Tuesday 2 June 2020

What My Second Year of University has Taught Me

This Saturday, my family and I drove up to Birmingham to my shared student house to completely move me out for the academic year. Despite the fact that I do have some tasks to complete over the summer regarding dissertation research and third year prep, it feels as though my second year is now officially over. For a number of reasons, second year was a slap in the face. Like many other students at the University of Birmingham, I went from living in a leafy-green, safe, and friendly bubble called the Vale Student Village (an accommodation campus located within Edgbaston - a very affluent, attractive area of Birmingham) to living in an ugly tardis-esque house squatting at the end of a very very long road in Selly Oak, which is typically deemed deprived, unsafe, and unattractive. But despite all its ugliness, I do still have a soft spot for Selly, and it's a shame that I won't be seeing it at its best in the summer time.

My first two years of university have been so different, and for that reason, second year has taught me a lot of different things compared to my first year, education aside. Once you reach second year, time speeds up. You are no longer a silly fresher, and instead things have started to get serious. My second year has definitely helped me develop a mentality in which I am now thinking far more seriously about post-graduate life and my career. Overall, the year has also developed a lot of my resilience. For the most part, my first year was one big massive high, but second year has seen far more ups and downs, and a lot more challenges in the way of being responsible for your own learning in the face of UCU strike action and covid-19. 

But aside from the degree part, the most important thing that my second year at university has taught me is how to cook! I lived in catered accommodation last year, and so never had a real opportunity nor a need to cook. I had a card on to which meal money was loaded weekly, and so heating up a tin of soup on a Sunday night after using up all my money for the week was about as adventurous as my 'cooking' got. At the other end of the scale, I have made loads of meals this year; from simple sausage and mash or a vegetable stir fry, to more complex dishes like lasagne, carbonara, and a full Christmas roast at the end of the first term. And I'm pleased to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed it; my best friend and I cook together every night that we can, and this definitely makes it a sociable time to look forward to, rather than a chore. On the subject of food, second year has also taught me that you can absolutely do a one person weekly shop for about £17 or less if you shop sensibly. I used to go to Morrison's fortnightly in my first year (I shop at Aldi now), and could easily spend double that just buying a few basic staples on top of my meal card - yoghurts, fresh fruit, juice, milk, bread, a few snacks, etc.

This year has definitely also required me to step it up in the way of 'adulting'; for those living in student halls like I was in my first year, there is no time spent sorting gas and electricity bills, water supply or a WiFi package. I took charge of setting up the energy supply and bills for my house this year, which ended up being a much more difficult task than it should have been after the previous tenants of our house submitted a wildly incorrect meter reading at the end of their tenancy. Nevertheless, university is as much about the life skills as it is about the degree, so every experience is a worthwhile experience.

On a personal level, second year has solidified a lot of my strong and important friendships. Many people argue that you meet your real friends in second year, having made quantity over quality in first year friendships. I don't think this is necessarily true; a lot of my current tight friendships were close friends in first year too, but as you would expect, these friendships have just strengthened with an extra year. Naturally, this year has still seen some friendships run their course, simply because paths do not cross that often, or perhaps because we are not as alike as initially thought. The first few weeks of your first year of university are very intense, and are not real life compared to the rest of your university experience. It's totally normal to have let go of some people, and in the mean time to have met new friends as well as strengthened meaningful relationships with not-new friends.   

Now I cannot say that I enjoyed this final lesson, but second year has taught me that you can write half an essay in a night - and also that you should be uploading your work to a memory stick more than once a month! I know a lot of people are used to writing a whole essay in one night, but that simply is not me; I like to start early and take it slow. But anyway, not that I had much choice back in January when I was still writing at 3am after the file containing my essay corrupted the night before the essay was due.

Whilst I'm not sure what my third year will be like, as I am sure it will still involve a lot of online learning and social distancing, I hope it is a successful year from which I will learn a lot more. Whatever shape the final year of my degree takes, I'm hoping for an enjoyable and positive experience. I already cannot wait to be back with my friends and living back in Brum <3

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