On the 20th of September 2014, I moved out of my family home and into University of Birmingham Halls. In the three years that I’ve been at university I’ve learned tonnes about the world, others and myself. Tomorrow, on Friday the 23rd of June 2017, I move out of my second (and final) student house in Birmingham. Honestly, the latter of these two big moves is much scarier than the prior.
Moving to university, at least for me, was full of excitement for the next three years, and all the experiences to come. There’s a childish expectation that the biggest challenges you’ll face living independently surround cooking, cleaning and household shopping, not to mention anticipation about living with people you haven’t ever met.
For some reason, both the beginning and ending of university are complete culture shocks. Most students before they move to university (whether they’d like to admit it or not) are worried about missing their parents; their siblings; their pets; their own rooms; their own routines. Household chores aside, the biggest adjustment is living with new people. University lifestyle is like being a fake-adult. You’ve got control of your (limited) finances; you can eat what you like, when you like; you can work when you feel like it, and you can tidy up when you like. Making that work between six different people you don’t really know is the tricky art of first-year independence.
On top of learning to live independently, you’re learning your subject-specific content in bursts of intensity. You discover how you work best and refine time & stress-management skills. University brings you experiences which teach you about people, and how to interact with them even if you really don’t want to. You learn about politics, lifestyles which differ from your own, and careers; beginning to form your own opinions and plans for all three.
Lessons from me to you: vodka will never love you back & you shouldn’t write your friends essays drunk
Two years later, you’ve only lived with people of your choosing. With them, you’ve figured out cooking, cleaning, bills, work-life balance (of sorts) and how to cure a hangover. If you’ve had an experience like me, they’ve been your best friends – in the entire time you live independently, you never feel alone. You eat with your housemates, you [mostly] share out the chores with your housemates. You watch TV, hang out, go shopping, do your coursework and have almost every cup of tea with your housemates. Your entire independent life exists intertwined with a group of other twenty-year olds from all over the country. You no longer call up your parents to help you work out your bills, or how to get the cheesy-chips grease out of your favourite white skirt: you knock on someone’s bedroom door.
If you’re lucky, between your housemates and your other university friends, you get a whole new family. This final year of university life was only bearable because I lived with my very best friends. Sometimes you just need people to hang out in silence with, or to proof-read your dissertation introduction, or to borrow someone’s coconut milk again because you’re forever running out (sorry, Yasmin). And as soon as you realise your daily routine is completely dependent upon a couple of other lazy, dopey, wonderful students, university is abruptly over and you’re planning your staggered departures from your digs.
It’s tricky downsizing your life. You’re leaving somewhere that’s been home for three years to become a place you can only visit. If you’re moving back to your family home you’re probably waving goodbye to some of your independence, which is more difficult than figuring out how to be independent in the first place.
Impending graduate responsibility is terrifying and the idea of being away from a city you’ve loved, learned in, partied in, lived in and grown-up in is sad, but leaving the people who’ve been with you for every second of it is far scarier. The closing of this chapter presents you with an identity crisis bigger than you faced when you left home three years ago. You realise you don’t know how to make your dinner without your housemates to chat to; how to make decisions without their thoughts and advice; or how to wind-down without their company. It becomes apparent that what made university a home wasn’t the room, the double-bed, the campus or the city – it was the people.
Although completing my degree was extremely difficult and testing – the most valuable things I leave university with exceed knowledge, life skills or a degree qualification. The University of Birmingham gifted me with some of the best people I’ve ever known. In the three years I’ve lived in Birmingham I have worked, laughed, cried, drank and danced in the company of bright, brilliant individuals. I’ve met people with different priorities, goals and beliefs to me who have opened my mind or taught me about myself without even knowing it. For that, I am so grateful.
For most of us, what follows this move is uncertain. We have to figure out what we want from our lives, how we’re going to earn money, and maybe even where we want to live. What we can be certain of is that stepping away from it all is far harder than when we stepped in, but it’s a comfort to know you’ve made friends for life in the process.