Thanks to a very close friend that I don’t see anywhere enough of for the inspiration to write this piece
It doesn’t quite feel real yet. 4 years of long and hard study. Many days and evenings in the library and nights staring at a word processor. After all of this, on Tuesday just after 12pm my journey as an undergraduate student came to an end. As I walked out of that final exam I didn’t quite know how I felt. Certainly when I put my pen down after three hours of frantic writing I was relieved but I certainly didn’t feel a massive weight lifted off my shoulders as I expected. I just knew that it was over. If anything I felt numb – I know what is next for me but this huge chapter in my life was over. Sitting now, I feel relief more than anything. The pressure that I’ve experienced in this final year, to push for the best grade I can has been immense. It has been exhausting and I know I have given every last bit of energy that I have to this degree. The number of nights where I have laid awake, unable to sleep thinking about an essay or an exam. All of the nights I woke up at 3am in the midst of my dissertation with a new idea for how to tackle a problem. I dread to think of the number of cases I’ve memorised over four years, the number of words I’ve written and the number of days I’ve spent with a stress level that really is unhealthy. Now, it is all done. Exams completed, dissertation handed in and there is nothing more that I can do. What will be will be but I know that I have pushed myself to (and quite possibly beyond) my limit in an attempt to fulfil my ambitions. This time after finishing my degree has though got me thinking a lot about my time at university and more particularly at how the degree has changed me and my perceptions on the experience as a whole.
When I look back it has been a whirlwind experience and despite starting nearly four years ago I can still remember my move-in day so vividly. The sun was out, the skies blue and there were hundreds, if not thousands of students, parents and volunteers descended upon the halls of residence to move new students in. Looking back at the experience as a whole though I see how I have changed and grown myself. I remember just how hard I found the social side of things when I started off. In fact, the name of this blog ‘Not Your Normal Student’ was mainly derived from that. When I arrived at university I’m not ashamed to say that I felt like a fish out of water. For me, a quiet introvert that really didn’t drink and certainly was more like the grim reaper rather than the life and soul of a party, Freshers’ Week was (unsurprisingly) overwhelming for me – the alcohol culture that was in full show through that week and indeed a great deal of my first year was beyond intimidating. I felt almost a prisoner in my own room in halls. The drinking games that I saw flatmates playing and heard of seemed almost inhuman to me. Every day I was left wondering why people did that to themselves, why people were proud to come home throwing up and the best indicator of a night out was not being able to remember it. It seemed like there was some entry requirement that had passed me by.
Through my first year and indeed I would go as far to say through most of the the first three years of my university experience, this aspect of my personality felt like the biggest hindrance. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in, like I could never truly fit into the full aspects of extra-curricular activities like a ‘normal student’ was. The funny thing is, that the further through my degree I went, the less this seemed to matter to me. I’m lucky to have the most amazing group of friends both inside and outside of Aberdeen that I’ve always been able to talk to when it has felt like this side of things was overwhelming and the result has always been a reminder that just because that’s who I am isn’t necessarily a disadvantage and certainly doesn’t make me abnormal. Now, even though an evening out still causes me stress and nerves, I can enjoy it now once I’m there. I can’t say what the turning point was for this – there are so many circumstances in my time at university that I’ve had to push myself or have been pushed into social situations where I wouldn’t have previously been in. Through these things I started to feel more normal but it also made me realise that there truly isn’t a conception of a normal student.
Through my time at university I have got to know a lot of different people and it made me realise is that whilst ‘uni culture’ is undoubtedly present there are also many others who are equally alienated by it. What is more, the ‘uni culture’ stereotype does an absolute disservice to the other students who are as equally bemused and isolated because of it. Every person who arrives at university comes from a different background, with different motivations and with different aspirations for the future.
There’s a lot that I’ll miss about university. Most of all though, it is the people. Every day I saw people who would put a smile on my face. Every day I would speak to people and every day I would learn from it. I’ve learnt how other people do things, how to handle tough situations and how to be a better person overall. As the years have gone by the lecturers and tutors change from being the person leading a class to someone guiding you towards your future. They become a person rather than just the name that you see on a course handout. They want you to succeed and will push you to be your best. The biggest thing I will miss by far though is my group of friends. Over the past 4 years I have seen this group more than I have my family. They have always been there and it is no cliché to say that we got through the degree together. It’s only natural that we all go our own way after finishing up but graduation day will certainly be a bittersweet moment for that reason.
Though my undergraduate experience is at an end for me (but for the graduation ceremony) my university experience most definitely isn’t with me returning to complete a professional diploma to allow me to enter my profession. I know next year will be different and certainly will feel that way as the group I’ve been a part of diverges and the tutors teaching me change. Even the nature of what I do changes from being academic to more practical. In many ways, next year feels like the stepping stone to the next major change and I’m ready to tackle it head on, personality quirks and all because the biggest things I’ve learnt as an undergraduate haven’t been in the classroom, but instead almost everywhere outside of it.