We’ve reached that point in the year where people have graduated in the summer in a flurry, albeit virtually due to government restrictions. September now marks the month many start university for the first time and others start the application process for university. I write this with these groups in mind as I hope I can relay some wisdom to them in order to help them make the most of their university experience.
Mental Health Matters
When I say university can be tough, I mean TOUGH in all caps. Reading can pile up and the occasional pest of essay writers block means writing an assignment is not a simple thing you can add to your to-do list and then quickly tick off. Rather, you have to chip away at it over gruelling hours of intense thought and typing. In the midst of all this it’s definitely easy for your mental health to take a back seat. From personal experience sometimes it seemed like every time I took a break i.e. listened to music, took a nap or decided to read something non-academic I was wasting time which could potentially be used to study. From that comes guilt which deters you from doing such relaxing activities often.
Stress can eat away at you for such reasons so it’s important to attend a university that has the mental health of its students high on the agenda; counselling services, leave of absence policies and available resources or stress reducing activities i.e. sports, Pilates, arts, baking etc are important to things to have on campus, for example. If I had known about this in advance, I would have definitely added mental health services to my list of criteria when choosing a university and I would advise prospective students who are shortlisting universities to do this too.
Any Placements available?
I did a philosophy degree so I didn’t see much universities offering this option and I may be wrong but placements don’t often get offered with humanity degrees like the one I did. They’re unfortunately often only for practical based subjects like STEM degrees. But whilst on the search for my first graduate role I realised what a difference one year of work experience (which is what you get on a placement) could make. It would particularly help when trying to tackle the now very common issue of employers require 1-3 years work experience for entry level roles. Or…employers could just be more realistic with expectations and become more willing to invest and train graduate employees, but I degress…
University can be lonely.
I think this realisation kicked in more in third year if anything. Particularly if all your friends are studying different courses or live away from you this can cause difficulty in frequently aligning your schedules to meet up. This becomes more of the case during exam season where everyone tends to cut themselves off from people more than usual in order to minimise distractions. It puts you in a weird position where you tend to savour social interactions and become more grateful for them. I remember watching late night dramas or having conversations about philosophy and politics with my flatmates in second year and those are honestly some of my more treasured memories. You go away feeling lighter, feeling happier and feeling closer.
Friends are what help to shape the university experience since its purely not enough to attend and attempt to survive with a ‘I only came here to study mentality’. When they say you get what you put in, this applies well to friendships at uni. Where I met most of my friends is through my course and through random societies – socialising with people within these two groups is the best way to bond with people who have similar interests/passions to you.
That’s it from me! I hope this was helpful; people often tend to romanticise the university experience and although yes, it can be rewarding it definitely has its difficulties too. This shouldn’t put you off but it’s always worth having such knowledge so you dive into the experience well equipped and well informed.
This weekend I watched on amusingly on the train as a mother walked onto the train with her four children. All the seats were taken so they stood in the space in between the seats. Three of the kids stood in front of me and I observed their conversation as the train was starting to move. Two of three children were holding onto the handrails tight bracing for the train’s movement. However the youngest child – he couldn’t have been older than six- was adamant he didn’t need the handrail to support him; despite constant nagging from his older siblings. As the train moved along steadily, I continued to watch as he beamed proudly, strategically using his body weight to stand handrail free- despite the unnecessary effort he needed to do so.
Watching this innocent scenario unfold helped a lot of thoughts I have recently been having fall in place. Why – like the little boy perhaps – are we sometimes so adamant to ask for help or accept help when it’s readily offered to us?
I think generally we can be quite proud and stubborn – often thinking we can weather hard times alone. So we suffer in silence, often isolating ourselves from others ironically when we need them most. We also tend to think to ask for help says something negative about who we are; we’re weak, naive, not independent or self-sufficient. But truthfully, it says none of those things. It speaks volumes about the situation, not you. You’re going through a rough time. It’s a tough situation and you can only withstand so much alone; seeking or wanting help is understandable, if not expected.
The Stylist published a collection of issues last year looking back over their work covering the last decade. They published 10 issues featured many of the women that had graced their covers over that time – one of them being Reni Eddo-Lodge (journalist and author most well known for her book ‘Why I’m No Longer talking to White People About Race’.) When reflecting on takeaways from the last decade she said something quite striking to me. She stated, ‘there’s no self-care without community care’; in other words caring for each other is key to our own wellbeing. But more interestingly so she quotes a t-shirt slogan that says ‘Be less capable. You never know who might help you.’
I think her self-care point speaks for itself but her second point on vulnerability is worth reflecting on as I finish this post. The pretence of capability is not always needed; sometimes it’s worth being fearlessly vulnerable. Vulnerable without the worry of judgement, hurt or mockery. If ‘community care’ is to truly happen we need to make sure this does first.
I walked passed a store recently which had a sign saying ‘free goody bags’; a sign which of course piqued my curiosity as someone who is a shameless lover of free goods. But when I paused to read further I saw that it only applied to those who spent a certain amount in the store- £60 or more.
I perceive life to be like that too; with terms and conditions (T&Cs) attached to every decision we make. Will the decision cause our financial hardship? Will it cause us mental or physical harm? The problem is- we don’t always know what those terms and conditions are until we living with the decision we have made.
This is something I’ve come to accept recently since I tend to be overly cautious with decision making. Simply because, I don’t want to live with easily avoidable regrets (but then again, who does?) But something occurred to me recently- there’s something to be learnt in every regret we have- or rather, every instance that caused a regret. Seeing regrets as learning curves changes things dramatically; for one it helps shift our perspective. Wade through the shame, embarrassment and self-resentment that your regrets have burdened you with and find a learning point you can take away from it. Maybe the lesson is to appreciate those in your life more, to leave fewer words unsaid, or maybe it’s to make more time for the things you love.
That learning curve will hopefully prepare you for a future situation and when the time comes; you will be thankful you went through that regretful situation.
Numerous events throughout this year have made me continuously reflect on how fleeting life is. Attending a funeral service. Reading in the paper recently of a bride that died on her way to the church to get married. Walking to the station in West London and seeing the looming presence of Grenfell Tower under the night sky.
It can be scary mainly due to the unpredictability of it all. From apps that predict menstrual cycles to apps that display weather forecasts, bus times and TV schedules – access to information that predicts things happening before they actually do is usually right at our fingertips. Death, unfortunately, has never been one of those things and can pierce through our lives like lightning- violent, nosy, sudden and always unwelcome. Another unpredictable aspect is who it will happen to. In Macbeth Shakespeare likened life to a stage- with everyone in life having cues on when to enter but also on when to exit. But how do you know when the play is finally over and it’s your cue to exit?
It sounds quite depressing to ponder on but it should actually get us thinking and fill us with urgency. I’m always reminded of Beyonce’s song ‘I Was Here’ when it comes to legacy- the lyrics appeal to the fundamental part of everyone that wants to leave a positive imprint on Earth before they die. Not necessarily so that they’re remembered because of it but rather so that they can die with the peace of knowing that just one life was bettered through their existence.
Reflecting on it all, I’ve decided I want to be known for love. For loving people fiercely. That may take different forms- since God himself is love and reflects it in different forms. From defending the oppressed and campaigning against injustice to simply just being there and listening to people; letting them know I see you. I want to be the one that embodies all those things. It’s a tall task but one I feel I’m called to. And in the end, it may not get me named after a community centre or charity foundation but a big legacy is not always the most meaningful. Holding an intimate place in the heart and minds of a few loved ones is more than enough.
I was watching a K-drama recently and the male protagonist Jun-yeong said something interesting. Something along the lines of
‘Memories are scary because you can’t control them.’
The more I pondered on it the more I found it to be true. We create memories but over time they can become like muddy waters that were once clear. We see elements of what makes the original thing but can’t grasp or remember the bigger picture. On a more logical note, even things like dementia, Alzheimers and amnesia take away the human ability to rely on our brains to store our memories like living room cabinet’s store china. Untouched, in one piece and always there for reference. I’ve always thought this is what fuels our addiction to various forms of technology- we love those phones and cameras can capture moments with crystal clear clarity that will remain over time. In this way, they have an added advantage the mind does not.
I was thinking about this [the unreliability of memories] as I read Michelle Obama’s Becoming and the sceptical voice in my head kept asking ‘how on earth does someone remember their childhood with so much clarity?’ Even when I look back to when I was such an age I can’t remember everything- which saddens me slightly- as if my mind’s once-tight grasp has loosened on these precious jewels whilst life turned my attention away.
But I am encouraged by what I do remember. The shine of the sun recently for example, randomly reminded me of the Sunday evening rush to the street outside so we could be first in line when the ice-cream van arrived. (You could always hear it before you saw it.) My siblings and I would always order a flavour called ‘lemon ice’ which captured the two-sided sweet-tangy nature of lemon perfectly. And although we may obsess over the specifics, it’s the feeling of happiness such treasured memories give you which is even more priceless.