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Monday, 16 June 2014

Cautionary Tale of a Drop Out.

Going to university and living on your own for the first time is a ominous prospect for any young person. The realisation that you're going to have to cook, clean, and provide for yourself is pretty hard to imagine when you're living in your same old comfortable environment. When I left home in September 2013, I was no way near prepared - emotionally or physically. I was quite literally chucking my entire wardrobe in boxes the night before whilst listening to the 'High School Musical 3' soundtrack. This quite clearly insinuates my hysterical mental state (I remember 'Right Here, Right Now' being particularly poignant) . I didn't want to go, I was not excited in the slightest and had been dreading the prospect all summer long.

Perhaps this is the point where I should contextualise a little. Like so many other people my age, my final year at school was hellish. My stress and anxiety levels were at an all time high, almost to the point where I couldn't function. Things started getting better when I began talking to a professional about my difficulties. With the help of my family and friends and an amazing counsellor, I survived those exams and even came out with straight As. That summer was the best break of my life - I was socialising again and just enjoying meeting new people. Excuse the cliché but I felt like I had found a place where I belonged. Yet, all the time there was a nagging voice inside my head telling me that it had an expiry date - that everything was set to change. And, of course, it did. Summer doesn't last forever and people move on. Despite moving to opposite ends of the country, Jonny and I decided to go long-distance which was tough in itself. LDRs are possible, but it takes a ton of work (more on that another time).

Arriving at the university, it quickly became apparent to my Dad that I had severely under-packed in every way - with the obvious exception of my wardrobe. We had to go on a mad dash of M&S's home department in an unfamiliar and pretty confusing city. I wish I'd interpreted this as a sign that I hadn't given the uni thing all that much thought and therefore did not want to be there! The first few weeks there are a bit of a blur - I came home a lot. I found the clubbing scene during Freshers a bit boring and didn't see the point of trying to make friends with loads of drunk people that wouldn't remember me. Maybe it was my attitude but I wasn't meeting people I 'clicked' with - it was too lonely sitting in that tiny room when all my friends were still in London on their gap years.
I had also chosen to study 'American and English Literature with a Year Abroad' - it was the first university course I'd looked at when I was sixteen and I just kind of stuck with it. I realised pretty quickly that I was really only interested in straight Literature. In typical Lydia fashion, however, I ignored my gut and kept 'powering through'. I was expecting it to get better without putting in any effort. In all honesty, I knew this university wasn't for me in November - I failed to do anything about it till March. The 10th March to be exact - it was my birthday and I was travelling back to uni after a weekend at home. I spent the train journey in tears when one of my closest uni friends cancelled our plans to celebrate later. I returned home three days later set on leaving. Sent my UCAS form within a week and had an offer from Southampton a couple days later. Once I'd made the decision, there was no time to lose. I felt so relieved and absolutely stand by my decision. I gave the experience six months of my life and I did try to make it work. But if you're not happy, then what's the point? One year of teaching costs £9000 in the UK, not even including the extra debt from the basic maintenance loan. I felt like I was being ripped off.

Another reason to love in London: this gorgeous sunset during an everyday dog walk.

Which brings me to the present. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if I could have done things differently: made more of an effort in Freshers Week, put myself out there more often, made an attempt to switch course, etc etc. At the same time, I know that I could not have stayed there a second longer and pretended that I was loving it. Everyone always tells you that your university years are the best of your life. I spent months trying to convince myself that this was true. Instead, I should have been honest with myself. What I've learned from this experience is that you have to trust your instincts. My gut told me that something wasn't right within weeks of being there. I spent the whole summer dreading the move whereas all my friends (the few that haven't taken gaps years, that is) were raving about how excited they were. That is how it should be! I cannot wait to get Southampton and study the subject I love and meet wonderful people and still only be an hour away from home if I need it. When I visited just a couple months ago, something just clicked -  it sounds mad but I felt like it was the place I needed to be. As the saying 'every cloud has a silver lining' goes, my bad experience the first time round has led to my (hopefully!) wonderful experience the second time. It's also taught me loads about myself. Like most people, I avoid confronting things until I can't run away anymore. Leaving uni has given me confidence in myself - I had to make this decision on my own. And handle the crazy amounts of paperwork that comes with it. Really Student Finance England, you're sending me another 'Change of Circumstance' form? I am blessed with incredibly supportive family, but the decision was always mine - and that's what made it so terrifying.

Some may call me a drop out. And I suppose I am. Come October and I'll be a student again - and it can't arrive soon enough. This time I'll be one year wiser and that much more prepared for the ups and downs of student life. It's going to be brilliant. For now, I'm a full-time blogger and part-time sales assistant which also isn't too bad.

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