internet is full of them if you’re interested in that side of things.
So, from the bizarre to the admirable, to the must-do to the plain silly, in no particular order, here are 19 things I think it’s worth doing as a student in your first year at Exeter…