I’m staggered with the reality that I’ve finished my first semester of university, marking halfway through my first year. The last fourteen weeks, or 102 days, have been an intense journey, a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences – and it wouldn’t be right to just settle into ‘home life’ without taking time to reflect on everything that has changed.
The last time I sat down and properly did that, I’d just about reached the end of my first month at university. In many ways, that feels like a very long time ago. But at the same time, I feel as if I’ve blinked, and the time has flown by.
There’s certainly been a lot to learn, both in terms of academics, and just real life. I’ve been learning about myself, about relationships, and a lot about God over the last few months. I can’t help but feel really blessed to have been able to walk the last few months with some really good friends – and I certainly know that Semester One would have been a very different experience without the people God has placed in my life.
From the word go, I’ve been learning. The lessons started probably even as soon as leaving home, but definitely from the moment I said goodbye to my parents, and was alone in my room in halls. I was thrown in the deep end in social situations and made to make new friends, learn how to deal with situations where I knew absolutely no-one, and just navigate living life by myself.
“From the word go, I’ve been learning.”
“The Best Years”?
The overwhelming expectation of university before you come is generally that of “It’s going to be the best years of your life.” It’s often what people talk about, the media emphasise it massively, but if I’m honest – it’s not the best attitude to approach university with. While yes, the opportunities that can arise while you’re at university can be like none other, and there have been moments like this in my first semester – if you come to university expecting only the highs; then the lows may take you by surprise.
By failing to acknowledge that life is not entirely sunshine and rainbows, I feel as if we set ourselves up for the inevitable crash. I also feel it somewhat diminishes the full extent of life – because we live through both ups and downs – and they are both equally important. To believe that we live only for the memories we shout about takes away a real, honest aspect of life.
“We live through both ups and downs – and they are both equally important.”
I’ve been feeling challenged over the last few months about how I use my social media – and this is something I want to explore more in detail soon, but for now – it impacts how I talk about this semester. We so often share the positives, because that’s where we feel happiest, or find affirmation. But I also want to acknowledge that life isn’t all singing and dancing – and feel as if my whole life needs to reflect that, including what I choose to share online.
Having visited several theme parks in the summer, I had many an experience of rollercoasters, probably more than I have in recent years. There’s a real sense of anxious anticipation coupled with excitement while you’re waiting in the queue, which ramps up when you’re sitting in the seat, strapped in, waiting for the final checks and the button to be pressed to send you on your way. As the coaster goes up, down, over, under, and any which way – your body follows the movement, barely taking in what’s going on. And as it slows down, coming to an end, there’s a huge sense of relief – that you can finally breathe again.
Without trying to take the analogy too far, that’s pretty much what this semester has felt like. As if from the moment I arrived, on September 8th, my ‘on’ button has been permanently pressed. Within the time itself, I’ve had periods of standby, but I’m not sure I’ve ever actually switched off, not at least until coming home this week.
There’s always something going on, and at times, it’s felt very much out of my control, just like the direction of the coaster moving you any which way. Whether that be new things academically, relationally, or just in life – there have been new challenges to tackle and face. Some of these have been lessons that I’ve truly valued; learning to be more independent, taking my academics to a higher level, and just generally feeling more adept in social situations. But, it’s not been without it’s struggles. There have been times this semester where I’ve felt way out of my depth, like I really shouldn’t be at university, and actually, poor mental health has reared its head when it’s least been wanted.
In those situations, I don’t have the answers – and rarely do. Sometimes it has knocked me for six, but other times, I’ve been able to take myself out of the situation, and look at things with a bit of perspective. I know that in that, God’s been blessing me – to be able to take stock, and try and find peace in the storm, rather than feeling as if I needed all the answers.
The Exam Week Story
A real example of that is pretty recent, in my revision week, and run up to exams. Now, if you know me, or have seen me go through any form of exams, GCSEs, A levels – even just mocks, you’ll know that I take it very seriously (probably too much so), and have always been stressed about them. That stress was at an unhealthy level – and one of the things I desperately tried to learn last year was how to manage that, and also take the pressure off. The learning curve was at its steepest when it came to identity, and the question: “In what do I find my worth?” For years, although I knew it should be in Jesus, and who He says I am, it was found on the letters I got from exam results.
It’s important to answer the question – “Where do you find your worth?”
The exams at the end of semester one was the first true test of putting those lessons into practice. It’s all very well saying “I’ve got it all sorted”, when you’ve not tried it in reality. There have definitely been times throughout the semester where I’ve felt stressed – having been slightly overwhelmed by the large number of different things going on. But when we got to the run up to exams, I was staggered by the sense of peace I felt all week. I decided fairly early on that I wasn’t going to let exams take over my life, and so made sure to have a good balance – but even so, God utterly blessed me with His supernatural peace – that lasted until I’d finished my exams.
Some of my Favourite Moments:
The semester has been filled to the brim with one thing or the other, and there have been some really good times in that. When it comes down to it, I know that the memories that will last, and the ones I’ll remember, are when I’ve spent time with new friends, laughed till we cried, and taken time out of the ‘academic life’ – and just lived real life. Whether that be beach walks, ceilidhs, church lunches, late night worship sessions in garages, or just sitting chatting with a cup of tea, I’ve really realised how important relationships are.
When you discover the real truth of friendship – it’s something precious. Moving to university throws you into life where you can be living in other people’s pockets, and while that’s worth being aware of, it also lends itself to a real deepening of friendships in a really short time. So for all of you who I’ve met between September 8th and now – thank you all so much. You’ve all blessed my life so much more than I could have ever imagined.
A Quick Look Forward
And while there’s probably so much more I could say about this semester, I’m going to start wrapping it up now. But it wouldn’t be right to end a reflections on semester one, without talking at all about next semester. There are things I need to try and put into place; like creating myself more time in the week just to be me – otherwise known as an introverts crucial alone time – or about being intentional with a larger group of people.
My hope is that having grasped an idea of what university is about, and how the academics work, I can go in without that first few weeks of utter confusion. Finding a work/life balance is ALWAYS a difficulty, and while I think I did that better this semester than I ever have before, I know there’s far much more to learn about that.
And finally, I want to be continually learning and growing in seeking God in all things. To be bringing him to daily life from the moment I wake up, to the moment I go to sleep – because it’s only through Him that I can do any of this.
There have been times over the past few months where I’ve been totally out of my depth, overwhelmed, and feeling very lost and alone. But in those moments – I’ve also been able to walk along the road, with the words “God you are good and your mercies endureth forever” going round, and round, and round my head. I know, that even when I can’t understand why, or comprehend the logistics of a situation (as much as I hate that), I know that I’m not doing this life by myself.
“God is Good, All the Time.”
And that’s reason to rejoice.
Till next time,