Even though it's been almost two weeks since my big graduation ceremony, it still hasn't quite hit me that my time as an (undergraduate) student has come to an end. It seems like only yesterday that I moved into my tiny on-campus room, experienced Freshers' week and got lost in Brighton's busy streets. Whilst I'm still trying to figure out what my next steps are, I can't help but compare my 18 year old pre-Uni self to 21 year old me now, having just finished her Bachelor's degree abroad. University has changed and shaped me, which sounds oh so cliché but it's also taught me a few things that I thought I'd share, including bits that might help you get through your own studies or work life.
1) A simple "how are you?" is a great conversation starter.
This first bit might have a lot to do with the fact that I studied in the UK, but more often than not, you're greeted with a "hello", followed by the question of "how are you?", or the more British version (which I yet still have to learn to answer correctly) "you alright?". A lot of the time, I would impulse-answer with phrases like "I'm good/fine/okay", potentially throwing the question back at whoever asked me, which would quickly conclude our conversation. (Note: I'm applying this to people I talked to who I didn't know particularly well or was friends with already)
Over the past year or so in particular, I've learned to give small talk-y, longer answers before reciprocating the question to whoever I was talking to, often leading up to a conversation that lasted more than just 5 seconds. I'm naturally a chatty person, but it took me a while to understand that a conversation opener can be as simple as a "how are you?", as long as you make the effort to expand your answer beyond the actual state you're in. If you don't think you have anything in common at all with the person you're talking to, like moaning about essay deadlines or boring seminars, always go back to the very basics of small talk: the weather. I'm still surprised how much I can stretch out a conversation just by bringing up how bloody warm/rainy/cold it is.
2) Consistency really is key.
Back in first year, it took me quite a while to properly grasp the concept of preparing for class instead of expecting to be taught things in class which you could then revise once you're back in your small on-campus room. As is often with school or Uni work (or life in general), tasks are better accomplished head on, and in cases like compulsory readings on Foucault's theories, regularly. Once I settled into the whole lecture-seminar-home study rhythm in second year, I made it a habit to not only actually do my readings before class, but I also highlighted and made notes of everything I was reading. Granted, I had times where time somehow caught up with me (I'm still scarily good at procrastinating) and I managed to just read and potentially highlight my texts, but knowing that I could actually sit down and do the work, motivated me to do it as often as possible. And how it is with a lot of things in life: the more you put in, the more you get out of it, resulting in more productive seminars where I found myself a lot less lost in the midst of conversations in class. And guess what! The more work I put in throughout the term, the less I had to do when it came to gathering information to write that essay or prepare for my presentation.
3) Missing a class isn't going to ruin your marks.
Whilst this one might clash with my previous point about consistency and actually doing your work (on time), learning to relax around your class schedule has helped me a lot, too. I'm not encouraging skipping class whenever you feel like it (don't be one of those people that turn up to class twice in the entire term...), but I missed a total of 1 class in first year, always worrying about what would happen if I missed a lecture or seminar. The beauty of University (which can also be a curse in disguise) is that you get to be more selective about not only the degree, and thus subjects you study, but also about how you decide to use your time. Admittedly, I probably spent more hours watching 90210 or scrolling through my Facebook news feed than I should have, but my constant worry about missing out and consequently getting lower marks back in first year sometimes made me go a bit coo-coo. Over the past three years, I learned to prioritise and make decisions based on what I felt was most important. Go to a seminar I hadn't managed to finish reading the book for, where I wouldn't like the topic to begin with and most likely end up confused and overwhelmed, or skip a two hour class and research the topic of my next essay? Being selective (whilst still being smart about it!) has helped me use my time more wisely and avoid more stress.
4) Be yourself, it's the best you can be.
In a time where it's getting increasingly harder to stand out when it comes to applying to internships, jobs, work experience (I spent almost three hours rearranging my CV yesterday so it would look more presentable), being your authentic self is more important than ever. University has made me a more open, a lot less scared person and Brighton in particular has taught me to go with my at times weird quirks and embrace being different than the person next to me. I've learned to become at ease with who I am above anything else, which I don't only apply to personal relationships (spoiler: if I'm weird with you, that means I'm comfortable with you and let down my guard) but also in the professional field. Some people might appreciate a more bubbly, talkative person for a job, others might prefer someone calmer, but you won't find out if you fit in somewhere - whether that be a coffee shop you applied at for the barista job or an internship in a PR firm, if you're not yourself and only yourself. As long as you're friendly, polite and professional, you can even still save yourself from that lame joke you just made.
5) Fake it 'til you make it.
Probably the biggest thing University has taught me is that no one actually knows anything. Students, or recent graduates, are just young adults walking around, bumping into things, trying to find their path in the "real world", whining about how hard finding a job is whilst holding a glass of (cheap) wine in hand. No bond is as strong as that of complaining about growing up together, offering each other support along the road. Help each other out, swap CVs and cover letters, point out things about each other which the other person might not have noticed (skills, interests, experience) and don't forget to laugh about it every now and then. We will all eventually get that internship or job we so desperately want (or need), and until we've reached that point, make the most of what you have right now, market yourself like there's no tomorrow and know that you're not alone.