Sitting in Cafe Nero along the Strand, accepting my place at Kings College London was a surreal experience. I’d travelled all the way to London, fell in love with the idea of the ‘big city’ and perhaps rather brazenly accepted my offer using my phone whilst sipping a cappuccino in Nero’s. If you’d have told me then that those 3 years would fly by I’d probably have laughed, nothing had ever flown by, except birthdays and Christmas, my education had been a long, slow drudge and I didn’t expect university life to be any different, but I was wrong. It has flown by, so fast that the impending rebirth into full-blown adulthood is actually pretty terrifying.
Spending 3 years studying Classics at Kings College in London has taught me many things, not least things to do with Classics, but life lessons that everyone needs to learn, here I’ve summarised just five for your enjoyment.
1. Never buy cheap toilet roll
Even if you’re on a very tight budget buying Poundland’s finest 6 rolls always ends in disaster. Firstly it’s thin, so thin and secondly it’s wound so loosely onto the roll that you’ll be through it in seconds. I survived my first year taking part used toilet rolls from university cubicles because I was that much of a tight ass, but at some life changing moment during my second year I got fed up of walking around with giant sized toilet rolls in my bag and decided that £2.50 wasn’t really that much of an expense. Buy nice toilet roll, you’ll be thankful for it especially if you get sick, no more detail needed.
2. Speak, for crying out loud
If you’re in a humanities based subject then you will more than likely have to undergo the torture that is a seminar in which no one wishes to speak. The seminar leader tries their best to ease out some sort of response but the awkward silence seems to prevail and everyone just sits there looking down at their laps, intently at their laptops or just off into space. Just speak, say anything, I got through about 90% of my first-year seminars without having read any of the passages, I treated it a bit like an English unseen and everyone gave a huge sigh of relief because I had stepped up and engaged in conversation and finally the awful silence could end. In an ideal world you’d do the preparation, at least glance at the preparation or bring the texts with you so you can skim read them at the last second but we all know that probably isn’t going to happen. So just speak up, there are no right or wrong answers, it’s a casual seminar and you’ll get a hell of a lot more out of them if you contribute rather than counting the tiles on the wall or the wrinkles on your hands.
3. Use by dates are a guide
I’ve always had half a brain cell and so worked out pretty quickly that milk doesn’t turn to acid overnight and steak doesn’t become poison when the clock strikes midnight but you’d be surprised how many people wouldn’t even touch a vegetable with a barge pole if its sell by date had expired. Firstly they end up throwing a hell of a lot of decent food away and secondly I could have eaten that! I survived a very strict budget by going to supermarkets just before close and buying their 80-90% reduced items that were about to go out of date. This literally provided the majority of my fresh fruit, vegetables and sometimes meat for the week. It was like a game, learn the times that the nice lady reduces the stock, turn up and smile sweetly and pocket strawberries for 10p, broccoli for 5p and half a lamb leg for £1.50 I had 7 shops on my walkabout route through Southbank which included 3 Tesco Expresses, 3 Sainsbury’s Locals and even a Marks and Spencer. I froze what would perish and ate what I could fresh such as these baked figs below and it saved me a fortune.
4. My pressure limits
I decided to test my pressure limit in fabulous style during my first year, leaving all of my assessed essays until the night before they were due in. They may only have been 2000 words long but there were 4 of them and so I had little over 12 hours to read, reference and write 8000 words. I wish I could find the picture I took but the gist of it was by MacBook, a stack of books and Sainsburys basic coffee granules that taste a bit like dirt. I did it, I wrote them, I didn’t sleep and I took a 3am walk along the Southbank in the moonlight to wake myself up but they were written and I was about the most stressed I had ever been in my life. And do you know what? They barely even counted toward my final grade, I should have submitted them late and just got capped at 40% it would have made zero impact on my overall degree but my fear of failure overtook common sense and I came out with 4 decent 2:1’s. Result. This might seem like a pretty extreme pressure limit and
This might seem like a pretty extreme way to test your pressure limit and having experienced the hell that it was I made a mental note to never let myself do something so stupid again. Second year rolled around and this time I left myself a full 4 days to read, reference and write my 4 essays, that’s one a day, a breeze you might be thinking, but the difference was that these guys mattered, the pressure of failure was even stronger and I spent 4 solid days sat in a local Starbucks necking venti lattes with my topknot and sweat pants getting ever more disgusting. I did it but I still felt sick to my stomach and knew that they would never be to the best of my ability. Luckily for me, I had one more year to sort this shit out, and I did. I cracked it, and just in time. My final year essays were harder, much harder, they required serious reading, referencing and writing adding up to a total of 11,000 words. I couldn’t wing this anymore, my all nighters and Starbucks sleepovers had taught me the value of focus and determination as well as the way not to approach this. I still left it pretty late starting the writing 10 days before they were due but I did a lot of the leg work beforehand and that is the gold dust. My secret, if I were to ever do essays like this again, would be to do the reading, references and note taking slowly over a few weeks and then when you sit down to write it’s all in one place and the magic can flow from your fingertips. Result. I’d cracked it, I had found my pressure limit, I knew that I was capable of an all-nighter, I knew that I could commit to one task for a week and now I knew that I could steadily plod away at something for a few weeks and produce a first class piece of work. If this learning curve isn’t the point of university in a nutshell then what is?
5. Not every fresher likes to go clubbing
The realisation that I didn’t have to like getting blind drunk and spending an evening in a meat market nightclub was probably one of my biggest hallelujah moments. I spent my first year trying desperately to like clubbing, I like a drink but I like a nice bottle of wine or a botanical gin and tonic not shots of tequila and vodka red bull. I went to Ministry of Sound and ordered a double gin and tonic only to be stung with a £16.50 price tag and a very bemused look from the barman! Never again. I wasn’t interested in hooking up with anyone so any advances often ended with me being called frigid or a bitch and all in all it just wasn’t my vibe. Don’t get me wrong I am not some stay at home cat lady, I like to go to bars and restaurants where it’s possible to hear your companions talk and enjoy the drink that you’ve ordered instead of treating it like a means to a very hungover end. I like to go to music festivals and gigs but I just don’t like clubbing. And that’s fine. I just wish I’d come to that realisation a little earlier before spending every weekend at the beginning of my university life forcing myself into environments that I really didn’t enjoy. So if that sounds a bit like you and you’re still trying to fit a square peg in a round hole then stop and start doing things that you enjoy, not the things that you think society expects you to enjoy.
Having started writing five of these I’ve realised that I could go on and on but let’s leave that for another day.
Have you been to university? Did it teach you any valuable life lessons? Let me know in the comments!