I grew up in the Ribble Valley in Lancashire, and when it came to looking into university choices I knew that I wanted to move to a city; preferably one far away. I was the youngest in my family, and was craving some proper independence. At 17, I felt that living in the countryside cut me off from the rest of the world. I wanted to explore a brand new place where I wouldn’t be called ‘so-and-so’s little sister’ all the time!
On my results day in 2017, I was so eager to get to uni. Sadly, I didn’t get into my first choice, which led to me being accepted into my second choice: the University of Bristol. I was quite upset as all of my thoughts and plans for the last few months had been geared towards going to my first choice university, and not getting in felt pretty disappointing. However, I started to remember all the reasons I put the University of Bristol as my second choice. I’d been to an open day there and it had seemed amazing; it was a vibrant and colourful city and I’d loved the street art and the weird and wonderful shops on the high streets. I decided to go, and rocked up in the autumn to start my three years studying English Literature and Classical Studies.
When uni actually started, I found it really hard. Adjusting to city life was far more difficult than I had imagined, and I immediately started to miss the open green spaces of home. The course was structured very differently to my first choice, and I found the adjustment to living independently fairly intense. Being joint honours (meaning I was studying two subjects rather than one) also meant that I found it difficult to make friends, as I was constantly shifting between the two subjects and I hadn’t found anyone doing the exact same course as me yet. The people in my halls were really nice, but just didn’t really feel like ‘my’ kind of people as they wanted to go out a lot and I found that pretty terrifying. The city felt huge to me and I was scared that I’d get lost or stranded if we were out in a big group. By Christmas I was really considering dropping out. I felt homesick and isolated, but I was too far away to go home for a weekend visit. There seemed to be a lot of pressure from social media to be having ‘the time of my life’ at uni, and it felt like I should make the most of the night life, but that just wasn’t ‘me’.
I decided to go back in January, mostly out of sheer stubbornness, and because I’d heard from older friends that the first term is always the hardest. I looked into doing more extra-curricular activities to try and make friends, and got into a show with one of the performing arts groups there. I loved it, even though I was terrified the whole time! The rehearsal period forced everyone involved to bond, and the directors were great at putting on social events to make sure that we all got to know each other. The people involved became some of my closest friends at university, and were really reassuring when I opened up about how hard I’d found it so far.
I threw myself into extra-curricular work, and my course became an afterthought for a while. However, at the end of my first year, I went on a Classics field trip to Sorrento in Italy to visit Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. The Classics department was super small, so there were only around 20 of us on the trip from all years, and we really got on! The trip was a week long and we formed a strong friendship group. I finally felt like I belonged to my course, rather than just drifting in-between my two subjects.
When I came into my second year I felt far more secure in my course choice, and I started to make more friends in English as I began to recognize people from different units which really helped. That year, I got fairly ill and was diagnosed with lupus. My friends were incredible at supporting me during this period. I was pretty rubbish at looking after myself, and a few of them became my surrogate parents through feeding me vegetables and making sure I got enough sleep. My tutors were also amazing at helping me get extensions on coursework and providing both practical and emotional support. This cemented my feeling that I finally belonged, as everyone was looking out for me.
I started to explore Bristol more. Even though it was still very different from home, there were enough hills and green spaces around to keep me happy during term time. I also started to attend events going on in the wider city, and really loved being in an area that had loads of interesting things happening that I never would have experienced otherwise. One highlight would definitely be seeing Greta Thunberg speak, especially because I bumped into a few lecturers and course mates who’d also snuck out in uni hours to go!
I graduated from Bristol in July 2020, and my third year was cut short because of Covid-19. This was really hard in many ways; I still felt like there was so much about Bristol to explore, and I’d just started to feel like I could handle city life. At the same time, my tutors were incredible in providing extra support, and my friends and I set up online study sessions to keep everyone motivated. I am so grateful to have had the experience of uni that I did. With all of its highs and lows, I am a far more confident and resilient person than I was three years ago, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
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