By Freyja Elsy
After taking a year out after school to work for a while, save up some money and to undertake a qualification I needed to apply for my course at Cardiff, I was desperate to start my university degree. I’d meet plenty of new people from various walks of life and finally work out how to become a functioning adult in my twenties. In the week leading up to university, I was exhilarated, nervous and terrified. I’d spent countless hours on YouTube listening to advice from other students and graduates and stocked up on way too many notebooks, folders and items to help me survive living in halls without the help of parents.
I’d joined Facebook groups in the summer to chat to people from my course, and attempted to find my future flatmates – of which I found a grand total of ONE out of five, and after a confusion between who had which room in our Talybont flat and a tad awkward introduction on that sunny day in September, we bonded over our combined fear of the summer-heat-mutated spiders that roamed our sweltering kitchen.
In the first week of Freshers, I was so excited to meet the plenty of interesting characters on my course, all with the naïve attitudes of which we convinced ourselves that we’d all be friends for life and even made the big mistake of signing a contract to live with a bunch of people I’d known for just a few months. We all tend to make that mistake in Freshers and I’ve come to see it as a rite of passage at University. Living with people of your own age who are fresh out of school or gap years with absolutely no life experience and no full understanding of how to empty a bin, sufficient hygiene levels, and how not to completely drunkenly-humiliate yourself on a night out, is an experience that all must unfortunately endure. It was a long-drawn-out process of realising that these ‘fast-friends’ one makes in your first week of university are the ones that might not necessarily have your best interests in mind.
I wish I could say that my whole university experience has been wonderful, plain-sailing and perfect, but I’d be lying to myself and you, if I did. University is not easy, and I’m not going to sugar-coat it. Some people have the best times of their lives, and that’s fantastic, but, and I want to emphasise this – Please stop telling people that university years are the best years of their lives. That’s not always the case and that’s OKAY. I had a terrible, scary experience with a fellow student in the summer just before my third year began and this tainted so much of the overall experience. Friends who I cared about and who I trusted abandoned me for the sake of popularity as a result of this experience and I went through a very lonely and scary period in which I didn’t know whether I would be able to continue. But to hell with that – I wasn’t going to let them ruin my experience here. So, I didn’t. I persevered, I continued studying hard and hanging out with the people who genuinely cared, and I’ve made some of the best friends I could have ever asked for. I feel incredibly lucky but not without focus and determination to get through it.
I’ve done the all-nighters in the ASSL and last-minute revision sessions with caffeine rushing through my bloodstream at a record speed and I’ve learnt how to organise my time to NEVER have to do that again. (My second and third years at university have been sufficiently less stressful in this case as a result). I’ve gone on protests, I’ve explored the wonderful city of Cardiff, I’ve learnt how to write emails without having a panic before I type a single word and I’ve been able to organise the annual Xpresstival and a fundraiser for Gwdihw, something I’d never have expected myself to actually achieve. I’ve experienced the slightly more intoxicated house parties and nights out, and on numerous occasions been the ‘designated driver’ and held peoples’ hair whilst they emptied the contents of their stomachs into a toilet. (Admittedly, some of the least pleasant experiences).
I’d come to university with the plan of working hard, playing hard, enjoying learning more about my degree subject and meeting so many diverse and interesting people and I’m happy to say that I’ve done this. I’ve learnt to say YES to opportunities that I might not have the privilege of experiencing after graduating and knowing when to say NO to things (and people!), that are ultimately going to be damaging on my mental health. Joining Xpress Radio at the university, being an exec committee member of various societies and a student ambassador at my School, as well as taking on work experience placements have ultimately led to me being asked to join a film post-production company shortly after I graduate this year. I’ve learnt how to build my confidence and step out of my comfort zone, despite suffering from anxiety and I’m glad to say that I’ve completely changed from the person I was three years ago into someone who I can be proud of. I’m excited for the future ahead, and with the challenges I’ve faced through my university degree, I feel like I can get through anything. So for all of those who are worried and apprehensive about the rest of their university degrees, just keep going!
There are going to be some rocky experiences but also some of the best times you could imagine and it is absolutely worth it.
I’m so happy to have undertaken university and all its challenges, and I hope you all enjoy your time here at Cardiff.