When you’re told that your time at University will speed by, it can often be hard to imagine. After all, the average time spent doing a degree, three or four or even five years, seems like a long time. It’s true that this time will affect you – you emerge at the end a different person. Whether that means you’ve profoundly changed, or whether that’s just acquired knowledge, either through your degree or through life experience, is individual to you. I now pride myself greatly on knowing the precise limit of things I can attach to my bike and still cycle around (a laundry airer turned out to be beyond that limit).
Looking back over my four years here, I wouldn’t say that time flew. At some points, weeks and months sped before my eyes; life was a bundle of lectures and societies and friends and weekends away and laughter. At other points, the days felt heavier and harder – stresses and anxiety bubbled to the surface and time seemed to drag its heels in the sand. I’d probably describe it more as dollops of flying time, interspersed with dollops of slow time. I believe that both of these were good for me, and I wouldn’t have had my University experience any other way.
What did I expect, during that nervous but excited summer before I arrived in York? I imagined myself in a Friends-esque scenario, with a close group of friends who I spent all my time with. I vaguely pictured cycling around and spending time in cafes deep in discussion about the world and walking home in the dawn sunlight. I thought my year abroad would be full of interesting people who I’d travel Europe with, just managing to squeeze my job in the gaps. I imagined I would become good at sport (I think that was always a pipe dream) and find people who were exactly like me.
Did any of it come true? I certainly learned a lot along the way. My close group of friends with whom I’d spend my days in cafes never really materialised, but instead I met the kindest, funniest, craziest, smartest people from all different aspects of my University life, who taught me that true friendship means coming out of a changing room to the comment ‘that looks hideous’, and that lugging huge quantities of boxes around the city is infinitely better when you can laugh about it and then eat cake. These are friendships that I know will last a lifetime, and York is no longer the same now most of them are gone. They weren’t exactly like me, but I came to realise that actually, a world full of Katie’s would be very boring indeed.
I did spend time deep in discussion in cafes, and you’ll very rarely see me not on my bike. I’ve stayed up all night a few times – watching the sunrise sitting in a tree in Alcuin on the very last day of my first year is my most memorable of these. I didn’t really become good at sport but I discovered a love for exercise; walking and climbing and cycling and swimming.
However, I never could have expected everything else that happened. That I would choose at the last minute to do French and German, then to return to French and Linguistics at the end of first year and progress into second year much happier (don’t be afraid to give things a try, but don’t be ashamed when they don’t always succeed). That I would discover my academic interest lies in linguistic and psychological development, when I was sure it would be sociolinguistics. That a period of anxiety in second year would leave me at my lowest point, before the Open Door team, amazing, supportive people and time helped me to get back on track. That I would chair a society, go travelling, take part in a leadership programme, become qualified in walk-leading, volunteer for the Fairtrade Forum, become (almost) vegetarian for a while, meet the person with whom I’m excited to start the next stage of my life, love my studies, improve my French beyond what I thought was possible; countless unexpected experiences.
My year abroad challenged me the most. The carefree year I thought I’d spend gallivanting with newly-made friends was in reality quite lonely and difficult. But I excelled at a job which initially completely overwhelmed me and now I have the fortune to visit and stay with lovely French families, who made me feel so welcome and appreciated at times when I wasn’t sure why I had decided to go abroad.
Were those four years worth it? Absolutely. University was one of the happiest and most exciting times of my life, and those more difficult periods taught me how to cope in the real world. I fell in love with the city so much that I simply couldn’t leave, and so my life in York is no longer one as a student. It was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to my friends, who are scattering across the country and the globe, but that only means I get to explore these places in the future. I’m left in York with some great people and excited about what comes next, but those memories of my time at York will never be forgotten (not least because I still have a small scar from when I fell off my bike with the laundry airer). If you’re reading this and you’re starting here this year – my advice to you is embrace everything with open arms, but don’t worry if sometimes things are rubbish – just see what the experience brings you.