When I touched down in the UK for the first time after a life in Sub-Saharan Africa, I had so many expectations and insecurities on adapting to life in the country. Fortunately the world is not so different as we sometimes think. After a month in Surrey, I departed the bucolic setting to satisfy my yen for a city life in one of the greatest cities on earth, London! Skipping through some hard times and now one year later, things have worked out in many ways, significantly I have found an invaluable partner and some stability in the big city; but it seemed the right time to take the next step, which is when I applied to the University of Exeter.
It’s the week before Freshers’ and I’m all officially moved into my shared student house in Exeter. I’m the first one here and am currently rattling around this house for six on my own, so I’ve been keeping myself busy the past few days unpacking my stuff, thoroughly sanitizing the kitchen, decorating my room and attempting to mentally prepare myself for second year. Although I am slightly nervous about starting the new year, I am mostly hugely pleased to be back, and I’ve got a good feeling about second year being better than my first, despite the threat of ‘everything counting’ degree-wise and the inevitable drama shared housing is bound to bring. Before I get to all that however, I thought I might make a post about how I’ve spent some of the past 3 months away.
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.
A level results day is fast approaching; there are university guides and advice on Clearing appearing in the papers, some of your more confident friends might be preemptively joining Freshers’ groups on Facebook and there’s that slight anxiety in the air when asking any recent leaver where exactly they’re going in September. (I was always overly deliberate when answering that one, “Well hopefully I’ll be going to Exeter, but it could all change!!” – just in case anyone got the wrong idea and started assuming things.)
For the millions out there with conditional offers for places at university, that awkwardly placed day in August (following an entire summer of deliberately not thinking about the whole thing) can feel like a life-defining moment, a major turning point in your academic career. The exams are over, the coursework is in, the UCAS form long since submitted; at this final hurdle it’s as simple as a yes or no answer, in or out, and there’s not a lot you can do about it either way.
My experience of A level results day was an overwhelming one, just as I imagine it is for most people.
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…