First Year Reflections
It’s been somewhat of a while since I sat down and wrote a blog post. (Almost three months, I reckon … which is a little bit shocking.) After all, over the last (almost) two years of blogging, I’ve discovered just how much sitting down and collecting my thoughts together can be really helpful – yet over the last three months, I feel like I’ve had no words to say.
Or, maybe more specifically, no words to explain what’s been going on – feeling like I’ve lost my voice.
And as someone who uses words to process, to express themselves, and to really get to grips with life – it feels as if someone has tugged away the safety blanket from underneath my feet – leaving me floundering.
My first year of uni finished a month ago. Even that statement is weird to see written down, because I’ve been in such a state of limbo since finishing. I feel like there’s more to say on that feeling at some point soon – but the purpose of today’s post (or ramble), is to reflect over my first year of uni.
It’s strange to think that a year ago, I was still at work, contemplating the next chapter, and worrying about what September would bring. Concerned about making friends, settling in, finding a church, and just being able to “do” uni well.
I’d be kidding myself, and everyone else, if I said that uni is easy. Some of the things I anticipated being hard, were easier, but also the reverse – there have been unexpected struggles this year that have been part of making it what it was. Given all that – I think it would be safe to describe first year as a rollercoaster – with its ups, downs; twists and turns.
A reflection of first year can’t be complete with mentioning the people who have made uni what it is. As someone who feels like they’ve struggled with friendships in the past – I’ve learnt and found a whole new level of friendship; deep, true, and vulnerable – showing me, and those around me, what it can really mean to live in community, alongside one another.
One of my biggest fears before starting university was that I wouldn’t find people who understood me, who wanted to be friends with me, and who cared about me, my dreams, my faith, and so much more. But our God is a provider, and He provided beyond all my expectations. From the flatmates he placed next door, to the course friends, right down to finding the right church for me, God had gone ahead, and prepared the way.
And if there’s anything that has kept me calm; kept me holding on, is the knowledge that I’m not walking life by myself. God has gone before, he knows what the path holds, but he’s also right alongside – each and EVERY step of the way. I know I need to remind myself of this, probably daily – and so I’m putting it here. Because even though first year is finished – this is a lesson and promise that will last throughout each and every day of the rest of my life.
I’ve been pushed, well and truly outside of my comfort zone in so many ways – from making friends and socialising (a struggle for someone who comes out as 100% introverted … sorry Rach!), to really learning how, and when to say “no”, even if that’s at the expense of something else; and especially learning how to put into practice those lessons I learnt during my gap year – lessons of self-worth, and finding my identity outside of the grades I receive, and the amount of work I get done.
For the first time (probably ever), I’ve managed to find a healthier balance between work and socialising, and “me time”… though that last one still needs a bit more work. I’ve known when to stop, and have begun actually doing it – rather than just ignoring that feeling.
Outside of friendships and socialising, I’ve discovered a new way of learning, and have begun to adapt to the very different demands that a university education presents. I’ve had moments of sheer excitement when sitting researching a topic I love (nerd, I know), but also been challenged to refine and consider how to best express my arguments and thoughts. There have been opportunities in academia that I wouldn’t have considered possible – for example, getting to look at, and touch an original copy of the King James Bible, from 1611. Tutorial discussions have brought me out of my comfort zone, and while I would still say I find them challenging and intimidating, I have also begun to relish the opportunity to throw around ideas with fellow students, PhD students, and professors. For me – this has been the beginning of the depth of study and education that university opens up.
Despite all that; despite how many lectures I attended, hours I spent reading for essays or tutorials, or how many essays I wrote this year, I think some of the greatest, and most important lessons, have been learnt and found outside of the lecture hall, library and seminar room.
The lessons in vulnerability; in learning to be willing to open up and share honestly what’s going on, and develop real-life, Christ-like community have been some of the hardest, but most valuable. It’s not all sorted – this isn’t a “click your fingers, and snap the problem is fixed” sort of situation. But learning to live in a shared spirit of vulnerability not only helped my friendships deepen (which happens naturally at uni anyway, as you’re just spending so much time together), but I’ve been spurred on, and encouraged in my vulnerability with God. It can be so easy to pretend that things are fine – with friends, family, and even with God (which I know is silly because he knows how you are anyway), but we can’t find the freedom he promises us in hiding behind walls. I’ve experienced just a snippet of that freedom this year – and there’s so much more that God offers.
I’ve learnt how to be more independent; in travelling by plane or train up the length of the country by myself, living away from home (and all that entails…although cooking remains to be tackled properly next year), and also been significantly challenged in communication – how to remain part of your life back at home, while also being present at uni. It’s a weird limbo state of living two lives, that never really cross. Uni isn’t real life, it’s a bubble that easily sucks you in, and it can be easy to deceive yourself into thinking that this is “adult life”, just because it’s different from home. But in its own way, university creates its own virtual reality.
St Andrews has very swiftly become like home. There are so many parts of it that just feel familiar; the small-ness of the place, being able to walk out of a lecture and be two minutes away from the sea – and escaping into watching the waves. I love my church and the family I’ve found there, who have welcomed me in and taught and challenged me in my walk with God in new and exciting ways. I’m so thankful for the group of friends who have taught me what it means to be a friend, and have returned that in abundance. I’m excited about being able to live with friends next year – to host, and return the favour for those who opened their homes this year: because as the saying goes, “home is where the heart is”, and in living and sharing life together, you can learn so much more about a person.
There’s a real beauty in being able to learn and discover a place for yourself – to find your own favourite spaces; the places you take yourself to when you need some peace and quiet, or maybe to do some thinking. Or trying the various coffee establishments (and continuing to drink tea), while getting to know the people around you, in your own year or not, and learning from them. Being in a place that’s small enough to get everywhere on foot (or a bike), there’s freedom in not being dependent on anyone else to get you from Y to Z. For the first time, there’s a sense that maybe, “the world really is your oyster.”
First year certainly contained many firsts; to name just a few…
Ceilidhs (a fab time); Varsity Rugby Match @ Murrayfield, Edinburgh; ‘Food Tasting’ events; Raisin (a weird uni tradition) … to go with Gaudie and May Dip; CU House Party; Missions’ Week; singing Handel’s Messiah (with orchestra); Edinburgh Christmas markets; St Andrews’ day celebrations; losing my matric card and getting locked out of the flat…; a Uni Ball (or two); Pub Church (not as weird as it sounds); viewing, leasing and organising a house for next year; learning how to tech (evidently not the technical term for it); soaking my final year friends… and SO much more!
I think it’s safe to say, that university contains so much more than I ever could have anticipated, both in the highs and the lows. Thinking back to “pre-uni” me, there’s so much I wish I could have told the Hannah of then, just to calm the nerves and anxiety. But, with God alongside, I made it through – and that’s how I’m going to get through the next three years.
Just in sitting to reflect, and try and process quite how much has changed in the last ten months, makes me realise just how fast time can fly. As a society, we have the ability to run on “full-steam ahead”, cramming in every last second to our busy schedules – but how often do we intentionally STOP. And think.
Ask questions of yourself.
Force yourself to consider your actions; why you made certain decisions, and what you may have done differently.
Stop and see the goodness around you – I promise you its there; even if it’s hiding in places you don’t expect to find it.
Because – if there’s one thing to sum up first year, it’s this. God is good, all the time. When I can’t understand what’s going on; when I’m hurting, and feel utterly broken, God is still good. He’s still in control – and I’m still His daughter.
That’s not going to change, regardless of whether I get a first, or whether I don’t complete my degree at all.
Even though uni seems structured, I’ve learnt this year that life has an ability to throw things at you that you’re just not expecting – not just at you, but at the people around you. Things aren’t always going to go to plan – but then, who’s plan has gone wrong? Yours? or God’s?
It’s not always simple. (I mean, it rarely is), and it’s not always easy. But God remains faithful.
There’s so much more in store over the next three years at uni; be that what I may find within a book, a lecture, or outside of it. If you’re at university yourself, don’t close yourself off to only learning what you’re being taught academically. You have an opportunity at your doorstep to learn more about yourself, the people around you, and the world in which we live – and time to do something about it. Don’t take that time for granted – because we’ll be graduating before we know it – and that time isn’t something we can get back.
Be willing. Be open. Be prepared to try something new.
You won’t regret it.