Thinking Your Way Through a Labyrinth of Contemporary Issues
First of all before I start anything there is something I would like to address. While writing posts it can often seem like a forever ending moaning session. Anyone who has followed my posts will have seen some of the most negative posts you can read in respect of emotions. It is however these failure’s, difficulties and regret’s that I feel I have learnt the most from. These situations and experiences have been the very things that have defined me and I hope that people who read them may be able to associate, remember or learn from them. So if you’re interested please read on.
Was University a waste of time? I have recently been asked this question by a number of people and my response to this will be given now. Watching various films growing up and the occasional TV show such as University Challenge, the mysticism of going to any University was always there. More importantly there was the idea that going to University was going to help me find a good job when I graduated – which was my top reason for wanting to go. So where to begin?
In 2008, I would go to Leeds Metropolitan University. I would attempt to get the ‘full’ University experience by living in the student accommodation. Unbeknown to me I would share with three male triplet brothers, who would go on to cause carnage. Within the space of a few months all three would be in trouble for fighting, selling weed around the accommodation and many other sins. Living in student accommodation was not as good as I had first believed. There were some good nights out for myself and my friend who would come and visit, and this was also the year where I would go to more rock concerts than I have ever done in my life prior to this. I was after all still working at my job at a supermarket hence being able to afford the concerts.
Within a month of being at my first student accommodation, sharing with the triplet brother’s, I would be questioned by the police, have I seen them smoking weed? I gave my answer. I was threatened with a written warning by the student accommodation manager because someone had broken the leaver that prevents the window opening all the way open. Our apartment was after all fifty foot in the air. The triplet brother’s thought it would be a good idea to climb out of the window and stand on the balcony. They needed the leaver dismantling to achieve this. They obviously appreciated a near-death experience. Of course we are all capable of doing dumb stuff while we are at university. Yet when you are impacted by someone else’s actions for which you have no part in, you do question the integrity of their actions. The £200 deposit I paid for the apartment for the year would never be seen again as the triplet’s wrecked the apartment.
Okay so this partially reflects the ‘living in’ side of university life, so what about the actual course I was studying? Well as mistakes go, I made my biggest picking the course that I did. I studied English and History as a joint Honours degree. It was a big mistake. I had not anticipated that having not studied English or History at A-Level at college I couldn’t make the proverbial jump studying these subjects from High school level to University level. The decision to study this joint-honours subject was that I at the time naively believed it was a ‘good all-rounder’ it would look good on my C.V.
Getting grades back that were scraping a pass was a shock to my system; I remember thinking ‘am I really that bad at writing an essay?’ The answer to this year at university was to forget it; I failed the course I had studied miserably. The student life outside of that had been well below what I had expected. I didn’t expect the American style Frat house parties that are portrayed in so many American sitcoms; I knew that it wasn’t going to be like Oxford and Cambridge with their rich history and prestige – the closest thing to a Harry Potter styled Hogwarts. But the experience that year was so far removed from what I expected at a university it felt a waste of time. ‘Never mind’ I thought, on to year two.
So year two a new subject, a new set of roommates, a new hope. I chose another joint honours programme this year in the form of Global Development and International Relations. I lived with my friend Reece who had joined me in the failure that was the first year at university, he though chose to take a year out and work full-time at his job. Another room-mate would be like a hermit barley ever coming out of his room, despite studying a subject at University – music technology. The other flat-mate I would have would also work full-time at his job and wasn’t studying anything at University. No sooner had we all settled in our shared apartment than we were at each other’s throats, quite literally in some instances. Anything from an argument over whose turn it was to do the dishes to certain items getting damaged during unapproved party’s mainly hosted by aforementioned full-time worker flat-mate. All the aspirations I had for a better second year ‘living in’ were dashed. On the bright side things would be looking up for me on my course.
Global Development and International relations would provide at least temporary relief for me. The subject was interesting and something I was actually passionate about. There appeared at the time no ambiguity between what I was studying and what job I would end up doing or at least in what line of work I would go in to. The magical ‘Third sector’ (the charity sector/ non-profit sector) where you could get a job working as an Aid worker in Africa – something that actually made a difference to people’s lives. That was my thought process at the time but as we know it’s never that simple. Even Peace-core made an appearance in the job vocabulary though as far as I was and still am aware it is based in the US.
Fortunately though I would pass my first year the University and much of this was down to an emphasis placed on the content that I was writing about and less emphasis was placed on every syllable of the English language you used. Though this improved as I went through my time at University.
By the second year of being at University I would change the degree title to ‘Peace studies and International Relations’. This really was something that was interesting, learning about Martin Luther King’s approach to peace and all the other interesting aspects of nonviolent, civil disobedience, the threat of nuclear war and the Quaker’s. ‘Very interesting’ I thought, surly this time I would get a job as some peaceful organiser, protester, political activist. To put very bluntly the imagination was better than the reality.
I confess that while at University I was at fault for working too much at my job in retail meaning my grade’s suffered and so did the social aspect of it. Nevertheless at that precise moment in time it felt like I was doing the right thing. I would surely be advancing my own cause in the ‘real world’ as a supervisor at a retail giant, while simultaneously studying my degree. This was mistake; I neither mastered any one thing, my job or the degree. If the job was going bad I would blame the amount of studying I was doing on it affecting my performance. And vice versa if my degree grade’s were dropping.
By the third year an immense amount of concentration would be placed on to my dissertation, this for non-university readers in the big final project whereby a large proportion of your degree’s final classification would be based upon. I was basing my dissertation on North Korea. It was very interesting contacting academic professor’s for their opinion on North Korea. It was very interesting studying about gulag’s, the black hole – that is North Korea’s economy. Research would take me to places previously thought unimaginable.
Yet once again what job would I get? Having gone through much of University, I confess that I had in mind – getting a job as soon as I left. After all, I had worked as supervisor at a retail store while I was studying. Surly this and the combination of having a degree would be enough to get a job. It turned out it was never going to be that way.
I got into Leeds University to study a Master’s degree. And this was interesting. This was the University that I wasn’t supposed to be at; I wasn’t supposed to be at this University for gifted students. Yet here I was. All because I studied a degree at Leeds Beckett University and went on to do my Master’s degree – Security, Terrorism and Insurgency. The only good thing I can say I did was attend the Model UN. You essentially get together with other University’s and you ‘act out’ that you are working at the UN, usually representing another country. This was interesting as you would usually go as part of a delegation to other Universities. I had the opportunity to visit Oxford and Cambridge University (there were other University’s but these were the signature University’s for myself.) With the year that I had, which you can read about here, I did not finish the Master’s degree and instead settled for a Post-graduate diploma.
Walking around Cambridge, walking around Oxford was exciting, as was being able to ‘dine’ in their halls. Being there for a reason was amazing and nothing will change my mind about that. Though I did have a second visit to Cambridge as part of the Model UN. This was a disaster but that is a story for another day and is not relevant to my time at University, as it was after I had finished at University.
Yet what was achieved from this? The experiences’ were outstanding at times and I really felt like I was doing something worthwhile. Yet hedonism was not the sole purpose for me attending University. It was not even the main purpose; it was effectively to get a good job.
I often think about the good times I have had at University; I met my ex-girlfriend at university. Yet the clue is in the statement as to whether that was a waste of time or not. Would I have known so much about peace studies and international relations as I do now? Well again the answer is no but what is the purpose of knowing about these subjects? When I want to learn about something I will read the necessary book’s and research on the internet about these subjects. I recently had a clear out of book’s. Book’s on terrorism, politics and history. They were all so very interesting to read but have not achieved anything for myself. Reading philosophy, author’s such as Tim Ferris and Robert Greene are my new direction as I believe they provide worthwhile advice and guidance on life.
Yes I have learnt a lot of lessons from my time at University, I have met a lot of interesting people for whom many, I am still in contact with today. Regardless of this though in my view – three years of trying different jobs and really learning what I was good at would have been a better way to spend my time. When you are pushing your late twenties you can question many of the things you have done in life, but when three year’s out of your life simply amount’s to nothing worthwhile career or job wise you can question the very premise of everything you’ve been told about. ‘Go to university, this way you won’t end up in a dead-end job’. I do finally have the strength to say something which I could not little over a year ago. I believe you can have two thought processes, there is weighted argument for taking this as a learning curve and having experiences yet regardless of this – my view is that University was a waste of time for myself.
Oliver Wilson, (2018)