I remember my first day at the University of Lincoln vividly. I remember the fear, the apprehension, the permanent questions about whether I was doing the right thing or not. I remember being petrified about the money I had spent on something I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do. It was no longer a case of, oh if it’s not right I’ll just drop out – this was real, and this was scary.
I’m not the easiest in social situations, I think that’s fair to say. And the first term terrified me. Actually, scrap that, the whole year has terrified me. Everything our tutors were saying about journalism, I would listen and think: “is this even right for me? Surely I’m not confident enough for this.” And then, predictably, they would say something similar to ‘if you aren’t sure this is for you, what are you doing here?’
I don’t think I was ready to return to university, and the first train journey to Lincoln predictably brought my familiar feelings of dread and a sort of emptiness. Nottingham, while a wonderful place and a city I’m delighted to call my home, sort of broke me in a way. I had only just begun to recover and to return to a sense of state I like to think of as normal when I was back enrolling for another year at an educational establishment that, at the time at least, I hated. Because, I did. I hated university, I hated the culture and I hated what it had done to me last time. I don’t anymore.
It would be a valid question to ask why I returned. The truth is, I think I had realised my Physics degree was about as worthless as anything I had ever got in my life. I was never going to use it. I needed another qualification, one I could cherish and actually show off. I considered teaching, for quite a while actually, but then decided, for whatever reason, I didn’t really want to pursue that. And so, I came back to the feelings that had kept me going through my first and second years at Nottingham. I needed to watch, analyse and explore sport before I felt truly happy.
I know, it’s ridiculous. But that was the reason I explored Sports Journalism. And that was why I applied for courses at Sheffield Hallam and Lincoln. I think initially I wanted to do it at Sheffield Hallam. But then I visited Lincoln. One day in Lincoln with Emma, a nice sunny day in which we visited the uni, climbed Steep Hill and sat on the grounds of the castle, and I knew that was where I was going to study.
I wanted to continue living with Emma, even if that meant waking up at half five every Thursday and Friday to get to Lincoln in time for 9am starts, although the direct train from my small village actually got me to the city an hour early. And I don’t think that was ideal on my first day.
My first lesson back at uni was Law. Not really the best way to start in reality. Especially because I had had a whole hour in Lincoln permanently entertaining the thoughts that everyone would hate me, I wouldn’t make any friends and I would hate the whole experience. I know, I know, I really can be too negative. My one thought, the one that kept nagging at me, was that all the people on my sports journalism course would be LADs. And I wouldn’t fit in as a result. And then I would hate it.
I was also panicking about the fact that finally people would be reading and marking my writing. At that point, I’d been writing with my great friends Martyn, Josh and Charlie for a couple of years, but no-one was seriously analysing it. All of a sudden, I was in direct comparison with other people who wrote, other people who shared my passions. It scared me because I never see my good points, I only ever see the faults.
Despite a three-hour lunch break during which I walked around Lincoln on my own, the first day went quite well actually. The couple of people I spoke to were really friendly and, all in all, like usual, all my worrying was for nothing. It would be ridiculous to say that on my first day I knew I was doing the right thing, but it’s not a million miles from the truth.
In reality, it was the second day when I realised I was going to love my year at the University of Lincoln (who, btw, had already done more for me than Nottingham ever did by sending a free jumper – a simple touch which can mean more than people think). Core broadcast. I think, by the time the TV section came along, a lesson we all eventually hated. But also the one when I realised that not everyone in this world is horrible. That a hell of a lot of folk are nice. Even tutors.
I saw my personal tutor from Nottingham in Boots the other day. I addressed her using her title (Dr), instead of her first name. It’s not her fault – it’s just how the uni is. Professors and lecturers are known, at least in my experience, by their title and surname. It still strikes me as strange that I call my tutors at Lincoln by their first name, and that they actually offer help when you email them, rather than just being aloof.
If my experiences at Lincoln taught me anything, it’s that Russell Group universities are ridiculously overhyped. That actually the better universities, if you want an educational experience where adults care about you, are poly ones (although even then, I know a lot of tutors in Manchester and Nottingham who are wonderful people – sorry to group you with that). Backed up by Emma’s first year at Nottingham Trent, I wish I could have told my 18-year-old self that there would be no shame in going to a university not classed as one of the best. That it doesn’t make me any less intelligent, that it doesn’t prove anything to anybody.
We judge universities, colleges, six forms and high schools by the grades they produce, the difficulty level of the courses and, to some extent, the cost of the education. We shouldn’t. We should only judge educational establishments by the pupils they produce.
Maybe pupils is the wrong word, a more appropriate one would be people.
It struck me quite early on that Lincoln want their students to grow, not grow up, but recognise their potential. At the end of the day, they understand their youth and aren’t in a hurry to turn them all into the faceless mass of business suit twats. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I felt like my personality was squashed at Nottingham yet was reborn at Lincoln.
My confidence too. I’m still too negative. I still wanted to quit at every turn of the course, every time it got tough. Except, I didn’t. You could argue I didn’t quit Physics either, and that would be technically correct. But I view my Physics degree as essentially the same as quitting. I wasn’t living, or caring, for that, I was merely existing. I became a faceless student; walking to campus every day, walking back, studying a little bit, spending the rest of the time mourning about how empty my life had become. The difference at Lincoln was staggering. When it got tough, I had a mini-breakdown and then Emma would shake me back into reality and I’d work harder to get it done. Hey, I’ve never denied that Emma deserves this degree more than I do.
My confidence has returned. I no longer think I can’t do anything, I believe I could do everything if I wanted to. It’s funny how big an effect mental health can have on an individual. The only reason I succeeded now where I failed before is because I felt better about it. The mind is so delicate, too delicate for any of us to comprehend. As I said, Nottingham broke me. So then, it has to be said that Lincoln made me.
It’s not been perfect (well nothing is). Our results were always late back, which was never ideal. And sometimes it felt like we were ignored for the needs of the undergraduates. But I can genuinely forgive those. Even then, it was still ten times the experience I had at Nottingham.
What Nottingham always had in its favour was the social experience. I’ve written a lot about how I surprised myself with how many friends I made, and how good they were. Martyn and Stefan were my main two, and fortunately, I’m still in contact with both. Martyn introduced me to Josh, which in turn led to me knowing Emma. And Lincoln, despite my first-day worries, was exactly the same. I can’t speak highly enough about everyone on my course, I genuinely have positive memories with all of them. Yes, even Klammer. I’ll miss all of you.
And Lincoln, despite my first-day worries, was exactly the same. I can’t speak highly enough about everyone on my course; I genuinely have positive memories with all of them. Yes, even Klammer. I’ll miss all of you.
I’ve got so many good memories from my year. Simple things, such as the girl who turned up to our first lesson (that Law one) drunk, who then a week later offered me the chance to go on a dog walk with her and eventually I was spending every day in Lincoln with her, to the extent that I now see George as a female name, not a male.
Hey, and I don’t think either Danny or I would finish this final project without each other’s stresses.
And it’s you guys why I’m actually quite upset while writing this. It’s stupid, I know, and this awful rambling of a post that doesn’t really have a purpose must surely be close to concluding, but yeah, I can’t shake the feeling that now the real hard work starts and it won’t be as fun without you lot.
But then, I can face those challenges with my head held high. I didn’t think I would write the news articles, I didn’t think I could get my first feature done, I didn’t want to write another essay, I didn’t think I could get work experience, I didn’t think I would survive a second week of it, I didn’t think I would finish my final project, I didn’t think I would ever be in a position to hand it in. All of that is done now, and when I return to Lincoln to hand it in later this week, it will finally close the education chapter of my life.
Am I scared? Oh fuck yes, of course I am. I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t. But am I also excited? I reckon I am. I’m good enough to be a journalist. My writing was praised more than it was criticised this year, and it’s improved along the way (even if it hasn’t on this post).
Am I proud of what I’ve achieved? Yes.
I never thought I’d get this far.
When I left Nottingham, I wrote a post called something like ‘a satisfactory look back at my eye-opening experiences’. That wording, although unknown to me at the time, was perfect. Satisfactory. I was satisfied to finish that degree. I am delighted to finish this one. I’ve even improved my mood writing this.
It’s amazing what someone can do with confidence.
Oh and Seb, please don’t ever shave your moustache.