Going back to a place you’ve been before can often be difficult. It can also be amazing. You’re reminded of memories, the good and the bad.
University is a big part of a lot of young peoples’ lives. For me, it was the period of my life I had been looking forward to for as long as I could remember; my older brother and sister had already done university, and it was just a given I’d go too. I wanted a great group of life friends, maybe meet a great love, and in 2009 I decided I’d spend a portion of my experience studying abroad (after I fell in love with Australia on my first visit).
It’s funny, really. Memories flood back and hindsight becomes your annoying best friend. In the past month, I’ve returned to Norwich twice to visit various friends, and it had me looking back on my time at University of East Anglia. It was surprising how much I wish I could go back as the person I am now. But then, of course, I wouldn’t be who I am now if I hadn’t have had certain drunken nights and made a combination of silly and wonderful decisions. With my other friends coming back to visit, it was interesting to listen to the different things we would have done differently, and the surprising things we wouldn’t change at all.
So what advice would I give myself now, looking back? What things were important enough to me that now, 4 years after I started (thanks for making me feel old, TimeHop), I would do differently – or the same?
1. Don’t be so determined to settle in
Like I had said, I’d been dreaming about university for years. And really, when I say daydreaming, I went all out. I created my ideal view of what university would be like; the clubs I would join and the friends I would have impossible bonds with. Sometimes we want things to piece together so smoothly and perfectly that we rush ourselves. I just wanted to have the best friends ever, I wanted a group with ties stronger than anything. I thought I had found that in my flat, BH19, and in some ways I had. We were awesome and we stuck up for each other.
To be honest, I knew I didn’t slot that well with the girls of my flat, but I didn’t let myself admit that. We were still a group, this was what I wanted and I didn’t want to miss out. Now, I know that things need time to come together, and I should have just slowed down and listened to myself. I didn’t have to have everything sorted out in that first term, in the first few weeks. Take your time, feel things out.
2. Join clubs and societies!!
This is one that I actually did know at the beginning of my time at university. My sister wouldn’t let me forget it! She was right: join everything you’re interested in, and give them your time. I joined a couple, but wish I was brave enough and not as lazy and joined more. Stupid fear of missing out (with your flat) comes back and you opt to stay with them rather than branch out. But the thing is, even though you don’t know what you’re missing by skipping these clubs, doesn’t mean you’re not missing out on something that could be better. Give it a chance, because you might meet some of your best friends in clubs and societies.
One of the proudest things I did was go to my university’s surf club trip. I hadn’t been on any socials, I hadn’t met a single person. But I really wanted to join the surf club, so off I went on a weekend in Croyde with a bunch of strangers, laden with a lot of alcohol. And it was an awesome weekend. The first girl I spoke to is still my friend today. She’s called Jo and is one of the most level-headed, easy going people I know… she was actually one of the handful of people at university who I felt completely relaxed and myself with. No fronts, no showing off, just friends. It’s these kind of people you can meet at clubs and societies, people from different years, people you can learn from and have fun with.
3. Don’t be with someone for the wrong reasons
This is probably one of the toughest ones I’ve had to admit to myself, because it doesn’t paint the best picture of me. Nobody’s perfect though and we all have our flaws. Mine was that I coupled up with a guy in my first year, first semester for the wrong reasons. A few wrong reasons actually… Before then, I always felt so surprised when a boy liked me that even if I didn’t like them that much, I’d still start going out with them; I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings; I thought “who will even be the next guy to like me, if any?!”; I actually liked someone else (let’s call him Guy A) and was very stubborn with myself because I found it hard to admit I liked him when I knew he was not the type of guy I should have had feelings for so I went out with someone else (Guy B) to prove to myself that I wasn’t thinking about Guy A (but you know, subconciously)… Ok. And breathe.
So, I think you’ll agree, wrong reasons. And guess what? I ended up going out with him (Guy B) for a year. A year. Because it was safe, he apparently adored me, and he was great company. But these things catch up with you. If you’re not with someone for the right reasons, those reasons will come creeping back. And oh boy, they did. Feelings don’t last when you didn’t properly form them in the first place; as you grow in confidence you realise you don’t just want security and that maybe, just maybe, another guy could like you; and in this instance, Guy A never 100% left my mind because there was a reason I was so intrigued from Day Number One.
It sounds so sad and harsh, but Guy B shouldn’t have been part of my time at university. I think it probably would have been better for both of us. When I went to study in Australia (post-Guy B), I was determined to not commit to anyone, focus on friends, and have fun. Of course, that’s when feelings do form for someone… enter my current boyfriend, Alan. With him, I made myself very sure I was going into a relationship for all the right reasons. It can take some time, but I feel happy that I spent that time knowing for sure before I jumped into something and hurt someone.
4. Let yourself be ok with your mistakes
This smoothly leads me onto number 4. When you do make mistakes, deal with them and accept them. There are mistakes I feel awful about, but I can’t punish myself forever for them. Some mistakes I should never have made, but to be honest, one of the biggest mistakes I made, I shouldn’t have, but I’m sort of glad I did. It sounds bad, but some mistakes make you realise a lot of things. They’re like big earthquakes and change everything around you… but sometimes you need that.
Of course, that’s not to say “Hey you, go out and make HEAPS of mistakes!”. Obviously if you’re aware of how mind-numbingly stupid it is, don’t do it. Although even if you are, shit happens.
Basically, mistakes are a fluid thing, and out of the worst can come something good. Sometimes not. Either way, you learn from it and accept what’s done is done.
5. Always be open minded
I mean this in a lot of ways. I mean it in terms of your work, and also in terms of people. Understand that university is quite frankly a very odd time in someone’s life, and they do it in different ways. So don’t judge, don’t bitch (and especially not about your friends with other friends in your group because come on, that’s just mean and stupid), and let people live. You start having a lot more fun when you allow people to be themselves – even if you don’t agree with it.
People are still growing up and have been exposed to different childhoods and ways of living than you. Get over it.
6. I know it’s hard, but try to enjoy learning
Or failing that, just enjoy the fact that you’ve probably got somewhere between 6 and 12 hours per week. Oh my god. I work 8:30-5:30 and sometimes later… I long for the days of university when I had the freedom to do anything I really wanted (a severe lack of money though…).
I’ll happily swap days with anyone complaining about their workload.
7. Travel during the summers inbetween university
I wish I did this way, way more. You know at school when they say you’ll never get summers this long again? They were wrong. When you’re at university is when you get the longest summers. May to late September, I was free as a bird. I would move back home, see my family, and occasionally realise how few friends I had at home home (woops). But I’d get bored.
What I wish I did was get a job at university and save up a bit so I could travel. I wish I’d spent my summers interrailing around Europe, volunteering with turtle conservation in Costa Rica, working on my surfing in San Sebastian or Biarritz, or learning Czech in Prague. I know this would all have been quite a bit of money, but while I save now, you realise your priorities. What do you really want? It doesn’t have to be travel – you could want to focus on a sport at home, learn a new skill or get some work experience (ahem, work experience abroad?). But either way, you can choose whether you really need that extra drink with your friends or that iPad on top of your laptop, iPhone and desktop if you would love to do something else.
8. Just have fun!
When I look back, some of us took ourselves so seriously! Why?! Everything was a massive drama or a complete injustice, there were eventful nights out that ended in tears… obviously it happens, but university is a bubble where so much is magnified. It is the definition of mountains being made out of mole hills, and I met quite a few people where doing this was their main sport.
I definitely participated in this myself for a while, so I definitely wasn’t the shining emblem of what a person at university should look like. It wasn’t until after I got back from studying abroad in Melbourne that I realised there was more than the University Bubble. A lot had changed, but people were the same… they still gossiped and bitched about the same things, and I found it going in one ear and out the other. Where was everyone’s compassion and friendliness? Were these issues really that important? Find who an what you love, and have fun.
9. Drop the people who get you down
I have said branch out and meet lots of people. But as you go through university, once the honeymoon period of first year is over, you start to learn who your true friends are. Or, like me, you only learn in your third and final year.
Another thing I realised when I came back from university was who were my radiators and drains. The analogy is that the people who make you feel wam, give you heat, energy and happiness are your radiators. AKA the best people ever. The drains are the people who make you feel exhausted, tired and drain you of your best parts. Have one of those people? Drop them. They don’t benefit you in your life. It took me a long time to do this, as you think some friends love you and you love them, but something’s not right when they make you feel like that. We deserve to surround ourselves with our radiators. University is such a crucial time for that, and I may have found my radiators later than others, but they’re the most soothing, warmest people on the same wavelength as me.
The two groups I’m talking about happen to be the two groups I saw in Norwich over the past month. Two different groups who I met or became closer with in that final year – and they are my rocks. Finally I slotted in with friends who were my kind of people. Both of these groups are chilled out but silly, open minded but opinionated, cool but oh so nerdy as well. I couldn’t be more grateful that they came into my life and I love them.
10. Study abroad
Sorry, I couldn’t help it. I’m a complete advocate for this experience, as it was the best choice I made. Ultimately, deciding to move to Melbourne, Australia, on my own, knowing nobody, was the best decision I ever made in my life so far.
Was it scary? Fuck, yeah. A week beforehand I wondered what the hell I thought I was doing. And afterwards, I ended up losing a lot of friends. But I would not have changed a single thing. Studying abroad opened my mind, let me see more of the world, meet fantastic people of all sorts of nationalities, some of who have become life friends, made me more independent, made me a more loving and receptive person. Sounds cheesey, I know, but it’s true (and probably proves the whole loving and receptive thing…).
I know it’s not for everybody, so research it if it interests you and work out your options. It’s an amazing thing to do and I’m a better person because of it. And if that isn’t enough to persuade you, read my tips for studying abroad and what you learn from it.