In Defence of… The individual student experience

Originally published as part of my ‘In Defence of…’ column in the Glasgow Guardian, Jan 2016.
So now we’re halfway through academic year 2015-16 and the dust has most certainly settled. Maybe you’re in first year, coming face to face with your first set of university grades and being forced to accept the reality of another five months of 3am Murano fire alarms. You might be in your final year, attempting to balance your time between trying not to miss out on a degree at the final hurdle and entertaining your existential crisis over the looming wall of uncertainty casting a shadow over your calendar after graduation (just me? Nevermind). Regardless of which degree bookend you fall closer to, the only guarantee for the time in between is that it truly will fly by. This seems to be a bit of an uncomfortable truth, however, as it appears that the majority of us feel pressure to live up to a preconceived notion of what being a student is, particularly at a time when there is a growing collective feeling that our degrees are worth less and so the experience increases in importance. I speak both personally and from having broached the subject with plenty other degree hopefuls, past and present, and every single person could relate to the idea of some predetermined bucket list of typical university experiences which must be ticked off in order to validate us as fun-and-making-the-most-of-it.
Before ever learning what a Moodle is or why Vipers are a very real threat in the west end of Glasgow, most of us will fantasise about the adventures of our upcoming freedom and, like anything else, the reality is highly unlikely to match our ideals. Common portrayals of student life fail to mention near epidemic rates of loneliness, time spent without enough money in the bank to feed yourself, and the difficulties of figuring out who you are in your early 20s. Not to mention how much more difficult it can be for home students, for example, to really solidify their place in the student body, as well as students who have to work to support themselves so much that extracurriculars and social events become a rare luxury. Whether it be as a result of external forces or that really, we have only our insecurities to blame, it’s not easy to forget that these are supposed to be the best years of our lives. Apparently.
Even becoming involved in societies, the unions, or any other activities outside of classes, you will always be able to look around and find someone who looks like they are doing the student thing better than you are. People find safety in cliques, and you may find yourself on the fringe of one and watch inwardly wondering why you just don’t seem to be as much of a natural when it comes to campus life. The truth is that no one lives a montage of student debauchery, all cheap booze and hazy nights spent in tenement flats, and no one is unfamiliar with the sense of walking around campus feeling like you don’t belong. If you start to fear that you’re becoming a little more well acquainted with Netflix and its passive-aggressive questioning of the fact that you’re still watching than with your coursemates, well, absolutely feel free to do something about it – but don’t expect that you will necessarily look back on your time as a student with more fondness because you spent more time sitting in bars you don’t really like with people you don’t really know. Just do you and you can’t go wrong.

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