By Hector Jessop
A year ago, as I counted down the days until I would move to Bristol and become a student, I felt both excited and nervous in the face of what would be an entirely different experience. I was a 23 year old who had been out of education for almost half a decade, who after finishing college with mediocre results and no real plan had found work and settled into a routine. It felt like a big risk to give up that stability and return to studying, and being an older first-year student and not naturally outgoing, I worried that I might struggle to find friends here or to keep up with other students who had come straight from A-levels. I took a step out of my comfort zone to even put an application together though, and that turned out to be an excellent decision! So in preparing to come to UWE I promised myself I wouldn’t turn down any opportunity because of a lack of confidence.
Looking back at this year, that’s turned out to be a pretty good approach, both in and out of the classroom. It felt strange for me to be back in education after so long away, but definitely in a good way! Everyone has been really friendly, and lecturers have been so supportive not just in those first few weeks, but throughout the year as well. Of course there’s been ups and downs and different people enjoy different modules, and that’s part of the appeal of first year – being introduced to many different aspects of Linguistics that maybe you haven’t heard of before, and finding where your interests are.
Even beyond the set modules and lectures though, there are other opportunities offered and these are where it’s important to go for it. In each module, for a start, a course-rep will be chosen to communicate the thoughts of the class to lecturers and vice-versa. It’s a really good opportunity to get to know your lecturers and other students better, and to make a difference to the way lectures are delivered (I actually didn’t take this one as I had other projects lined up, but in hindsight I wish I had).
We were also introduced to several opportunities to help with research projects run either by staff or older students; one of these, which involved working with children to collect data for a PhD student, appealed to me so I registered my interest and ended up being selected. This I would say was the first test of my promise to not shy away from opportunity! I really wasn’t sure I was up to the expectations of the project but I went ahead with it anyway and it turned out to be great fun. Being involved in this project taught me a huge amount about real-world applications of linguistic research methods and I gained another experience to add to my CV.
Fast forward to the end of the year, and an opportunity was advertised for a ‘linguistics internship’ which would involve working with the UWE Linguistics team over the summer, on various projects according to their needs. This one definitely got my attention, and I asked for more information. I was told that it would usually go to a 3rd or maybe 2nd year student, but I should apply anyway as it would demonstrate enthusiasm and give me a better chance next year. Then, when I applied and was given an interview. I was told that I’d done well to get through as a first year and I should definitely go ahead with it as practise for applying again next year. On that basis I took a deep breath, did the interview fully expecting to be rejected – and now, here I am writing a blog as part of the internship I never expected to get.
Even that though, is just a taste of what my time at UWE has offered. Outside of the course itself, I challenged myself to join the climbing society, despite having almost no experience, and I’ve now found a new hobby, made a bunch of great friends and had loads of fun nights out in Bristol. It also gave me the opportunity to go climbing on a Welsh mountain in November, which mainly taught me climbing is harder with numb fingers! But it was great fun anyway. During my first year I’ve also managed to find time to fly around Europe from Bristol Airport. I’ve had great fun and have also been able to immerse myself in other languages, having spent a week in Germany, a week in France and two weeks in Spain this year, which of course ties in nicely with a linguistics degree.
My hope in writing this piece then, is that it will perhaps strike a chord with people preparing to come to university this September, who may not be the most confident, the most outgoing, but who want to make the best of their time here. To those people, I would say this: each time an opportunity to try something new comes up at university – and there will be plenty – ask yourself if it’s something you’d enjoy, and if it will benefit you, but don’t let nervousness hold you back. Take the leap, and the confidence will come later.