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My time at QM: Reflections on First-Year

Ilina’s recount of her first year makes instructive reading for all incoming freshers and a nostalgia trip for the rest of us.

“One day, you’re 17, and you’re planning for someday. And then quietly, without you ever really noticing, someday is today. And then someday is yesterday. And this is your life.” — John Green.

When I was 17, I remember sitting in a meeting room with my college counselor, discussing the contents of my university statement. We were taking what had already been written in my life to plan for that day when I would have to flip the page and begin writing the next chapter. Before I could blink, I was standing in front of the East gate of Queen Mary University of London. I could now call myself a “University Student,” with the beginning of a new chapter symbolised by the key on my lanyard to my new home. For the first few days, I thought about the time when someday I would get on a plane and return home for Winter Break and spend five weeks at home.

Before I could blink, I was standing in front of the East gate of Queen Mary University of London.

Well, ‘someday’ has become yesterday as I wake up from spending my first night back in my dorm room at University following the Holiday Break. For the first few days following, I dreamt about the time I would get to go home for the summer break for over three months. Well, the time has finally come as I am writing from my desk at my home, with my family in the other room. The time has passed so quickly, like the Flash running through Central City. Only a blur is visible for a split second, and then it escapes, hurrying off into the distance. The blur: the first year of Uni.

One thing I have realised during university is that it makes you feel older than you are. This fact hit me like a freight train in my first couple of weeks. Suddenly there was no one to “tell” me what to do; rather, “advise,” “suggest,” and “recommend” were the words that popped up. The autonomy granted to me was something I believed I was not ready for. I realised that the consequences of my actions would solely rest on me and not my parents.

When I arrived at Queen Mary University of London for the first time, I was a mix of excitement and nerves and not quite sure that this was real. The sudden rush of emotion that hit me when I realised that I would be staying and my parents would is a feeling I will never forget. When I gave my father a hug before he left to go home, I truly realised – then and there – that it was real. I always used to say my father would be my roommate and with me always. However, that hug solidified that the vision my four-year-old self had would not be coming true, and that I would be living on my own.

I learnt that pretty much every first year is in the same boat and feeling the same emotions

Likewise, I will never forget the feeling I got when I gave my mum a final hug 5 days later and watched her taxi drive off to the airport. I felt truly alone. It is so difficult to put into words, but while hugging the woman who I’d never spent more than about 2 weeks at a time away from, I felt I would soon be truly alone. Loneliness was something I had felt before throughout secondary school. But back then, I was never ‘truly’ alone, as I had a couple of friends, and I was always around people I knew. This was different. Now, I was truly alone. The excitement disappeared but quickly reappeared, and I knew I had to be brave and walk into campus with my head held high, ready to start making friends.

Holding my head high was a little harder than I thought it would be. The first few weeks were tough. Speaking to other International students from all corners of the world, who all spoke various languages, made me feel so much more comfortable. Knowing there were people going through the same things and feeling similar feelings made me feel part of a community and not alone. It turns out that making friends at Uni is not as daunting and horrible as I thought. I learnt that pretty much every first year is in the same boat and feeling the same emotions: lost, sad, excited, nervous…the list goes on.

Soon I found the confidence to open up and find friends and like-minded people, both within and outside my discipline of study, through joining the various societies QM has to offer. I have to shout out a few societies worth joining that personally helped me enjoy and love University: QMRAC (Queen Mary Running and Athletics Club), this Newspaper (the Print), CUB Magazine, and The Politics Society. Joining QM Societies has made first-year so much fun and such an amazing experience.

Another of my favorite parts of university life is Mile End. Every day brings new experiences on the same stretch of sidewalk. From the smell of chicken and chips to the fresh, breezy air walking from campus through Victoria Park to the smell of a fresh cup of tea blowing from the lovely small cafes on Mile End Road.

Solid friendships can be formed through talking to someone as you walk back from Drapers at 12:30am.

University is a time to be true to who you are. I realised that people care about so much more than your appearances, such as intelligence and your personality. One of my favorite parts about university is the clean slate it gives you. You are free to be who you want to be. It is a time to be true to who you are. I will admit that university has made me more aware of how I am perceived by others, but I am not scared to go out without a full face of makeup, sweats (occasionally pajama bottoms depending on how late at night I am going to the Co-op or the pub for a takeaway and groceries), and a “should have washed about a week ago” shirt and jumper.

A few wise words and lessons I learned during the first year:

First, venturing out to Drapers (or any other club) without filling up your stomach and drinking tons of water will result in the walls, floor, or any surface of East London being painted with the contents of your stomach (… I speak from experience…).

Second, nobody’s food is safe. Do not bother using labels – put the food you’d like to keep safe in your room, the freezer, or if the item needs to be refrigerated, good luck and hope it is there in the morning (from my experience it usually is but you never know).

Third, Red Beer at Drapers takes some time to get used to (also, if you have never taken a shot, maybe don’t do 6 in 30 minutes… and for sure, don’t mix).

Fourth, if you like tea, stock up on tea bags… in my experience they run out quickly.

Fifth, good solid friendships can be formed through talking to someone as you walk back from Drapers at 12:30am.

Finally, stay safe. Walking back to the accommodation at 3:45 am down Mile End Road is not a good idea…remember this quote: “strength in numbers.”

I guess the point I am trying to make is that University is a rollercoaster of emotions: nerves, to begin with, excitement when you find friends, sadness missing home; the list goes on. At first, I felt like I was in a desert, alone with no one to care for me, or help me and completely isolated. By participating in social activities and societies at QM, I made some amazing like-minded friends. Gradually, I began to embrace and love my new life. I am studying a subject I love, have the most wonderful, beautiful friends, and I am on a campus surrounded by nature, parks, and wonderful local bakeries. It is okay to feel homesick, get stressed, feel anxious, but it’s also ok to be happy, comfortable spending time with yourself, possibly overspend at times and find yourself in some delightful messes (some not so delightful — but experiences you’ll learn from) that you’ll remember fondly. Something I have learned though: taking a chance on Queen Mary University of London was one of the best decisions I have made.


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