It seems so long ago that I was in the same position as you are now. Nervous, but excited. Scared, but raring to go. Happy to be moving out, but worrying about how I’d do my laundry without my mum to help. Yes, moving to university is a time of your life that’s packed with a mixture of contrasting emotions, but it’s honestly one of the best things you’ll ever do. I arrived in Cardiff in September 2010 to study Journalism, Media, and Cultural Studies, and graduated this July with a 2:1. My experiences at university have shaped me in so many ways; I am nothing like the young teenager that arrived at University Hall in Roath four years ago. Below, I’ve written about five aspects of university that really defined the experience for me, and even though it sounds stupidly cliché, some of them changed my life. Here goes:
1. Student Media
I joined Cardiff Student Media in my second year when I signed up to do a show on Xpress Radio. I was really nervous to begin with, but it provided a unique opportunity to use professional studio equipment in a low-pressure, fun environment. After doing it for two years it did absolute wonders for my public speaking skills, which is something I’d previously struggled with. Now, speaking in front of people in high-pressure situations doesn’t faze me at all and I put a lot of that down to my experiences at Xpress. I made many friends in Student Media, and decided to apply to help out on gair rhydd, the student newspaper, and spent my third year as News Editor whilst doing my radio show on the side. Without Student Media, my university experience would not have been the same. It allowed me to try my hand at journalism whilst hanging out with like-minded people. This is why my message to every single fresher is this: join a society or sports team. Obviously, I’d like you all to join Student Media, because I think it’s great, but if that’s not your thing, there are so many societies at the SU that you’ll definitely find something you’re interested in. It’s an amazing way to meet friends who share your interests, and most societies have exec teams that you can join, and gain invaluable experience in leading a team.
I’m a huge music fan, and for live music Cardiff definitely does not disappoint. During freshers’ week in my first year I went to see Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip at Solus in the Students’ Union (which has since been replaced by Y Plas, I feel old) and haven’t looked back. If you’re into your music, the SU should be your first point of call. Posters and flyers are dotted about around the building listing the upcoming events in the Union’s three music venues. Whilst the Union does have loads of events on, you should cast your gaze further afield and check out the venues across the city. Clwb Ifor Bach on Womanby Street – also known as Welsh Club, or simply Clwb – is a personal favourite of mine, putting on shows from up and coming bands from throughout the UK and the Cardiff music scene. Also, a protip for freshers: they also put on some of the best club nights in the city, which are often overlooked by first year students. Across the street from Clwb is the Moon Club, which also offers small shows, but they typically attract less big names than Clwb. The Motorpoint Arena is the city’s biggest dedicated music venue, attracting some of the UK’s biggest acts. In my first year I saw LCD Soundsystem (who’ve since broken up, again, I feel old), and recently I saw Frank Turner there. The venue is a bit impersonal, and drinks aren’t cheap, but for the biggest acts it’s the best place to go. If you’re a music fan, you’ll find a lot to do here.
3. Study abroad
In my second year I was fortunate enough to secure a semester abroad at Erasmus University Rotterdam, one of the top universities in the Netherlands. I was incredibly nervous, and the first couple of weeks I experienced massive amounts of culture shock, but it was honestly one of the best experiences of not only my time at university, but my entire life. The majority of people I met and befriended were not British, which seriously altered my outlook on life. It was the first time I saw things from an international perspective, which helped me make friends from all over Europe. Sadly, I’m not still in regular contact with all of my friends from Holland, but I still have people to visit in numerous countries across Europe, such as France, Germany, Scotland, Italy, Poland, and, of course, the Netherlands. Deciding to study abroad is a scary prospect, and I understand that it won’t appeal to everyone. If it’s too much for you, you should consider taking language lessons. From this year, the university will be offering free classes in foreign languages to any students enrolled on a course, even if you’re not doing languages as a degree. You should definitely take advantage of this; a semester’s worth of classes for a non-student costs around £250. If you’re interested in living outside of the UK, doing a study abroad scheme, or learning a foreign language as a stepping stone to living abroad in the future, is something you should consider whilst at university.
4. Social life
One of the most appealing aspects of university to prospective students is the social life. I’m not going to play it down, it’s everything it’s cracked up to be. When you’re in halls, it’s likely that you’ll make a lot of friends in your flat, your building, and your student halls complex. The result of this is that you’ll have a large network of friends within a few minutes’ walking distance. Expect your first year of university to be the busiest year of your social life. Social events will frequently fall into place without any prior planning, simply by virtue of masses of people you know being congregated in the same place. Chances are, you’ll probably drink a lot in first year too. I did, and so did almost everyone I know. In the years before the hangovers started to feel like they were splitting my skull wide open, going out on the town was a very frequent activity. What I would say, though, is to get involved in as many societies as you can in first year instead of waiting until second year. Partying is great, and freshers’ parties will be some of the wildest you’ll ever attend, but try and get involved in as much extracurricular activity as you can from day one. Not only does this give you more to do, but also allows you to meet more people and make more friends. When it comes to societies, the more you put in the more you get out, so don’t hesitate!
5. High Class Teaching
I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t know, but here goes; Cardiff University is a Russell Group research university, typically in or around the top 20 UK universities, and the top 200 universities worldwide. As such, the academic staff it attracts are some of the smartest minds in their respective fields. I can only speak for my degree programme, Journalism, Media, and Cultural Studies, but many of the lecturers who taught me were some of the leading academics in their chosen discipline. I can only speak for my own experiences here, but especially in my final year I found the support from academic staff to be nothing short of superb. Lecturers were highly accessible, either via email, or for a face-to-face chat, and don’t neglect to go and see them if you have any issues. 99% of the time they will do everything in their power to resolve your issue. As a result of this high class teaching, Cardiff University has an incredibly high rates of graduate employment; more than 90% of its graduates have achieved employment 6 months after their graduation ceremony. Seminars, opportunities for group discussion led by a lecturer or postgrad student, are often engaging and a great chance to bounce ideas off your coursemates or the seminar leader. There are also impressive library facilities, with thousands of books, free for students to access. Cardiff is one of the most prestigious universities in the UK, and with good reason. Make the best of the facilities and staff you have access to in your time here. Some students do just enough to scrape through their degree, but there’s so much out there for you to get stuck into if you so choose.
By Ash Bebbington