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Isolation and Ignorance: Popping the Campus Bubble

Hannah Carley discusses how not considering life and culture beyond campus can stifle wellbeing

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Image Credit: Arian Kriesch

The fact that I’m actually over halfway through my degree now hit me like a train and not just because I don’t really know what I’m doing after I graduate. But because I've now lived in York for the best part of eighteen months and I still feel like I know next to nothing about the city of chocolate (and I only picked that up at a quiz).

I’m not saying I do nothing – being the PPE department rep and the Features Editor here at Nouse keeps me busy. Yet these things keep me busy on campus. I’m an organised person and I do take time for myself, but what I’m frustrated with is what I do with it. Now that I’ve actually stopped to think about it, it doesn’t seem to amount to very much. There isn’t anything wrong with the fact I enjoy watching the Masked Singer, reading, and listening to music in my downtime. But I’ve also always loved culture and history. I’m the annoying person that drags everyone to the ancient ruins rather than the beach during the holiday. Yet I’ve barely scratched the surface of one of the most historically and culturally rich places I've ever lived in.

Did you know that York is the only place outside of Asia to house a Japanese Bullet train? No? Neither did I, because I haven’t been to the National Railway Museum. I’ve also not seen the inside of the Jorvik Viking Centre, Clifford's Tower, or York Minster, despite wanting to visit the latter since I started my degree. Perhaps most shamefully, I’ve not even been to the Yorkshire Air Museum. That doesn’t sound too bad at first, but then you'll find out I’ve been a Royal Air Force Air Cadet for seven years. An Air Cadet that hasn’t been to the museum with all the planes. They should just kick me out at this point.

The worst part is that if I hadn’t actually stopped to think about it, I wouldn’t have realised I was missing out on anything. Because I do have a life, a life that makes me very happy. It’s just that I've let my university life take over without ever stopping to take a breath. I’ve fallen victim to the campus bubble.

You may dismiss the campus bubble as just a turn of phrase that gets thrown around by prospective freshers and dredged up every now and then on The Student Room, but from just my own reflections it’s clear that it’s no urban myth. As students, we are incredibly lucky to have so much at our fingertips - hundreds of societies and sports clubs, volunteering projects, and media groups. Our colleges, campus bars, and regular city centre haunts are more than enough to fill our time for however many years we find ourselves here. It's nothing short of fantastic.

It can also be all-encompassing. When so much is at our fingertips, it’s easy to become lost within university culture and forget all else that being in York has to offer. We become surrounded by it, and it becomes all of our being in such a way that we can lose touch with what’s outside. A disconnect forms between the university community and the city community, though one is simply part of the other.

Through this we also distance ourselves. We place a wall between us and other parts of the community in which we live, segregating ourselves from potential friendships and connections. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and social isolation, particularly for mature or commuting students who may struggle to make friends within the student community. Even for those of us with a sizable ‘UoY social circle', only spending time with those who are like us still has negative social implications. By not expanding our circles and networks, we are undoubtedly less enriched, and more concerningly risk negative impacts on our overall mental health and wellbeing.

A global pandemic certainly doesn't help these things. On a basic level, if you can't leave your house, you can’t easily make friends, let alone integrate into a wider community. We certainly weren’t able to walk York’s city walls or attend community events via Zoom. Over time, our circles have only shrunk rather than expanded and even now, when the world has opened up, there is so much to catch up on that looking further afield can often just be overwhelming or exhausting. For those of us who have moved to York since the pandemic began, simply adjusting to life here has been more difficult than ever before. Even after twelve months, there were parts of campus I didn't really know my way around at the start of this year. Learning to navigate university life has been such a task that to go further seems like a mountainous struggle.

The campus bubble did not just become a problem for many due to the pandemic, but exacerbated it too. Many have never been as socially disconnected or burnt out as they have been over the last two years. A disjoint from the wider community only worsens these feelings of loneliness and can lead to a lack of self-worth and confidence, particularly in group situations. This can then make it harder to now break out of the bubble and can perpetuate a vicious cycle where we may never truly realise all that our city and its people have to offer.

But if we truly experience the University of York, why does not experiencing York matter? It's because many of us won’t be here for long. Jobs and graduate opportunities will take us away from this place we call home, to other corners of this country or even the Globe. For some of our international community, this may be their first or only time in the UK during their lifetime. We owe it to ourselves to embrace all that we can not just for our wellbeing but for the sake of what it is that we are embracing. York is an amazing place and we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t take advantage (and no, sweaty Salvos on sports Wednesdays doesn’t count this time).

This leaves behind the question of what we should be doing to avoid the campus bubble encroaching on our lives. Being a multi-faceted problem, it doesn’t have quick-fix solutions. But what is obvious is that to get out of the campus bubble you have to get out there. The world won't find you from your bedroom, particularly if that bedroom is in the back corner of Halifax! In order to expand our horizons away from campus, you will need to spend more time engaging with the world outside of it.

There are plenty of places to see in York, and in particular to learn about the city we all call home, so going and exploring some of that is a great place to start. Hole in the wall cafes, museums, and galleries are all out there, as well as a whole stream of cultural events and performances (just look at the Nouse website if you want proof!) These don’t need to be costly either – student status gets you into Yorkminster for free, and walking the city walls doesn’t cost a penny (unless you stop for a coffee halfway through). You don’t even need to limit yourself toYork, – day trips are always an option. And with cities such as Leeds and Edinburgh only a train ride away, the possibilities are endless.

It’s about people too. Don’t limit your circle to campus. Spend time away and don’t be afraid to meet new people whilst you are doing it. Part-time jobs and external volunteering opportunities are all around, and can even be accessed virtually. One of the best parts of my job teaching via Zoom is the opportunity to work with and connect with other mentors across the country and our students who are often across the whole globe. It’s a great way to remind yourself that the rest of the world exists beyond essays and Kuda. And keep in touch with your friends back home one of my biggest regrets is the fact that I lost touch with some people back home after starting my degree. I can’t get that back, despite the feelings it left behind. Don’t let it get there.

The thing I’ve learnt the most during my time at York so far is to never let opportunities pass you by. Unfortunately, the campus bubble can do just that and, before you even know it, the sands of time can run out. The past few years have been tough, but we shouldn’t let that take away from our experiences in the here and now by limiting ourselves. We shouldn’t limit ourselves ever, full stop. So it’s about time we take a deep breath and remind ourselves that we live in an amazing place, an amazing world and that we should take as much as we can before that world comes along to slap us in the face with a reality check after graduation.

I’m moving out of campus accommodation next year for the first time. I want to see Edinburgh castle for myself and I’m finally going to get around to seeing York Minster and the Air Museum so that I don’t have to berate myself whenever I see it. As philosophical and lackadaisical as it sounds, it’s worth it to find peace in our communities, for ourselves, our welfare and for others. It’s certainly my late new years – or maybe degree midpoint – resolution. So join me and pop the campus bubble before the world eventually pops it for you.

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