Edit: my friend Alice also posted about her experiences of the first year of university. Read her post too!
Later this week I will be getting started on my second year at Kingston University studying Creative Writing with English Literature, and it’s as good a time as any to reflect on what I picked up on during my first year – not so much academically; rather, what skills I’ve picked up and what I’ve learned about myself during my first year.
Why am I doing this? I really feel it’s important, with university, to take away some personal improvement as well as the purely academic stuff. I definitely feel that my writing has improved as a direct result of what I’ve been learning in my studies so far. This is great! But I feel it’s definitely worth a quick bit of reflection too on how it’s shaping up for me, personally.
Before I started at Kingston I was unsure if returning to education – I’m in my mid twenties now – was something I was able to do. Was I too old? Could I re-adapt to the rigours of study? I recall my A-levels with some affection, but I was never quite totally fond of things like exams. I guess it was a heavy dose of reservation and doubt about my own abilities – like most writers, I suppose, we all seem to think we’re terrible hacks.
Long-term readers may recall that I started a course, initially, with the Open University (a distance-learning institution in the UK which I feel has a bit of an unfair reputation as “not a proper university”). I found it especially useful; my results of my assessments were really good and, considering that the Open University requires a lot of discipline to keep up, especially if you’re studying from home and have all the necessary distractions and I was pleased I had the willpower to see the first year through. The only disappointment I had was the relatively slow progress of studying one module a year; this meant I still would only just be starting the actual creative writing aspect I was interested in about now.
Approaching my first day of Kingston was a bit of a challenge – a lot of nerves and anxiety. This was a big change, and as a pretty heavily introverted person, I get very suspicious about change to things. And yeah, I went away from those first few days – where I felt totally out of the comfort zone to which I was accustomed – genuinely questioning if I’d done the right thing.
I would say two things have made my first year at Kingston really good and really empowering, in that I feel like I made the right choice. First: my grades are pretty darn good, even for the aspects of the studies of first year I truly hated. There was definitely parts of my first year I enjoyed more than others; I didn’t care for my module focusing on literary theory, but I still (somehow) managed to knock it out of the park in the assessment. I certainly enjoyed my creative writing seminars and lectures and feel I gained a lot from them that has already made a material difference in my writing (heck, I feel confident enough to try writing a novel again).
Secondly (largely due to my seminars) I’ve mixed with a lot of people and I think there’s a great bond between our group. Funnily enough, I’m part of a pretty great Facebook group chat and I feel that, in a strange sense, has helped me overcome the boundaries I have in terms of real life socialising (likely to do with my in-progress dealings with my mental health) and, better, feel a part of a group and included. I do feel that, through this, I have a group of people who I know at Kingston now and it certainly gets past the feeling of apprehension about being totally alone in this big place. Plus, in terms of work, it’s great to have a group so ready to discuss each other’s writing; there’s a definite sense of camaraderie and respect for each other not just as writers but as friends too.
But yeah, it wouldn’t be all rosy-cheeks going into second year. I know I need to be less distracted and focus more on my work; even though I did well in first year, that is not a licence for complacency. No, I can’t “skip the reading” if I forget. No, I can’t sleep through the occasional 9AM start. Yes, I do have a job as well as my studies and I’ve balanced it well, but I need to make sure I keep up that momentum. It’s only going to get… I don’t want to say “tougher”, but more challenging and I need to be ready to face those challenges, but I feel I’m definitely in a better position now than I was a year ago to go get ‘em!