In my first term at university, I learned so much. It felt like my mind was suddenly so much more receptive to new ideas. *CLICHE ALERT* I saw the world with fresh eyes. This wasn’t just a case of learning about new authors and new texts, it went wider than that. I want to show you that in your first term of uni, you learn to think about what you’re actually doing: something which I found to be immeasurably fulfilling. And, at this moment in time, if you’re making decisions about where to study, I would say that I am so grateful to English at York for allowing me to really understand ‘what I’m actually doing’ in the richest way possible.
In my first term, we had a lecture on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. To this day, that lecture remains the most inspiring I’ve had. It took the criticisms levelled at the subject of English, (you may have come across them yourself- phrases like “it’s not a real subject”, or “how is this useful in the real world?”), and inverted them. More importantly, it helped us understand what literature is, and what it is for. We saw how Dream‘s preoccupation with what is not ‘the real world’- theatre, play, dreams- is actually totally necessary for our understanding of reality. It tells us what is ‘beneath the surface.’ Not only this, but play is indispensable for human life, not just existence. Furthermore, representation, and theatrical representation at that, is vital for our understanding of the world around us. In other words, literature, and the study of literature is a window to understanding how our world functions, and how we as humans function. For me, it was so important to think about why I was doing what I was doing, and why I was doing it in that particular place. And actually, by asking myself those questions, I received from myself overwhelmingly positive answers.
I will forever be grateful to that lecture, but really it is just an example of the life-changing learning process I underwent in my first term at York. A really important part of this process for me was developing a love of words; the very building blocks of what we are studying. And this is something I would encourage you to do: learn to embrace words. You will be faced with a lot of new exciting words, but make them your friend. Also make the dictionary your friend. One of the most valuable aspects of my study at York has been the opportunity to cultivate my vocabulary. It is stating the obvious to suggest that a good vocabulary helps in reading critical material and writing essays. But as I said, words are the building blocks of what we are studying, and if you cherish them, then naturally new ways of understanding how literature works will be revealed.
On the way back from a night out at the end of my first term, there is a video of me wailing into a camera ‘Mrs Dalloway makes me feel freeeee!’ Now obviously you may be inclined to take the message behind that anecdote with a pinch of salt. BUT, as you may be able to tell, thinking and writing about Mrs Dalloway was definitive in my development as a student. It was a chance to get to grips with a difficult but beautiful and enriching text independently. There was a kind of liberation here in that I felt like I could give full vent to my academic abilities putting into practice everything I’d learned. The liberation also had the effect of making me see that this is what I love doing. That literature, and the study of literature, is my passion.
Hopefully I have shown you how studying literature at York is a liberating experience, it allows you to nurture your own intellectual development, and reveals new ways of thinking about literature. An effect of this is to allow you to think about the nature of what you’re doing. For me, the course at York made this a self-affirming experience. Through the study of English, I have learned so much not just about the subject, but about myself as a student, and as a person.