After slowly collecting up my belongings, five weeks ago, I moved to Bath. My first day involved a lot of queues and documents. When I’d finished trying to get my parents out of my hair, having a stress about the cleanliness of the fridge, and hanging up my clothes, I suddenly found myself sat on a bed in a little room on the eighth floor of an accommodation block in a city that I’d only ever spent a few hours in. That first day is rather scary, but trust me, there’s no need to be scared. Find your doorstop from the bottom of your suitcase, get your door propped open, and say hello to each and every person that walks past. At some point, your brain will have the revelation that actually, all of your flat mates are in the same position. It won’t be long before you’re all crowded around the kitchen table having the obligatory Fresher’s conversation.
‘What’s your name?’ ‘Alex’
‘What are you studying?’ ‘Pharmacology’
‘Where are you from?’ ‘Leicestershire’
‘Where’s that?’ ‘The Midlands’
‘But the Midlands doesn’t exist?’
Yes, if like me, you are from the Midlands, you’re about to spend the next four years of your life advocating its existence. Apparently, there’s only North and South.
Fresher’s Week passed in rather a whirlwind, and it wasn’t long before the reality of university life kicked in. Vitamins, tissues, olbas oil, and paracetamol will get you through the first couple of weeks as you attempt to overcome Fresher’s flu. When you’re recovering from a severe head cold, it can be difficult to take on the reams of new information. My first lecture largely consisted of a nervous five minutes trying desperately to spot a recognisable face in the biggest room I’d ever seen, an excessive amount of coughing (try putting 200 people all with some sort of virus into the same room!), and a fair amount of desperately trying to scribble down every word the lecturer said. Don’t do it, you’ll never get down every word. I’m warning you now, just don’t try. PowerPoint slides are there for a reason, so print them.
For Pharmacologists at least, there will be a moment a few days later when you discover that the lecturer’s for one module won’t use a PowerPoint. Yes, you heard it. Not one PowerPoint for a whole lecture series. But how can you teach without one? You’ll soon realise that schools have forgotten the art of using a marker and a whiteboard, and actually, whoever invented PowerPoint and projectors was probably just trying to confuse you. University may be very different to school on all sorts of levels, but actually, my Chemistry lectures make the most sense, and they’re the ones which I enjoy the most.
Teaching at university is rather different to how you are taught at school. At home, we still have middle schools, and so from moving to upper school in year ten to finishing my A Levels, I was in one place. I knew the teachers, I had my friends, and I knew how things were taught and what was expected of me. I knew that classes started at 8.45am and finished at 3.15pm. Sometimes, I can now feel a little like I’m drowning in the workload, because this time, the jump really is huge. There’s no more chatting to your friends, or answering problem sheets in class. Although we do have smaller ‘class-sized’ groups to answer questions, I spend most of my time sat in front of a lecturer with about two hundred other students. Putting your hand up is suddenly a massive ask, and you can find that there’s little structure. With a timetable that changes on a weekly basis, some days I can have my first lecture at 8.15am and finish my last at 7.15pm, but others I can lounge around until midday, have one lecture, and then head back to my flat. This semester, my hours vary from 11 to 23 hours a week, and for each hour we spend in lectures or workshops, we have to do one to two hours outside. That can mean fifty hour weeks, and will probably explain why the library is open twenty four hours a day.
It wasn’t long before I was fully immersed into a world of lectures, workshops, societies, friends, socialising, reading, essay writing, and sleeping. I’ve found that friendship groups have popped up all over the place, and so there’s always someone to hang around with. Some of the best bits for me have been the simple things; we had a flat roast dinner and I went to the Pharmacology pub quiz. Although there are plenty of opportunities to party if that’s your thing, you don’t have to go out every night. A group of six of us from my course decided to go the pub quiz social, and while we only came third, and were the only first years there, it was a good chance to see Molloys, and get to know each other a little better. There’s only so much that you can get to know about someone whilst simultaneously trying to make notes in a fifty minute lecture. Take time to appreciate the little things (and to try and work out which of your new friend’s is called Ellie, which is Ella and which is Emma).
Looking back on it, I’m not sure where the last five weeks have gone. I’ve joined three societies, made a whole host of friends, visited my mum for her birthday, and eaten exactly what I wanted. Every single day. Being a student is a lot of fun, and I’m already convinced that the stress of A Levels and the hassle of UCAS was worth every single second.