The whole social construct of university is something that’s always seemed strange to me. Essentially thousands of students, all from different walks of life, are placed together on a campus and expected to figure it out. Yes, most of us chose to be here of our own free will but that doesn’t take away from the potentially overwhelming and surreal experience of it all. I’m sure many of you were subject to the old ‘university will be the best years of your life’, and from those who’ve graduated ‘I wish I could go back to the good old days’ etc. There’s a reputation created by friends, family and even the media that the university experience will somehow transcend all others in our lifetimes. Is this really the case?
I can say I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs across my two years at Queen Mary. With students drawn from different upbringings, nationalities (162 to be exact) and backgrounds it’s to be expected. University was one of the first times I explicitly met and experienced people who had such opposing views to my own. We tend to spend the vast amount of our teenage years surrounded by friends we’ve known for what feels like forever, and our family who essentially shape us as humans. Through them the fabric of who we are is formed: our moral compass, values and to an extent personality. In relation to this we find our place within the family dynamic, we learn the kinds of behaviours that are to be expected, accepted and intolerable. Moulding ourselves around this allows us to position ourselves comfortably within this structure; we feel at ease knowing who we are within this little world.
University is the opposite of this known comfortability. Being thrown into a completely new environment with different rules and expectations is thrilling but can also be a shock. Whilst some thrive, others may recoil and take a little more time to settle in. So often we hear about the amazing parts of university life like the nights out and long conversations with flatmates after dark. The not so great parts, stress, homesickness and debt, are what we tend not to hear so much of. It is unrealistic to say that every moment of our experience has or will be perfect. Much like life, we take the good with the bad and this, paired with a sense of independence and freedom, is what for me makes university such a great experience. Only here is it acceptable to sleep all day and be up all night. We have access to over 200 societies and the opportunity to form new passions and develop existing ones. The tougher times, paradoxically, elevate the university experience because they make us stronger. In these situations we’re really able to find out who we are and how we deal with the not so ideal.
In 2016, 49% of young people in the UK were going onto higher education (The Guardian) with the number of 18-year olds being accepted to university rising by 1.5% (UCAS). This just goes to show that our desire for the university experience is ever increasing. Whether motivated by the ambition to gain a high-quality degree or to be a part of campus culture and its social life, one cannot dispute the fact that many young people are actively deciding to make university a part of their journey. These unique years of our lives are whatever we decide to take from them and, whether that’s a fulfilling experience during the time we’re there, or a distinct life lesson we take away once we’ve graduated, they’re each exclusive to us.
Simply put, university nurtures independence and individuality. Your university years may be the best, the worst or somewhere in between. Either way they’ll be life changing because they’re a part of the fundamental years that shape the people we are today. It seems farfetched to argue that university will mark the greatest period of our existence because experience is subjective. They could also be formative, enlightening…. The list could go on, and what about the years after university? Could it be the best years have only just begun?