In September 2015 I decided to move ‘across the water’ as they like to say, to study a four year fine art degree at Norwich University of the Arts.
Nine months later I feel ready to share my experience of ‘Year Zero’ and living away from home so prepare for a post about tears and tantrums.
I’d built uni up in my head for years and Summer of 2015 I was a bundle of nerves and excitement as I prepared for the following academic year. I was in no way prepared for what was to come. As September 12th came I packed my bags and said goodbye to my parents at the airport, failing to hold in tears of terror and sadness. I was met on the other side by my girlfriend who helped me move in the following Sunday.
That Sunday night I shed a few tears as I realised what I had actually done but I was soon distracted by alcohol and, later that week, freshers flu. For the first few weeks of university I stayed up late with my housemates, went to uni and forced myself to chat to everyone no matter how scared I was, binge watched Netflix while completing work and tried to get out and about and actually see the beautiful city I was living in.
At the start of October my mum came to stay for a weekend and I realised just how much I had actually missed her. I felt like I’d been gone for months and missed so much so I cherished those couple of days where I got to show her around and catch up. It wasn’t until she left that I got upset, finally realising that I wasn’t just on holiday for a few weeks.
Now, I am a homebird, I’ll admit that. I love my family and I’m very close to them. I depend on human contact to get me through the day so uni was a very new and scary experience for me. It wasn’t until around Halloween time, when the freshers hype died down that I realised I didn’t actually like my course all that much either.
I’d attended the workshops at the beginning of term, which I enjoyed but they weren’t entirely my style of art, which was fine for a few workshops but when I realised that the course wasn’t actually changing much in terms of styles it started to feel like such a chore instead of like I was doing something I loved to do.
On top of this I didn’t particularly like my university’s attitude towards it’s students as it just wanted to churn out success for the sake of its own rating and didn’t actually care about the students opinions and styles. The university as a whole was very set in it’s abstract ways and didn’t leave much room for the individual styles of its students.
Despite being on a full time course I was only timetabled to be in for a short time each week, often consisting of 3 hours of contextual studies and max a one hour tutorial. We were expected to work in the studio and at home in our own time but I found this particularly hard. Little contact hours meant more time sitting around thinking of what I was doing and what I was expected to be doing. The time passed so slowly I felt as if it had stopped entirely and there’s only so many places you can go to complete artwork.
I decided I didn’t like my university but wanted to continue on with the same course so I made the decision to transfer to the same university my girlfriend attends to begin in September 2016 as I love their Fine Art course and department and I’m surrounded by my girl and also friends who go there too!
I started to get very lonely and depressed which wasn’t helped by my loud housemates. I was on the bottom floor next to the kitchen which came with its own problems. I could hear each intimate moment of my housemate in the room above when she had guys over, I was constantly woken up by people running up and down the stairs just outside my room, when people went out I was woken by their return, when people closed the kitchen door I woke up…the list goes on. I’d also like to note that my housemates didn’t seem to need a lot of sleep and often didn’t go to bed until 3 or 4AM. I need at least eight hours sleep a night to be mentally stable the next day so my mental health began to decline. I invested in ear plugs which drowned out some of the noise but not a lot of it so I struggled my way through until around February time.
Come February I went to visit my girlfriend and her family in Cambridge and decided I didn’t want to return to uni. I began to suffer panic attacks again, which I hadn’t suffered badly from since my first year of sixth form. This led me to spend serious amounts of money travelling 4/5 hours to where my girlfriend attended uni almost every weekend and some of the week as I had so little contact time and classes.
I struggled through the next three months by staying with my girlfriend for as much time as possible, taking my work with me, and avoiding the tension of the house as another housemate had a breakdown and dealt with his issues in a very nasty way which affected the rest of the house.
Come April, I was definitely ready to leave and forget Norwich. I did learn a lot from the experience. I realised I don’t like being alone, I learned what types of art I’m interested in more than others, I learned I really appreciate life drawing despite the little amount of classes we had and most of all I realised the type of people I need to surround myself with.
Without my girlfriend I wouldn’t have made it through Year Zero. I have come out the other end and passed the year, getting myself a place at another university to continue my studies with my girlfriend and some nerdy, quiet housemates. I’m really excited for the year ahead and just want to say, even if you have a bad experience with university you have other options out there and you could try again. And if you still hate it then maybe it’s just not for you and that’s okay too!
Just a quick note to finish; take vitamins. Every day. Freshers flu is real and so is a crappy immune system.