Tuesday 31 March 2015

Reflections on life as an undergraduate

- Charlotte Hardy

As a postgraduate doing a full time Masters I anticipated this to be difficult after a four year break from academic life. This summer will mark five years since I obtained my BA and attended the graduation ceremony. That summer day when I donned the gown and threw my grad cap up in the air with my cohort, I should have been happy and relieved to have made it through four years of essays, exams, a year abroad in Australia at the University of Sydney alongside a battle with depression and social anxiety. 

Five years ago I wrote in my diary that life was a series of nibbles, starters, mains and desserts. In your life you decide what you want to ‘eat’ every day and sometimes you feel more adventurous and might try new food. You’ll find some which you will like more than others. 

Up until this point I had enjoyed the following ‘dishes’: my nibbles were a mix of work experience and teaching English in Thailand; the starter: my year abroad in Australia, my main was finishing my BA: tasting different flavours through the dish- or more precisely balancing my academic and social life. I was undecided on my dessert but went for a series of mini chocolates or more specifically, a range of internships. 

Yet amidst the recession I wasn’t sure what my long term future looked like. All I could think about was the fact that I had graduated with a 2:2 and wasn’t able to do a Masters as most universities accepted a ‘good first degree’, which in my mind was a solid 2:1 or a first. While I appreciate a lot of people do get 2:2 and do well in their future, five years ago I felt I had failed. I let myself down, my family down and was clearly stuck in a rut. It didn’t matter that I was first person to attend university in my family and that I had done it. The sense of failure ruined any cause for celebration.

In the months that followed I scrutinised my academic writing playing out different scenarios in my head… what if I worked harder, sought more support, not gone abroad, etc. Turning over all the things I would do things differently if I could turn back the clock. It didn’t help that I was playing the comparison game; comparing myself to my friends who had graduated a year before, many settled into a Masters or at least content with the way life was in that given moment. To be honest: I wanted to have what they had: a Masters and a job that paid the bills. Back in the summer of 2010 my dream of doing a Masters appeared out of reach. Never mind applications to graduate schemes, even though I could bypass some of earlier stages of the application process with my disabilities under their guaranteed interview status. I felt dejected and disillusioned. 

If I could tell my younger self what I know now, it would have been this:

“Even though you still refuse to look at your graduation pictures, you did it. Ok, life as an undergraduate was not without its challenges: settling into uni after you changed institutions, starting a conversation with people you’ve never met, (the most terrifying thing) and in the process maintain it so you made friends. You did well controlling your social anxiety, completing the assignments, reading and balancing your social life. You can’t ignore the fact that uni did stress you out, or that you were in dark places and did attempt suicide. You know what they say: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. There is no need to dwell on what got you into those dark places. Just acknowledge that you got through it. Those dark days passed with time because you sought help. When you did your friends were there, uni counselling services were there, your family was there and God found you. You were never alone even when you felt depressed, isolated and alone. Your past is in the past. Your future looks bright. Hold on to the memories, good and bad. Cherish the year abroad in Australia and the friends you made along the way.

Ps: 4th May 2014- Time to get yourself prepared for September, it will come in no time at all. You’ll be back at uni again doing what you thought you’d never be able to do: your MA. Go girl. So proud of you.”

Over five years I have enjoyed many ‘meals’. I have savoured different life experiences and learnt what I like and don’t like. I am enjoying a different meal now- my MA and so far it’s been tasty. So don’t be afraid to try different dishes and experience the flavours, you may be surprised and enjoy it and if you do, don’t forget you can ask for a takeaway!

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