Friday, 7 October 2016

The Graduate: Christian

Name: Christian

Age: 25

What's your story?
I studied at Aberystwyth University (mainly because they offered me £800 off my accommodation!) and read English Literature, with mixed success. My first year was hands down one the best experiences of my life, both in academic terms and in terms of social andsport. The course was open and inviting, I especially enjoyed the Greek and Roman myth module, and my tutors were awesome. The social aspect of university was booming, as was the sport - being a keen rugby player and sailor, Aber was a great choice. It's funny how quickly things can turn sour. The uni faced financial cuts, a new VP, and dropped about 20 places rating-wise in a year. I think it's fair to say that second year is always a struggle for most students; it's a transition from the initial novelty and excitement of first year, and the 'final stretch' feeling of third year. For me, however, I think it was the first time I realised that University, and the university academic environment, was not for me. 

Why did you decide to go to university, and why English Literature?
If I'm perfectly honest, I have no idea why I decided to university. After having 2 years out after school, travelling to Malaysia with Raleigh International, gaining a Outdoor Activity Leadership qualification, and working as a watersports instructor, my plan of joining the Military was at the foremost of my mind. I think the decision came (after much protesting from my parents who didn’t think it was the best choice for me) purely because I saw my friends photos from school on Facebook, documenting wild nights out and massive crowds at rugby games. The degree was purely a byproduct of 3 years having a great time. Plus, how hard can it be to get an English degree? It's basically just reading right? I think the issue today is that university is seen to be a right of passage, and almost something that everyone should experience and feel entitled to. I still remember the slogans at school about going to uni, and the one that stuck with me most is: 'gain valuable life experience'. I certainly know how to drink a pint quickly and shout drinking chants as someone else does, but I don’t feel university offers anything like the 'life skills' it advertises. It preaches self sufficiency, but really only shelters you more for the day-to-day aspects of the real world. We even acknowledge this while at uni saying things like 'I can't wait to get back to uni and away from real life', yet we expect ourselves to come out of it in a better position? Sure, we might have a degree in our chosen subject, but as a lot of people are realising now, that doesn’t always count for much in this day and age. Especially when you're up against something with a better degree, AND experience spanning back to apparently before they were born. I think the thing that uni lets its students down the most on however, is its attitude towards academic study. I'm sure this is bias from my own experiences, but if there's one place you should have MORE support academically, its university! My experience left me feeling out of my depth with no lifeline whatsoever. I probably could have spent more time with my tutors, but surely having those people as 'mentors' means they should make just as much effort, if not more reaching out to you? I spent 2 hours once waiting outside my dissertation tutor's office for a diss meeting with him, only to be told that he 'forgot' he had another meeting. This idea that students at uni shouldn’t ask for help, and the idea that you need to study by yourself (drummed into me in 4 lectures at the beginning of first year) is totally bogus. My advice: milk everyone for everything you can. At the end of the day you're paying for it, and you deserve even more help at uni than you did at school. 

More importantly, what's made you decide to go back and finish your degree?
I think, aside from my career aspiration to be an RAF Physical Training Officer (which requires a degree), the decision was a result of closure. It’s something that needs to be finished, and that I feel I will regret if I don’t. I also feel that I am personally in a much better place to be able to put in the required work in order to get a decent result. On top of this, I can study something I really am interested in by picking and choosing modules with the OU. For example, studying issues in contemporary sport and things like nutrition etc.

What's helped you get to where you are today?
I've had the great privilege of experiencing a number of different things since leaving school. From 3 months in Borneo to working in a number of varied jobs, such as activity instructors and fundraisers. However, I have to say (and as cliche as it sounds) one of the main things that have got me where I am today, and more importantly feeling in as good a place as I am, is my family and friends. Everything becomes easier with a support network, and while with my family it certainly had its big ups and downs, it is now firmly in place and stronger than ever. I can't downplay how important it is to have a close group of mates as well. Guys that you can chat to about anything and who (probably through the use of multiple insults) will always show they care and come through for you. I am, also, a firm advocate of self appreciation. It's something everyone should do (within moderation) and is essential to your mental health. Never forget to congratulate yourself on achievements, and in this case, I have put in a lot of hard work in a number of different areas.

What advice would you give to someone struggling with university?
As much as university is amazing (and it is even with all the problems I had there), it is a place the puts an immense pressure on you. I think people would be shocked if they knew just how many people at uni struggled with some sort of issue, from stress to anxiety. As much fun as uni is, it’s a place that can really bring you down, either through the weight of the academic side of things or the social aspect/relationships. But nothing is worse than feeling under the weight of it all and, even though you are surrounded by people, you feel all on your own. I guarantee you, every other person you meet will have probably gone through the same thing, so it's important to remember you are not on your own. Problems become so much easier when they are spoken out loud, instead of being allowed to fester. I think I'd also say 'don’t worry about it'. Even though it might seem like it, uni isn't the be all or end all of life. It could be that you regret going and feel trapped, but are worried that leaving will somehow ruin your life. Well that is 100% not the case. It could be that university isn't the place for you, or it could be the it just isn't the place for you YET, and there is nothing wrong with that at all. You have so many opportunities out there that it just isn't worth sacrificing your mental well-being for. The most important thing is being comfortable, happy and enjoying yourself. If one of these things is not being realised, you need to ask why? 

Where do you hope to be in 10 years time?
I think the most important thing for me is being something, and doing something, that I'm proud of, and that benefits people. The paycheck isn't a big deal to me now (though a few years ago I must admit that wasn’t the case). Obviously I want to be comfortable and be able to do the things I enjoy, but I want to be able to stand up and say 'I'm proud of what I do because...'. So I think the aim for me, in 10 years, is to be well established in the RAF, preferably in a remedial role (helping wounded veterans, and people struggling with fitness). However, if things change in between now and then, it's not the end of the world. As long as I can hold my head up high and be proud of who I am and what I do, I think everything will be cool. 

Christian, the almost graduate.
Aspiring RAF Officer.


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