In our final blog for the week, Jess (Area Officer for Carlisle & Eden) describes her journey through Higher Education, which took her from living in Carlisle to Lancaster University, to study English Literature from 2013-2016.
I grew up in the centre of Carlisle and studied at a local sixth form. When it came to Year 12 I decided that I wanted to continue studying at university. After a lot of research and attending open days, I decided to study at Lancaster University. When I visited the campus it was new and exciting, but also felt like somewhere I could consider home. It was also under an hour away on the train, which meant I was far enough away to start afresh, but close enough to Carlisle if I wanted to come home for a Sunday roast!
Because Lancaster is a campus university, I was able to immerse myself into student life. There were some nice and quiet areas on campus such as the woodland walk which I took during many study breaks, and had lots of wildlife to enjoy! This balance suited me, because growing up in Carlisle I enjoyed the experience of being in a small city, but also loved the proximity to the Lake District and the countryside.
There were plenty of different spaces to socialise and study on campus. I spent a lot of time in the library because it was so spacious and there were many different areas to sit down and study, whether I wanted to do that individually or with a group. Being a collegiate university, split into nine colleges, there were nine bars to match these, not to mention the student cinema, takeaways and many cafes. I was in Bowland College, which was famous for it’s pie and chips – this was a regular on a Thursday, before going to the student cinema where we could watch discounted films.
I enjoyed that my typical week would change regularly! Studying English Literature, we had around six scheduled contact hours per week, the rest of the time was for reading, writing and using any opportunities to explore the course further. For example, in my first year I took a minor in Gender and Women’s studies, after which the group would host Feminist Movie Mondays! Then in my third year Shakespeare module, we once took a trip to London to watch three Shakespeare plays in one day. I loved being able to take my course beyond the lectures, and beyond the allocated contact hours, and discuss films and plays with my course mates. The reason I chose my course is that I really enjoyed the subject in sixth form and being able to talk about literature all the time – it felt a bit like a book club!
Outside of my studies there were opportunities to meet so many people and find community. I was particularly close with my friends who lived in the same building as me in first year, so we lived together in a flat for our final two years. Additionally I gained some experience planning and contributing to events such as the Christmas Carol service with the Christian Union. One year we hosted this in Lancaster castle with hot chocolates and mince pies, it was very festive! Every Saturday was also a chance to attempt a new recipe with the Baking Society, I attended this in my first year, as it was a great way to meet people outside of my usual routine – I also needed a group to eat cake watch the bake off final with!
University felt like a safe space to learn and grow, and if I ever faced any problems there was support available. In my first year, I became ill and my doctor suggested suspending my studies so that I could take a year out to recover. I was nervous about this decision because I didn’t know how to begin the ‘intercalation’ process, but the University directed me to a student adviser who talked me through the process and made it really easy to suspend my studies and continue the next year. They also signposted me to the correct process with student finance, and let me know of the financial support I could access because of my situation. This helped me to realise that there may be some unexpected situations which we cannot prepare for, but that I didn’t have to figure out the solutions alone. There was a support system there to help me.
When I started university, I wasn’t 100% certain on my career goals, but the experience allowed me to develop a wide range of transferable skills and also to meet new people from different backgrounds. By the time I graduated, I felt like I had gained so much confidence and it led me to the job I have today!