“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.”
— William Faulkner
As I pack up my belongings to head home for the summer after my first year at university, I’ve been listening to many a dreamy playlist on Spotify, thinking gleefully of the three months of reading and sleeping which await me at home. Amidst this excitement, however, is a lot of sorrow for many people; a number of my new friends have expressed their sadness and reluctance to return home. This has halted me a little in my impatience and anticipation to return home, encouraging me to look back and reflect on this past year, and all that I have learned (so far) from being away at university.
1. Don’t Try to be the Person You Think Others Expect You to Be
This time last year, as I was caught up in the whirlwind of A Levels and the culmination of my school career, I overheard many people in my year exclaiming their desire to ‘reinvent’ themselves when they finally reached the Golden Gates of uni. This troubled me – if they didn’t feel like they were truly being themselves then, who were these people whom I thought I’d known for the past 7 years? Obviously people change, but I believe a person’s core self is consistent throughout their life (see my previous post). Thus if you’ve always hated loud music and nightclubs, going to uni is not going to miraculously change this (as indeed I discovered!). Trying to fulfil stereotypes which don’t truly fit you will only make you miserable in the long-run, with friends who don’t actually know you, or appreciate you for who you really are. You can’t please everyone, and not everyone will get along with your personality, but if you’re true to yourself you will find people who really accept you for you, rather than whatever idealised conception of yourself you have tried to fulfil, and at the end you’ll find meaningful, maybe even life-long friendships, rather than fleeting acquaintances based on falsehoods and pretences.
2. Life is in the Present: Live It
As social media conquers the world, particularly for my generation, who hardly know life without it, I’ve found that there becomes a tendency in people to live for the ‘likes’ they get on Facebook, to go abroad for the Instagram posts, giving the appearance of ‘living life’, ‘having a good time’. At what point, though, do these words lose their meaning, becoming as empty as the hashtags which accompany them? Obviously I appreciate the irony of saying this on a blog, and I am by no means trying to exempt myself from doing this; indeed, coming to uni has really made me appreciate how susceptible I am to the claws of social media. Especially in the first few weeks away from home, it was very easy to think, ‘I don’t really want to go to this event, but if I go and take a photo and put it on Instagram it will look like I’m “Having Fun”, so I suppose I’ll go’. This isn’t to say that going to events you’re a bit scared of is a bad thing – on the contrary, it’s how I met some of the people who are now my closest friends at uni! It’s much better to approach these occasions with enthusiasm for the fun they can actually be,however, beyond the Facebook likes – ultimately, they will be much more rewarding this way, and you will be left with positive memories, rather than just a number next to a thumbs up sign.
3. People Are Different, and That’s Okay (Most of the Time)
As an introvert, I knew that sharing a bedroom was going to be a struggle for me. Bemused was I, though, to say the least, when I discovered that I would be sharing a bedroom with not just one but two other roommates. It didn’t help, either, that they were complete opposites of each other in almost every aspect of life.. Whilst one was painstakingly well-dressed, albeit at the expense of any sight of carpet in her third (*cough* half…) of the room, the other was content with just a few t-shirts and a couple of pairs of jeans, which she wore on a weekly basis. From politics to economics, physicality to mentality, they could not have been more opposed. This left me in some sort of middle ground, trying to act as a buffer between the two of them, whilst simultaneously attempting to resolve my own issues of anthrophobia and introversion, with no private space to close myself off in for months at a time. I’m happy to say, however, that we all seem to have come out relatively unbruised – there were certainly a fair few incidents along the way, but all is forgiven (if not forgotten), and I feel that as we leave there is no resentment left between us. Sharing a room with someone, you inevitably see them both at their highest and at their lowest, and as such you come out of the experience not only understanding each other on a deeper level than perhaps even their closest friends at university do, but also with a sense of resilience, that you have been through so much together and come out the other end.
4. Lettuce Isn’t Just For Rabbits
So apparently some people actually eat salad…and enjoy it – who knew?! Before I left for home, I always considered salad to be ‘rabbit food’, because, well, it’s what I fed to my rabbits. Leaves just don’t seem like an appetising thing for humans to eat, and to be honest, they don’t taste great. Since coming to uni, however, I’ve realised that putting a piece or two of lettuce in a ham sandwich doesn’t necessarily ruin it – in fact, it can be quite refreshing, as well as giving the appearance of healthiness, which just generally makes you look more in control of your life. I wouldn’t say I was a particularly unhealthy eater before I left, and indeed I was possibly slightly unusual for someone my age in that I had pretty much total control over what I ate at home, cooking most of it myself, but coming to uni has broadened my approach to cooking, and I’ve discovered vegetables which I never even knew existed. So as it transpires, apparently lettuce isn’t actually just for rabbits.
5. Everyone Has a Story
Excuse me for quoting Glee, but as Will Schuester says: ‘Life really has only one beginning and one end. The rest is just a whole lot of middle.’ We’re all in the ‘middle’ of our stories; everyone has experienced suffering, and there are infinite varieties of suffering. For some reason, I have unconsciously tried to rank types of suffering in the past, thinking to myself ‘Well at least X hasn’t happened to me, like it did to her’, or ‘why are they complaining about that? At least they haven’t experienced Y’. This is something I am not remotely proud of – it’s a dangerous, harmful attitude, toxic both to myself and to my relationships. There are so many uncountable things which cause suffering, and everyone is hurt by it in its various forms. Trying to belittle other people’s pain is patronising and inhumane, whilst telling yourself that your suffering is nothing in comparison to someone else’s is both unhelpful and untrue. Obviously keeping perspective on your own problems is always a good thing, but there is no point in trying to pretend that you don’t have any, just because someone else is going through something else even more horrific. Don’t act like your past is so much worse than everyone else’s (even if, on the surface, it is), but equally don’t forget that you’re as broken as everyone else. Be kind, always.
So there they are, my Top Five Things I’ve Learnt From Uni. Whilst I’m not going to try and hide my unashamed delight at the prospect of returning home after 9 months in university halls, I will keep in mind the lessons I’ve learned, the friends I’ve made and the positive memories I now have from the past year. Whilst leaving home is never easy, next time I shall take joy in the knowledge that there are so many good things which I’ll be returning to – in particular, the single room which I will be staying in for second year.