Friday, 15 June 2018

Reflecting on my University experience

So, graduation season is upon us once again and more people are graduating with degrees and qualifications all across the country. (Imagine that sentence in Dumbledore’s voice. )
2 years ago (yesterday actually) in the month of June 2016, that was me, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music. So I thought it would be good to revisit the four years of student wonder, where funnily I had more money than compared to what I have now. It's still an experience I will remember for many years to come, as it was what made me grow to be the person I am today. Even though I may not use my degree to a great extent, I am still surprised to this day that I managed to get a degree under my belt, it's always good for conversation. 'Music huh? Wow, what was your first instrument? Did you just play music all the time?' No. 
In Scotland, the majority of degrees are four years in length compared to three years south of the border. Unless you go on to do a masters or PhD, and then you can add up to an additional 4 more years to your Bachelors. SAAS still pay the tuition fees for degrees in Scotland which is a huge relief compared to what you have to pay in England, however, it is still an expensive ordeal.

1st Year – The Year Eilidh was homesick yet actually made friends
So moving to Aberdeen was the first time I had ever been away from the Highlands for longer than a week, on my own as well to start off with, it was a bit of a struggle.
At first, I was excited to be in a city with loads more opportunities; I went out to nightclubs during Fresher’s week for the first time in my life. Unlike most teenagers, the only underage drinking I did was supervised with my parents so I never had a fake ID or went to clubs at home. I had shops and cinemas just half an hour walk away, as supposed to over an hour drive. Of course though, when you’re on your own, it can still be difficult to adjust.
It took a while to get used to the chores of living on your own but now its second nature living on my own.
I remember November of that year being a particularly stressful month as I lost my phone in the university campus (update: still never found it) and after going home to see my beloved musical friends in the music groups I played in, it made me feel really lonely. However, I did have the wonderful support from my online friends, Harriet (who sent me a 20-page letter with a recipe for chocolate cookies) and Shelley, who both had their baby boys during my first year at uni.
I also HATED halls, you had to shower and pee in cubicles, the kitchen was tiny and the noise & mess in the actual hallway was ridiculous, I literally had a bag of rubbish dumped outside my door for no apparent reason. I failed my first Music History essay and when I found out about that, I thought I was never going to get my degree, this was a waste of time and I should just go home. It really sucked, however, I handed in a resit after the summer and was able to carry on in my studies. I passed every class since then so it made me realise that university was no joke but I was still able to do it.
However, after Christmas, the 2nd term started and I actually made friends in my course! We made a little friendship group of 5 girls, a couple of those girls dated guys in their year. Of course, I was the fat and unattractive one in the group so no dates for me. I studied Gaelic both terms and enjoyed learning a new language, I also played in the big band and concert band. I was able to find my feet eventually and by the end of the year, I didn’t want to move back home for the summer. Although a week trip to Amsterdam did help with that. 
Advice for 1st years: Do not worry if you don't make the absolute best friends in your first term, even throughout your first year. There are loads of opportunities for friends as you go through your studies. If you feel homesick, you are not alone. There will be support groups at your local student union. But your family are just a phone call away if you ever need them.

2nd Year – The Year Eilidh actually went on nights out
As the majority of people in my life know that I am tee-total, have been since 2015 and do not drink alcohol now.
Back in 2nd year though, that was a different story. I had my first kiss at 19 when I was drunk at a flat party, then never saw the guy again till randomly next year when he popped into work with his girlfriend. I actually hid from him. True story.
I lived in a flat with two girls in my course and both of their boyfriends at the time stayed at the flat. One boyfriend, I got on really well with, the other stormed in my room drunk, spewed in my bedroom and to apologise, sent flowers to me… Yeah.
This year, my best friend from the Highlands started his degree in Aberdeen so we saw each other every week or so. We had another friend at the time and had hangouts together, just the three of us, so I finally felt that I was socialising, settling into life in the Granite City and having a great group of friends. Of course, it never lasted but still.
It wasn't all sunshine and roses, unfortunately, I do remember giving up interviews and hangouts to visit the hospital in April. My little cousin, who was 2 at the time, had to be rushed there suddenly. He's now 6 and is such a rascal but that is one key thing I remember from that year that took away the buzz, for good reason though. 
You definitely noticed the jump in the level of exams and deadlines though, I remember studying quite a bit for exams, I think failing the first History essay did it for me. I was still studying Gaelic and found it quite strenuous this time. The number of exams I had at the end of May was ridiculous, I think I had 8 in the space of a couple of weeks, just for 2nd year. The fact the grades still didn't necessarily count was quite silly, however looking back, I am glad I put in the effort. 
Advice for 2nd years: Make sure you take time this year to feel completely settled into your campus, city and feel comfortable. Have your group of friends and just have a lot of fun. If you can, find part-time work if possible to earn more money other than your SAAS loan, so you have a bit of extra support. 

3rd Year – The Year Eilidh found paid employment, depression & anxiety
The summer before 3rd year, I stayed in Aberdeen and had my first paid job (where I stayed till after I graduated). The colleagues I worked with became my true friends and I still have friends from there that I talk to today.
This was the year where the drama definitely escalated in this group of friends in uni, workload built uploads. I had to take subjects I didn’t particularly want to study but had to complete them for credits. Hell, I did Physics in Music and most people will know, I am not good at Science! Had a generous marker that gave me a B though. I knew this year counted so the pressure was definitely on, from family, the department but most of all, I put LOADS onto myself. This lead to me crying most evenings and realising deep down that I could have depression and anxiety issues. I went to counselling and didn’t tell anyone at the time. Apart from my best friend.
He lived with the same mutual friend from the previous year so I would often visit their flat and sleep on the couch, just to get away from awkward living situations at the time, get away from drama and pretty much just thinking 'What the hell is my life right now?'
I became ill to the point where I couldn’t eat a standard meal without feeling sick. I couldn't sleep well. I kept to myself from everyone else but put a strain on my relationship with my best friend at the time, as he was the only person I could talk to.
That was also the time where I would feel ill after getting physically close to someone. This was after a friend of the mutual friend was extremely flirty with me, to the point where he would stroke my hand and whisper in my ear. This was after I had just met him two hours before. I remember running to the bathroom whilst watching a horror film (perfect scenario eh?) just to get away from him. Yeah, my track record with guys is great huh?
At this point, I was terrified of the fact that I was going to go into my final year but also that I had no idea what was going to happen afterwards. I just remember it being an incredibly difficult year for so many reasons, definitely worse than my final year. 
Advice for 3rd years: It is quite a big step up from the previous year so be aware. Even though this may be the year where grades count, try not to put yourself under too much pressure, for sanity's sake. Look after your mental health, in particular, make sure you have days where you can rest. Put in a routine that works best for you and your studies. Most students may go on placement during this year so it is important for a routine to stick.

4th Year – The Year Eilidh came out, went on dates, volunteered and actually graduated
The summer before my final year started, I came out to myself as a biromantic asexual and became more attracted to women. So much so that my first proper ‘first date’ was with a woman from a dating app. It took a while to come out publicly but I still felt like a huge relief had been lifted. I also had dates and a plus one for my May ball, which was a huge achievement for me. I always went to events single and by myself, so to have someone by my side was such a wonderful experience.
I moved in with my best friend after we both had our own flat dramas with previous flatmates. This flat was so much bigger and more homely than previous living conditions. This was a home and dramas in the flat were very slim. As we know each other inside out, it felt like a safe haven to come to. 
However, depression and anxiety were still very much associated with me. I started my own treatment for it and gradually told a couple more friends about what I was going through. So four people in my life knew my mental health was a constant struggle at times. 
I separated myself from most of the people in my year and concentrated hard in trying to achieve my 2:1. My friends, once again were from my work and I saw them as an additional family.
At the start of the year, I had no idea what my dissertation question was going to be.
My contract changed at work so I had to work a minimum of 10 hours a week. However, I still took on more volunteering opportunities in my final year than I ever did throughout my degree. I volunteered within the department’s box office. I volunteered for the local Jazz Festival as a Front of House Assistant. 
I also applied for opportunities within the music department, such as an academic prize in performance and an opportunity for compositions to be played by respected ensembles. I may not have gone past my audition but a member of the judging panel, who was also a lecturer came back to me and said that I played beautifully and it was a tough decision to make. That meant more to me than going on to the final.
Looking back on my final year, this was the year where I was my truest self over my university experience, in self-confidence, work ethic, sexuality and knowing my health issues, how to get myself to feel better. I actually miss the end of that year as I was the skinniest I ever was, I achieved so much and had big dreams for the future.  
Advice for 4th years: Work hard, this is your chance to make your university journey worthwhile. However, do make sure you take care of yourself. Try to do uni work at sensible hours and prepare for deadlines, please try not to complete your whole dissertation in the space of 48 hours or less. 

The Graduation Day Itself
My actual graduation was a mixed bag of a day. I remember the ceremony being incredibly long and being a bag of nerves throughout for some reason. I guess it was because I had a figure-hugging dress and heels on so I didn't want to be the one person that tripped up the stairs in front of everyone. I didn't have anything to attach my robe onto so it strangled my neck throughout, my mortarboard didn't fit on my head but that wasn't a surprise, nothing fits my massive head.
The weather was terrible, it poured rain so you couldn't take nice photos outside. And yet Press & Journal still asked me to go outside after an interview for the local paper. I had an umbrella of course, but let's just say everytime I think of the word 'bumpkin', I cringe.
You had to apply to get extra tickets for the ceremony for family, in general, I can understand it. For someone who has a sibling on the autism spectrum, that leads to him thinking he wasn't invited and then the prospect of my family being separated in the crowd. Fortunately, they all sat together which was good.
The ceremony itself went for a while but it was emotional seeing your fellow classmates getting their degree, my friend from halls in 1st year graduated the same day as me so that was a lovely experience. My younger cousins and auntie travelled all the way just for my graduation ceremony and watched the ceremony with my best friend. So I was greeted by them once the ceremony was done, which was lovely. I missed the department celebrations as my family needed to have food, my mum is a diabetic so we ended up going to Subway in the student union.
Soon we went back to the flat, I got changed out of my dress and wore my graduation hoodie. So the dinner planned was going to be casual, it was with my family, my best friend and my good friend from work at the time. The dinner was, interesting to say the least, not the best thing in the world. I guess I was just so tired, I would have preferred getting a takeaway at home.
There were HUGE expectations that my graduation day was going to be absolutely amazing and I had pictured happy memories for a while before hand. However, it just wasn't as great as expected. But that was how I felt, if you are going to graduate soon, I hope it is more of an amazing experience for you.

Hope this was helpful, if it was not helpful, I hope it was entertaining, to say the least. Happy graduation if yours is on the way, if not, hope life is treating you well, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to read this lengthy post. 

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