Image Credit: Kim Fyson
Back in May 2017, when I was a fresher and a lowly Deputy Comment Editor at this fine newspaper, I penned an article called ‘Stop romanticising university’. In it, I argued that the great myth of university and what it might entail is oversold to young people by their peers and the media, that they can’t help but feel disappointed when they arrive. I don’t necessarily disagree with this opinion now. I do still think that university can be romanticised. But it’s not necessarily university itself that is romanticised, rather the university experience.
Back in first year, I didn’t necessarily dislike university, but I more just accepted it as a new state of living. At the end of term I raced back home. How things have changed. After three years here, I’m sad to see it go. I now consider myself to live in York and just visit my hometown (rather than vice versa), and have spent the vast majority of holiday periods also in York.
It’s been a gradual attitude change. Coming to university is such a big upheaval – literally everything in your life changes – and it just takes some time to settle in. I’m definitely not the same person I was when I arrived here three years ago. I’ve changed in various ways– even most obviously on a surface level from a bleach blonde, short-haired fresher to a brown, long-haired finalist.
I don’t think I’ve necessarily “found myself ” (so all those American teen films did lie). The changes I’ve undergone I’m not sure are specifically a result of University, but rather just from living the first three years of my adulthood away from home. University is, essentially, what you make of it. What I’ve come to learn is that there is no right or wrong university experience. There is just yours. Don’t wish away your three years chasing after a holy grail that never exists, instead, focus on finding your place. For me, that was throwing myself into campus life, engaging in societies, YUSU, and becoming editor of this very publication.
I haven’t been bad at academics per-se, but they certainly haven’t been the focus of my attention. I’ve been on nights out, but nowhere near on a weekly (or more) basis.That’s been my university experience. It’s different to yours, just as yours is different to the person next to you.If your university experience is going out most days, vommiting in the Fibbers toilets, and scraping a 2:1, good for you. I realise that last sentence may sound condescending and patronising, but I genuinely mean it. If that’s the experience that has made you the happiest during your time here, go and live the hell out of it.
Similarly, if your experience has been cracking down and studying, working long hours in the library to come out with that pristine first, again, good for you. Seriously. My degree hasn’t been at the centre of my experience, but if it’s been at the centre of yours, if that’s what you wanted and came here to do, that’s absolutely great. Your experience is your experience. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
That’s not to say university doesn’t have its down-sides – clearly when I wrote that article I felt there were numerous ones.There’s a mental health crisis hitting universities, and some times your experience can be terrible. University may be what you make of it, but sometimes, you’re not able to make the most of it. Your experience may be your experience, but if you absolutely hate it, something needs to change. There’s a difference between feeling disappointed due to not doing your experience right, and having a poor experience due to a lack of mental health support. Three years ago, the University announced a £500,000 investment into mental health services yet many students across campus still find themselves unsupported. It’s good to see that transforming mental health is one of the themes of ‘York Unlimited’, the new fundraising campaign for the University, but they need to make sure it’s more than lip service.
There may be some things you wanted from university that you’ll never achieve or get to experience.You may never experience your first love or your first rave. But your experience is your experience. It may not be perfect, but be proud of it. I know I am.