This feature will chronicle your progress from a shivering little larva to a magnificent, unemployed butterfly. Much like butterflies, the British university student develops through various different stages of metamorphosis, each more beautiful and profound than the next…
Day One of university. Your parents have finally gone and you are left in a foreign, eerily tidy room, measuring roughly 2x3m, which you are now obliged to call home. There is a territorial stain left for you on the carpet from the former resident (in memory of the Great Chunder of ’09) and you feel that you should somehow continue his legacy.
So you work up that courage, step outside your room and…nothing. Tumbleweed rolls by. As the hours pass, people trickle in until you then assemble in your kitchen with a couple of people who may become your new BFFs…but, almost certainly, ones you will never hang out with again. During this first conversation, you will all be desperately trying to assert your own fabulously individual personalities; only later will your new acquaintances be able to refer to your social networking footprint, to verify all the details, and realise you are actually a violin-playing Scout leader from the West Country.
In order to exemplify this moment, I must once again refer to Fresh Meat. Specifically, the painfully awkward scenario where they all have their first meeting. Try-hard ‘Pussy Man’ Kingsley tries to break the tense silence, acting as the hilariously incompetent social coordinator: ‘So you’re a coffee man? Coffster! And you’ve got your tea…’. In the classically British way, they only really bond once they head to the pub. But in these opening scenes, the audience comes to understand the Fresh Meat characters through the stunted way that they interact, all manifestly desperate to make friends but equally unqualified to do so.
This isn’t something that stops after Freshers’ Week, either. Students are likely to try and reinvent themselves constantly, either trying to blend in chameleon-style to those around them or completely stand out from the crowd (both impossible ends, it transpires). This will almost definitely involve any combination of the following: facial piercings, extreme hair dye, extortionately priced clothing from any store that refers to its staff as ‘models’, obsessive exercising and Southern Comfort-coloured fake tan. All these efforts to improve your image will later be overturned when you get to…
Fast Food, Flings and One Too Many Fosters
Everyone is allowed a period of recklessness during university; indeed, a lot of people indulge in it for the whole duration.
This is the period where you will, most likely, begin to be greeted by name at your nearest dubiously-titled fast food vendor (Flames, anyone? MahMoods?). That banging bod, no doubt honed by many years of school lacrosse, will turn to a kebab-based jelly.
However, there are much worse things to wake up next to than decaying cheesy chips. Students tend to make imprudent romantic decisions at some point in their university career, courtesy of badly-lit nightclubs and beer goggles. Hell, on a hungover Friday morning, even the ageing lecturer running your 9am session might look half-decent (excusing the toupee and the mid-life crisis leather jacket).
You might also begin to play Russian Roulette with your liver, and consume unpalatable alcoholic hybrids such as vodka and champagne (vodpagne), gin and malibu (galibu?), the list goes on… You might once question your lifestyle when you realise that you have been diagnosed as an alcoholic on that lame NHS ‘Track Your Drinking’ self-assessment tool, but sigh with relief as you realise that most of your friends received the same result- must be faulty.
Hopefully, once the chaos of Freshers’ Year is finished, this relative hedonism is something you will start to get jaded of, in favour of losing that superfluous two stone, and devoting more time to…
Your Bachelor Degree In Facebook
Over the past decade, so many popular websites have sprung up dedicated to the crème-de-la-crème of the procrastination experience. This ranges from Myspace (anyone remember Myspace?), Facebook and Twitter to recommendation sites like Reddit and StumbleUpon.
I can only suggest that supply is catering to demand here, and there is a desperate need amongst university students to waste 70% of their time. The one-time conscientious student huddled in a corner of the library with a pile of dusty books has now been replaced by the student who flicks between ‘Jstor’ and ‘Youtube’ windows in the Group Study Area, all the while punctuating it with a series of Whatsapps and Snapchats.
However, soon this idyllic paradox of committed time-wasting will come to an end, because here comes…
The Mid-Semester Crisis
It transpires, a little late in the day, that the reason that society attaches prestige to your degree is because…it is actually reasonably difficult. You feel that your 44% average might need something of a boost, but this is hindered by the fact that you have already slept through a larger percentage of your lectures.
With the onset of ‘self-directed study’ (your module coordinator’s master scheme for his mini-break to Prague), you will constantly have that insidious feeling that you should really be reading the entire works of Henry James…or something like that. The worst is when that self-directed study is a dissertation and, two weeks before deadline day, you realise that you will have to forego eating and sleeping to complete the 12,000 word bugger. Of course, you’ll be too sleep-deprived to cherish these moments, but the moment that dissertation goes in, you will experience…
The psychological term for this is ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’: ‘a disease that causes someone to believe he or she can remain in childhood forever’. Essentially, many young adults deem university ‘the best time of their lives’, looking back, with rose-tinted spectacles, on insomniac housemate Brian and the obstinate household mould.
This is why, for many third years, the idea of setting up some form of career path for when you graduate is like signing your soul to the devil, and you’re already considering an MA in Horticulture that you don’t want to do. Not to mention that the grim prospect of moving back in with one’s parents is akin to turning yourself in to the local county jail, and you worry that you will never again find the unmitigated freedom that ‘UNAY’ has offered you.
Even if you do get a job, you will most probably be turning up at club nights three years after you graduate, hoping that at some point they will announce you as a ‘celebrity guest’. Maybe one day you will outgrow all of this and embrace the world of work…but for now, you still resemble the bright young thing on your student card, and you will adamantly refuse to acknowledge that it was invalidated in 2011.