What it’s Like Going to University : First Year in a Nutshell
As usual, I’m writing an article on my computer, wondering how to start and what exactly I’m going to say.
Wrapped up in everything warm that I could find, including a furry hat and a scarf that’s thicker than my waist, I’m happily basking in the Edinburgh sun that’s blinking in the bright blue sky. It’s a beautiful day. Arthurs Seat shadows the greenery of the golf course and the hulk of the Crags lies across the skyline in a twisted, draconian ridge of volcanic basalt. Yes, I have just contradicted the commonly held belief that there is never a nice day in Scotland.
It is rare, hence I’m rejoicing in the sunshine, writing this with gloves on because the sun is still cold, but it does still happen.
And when Edinburgh is lit up the way it is today, it’s hard not to fall in love with it.
This is the sort of sun that wooed me when I came up for the post-offer, open day and it’s the sort of weather that sticks around for a few brief days and then disappears again so that the rain, snow and hail can have their fair turn at playing with the emotions of students and locals alike.
There is nothing nicer than moseying down to Grassmarket in the sun, rummaging through the antique bookstores and vintage clothing racks before hitting ‘The Auld Hoose’. There is nothing like wandering through the cobbled streets for a ‘wee pie’ before trundling home through the Georgian buildings or watching the sunset over the meadows. Oh yes, it’s terribly sappy to say all this but it’s those things that make it worth my while to write this article outside, in the freezing cold, about a place that I’ve only been in for a few months.
But, what almost every parent and teacher will know, and what pretty much every Haileyburian will discover, is that in the short, few months since September so much that can change. There’s more to do than you thought possible and the people you meet are the people you’ve always wanted to meet. Yes, there are your ‘Fresher-friends’ that you spoke to for the first three weeks and then suddenly realised that you still didn’t know their names, but there are also the people that you swiftly and certainly know that you want to know for the rest of your life. They’re the sort of people that will wake you up at 630 in the morning to go swimming but you don’t mind, despite the fact that your lecture is at twelve and you could have slept in. You laugh and banter and bicker and owe and dress up with and go out with and, and, and.
It’s a funny place but I don’t think that anywhere but here could have offered me the quirky characters I’ve come to know and love.
From the theatre crews with their snarky, sarcastic witticisms to the musical lot with all their peculiarities and the wonderful friends you meet in Halls; there’s such a thriving mix of different people because there’s so much to do and so many separate things that lure you to them.
But… what of the infamous, IB?
That insidious monster the brave few took on in the last two years at Haileybury? Did that help me when I got here? Did it make a difference to anything; my choices or activities or classes or grades?
I think there’s a mixed result in that. I live in a university halls with several people who did the IB; one who took it in Singapore, two who fought through it at Sevenoaks and Oakam , another who conquered the beast in Italy and my two next door neighbours who survived it in Japan. I certainly believe that, unlike some of the people in my halls, the seven of us seem to have a better work ethic in terms of getting things done, organising ourselves and our time and all of that malarkey that the A-level students never seemed to have had to do before. There’s the slight issue of free time that we IBers had little-to-no understanding of at the beginning and rediscovering a sleeping pattern seems to still be a challenge for Natsumi but for the most part, we’ve managed to adjust to the university workload pretty well.
But the thing is… there isn’t much of a work load.
At Edinburgh you take three subjects in your first year, your major or dual-major and one or two minors. You then have two exceptionally long semesters in which you only have to write a maximum of five essays, usually given to you three weeks in advance. It’s actually really nice.
You can do all the moseying, trundling, wandering and aimless ambling that any student with too much free time can do.
You can read all those books that you missed out on, watch the films that you forwent, go to all the parties, pubs, clubs and bars that you can name (and probably still suggest several that you’ve forgotten the name of).
You can go shopping, as long as your student loan or your beloved parents still fill your bank account, and you don’t need a consent form or a sign-out/in sheet.
Hooray for university.
Finally you’re free of the diatribe and silliness of bubble-land.
If anything, it was everything else that’s made me want to do the things I’ve done. The Haileybury Choir has led me to the University Music Society, I’ve even suggested that we do Jonathon Dove’s ‘The Turning of the Year’ simply because it was one of the best pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I’ve started dancing because the people in the Dance-Show always used to make me jealous of their talent. Pastimes and the various stories told there, especially Mr Parkin’s ‘Thomas the Tank Engine Goes to Hell’ has seen my showing up in the Scottish Storytelling Centre and I’m helping out with Theatre Paradok’s performance of the Grimm Fairytales, because Little Red Riding Hood still, secretly, has a place in my heart.
So was it worth it? I don’t think so. And I would not and could not ever recommend it. I can joke around calling the IB a monster and a beast but the number of breakdowns I saw, the amount of crying most of us did wasn’t worth it. Although Edinburgh does seem to have a significant amount of IB students here (most of them living on my corridor it would seem) there’s also a general consensus that, if given the chance, we wouldn’t be doing it again.
There’s even a couple who still have nightmares about the final exams (oddly enough it seems to be the chemistry higher students). So no: not a good recommendation from Edinburgh. Sorry IBO, you’re just not that cool.
But that’s enough of the melodrama; Edinburgh’s a much nicer thing to talk about. It’s a cosmopolitan, characterful, cheerful place where people laugh at the horizontal rain and the stigma against the midday drink. It’s the place where the Music Society has a special membership-loyalty card that gets you cheap food and drink in ‘Droughty Neebors’, which apparently means ‘drinking buddies’; where the theatre is named after an asylum (Bedlam) and where ‘Psychosis’ has been performed inside a renovated church. It’s where a 24-hour culture of students from four different universities muddle through the days and nights in the cornucopia of cafes, bars, tea shops, various enticing markets and all of those other wondrous places.
This is my ‘Jekyll and Hyde City’, the place where the ‘auld’, medieval squalor can still be found between dark corners and gothic pinnacles but so can the elegance of the nineteenth century New Town.
It’s an eclectic, eccentric and individual city and that’s why I’m now saving this article to disk, sending it to Mr Dexter and waving adieu: I’m off to meet the others in the local where they’ll watch the match of the day, I’ll read Dr Faustus, and we’ll all have a ‘braw auld time’.
Je serai poète et toi poésie, SCRIBBLER