This is part 3 of my uni life series – 5 blog posts in which I reflect back on my three years at university. I’m looking at halls, friendship, holidays, the academicside and the top ten things I’ve learnt.
By far one of the oddest things about being at university is that strange limbo between being independent yet still being in education, reliant on your parents and/or loan, and returning home for university holidays. Realistically, the minimum student maintenance loan is rarely enough to cover all rent, utilities and living expenses and most students have to get jobs (term time or in holidays) or rely on extra support from their parents.
In this post I’m focussing on those ‘in-between’ times, the holidays in between terms. Most of us, when it gets to Christmas, Easter and summer, pack up and return home for at least a portion of those breaks. The packing itself is hard enough; 5 weeks at home is a large amount of things to fit in a suitcase. In addition to that, there are the books. Every holiday there will be some sort of work, be it revision, essays or preparation for the next term’s modules. Books aren’t light. Books are really, really heavy and you can’t fold them up.
It can be hard to strike the balance between spending time with your family, catching up with friends whilst everyone is back from university, and actually getting any work done. In addition to that you might have a job. My summer after first year was spent working full-time at the local Post Office, sending parcels, doing car tax and checking passports.
Student loans cover you during term-time: you receive 3 payments a year, in week 1 of each term. There is no allowance for the fact that summer term is far shorter (this is actually when I receive my larger payment!), and during holidays you have to sort yourself out. It seems obvious that the loan is for whilst you’re living at university, but you definitely do have to consider what you’re going to do in between those instalments.
Christmas holidays are shorter, and I tended to spend them working on essays – the English department were huge fans of filling these breaks with lots of words. The Christmas of 3rd year I had 3 weeks to write 8000 words, do more dissertation research and begin preparing for the upcoming modules. Remember that the 3 weeks includes Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day – all designated family time.
It can also be frustrating not to have all of your things in one place. My room at home still looks as though it is lived in full-time, whilst my flat is also bursting at the seams. Trying to fit everything neatly back into one room will be interesting, definitely. I’m forever having to sacrifice certain items from my bags as I can’t carry them on the train to whichever room I’m on route to.
University has taught me how much I dislike trains. Between York and Manchester the only option is a Transpennine Express, and there is NO luggage room. For a train that travels between Newcastle and Manchester Airport, you’d expect a couple more carriages and some decent suitcase storage. But, oh no, there is never enough room. I’ve lost count of the amount of journeys I’ve taken where I’ve wedged my suitcase wherever it will fit, and have squidged into my seat on top of my coat, with my laptop bag and handbag blocking me in. When the conductor arrives, reaching my railcard is anything but easy.
I think what I’m trying to say here is that university is not the first step of your independent life. It’s more of a final step in education: it teaches you to budget, feed yourself and live alone, but just for ten-week spurts. During your three years, you will be pulled between two centres. You’re still wrapped up with your friends from home and the comforts of home, but you’re experiencing new and exciting things at university. It’s sort of a limbo time, in which you’re finding your feet, but far more tentatively than you realise. And you’ll spend a lot of time packing and unpacking bags. And lugging books around. And when your bank balance dips a little low, or your water cuts out and the taps are useless, I bet plenty of you will still call your parents.
It’s a learning process, and very few of us will fly off into the big wide world at 18 and never look back. You need support as a student, emotionally and monetarily, wherever that support comes from. Embrace that. No-one can be fully self-sufficient and love every aspect of university life instantly. You are studying, and that’s a lot of learning, but it’s also a lot of time where you’re not earning money. Hours that are costing you thousands and thousands of pounds. So get your head down, be careful with the money you do have, and enjoy those weeks of respite where you can enjoy home cooking and family comforts. It’s a limbo period at the end of your ‘schooling’ career, and you need to take that time to explore, to dip your toes in the real world, and to think about where you might like to head next.