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Student 101 : The good, The bad and The ugly.

I wonder what you think of when you hear the word ‘student’? Do you think of sex, drugs, rock and roll or do you think of the youth of today bettering themselves through higher education? The truth is, the most authentic student experience lies somewhere in the middle.

All students experience that first rush of freedom when they first go to university. Whether it’s spending all your student loan during the first week of freshers, joining eight societies at once or eating a pot noodle for every meal of the day (because no one could tell you that you couldn’t!). However, for every new experience, there is a new responsibility whether that be cleaning, cooking or money management. If you’re smart, you’ve figured out that you will need these skills before university. If you’re … well ‘preoccupied’ … you won’t know how to turn on an oven or a washing machine! This was definitely true of me and some of my friends I made in first year!

No matter how many different ways my Dad taught me to slice an onion (diced or sliced), nothing could have prepared me for my first year at university! I like everyone was sold the university brochure life of being constantly surrounded by friends, meeting the love of your life and partying every night whilst somehow managing to get a first in your degree?!? Hats off to those who achieve all of these things, I know it is possible for the very few!

So, I moved away to university believing that I was promised this gold standard experience! But like many things in 2020, my vision of university life took an unexpected turn! I’m here to tell you what it’s like to get the ‘Bounty bar’ of university experiences, how you can get through it and how I’ve grown stronger because of it. Freshers, hold onto your hats!

One of the most exciting things I enjoyed before the summer of university was imagining what my dorm room would look like! I had carefully picked out a VERY pink, VERY Kath Kidston theme for my dorm room! And to my giggly fresher’s glee, I had lots of space to put it in when I got the biggest room in my halls flat! (Show off but shout out to Room 8!). I was so excited to unpack everything, wave goodbye to my parents and finally be the kick-ass independent woman I had always wanted to be! I’m so fortunate in the fact I LOVE my parents so much! I love them so much that I had only ever spent four days away from my parents and twin brother before moving out! Which brings us to our first hurdle… homesickness!

There’s a point for freshers where they suddenly realise, they are not on holiday and they have upped and moved to university. For most, this is after induction at their first 9am lecture, if you’re lucky it might take till Christmas or the end of the first year before you’ve even realised you now live at university! For me, the cheery-waver-offer-of-her-loving-parents, well it took me… 2.5 hours! Which, (traffic-free) is actually the time it takes to travel between my university and home town! I remember the exact moment I began to feel homesick at university.

To pinpoint it, I had just had a microwave curry meal ( that was nothing like my mum’s homemade curry!), hand washed my plate (no dishwasher’s in halls!), sat down in my dorm room and thought…. FLIPPING HECK, WHAT HAVE I DONE!!! I had just moved my entire life to a different county to everyone I knew and loved, all dependant on me being able to become a paramedic!

AH! Now Freshers, when this panic does set in (big scale or small-scale light bulb moment), it would be wise to find your new flatmates. Thankfully, due to a VERY emotional Snapchat story (or sob-chat in my terms), they came and found me! It was such a relief, as although they had managed to avoid feeling homesick on the first day – we were all in the same boat! Also conveniently made for a great ice-breaker?!

NOTE TO FRESHERS: You do not need 8 different sized frying pans, but you do need tissues! If only for freshers’ flu – which you will get even if you only hit the clubs twice! Sadly, this homesickness carried on for … well most of the year! It turned out that being on my own for the first time ever in my existence (as I’m a twin!) made me realise so much about myself. I had truly felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath me. I had left for university SO excited about the city I was moving to – yet felt too scared to explore it on my own.

I had been so confident that I was so strong and independent at the age of nineteen; yet my struggle to ease into the routine of university, making friends with strangers, keeping on top of everything and having my own back for the first time felt IMPOSSIBLE. I was left in tears every day of the first term for what seemed like the whole day, with absolutely no confidence that life at university would get better.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to drop out nearly every day before Christmas. It is beyond sad, that I became this way. But it is worth mentioning as I found out from several of my friends that this is a common experience at university, just not the shiny version of life that is advertised. I’m here to tell you that if you get this end of the stick during university, IT IS OKAY.

The things that got me out of this rut? Well, it’s not a quick fix, it took determination and resilience to build a happier life for myself. I recognise some factors that got me through were by nothing I did but by what others did that I could cling onto. One of these things was the support of my loving family, the tearful video calls and the constant optimism they were able to give me when I had lost my spark in my darkness. Whether it’s a family by blood or the friends that have become your family, hold them close and let them help you!

Possibly the biggest factor in my holding on was my faith in Jesus. It says in the Bible that God has a plan for all of us to ‘prosper not to harm’ us. In believing that everything happens for a reason, I was able to understand that maybe my struggle was just a ‘refining through fire’ and that good would come from it. Maybe writing this and it’s potential to help someone is that good. Other honourable mentions for turning things around: a thankfulness jar, inviting friends out and round your flat (shout out to SAS club!) and messaging your course mates who might just turn out to be your bestest friends! Having this resilience has helped me to be a better student paramedic. That is a whole ‘nother feat in itself.

Life on an ambulance was hard to adapt to in a time where I was struggling to swim through the tide of my own life. But with time, resilience, searching for joy and lots of herbal tea (among the above mentions), I have adapted! I have never been prouder of the work that the NHS does and the humans that act like superheroes during not just a global pandemic but every day. I can personally tell you it is INCREDIBLE and I would clap for them every night if I could!

Bottom line is, the struggle this year has brought has made me who I am and who I believe I am meant to be. Life might not always be rosy, but that doesn’t mean good can’t come out of it! It is through being out of our comfort zone that we grow you will probably struggle in some way… but the best things are always worth fighting for. I am now entering into my second year of university. Although I have grown throughout this year, I am FULLY aware I am not the finished masterpiece. That is MORE THAN OK. I am entering the new academic year with GENUINE confidence in myself and a realistic perspective of life (still keeping my splash of optimism!).

So whether you’re experiencing this strange lockdown life or going off to university yourself. Good can come out of even the worst of times. It turns out either experience of university that you have, can be a good experience. Even if you reach into the chocolate box of uni life and pull out a bounty- remember this and that strength came from it. There are never 365 days of badness, sometimes you just have to work extra hard to find the joy in it. But you will and it will be worth it.

All my love and prayers for you,