Exactly 10 years ago, I went to England for the first time in my life, as a curious teenage not knowing what to expect from this nation. My father told me to go with an open mind and so I did.
Looking back, University was the perfect environment to try out all the things that you’d always wanted to do, without any real world repercussions. It was a simulation of sorts of the outside world, complete with its own internal politics, competing egos and conflicting personalities. The ecosystem encouraged trial and error, something which is rarely seen in the “grown-up” world where wrongdoings are punished and looked down upon. You are less likely to take risk when you have rent to pay and mouths to feed, but those responsibilities didn’t really exist in University. Well, they did at times but you always had a safety net to support you. Many of us felt a lot of pressure at University but once I left, I realized that it was only a small taste of things to come.
I had only intended to spend 3 years at University but I ended up staying an extra year, to work in my full time role as the President of the Students’ Union. If anyone had told me on my first day at University that I would one day become the President, I would have laughed off the notion. A complete outsider, one of the youngest students in my degree, with zero experience of student politics – I was a far cry from the ideal candidate. But funnily enough, I did eventually become the President and I think that is one of the wonders of the University. The liberal atmosphere of Essex allowed me to push the limits of my comfort zone, without worrying about what others thought, and essentially, discover talents that I never knew I had.
The classroom is only capable of teaching a limited amount to a student. Yes, you will learn important theories and research various schools of thought but in my opinion, the real lessons lie outside the four walls of a lecture hall. Sports clubs and student societies were an essential part of my student life, allowing me to try out new hobbies and sports. When my father bought me my first dSLR on Oct 4th 2007, my intention was to start shooting for the University newsletter and take part in the activities of the Photography Society. Little did I realize that it would become my profession one day. But it was the Photography Society that nurtured my skills and it was my part time job as the campus photographer that gave me the funds to buy more equipment. It was the encouragement by my fellow students and praise by the Students’ Union staff that led me to believe in myself as a photographer and even toy with the idea of taking it up as a full time profession.
Essex provided a safe environment to experiment. I tried my hand at hockey, mountain climbing and even mustered the courage to try lacrosse. Mostly, I sucked at sports but I didn’t care and neither did others around me. However, it was great to have the opportunity to try new things and was the perfect case of ‘participating is more important than winning’. I learnt how to fend for myself – even if it was simple things like shopping for groceries on a budget or remembering to do laundry before I ran out of underwear. I distinctly recall learning how to make a full English breakfast from my flatmate who told me the importance of frying the bacon before the sausage (the sausage will cook in the bacon fat) and difference between heating the baked beans on the hob vs the microwave (hob tastes better but microwave is quicker). Picking up English slang was definitely an exciting part of living in the UK – I swiftly adapted to the English way of life, saying ‘cheers’ and ‘ta’ instead of thank you and ordering a “pint” for a couple of “quid” rather than a beer for 2 pounds. I did my best to immerse myself in the British culture because I knew that I didn’t travel 5000 miles to a new country to study the same economics degree.
10 years later, it is apparent how much my life has been influenced by those few years at the University of Essex. The place truly transformed me as a person, and I’m glad it did. Looking ahead, I don’t I will ever face a similar situation in life where I will be given the freedom to explore my passions without worrying about outcome of my efforts, be it favourable or adverse. For the people who are at Uni now, do not underestimate the gravity of the opportunity that you have at your disposal so please make the most of it.