Friday, 3 April 2015

What I Learned in the Past 5+ Years At University

Graduating university in March felt like the end of a big chapter in my life - big enough to justify a post about it anyways. I've been wanting to write a post about all the things I learned during my time at university for a long time now, and now I feel like I'm in the right mindset to do it. It won't all be strictly university related; more like a few things I've learned during the past five/six years since moving out and attending uni. This post might be more of a cathartic exercise for me than anything else, but maybe it does help some of you as well, who knows? So here's some words of wisdom by me ...

# Never apologise for your major. 
Let's start with the one topic I could probably write books about by now, shall we? After school, I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life (hell, I still haven't quite figured this one out, ok), but I've always liked the English language so I registered for a BA degree in English and American Studies - basically a mix of linguistics, literature and cultural studies all rolled into one. Turns out I loved it, so I stuck with it and did a MA degree at the same department as well. 
Still, more people than I care to remember at this point have asked me the same question over the past 5+ years:" Oh ok, and what are you going to do with that degree ...?" Nine out of ten times, the tone of this question was quite clear - it wasn't interest, it was contempt. The problem was that I never had a good answer to shut these people up. Studying a language is different than studying medicine or law; you're not a doctor or a lawyer after you're finished. You accumulate a lot of skills, but they can be applied to a multitude of areas, and that's what people struggle to understand. Interestingly enough, the same people that tended to (more or less obviously) belittle my choice of study subject were the same people who asked for my assistance in translation and proof-reading tasks later ... so apparently what I did wasn't so useless after all? 
I could forever rant on and on about this topic, because it's really something that I struggled a lot over the past few years. Even though I was learning something I was really interested in, a lot of times other people made me feel like I was wasting my time. In retrospect I wish someone had told me that I should never apologise for what I'm studying, and that I should be proud of my achievements. My career path might not be set in stone the way it would be if I had studied a different subject - but at this point, this fact excites me more than it frightens me. I even get paid to do freelance work now; work that I actually can apply the skills I learned at university to, so I'm excited. 
Never apologise for studying a subject that you're genuinely interested in. Do your thing and don't let other people put seeds of doubt into your head. It's gonna be okay. 

# Learn to cook.
Let's move on to a less serious subject that is connected to one of my favourite hobbies of all time: eating. I don't really remember what my cooking skills consisted of before I moved out, I'm sure I could do scrambled eggs and the likes, but that was about it. 
To me, learning to cook for yourself is one of these "adult" skills you only really master when you have no other choice because mum is not there to baby you through it. Don't get me wrong, I vividly remember me constantly being on the phone with my mum in my first year of uni, asking her for advice as I was trying to cook dishes of my own; and there's nothing wrong with that. Five and a half years later, I daresay that I am pretty good in the kitchen and that I can cook a very decent meal - and sometimes, I can even give my mum advice now, how cool is that? 
And it's not like I don't like to meet my friends for breakfast, lunch or dinner and eat out in a restaurant - it's one of my favourite things. But the average student chronically lacks the funds to do so on a regular basis, and let's face it: cooking at home is so much cheaper than eating out every day. 
And as soon as you've learned how to cook a few more dishes than just scrambled eggs, it's actually a lot of fun, I promise! 

# Friendships end and that's okay.
So back to a more serious topic again ... friendships. More like: friendships and the struggle to preserve them over one of these major transitional stages of your life. And finishing high school and going to university is just that: it's a huge turning point in your life's narrative. Suddenly, you're faced with a lot of new situations and people; and through all of that, you're somehow trying to find out who you really are and what you want in life. While that happens, you might find that people can grow apart very quickly. Time changes, and best friends can become strangers. It's a rather sad reality of life, but that's just how it is. I have struggled a lot with this realisation two, three years ago, but in the end it really helped me to understand who I was, and who the people I actually wanted in my life were. I have lost some friends along the way, but at the same time I met a lot of new amazing people, some of them who turned out to be very close and dear friends over the past few years. 
You absolutely don't have to hold on to toxic people who make you feel bad about yourself and drag you down. You don't need that shit in your life. 

# Get some work experience.
I have ranted about my five years working in retail many a time in the past (sorry friends), and still it's not something I regret doing in the slightest. Apart from actually earning money and therefore being at least partially independent from the parents while studying, having an actual "grown up" job did a bit more for me than just that. 
First of all, work experience - any work experience - looks good on your CV. Sure, working in retail is not really glamorous at first sight, but it taught me a few skills anyways: team work, organisational skills, resistance to a stressful environment and last but not least keeping a smile on my face even though I might want to strangle the person opposite me (don't put that on your CV, guys). 
Secondly, it also helps you to not lose grip of reality. It sounds stupid, but as a university student, you sometimes get wrapped up in discussions about really abstract topics that might be fun and games while you're in education, but you might forget that "real life" isn't quite like that. Having a job in the real world besides being in education really did help to balance my life.
So if you do have the time while you're at university, try to get a job - any job - and enjoy the real life skills you'll learn! 

# Enjoy yourself. 
To end this monster of a post on a positive note, I just want to emphasise that while some of the things I just mentioned can be quite stressful to deal with, university can be such a cool chapter of your life. 
One of my teachers in school always told us that we'll "wish to be back at school soon enough", because "university is so different and difficult to navigate especially at the beginning" - to tell you the truth, I haven't missed school for one day and I can honestly say that I enjoyed university a great deal more. Yes, being in charge of your own time table and life can be quite daunting at the beginning, but it's also really exciting and comes with a lot of freedom that you've probably never experienced before. 
And even if you're at a loss sometimes because you have no idea what's actually going on around you - and this applies especially to university - don't worry too much about looking like an idiot. In reality, everyone is a noob when they start attending uni, and nobody knows about the inner workings of the uni system right away; some just are able to hide it better than others. 
So please enjoy the ride as long as you can - it's over way too quickly anyways! 

Anyone still there? Do you have any thoughts and experiences to share about uni and pretending to be a halfway decent adult? :D

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