So that’s it, we’re done and graduated. Winced at that £45 to hire a hat and a hood and robes that nearly suffocated me on more than one occasion, didn’t fall over on my way to accept my degree, got to float around in the prettiest ASOS dress I could find to celebrate the fact I got a 2.1 honours after 4 years of blood, sweat and tears.
It’s weird to think: come September I won’t be making the pilgrimage back to the steel city to set up home in another flat for another year. I won’t be lugging books and binders and flasks of cooling tea to class or the library to try and fit as much as I physically can about East Asian politics and the Cold War and the Rise of China and its untold consequences on the region and Korean Business strategies into the space left by new words and phrases and definitions.
It’s weird that: this is the end of my stint in education and I have far more freedom than deadlines and coursework and essays and no I can’t I shouldn’t I have to study’s have ever allowed before.
I’m a sentimental person and I have so much love for university and my experience that I feel I need to be brutally honest with it – about it – to help me transition into a place of peace as this era of my life ends and a new chapter with fresh pages begins.
those goddamn robes
University was the fresh start that I needed. Not the reinvention I’d entertained in the small hours of the summer of 2012 (no matter how hard you try true colours show eventually) or the seismic shift in reality I’d feared, but a clean slate with new(ish) people in a new environment. University is this limbo-like state of not being a real adult with council tax and a mortgage, but being enough of an actual adult that you work out that food is actually really kind of expensive and actions come with consequences. It allows you to explore and develop and discover with a bit of a safety net, but if you’re intent on falling with sharp objects attached don’t expect the net to hold for long.
University also takes you in, chews you up and spits you back out as a completely different person. First Year Fii would be really, really intimidated by Final Year Fii – and I mean that in nothing but a good way. I’ve been through so much in four years: moving away to a new city; moving away to a new continent and country; making new friends (for life); making temporary new friends; dealing with things not going right; dealing with things going very, very right; burning bridges and building new ones; realising my own worth and taking no shit; taking responsibility for things I’ve done that haven’t been fab; and learning how to deal with regrets. Any of that will change a person – hopefully for the better – and I’ve really realised what an absolute child I was going into the start of uni life. It’s cute how mature you think you are once you’re living away from home for the first time.
It gets a bit rose-tinted when you look back on the early stages, but I know for a fact that carrying over the mentality of constantly needing to please people / be liked by everyone from high school did me no favours in the beginning. I mean sure it gets you talking to people and the gains are starter friendships, but it also can get you into really, really unhealthy situations that are hard to remove yourself from without collateral damage. At the end of the day though, you can’t help/save everyone, your own health comes first.
There were times when I legitimately thought that the only option left was to drop out. That I’d had enough of the metaphorical marathon, gasping for air underneath the weight of having to make decisions I didn’t want to, and the consequences of those already made. Languages are hard. They’re pushing and pushing and pushing against a brick wall that sometimes feels like it’s only reinforcing itself against your weakening resolve until you make one tiny crack in its defences. Alongside that, people can be thoroughly heartless and calculating and manipulative, discrediting your emotions and numbing your ability to feel. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but rumours can destroy you. A lot of university, a lot of adult life, is pretending. Pretending you’re ok. Pretending you haven’t had less than three hours sleep all week. Pretending that you don’t have a deadline next week. Pretending the pretence isn’t actually a pretence. It shouldn’t be, though.
I haven’t read ‘the life-changing magic of not giving a f*ck‘, but I imagine that I went through a lot of the steps to reach the same conclusion: life is far better when you do not give a toss, though I’d go on to clarify that it’s far better when you don’t give a toss about how people irrelevant to your life perceive you. What people think of you, after all, is none of your goddamn business – asking for help is much better than pretending; there are some things you really cannot do alone.
When you hit your stride; that feeling is empowering and fabulous and thoroughly contagious. Hard work will always pay off, getting stuck in and contributing can have such a positive effect, and knowing when to step back and just observe is a valuable skill. The stress of dissertation and essays and exams is easier when you have things that allow you to switch off and take a break from it all.
Although I’ve frequently lamented not having the ease of first year, and Korea was Korea, my favourite year by far has been this one. The final one. The deciding round of double weighted dread and dissertation hell. I’ve spent a lot of time with some wonderful people, planned a ball, manned club nights where between 200 and 700 people have turned up. I’ve had a team of virtual angels cheering me on this year, my little internet family, and my IRL crew to keep me grounded and humble and sane.
University is what you make of it. It won’t always be plain sailing, you’ll probably collect a few war wounds along with hilarious stories and fond memories; but it will teach you crisis control and how to write coherently at 3 am on no sleep and that it’s ok to make mistakes that can’t be fixed because everyone is human.
There isn’t a singular path that will take you from freshers to grad week and it definitely isn’t always linear but it’ll get you to where you need to be.
As I’ve said, I’m a sentimental person – I really wouldn’t’ve made it this far without SEAS even being a thing, and I am deeply grateful to all the staff there for being so wonderful, but most especially to Dr. Cherry and Dr. Kim for going above and beyond.
The real MVP of the last year-and-a-bit-ish-probs-more has been Izzy, who I probably-definitely owe even graduating to, as without her intervention in 3rd year I definitely-probably would’ve dropped out.
I’m certain I’ve taken the path of most fkin resistance available to me, but Sheffield you’ve been alright.