Standing on the Piazza, I see the same view I saw a year ago. The gently swaying of the trees blazing red and orange outside the Forum, the students and staff milling around, enjoying the day and the feeling of intense energy and joy in the air. But a year on, the person watching the view is different. The past year has brought some big changes in me – from my postgraduate degree, to my job and my experiences at Exeter. All have had a tremendous impact on shaping me! Today, I stand here more confident, self-assured, knowledgeable (and just a tad older!) than I was last year. How did this happen, you ask? Well…
When I first started my MSc much like everyone else, I was settling into a new place and still trying to get the feel of things. My course group was small and compared to my massive lectures in undergrad, the lectures here felt very cosy. Initially, I felt more exposed in lectures and it was a novel experience knowing that my lecturers all knew my name and conversed with us individually. To be completely honest, I was absolutely terrified of being caught out not knowing something or of answering wrong, so it took me a while to find my footing. But once I realised that as a student, I was entitled to my opinions, and it was not only encouraged but also appreciated, I became more confident, more vocal and an active participant in all my lectures. It became a personal challenge for me to ask questions and have discussions with my lecturers after every session. To my surprise – I learnt a lot more doing that.
But then, my next challenge arose! After doing quite well in my undergraduate degree, it came as a shock to find that I wasn’t as good at a postgraduate level. And so began my year-long fight to best myself at every assignment, assessment and project. I’m afraid it became an obsession with me, trying to do better each time, trying to reach that elusive ‘Distinction’ I craved for. Each time I came excruciatingly close, but not close enough. After a particularly frustrating assignment, when I failed yet again to meet my personal goal, I decided to just give up. Perhaps not the best decision, but I was tired. Not to mention sleep-deprived! So I focused on enjoying my degree instead, on enjoying intellectual debates with my course-mates, on holding discussions with my lectures and doing my assignments!
I relished the freedom of being unencumbered by the stress of having to do well and I delighted in doing my research project. I absolutely enjoyed every second of doing my dissertation, from the all-nighters pouring over data to the frantic typing to get everything done before the deadline – I savored it all! The day I held my dissertation in my hands…that feeling was unbelievable, knowing that I’d poured my heart and soul into it and that it was one of the best experiences I’d ever had. Knowing that I learned loads helped as well! But I was extremely proud of what I’d done and at that moment, it didn’t matter what grades I got. That’s when I had my epiphany – that it wasn’t just the grades or the degree that a university provides, it’s the experience of getting there. I was satisfied with what I’d done and what I’d learnt and that was all that mattered.
I did end up doing well on my dissertation, so I actually managed to get a good grade overall and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me feel pretty good! But that’s when I had my second epiphany – that when I do something with all that I am, the reward isn’t far behind. Hopefully!
Everything at Exeter has given me unforgettable memories – from walking around in the dappled sunlight under the trees by Reed pond, madly taking photos of the millions of all-hued flowers blooming everywhere in spring, standing in the middle of the Great Hall at the middle of a dance party, eating out on the Piazza under the watchful eyes of the ever-hungry seagulls, roaming around stroking the rows of books in the library, huffing and puffing on an early morning dash up Forum hill, taking selfies with the Exeter rock – it’s all been filling the pages of my story. It all goes right next to my degree…and this moment, standing on the piazza and looking out at the heart of the university.