Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Letting go of uni

Okay, here’s that entry I promised a few days ago. Basically, we found ourselves sitting talking about whether uni had been worth it or not last Friday night, (we had been to the pub for curry night, but other than that, yes, we really do not have better things to do) and came up with a list of pros and cons about the whole experience. This was meant to be a huge retelling of the list and for prospective and current students, a funny guide, and for graduates; a look back at the lessons learnt other than the academic. However, I attempted it and it didn’t really read well as a piece of writing and was far too long, so I thought I’d focus on the first and most important part of the list: The people.

One of the first things you get told in those higher education days at school and from proper adults is that uni is where you will meet life- long friends. I walked into my new home in Newcastle three years ago, all ready to become best friends, bonding over cheap drink so that we could live like a little student family of stereotypical quirkiness. It didn’t quite work like that. I was the only ‘working class’ northerner in the flat, and although it shouldn’t be a problem, a divide between me and the rest of the girls quickly formed. I tried to make an effort with them, but they had more money to be going out together more often and seemed to be nocturnal. They slept all day, partied all night and made as much noise as humanly possible doing so. They just stopped inviting me anywhere and one of them seemed to blatantly hate me to the point of ignoring me unless it was to make a snide remark. I asked her what her problem was, and she denied that there was one. The dirty looks said otherwise.

 I walked into the kitchen one day and heard them saying how all northerners ‘thought they were hard and a bit rough’ and were apparently racist. It really hurt me that I had been nothing but nice to these girls, treat them all equally, and yet had been stereotyped as some sort of ‘rough’ (or just more working class than them) racist. The ‘why don’t they like me?’ quickly turned into ‘those bitches!’ especially when I decided I was going to move home. Everything they did angered me to the point that when I left, I stabbed the inflatable snowman and left the freezer door open. Yes. That was me. 

That was my first real lesson of grown up life. People can be awful and there comes a point where you have to stop trying to change them, stop being hurt by it and rise above it. In the mean time I made other friends, one of which helped me throw a very rowdy St Patrick’s Day party in my kitchen without informing the flatmates first. This girl helped me to enjoy running again, made me feel like part of her flatmate community and took me to the casino for the first and to this date, last time. We partied in a 90’s dive bar, wrote horrific poetry about pineapples and other things to annoy our poetry tutor and she had the most distinctive Yorkshire/Lancashire accent ever. This was at a time when I was gradually growing more distant from my friends from home as they too stopped inviting me anywhere because I was ‘too busy with my boyfriend’ (I wasn’t- if they had made plans earlier than the problem could have been solved) and I since found out that the fact I pulled out of a house for second year was actually a bigger deal to our friendship than she’d let on.

So that was the second lesson. People change. You find out who your friends are when you go to university. Loyalties change and people change. I mean, who hasn’t had a friend that went to a prestigious uni or lived in halls with people from elsewhere, and then when you see them at Christmas, they have the poshest accent ever and have developed a fondness for brie and current political affairs? Or say words like 'craic,''banter' and 'lashed.' 

Luckily, I got talking to a girl who I had been friends with since music class when we were 11. We’d not really been in touch much and she too was moving back home and changing uni for similar reasons to me. To this day, she is one of my best friends and I will always remember the ‘map’ she drew on the last day of school when people wrote good luck messages in each other’s notebooks. She wrote ‘here is a map to my house. Now you have no excuse not to see me.’ She lives round the corner. We even contemplated opening our windows and screaming to see if the other could hear. She’s been there for every drama and road trip and her 21st weekend in Edinburgh was probably one of the funniest of my life. Another friend came to Edinburgh, and this one was from Teesside.
Regressing to the 11 year olds we knew each other as!

I went to Teesside expecting pretty much the same 18-21 year old crowd as Northumbria. Instead, for some reason English Literature at Teesside University is filled with the most diverse selection of people I have ever encountered. I spent my first few months learning that the Angry Mothers knew everything about anything because they have children and it’s so difficult, therefore are just better. Who the potential sociopaths where and wondering what on earth was in one guy’s bag that looked suspiciously like a body bag. I learnt that putting angry mothers, ex drug addicts and all manner of other people into a seminar group resulted in something more like group therapy than literary discussion. (To be fair, De Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater was one of the saner seminar discussions when you compare it to the one about penis puppetry!)

I soon made friends though. It was quite easy because a couple of girls seemed obviously my age and easy to talk to. I knew I was on to a winner when I was asked ‘how are you?’ instead of being told about their suicidal urges or pending divorce. These were easy to talk to girls who seemed to be having the same problem as me; making friends that you actually felt like you could be friends with outside of uni. The group gradually grew as we introduced each other to our old friends or other people on the course that we just hadn’t met yet. We’re still quite a motley crew. In our list, we described it as the uni transfer girl, a functioning alcoholic, the fashion graduate with a passionate hate for the job centre, a hair extension enthusiast and animal lover and a Facebook pervert who regularly laughed so loud that we got kicked out of the silent floor of the library. That’s not even counting the friends we made through old friends and the fun we had dancing in cages dressed as super heroes and singing show tunes through the streets of Newcastle, or just sitting in The Dickens drinking Pimms before Creative Writing.

The super hero night. Before the cage and show tunes. 
Even the odd or disagreeable people I’ve met are part of the experience and we find ourselves laughing about the general deviance of our course and the amazing dynamic it had because of it. The people that seem odd, scary and intimidating are more often than not, engaging, fascinating and genuinely nice people, even if they are annoying or strange at times. Tolerance is probably one of the most important lessons you can ever learn from uni.

Even though we’re busy and stressed about unemployment, the people I’ve met or re-formed friendships with, I’m incredibly lucky to have and wouldn’t if I hadn’t been to uni. And despite our differences, it’s easy to make common ground through shared experience, or just giving someone a chance. I may not have an abundance of ‘mad’ night out pictures, but that’s because I learnt early on that that’s not me. I like a good drink occasionally, and a good party, but there’s no need to be an arse about it. Everything in moderation and studies come first, I mean, that’s what you pay to be there for!

The friends you make should be the kind of people you can get in touch with at unreasonable times to talk about anything, cry and swear and rage at over assignments with, make study groups with but still be able to crack each other up in an Edinburgh Travel Lodge making shadow puppets with LED lights. People you can celebrate your differences with over a weird flavoured tea, not shun them and be suspicious of them.  Unlike a lot of students, I have memories a lot more substantial than hazy nights and shoes covered in sick, and I’m certain I’ll be making a lot more with these amazing people for years to come. This entry was to allow me to do something scary: to remember the good times I had at uni and move on. Moving on to the rest of my life is terrifying, but my friends will help me through it. 

Edinburgh 2011. The LED lights came from these balloons. 

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