At the age of 5, I turned up to school, a small, chubby cheeked, red faced girl, hair in pigtails, completely lost. Over the 14 years I was there that girl grew into, well, a slightly taller chubby-cheeked, red faced girl. In that time, I failed and succeeded, cried and laughed, cursed and celebrated; I experienced a whole host of ups and downs. But in that time, the school I was in became a part of who I was, becoming a sense of my identity, beyond the awful, unflattering uniforms, and school badges that only collected dust over the years.
We don’t choose who we go to school with, or who’s in our year group, and yet, the people we see every day become a part of our daily life, forming friendships and bonds, that even when they seem to grow distant over the years, remain an everlasting memory of the place that let you grow into who you are now. Without knowing it, our schools and upbringing become a part of us, meaning that when we leave, we find it is often what we use to define ourselves as, and what we feel we fit in to. This means that the transition to university can feel more overwhelming, as we may feel stripped of our former identities, and ultimately lost – going from a somebody to a nobody.
I have always been one to power through, not really thinking about what’s happening – just floating along with the experience. It’s not until later that it catches up to me. Arriving at university was a blur of amazing memories, freshers week being blurry not only because of the odd drink or two that turned into many more, but because of all of the activities that filled our days from our waking moments to the early hours of the morning. All the bustling excitement of university that carried on throughout Michaelmas term, with freshers’ flus being caught from every direction, and events happening all the time, and new people to meet everywhere you look, and so many societies that you lose count of what you put your name down for – most of them you ended up forgetting about until random events fill up your Facebook account.
With so much to fill your time, and being with so many people 24/7, the reality of university seems to be covered up by the melee of excitement. There may be the occasional moment of homesickness, or stress about the first load of formatives, but there is always the underlying exhilaration for the freedom you have found – not having to do lectures if you don’t feel like getting out of bed, not having to listen to your parents nag at you for your messy room, or not doing your homework, and being able to go out every night if you wanted to, and so much more. While you may be aware of the huge shift that has occurred in your life, it may feel more like a holiday or a temporary change, as it doesn’t seem to register in your mind that, this is you, for the next three years. Further still, that after these three years, it is you, out in the big wide world having to decide what it is you will do with your life.
Coming back to university in second term seems to have been the moment for this reality to set in for many people. Being welcomed back to university with cold, miserable weather, that isn’t made nicer because “it feels like Christmas” like it did last term, and having exams or essays to hand in, with all the other work piling up on the side, forcing you into the Billy B for all-nighters, making you ask yourself why you’re doing this, when you’re a fresher and it doesn’t count anyway?
It seems almost as though you are drifting in a current that is flowing faster and further out of your control, and in that time your awareness of yourself seems to be ebbing away.
You lose sight of who you are. Am I a Durham Uni student? Am I a dancer? Am I just someone from Surrey (like the average Durham student)? Am I the same person I was at school? Should I become a different person?
Our sense of identity seems to be much more exposed. We no longer find ourselves quite so defined by where we are living and what institution we are being educated in. At university, we are left very much to find who we are, making us ask ourselves, well, who exactly am I? Who do I want to be? We know the basic things like, yes, I’m someone who likes to dance, enjoys a Lloyds Wednesday (being in Mildert this is an essential, followed by a Paddy’s for the trek back up the hill) and someone who enjoys English and writing, and the list goes on. But underneath all our hobbies and interests, it seems hard to determine who we actually are when we no longer follow strict guidelines and have a uniform to hide behind. We might be represented by palatine purple, but we are no longer branded by a uniform or name of a school.
Instead our university adds to our identity rather than defines it.
It’s not that we are all faced with an identity crisis, but instead we feel somewhat lost when finally given the chance to show our true selves in whichever way we please. We are encouraged to pursue interests – even if that is in hummus with the hummus society – and we are accepted for whatever person we decide to be – with LGBTQ societies and many more.
So, we ask ourselves things like, who do I want to be? What do I want to achieve in my life? Rather than questions like do I get a fringe? Do I grow a moustache? Or should I go out tonight when I have a summative due tomorrow? Everything seems slightly more surreal and overwhelming, for we have reached the point where we have to decide all these things for ourselves, and it is the time when we truly stand on our own two feet.
However, the crucial thing in all of this is not letting it overwhelm you, but using it to find who you are in a positive way. With so many opportunities at your doorstop, don’t be frightened, be excited – you can take any path you choose, and discover what truly makes you you.