My first year of university, in a nutshell

23 July 2021

Hi! It's been a while.

After trying to put them out of my mind for so long since taking them, the other day I logged in to find out whether I had passed my first-year exams for my degree. Rewind to May, sat in my accommodation bedroom, when I submitted them with no idea how well I'd done or even if I'd be able to progress to second year. After a full year of online learning with no ability to gauge how others in my cohort had fared – after all, there was no traditional 'walking out of the exam hall' aftermath I'd been anticipating before all of this.

Anyway, I digress. I'm happy to say that despite the most atypical first year, I passed with a 2:1 average! Honestly, I would have taken the minimum pass mark given how I felt I had done, but needless to say I was ecstatic with what I got. We'll get onto that soon enough.

I digress again. What I really wanted to do was sit and ramble about the ups, downs and definite in-betweens of my first-year experience. I can't say it's been brilliant, nor can I say it was awful – most of the time, in all honesty, it was quite the average experience. Nevertheless, I cannot say that I am the same person I was last September. Cliché, I know, but it's true. Thinking back to how utterly lost I felt on the day I moved to Leeds to how I feel now – this is the part of me that has changed exponentially. I'm no longer consumed by homesickness whenever I'm away – if anything, now there are times where, as much as I like it, I'm indifferent to going home, which I never thought would happen. Growing up in a small town, I've always had a desire to move away – I think I almost 'grew out' of where I lived – but the reality was beyond scary. But now, it's somewhere I can come home to temporarily and enjoy, with the knowledge I have somewhere new and different to go at the same time. 

Trains. Now this has become a main method of transport for me, am I any better? Not really. Travelling by train has always been daunting for me, made worse by the fact that I now have to change multiple times to get between homes. Yes, I am that person who constantly asks the staff if I'm about to get on the right train, probably making myself look like an utter idiot in the process. And yes, I do look like a complete deer in headlights. But I guess it's one of those things that will always be an obstacle for me. Oh, well.

One thing that I think has really changed, accelerated by Covid, is my ability to live life for myself a lot more and less so for other people. I've always been the ultimate people-pleaser, so moving to a place where I knew I'd have to really put myself out there to make friends was daunting. But so much time spent on your own makes you realise just what makes you comfortable. And while I've put myself out there a lot more in terms of my independence, I've also stopped trying to constantly be someone else. This is all a very long-winded way of saying that I've become better at setting boundaries, doing things when I'm really up for it and not just to supplement an image. 

Along the same strand is the fact that I'm slowly – note the emphasis on 'slowly' here – becoming okay with not being academically 'perfect' all the time. I think my mentality towards academia stems from my small-town upbringing, in that the small pool of people really puts a spotlight on your achievements (some of my classes had as few as three people). But entering this new part of my life, in which the cohort for my degree is close to 400, somehow I'm realising that I cannot be perfect all the time. Of course, I still want to do really well, but I'm no longer letting my marks ruin my life – instead, I'm trying to accept and move on. 

With all of this in mind, am I any happier? In this moment, yes, I can say I am. Now, I know that this might not last, but right now I can say I feel more content than I did this time last year – a few months ago, even. I've never really wanted to bring this up on here, but it was a pivotal point in the year for me so it feels necessary: there was a period around late January to March where I felt the lowest I have ever felt. I want to preface this with the fact that I know there are many people who have probably felt much worse than I did, but to me, it was such a low point in my life. It got to a point where we were stuck in lockdown no. 3, I was sat at home, having spent the whole year learning online. It was scary to realise that I had, in fact, lost all motivation to do anything I used to enjoy, even quite mundane things like going on walks. And because I didn't want to go out walking, I felt pretty awful about myself. Don't get me wrong, I was ahead on all of my work (despite questioning multiple times whether going to uni was the right decision) I was comfortable at home, but to admit out loud that you've lost interest in everything that makes you, 'you', is terrifying. 

So, when restrictions started lifting in April, I decided to move back to my accommodation and carry on studying there, and to my surprise it really helped. I started going to the gym a lot, the weather got better, and not so long after, so did I. I'm not saying it was like flicking a switch, but it was amazing to me how a change of circumstances changed my perspective on things. Looking back, I was probably completely burnt out. 

In a nutshell, this may not have been the most thrilling first year, but so much changed in my life in a short amount of time that I cannot say it didn't change me. I'm still a massive worrier, overthinking most things in my life as usual, but I'm definitely more independent and much more content than I was a year ago. I have met and live with the loveliest of people, and I can now say with certainty that going to uni was the right choice for me. Fingers crossed for a slightly less tumultuous second year!

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