The Corner Shop

22nd October 2018

Olivia O'Neill, Press Assistant: Media Monitor, takes a nostalgic look back at her pre-career ladder university days.

I have a tendency to romanticise situations. This is most probably borne out of my fascination with the cheesy romantic – perhaps arguably unrealistic – movies and television shows which I obsessed over in my youth.

Countless hours of my teenage years were spent indulging in these warm and fuzzy-feeling, heart soaring, saccharine pieces of entertainment. Crazy manic pixie girls seemed to have a great time, especially if they ended up making out with a shaggy haired and fairly quick-witted man in front of an applauding audience at a train station.

In my mind, at university it was time for me to be the protagonist of my own romantic comedy. I would not only have the ultimate rom-com accessory of a hilarious boyfriend, but also the friends, the wardrobe and a drama degree Elle Woods would be in envy of. A student on a tour at Manchester told me,
“You will know what university you want to go to as soon as you get there.”
This statement assured me that when making the ultimate destination of my further studies, I would know “the one”, much like a rom-com.

I began chaotically making countless lists of every possible university in the UK. I sensed at each institution, I would have a life changing and picture-perfect time for a multitude of imagined reasons. These scenarios took on a life of their own as I began daydreaming of parties, similar to those in Skins, which I would have no time for as a busy academic grown-up student. In hindsight, it turns out when picking a university to experience the “best years of your life”, you actually become slightly more inclined to option paralysis than a measured decision.

My gap year allowed me time to loosen my grip on fictitious realities and after looking again at the syllabus for my confirmed University of Exeter place, I made a swift U-turn and decided it wasn’t the best course for me.

University of Birmingham was now to be my final choice. After a year of working in London, I knew I wanted to be in a big city with a ‘happening’ arts scene, albeit maybe a slightly cheaper one. With theatres such as Birmingham Repertory, I concluded that even if I didn’t love the university, at least I could make an arty escape using the power of a student card guaranteeing me a bum on a seat.

Upon arrival, I was full of idealistic enthusiasm with expectations that these would indeed be the best years of my life and I would find those nifty friends for life everyone had been talking about. Turns out it’s quite hard to make friends when you can’t even hear yourself speak and you’re sweating off the full lion face paint from the safari fresher night. The carefully composed rom-com plan I devised was lost along with my inclination towards taking apple sourz shots ever again. Nothing was as I expected it to be, I felt more like Simon from the Inbetweeners than Holly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The reality of being a student actually involved sharing a five-pound bottle of wine after an assessment had finished, lots of black coffee in a travel mug and feeling like nothing could be earlier than that dreaded 9AM lecture. All the “instantaneous promised lifelong connections” don’t happen overnight, unlike the movies I had gorged myself on. I cannot even recollect meeting most of my current best friends from university. Memories of having a cup of tea after a lecture quickly morphed into laughing manically at 4AM in a library, at the noise of the wind against the windows, whilst desperately attempting to finish referencing before a deadline.

As the years went by, I found myself not having drawn out lovesick conversations with a doppelgänger of Casey from Dawson’s Creek, but instead I had fallen head over heels for the place, the people, the degree and the theatre. For me, everything I had scripted to happen when I went to University actually didn’t, but to be honest, everything that did happen was so much better anyway.

Now, if you would excuse me – tonight I have plans to re-watch About Time with those nifty friends for life.


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