Regular readers will know that last September I began studying English Literature at the University of York. I’m now back up north for my second term but classes don’t start until Monday, so I thought I’d take a look back at my first term and the top ten lessons it taught me about uni, independent living, and myself.
Getting around campus (but not the city)
University campuses are pretty big places and it can take a while to get used to them. When I first arrived at UoY I had no idea how I’d ever find my way, and to make things more complicated I live on a separate campus half a mile away from my classes! However, my coursemates and I soon discovered the room-finder on the website, and I’m still pleasantly surprised at the efficiency of the signing around campus. York-the-city, on the other hand, is a totally different story – I may have lived here for over ten weeks, but I’m still pretty clueless beyond the high street and the Shambles!
The art of successful blagging
I still enjoy telling the story of the one-hour seminar on the Book of Genesis from The Bible which I managed to blag my way through based purely on my knowledge of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. But blagging isn’t just going into class and coming out the other side in one piece – like with any seminar or workshop, I still managed to come away knowing much more than I did before it started just by listening to other people’s contributions.
Reading and writing academic essays – and referencing
For each set text, we’re set at least three pieces of academic criticism to read and engage with ahead of classes, and these can be pretty hard to get into – especially if you’re not that keen on the original text to start with. Furthermore, the majority of my assessment is through coursework; I’ll only sit four exams during my three-year degree. This means that I’ve got to become efficient at writing a decent university-level essay, fast. At York we’re expected to choose our own research topics from the beginning of our degree, so last term I wrote on music and the harmony of the spheres in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; perspective and the poetic self in Anna Letitia Barbauld’s poem Washing Day; and tree transformations and the permanence of flux in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. For each of these I’ve also had to get to grips with MLA referencing. I’m currently waiting on the grades for the last two essays, but I received a 2:1 for the first which I was really pleased with.
The importance of an organised lifestyle
I had a taste of this during my volunteering work with Team v during my gap year, but living independently has taken it to a whole new level. Now not only do I have to keep on top of my weekly work, reading and timetable, but also my meal plans, washing up, laundry, food shopping… The list goes on, and I mean that quite literally; I’ve never made as many lists in my life as I did last term, which truly is saying something.
Crossing the North/South divide
I’m not sure what I expected when I moved up North; though Norfolk isn’t northern, it’s not exactly in the south either. In fact, I’ve had to actually explain where it is to people from all over the country (“You know the big bumpy bit in the south-east…?”). The usual conversation when somebody asks where I’m from tends to involve an inbreeding joke of some kind, so I tend to qualify “I live in Norfolk” with “- but I’m originally from London” to avoid any confusion.
The benefits of a slow cooker (and a fruit bowl)
My slow cooker (or crockpot, if you’re reading in the US) has been an absolute godsend. I prep my ingredients in the morning, pop it all in and when I get hungry in the evening a delicious hot meal is bubbling away for me. It’s perfect for busy days and especially my Wednesday nights when I have Italian class until eight-pm. Plus, it often cooks enough for two, three or even four healthy evening meals which are perfect for freezing – and it makes the kitchen smell amazing. Another great food tip has been keeping a fruit bowl in my room; it means I’ve always got something healthy to snack on when I’m feeling peckish, rather than nipping across to the vending machine in the centre building.
The significance of uni societies
Joining Nouse, UoY’s original student paper and oldest society, is the best decision I’ve made since coming to university. By complete fluke in week three I found myself Features Editor of the paper, through which I’ve met some incredible people and learned an enormous amount. It’s a stressful role at times but I’m so excited for where it might take me in the future; I’m currently in the process of collating all the content for our next print edition ahead of production week next week, as well as planning my first full-length feature for a later edition this term.
Living with strangers
University is probably the only time in your life when you move into a house you’ve never viewed with people you’ve never met, and there’s probably a pretty good reason for that. However, there’s also a number of really good reasons for doing it, the main one being that it teaches you how to deal with people you might not normally get on with or even speak to. One term in and one housemate down, it’s safe to say that communal living with strangers isn’t for everyone, but in just the last few days I’ve grown much closer to some of the people I live with. I think it’s about perseverance, making an effort to include everyone as often as you can, and never being exclusive or freezing people out; all of which are incredibly important life lessons for everyone. Shoutouts to my wonderful housemates (in no particular order) Poppy, Becca, Greg, Tom, Matt and Cameron!
Finding friends outside my house
Having said that, uni shouldn’t be all about your housemates. There are thousands of people at my university and with over threehundred on my course alone I’m determined to keep finding people who impact my life in positive ways. A huge amount of this takes place over social media, in particular on Facebook, where English students on my campus have our own group chat (hi, Hes East Lit Squad!), as well as in classes, societies and socials. Thanks in particular to Eleni, my class buddy for all of last term; Becca and Charlotte, my deputies at Nouse; Finn, for making me go for the Features gig in the first place; Charlie, even though he still owes me batteries; Micah, who I can’t wait to finally meet; Kitty, who invited me to tea; and Jess, for making me smile when I was really at my worst last term.
Saying yes – and no
People always say that university is full of opportunities which you should jump into headfirst, and they’re right – but that isn’t to say you should commit to absolutely everything, all the time. It’s just not healthy to never give yourself a break, both academically and socially. I’m lucky in that most of my friends aren’t huge party goers and instead prefer to drink wine in the kitchen or sit in the nearby cafe/bar rather than go on a night out. It’s true that some of my best memories from last term – becoming Features Ed, the Nouse Christmas Social and the LitSoc Christmas Ball come instantly to mind – came from saying “Yes” even when I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted to do. Yet I’ve also learned that it really is okay to say “No, not this time” – and that people won’t vilify you for it. In fact, they might be hoping you say no so they have a reason to as well.
Last term was truly a whirlwind and I really can’t believe so much happened in just ten weeks. I’ve met so many incredible people, many of whom aren’t even mentioned here, and I’m really looking forward to consolidating friendships, editing more articles and spending more time in the city this term. I’m sure the next ten weeks will be just as busy, and even more fun – look out for my goals for term two post in the coming days for more on my plans for the upcoming semester!
What life lessons did you learn at university?
Don’t forget to comment below, and be sure to subscribe to my blog in the sidebar and/or on bloglovin!