By Elle Haywood
For many of us, January will mark the halfway point of the academic year, with a few deadlines and exams chucked in for good measure. But you are also in the midst of a long break from university. Many people take the new year as a chance to start fresh – and this should also include students. Especially as we have a few weeks break before classes start again. You can rejuvenate, catch up with family and have a well-earned rest. But don’t let the motivation to work slip entirely – it’s good to keep thinking of the short and long term future. It’s the perfect time to start doing extra-curricular work to improve your long term prospects, and you should start thinking about that now. But we know it’s not always as simple as that.
Many adults will scoff at us knowing about our long winter break and endless summer moths, whilst throwing out a few ‘part-timer’ privileged kid statements our way to justify their contempt at our holiday time. But what they don’t realise is the time at university for many students in the current age is not so laid back as it is portrayed in the media, and so having such a long period without structure can be slightly detrimental. Yes – freshers is a week of binge-drinking, accidental flat-mate hook-ups and getting used to your new watering hole. There are also loads of socials throughout the year, themed events at the SU and frequent club nights every day of the week. However, the rest of the time is filled with assignments, dozens of books to read every week and furiously studying to get good grades so that the £27,000 debt actually feels worth it. Subsequently, this has a huge impact on students during the breaks who suddenly find themselves back home with so much time on their hands and having no idea how to utilise it!
Coming back home and leaving your new university family is intrinsically difficult and emotionally conflicting. Life doesn’t quite make sense anymore. Your family have just carried on their same old lives whilst yours has been practically flipped around. Many friends are travelling or hanging out with new mates, and your experiences at university have changed you all and made you grow up. Fridays at the pub used to be filled with all the local gossip, and have been replaced with intense debates about the political climate, rent prices and if your degree will actually guarantee you a job. And for many of us, it can lead to insomnia, anxiety and depression because of your lack of purpose. You sit alone in your old room, freaking out about the future and not actually feeling like you have a place in society yet. And sadly a bottle of wine doesn’t actually make you feel any better. The notion here is that universities need to start pushing students to fill up their winter breaks and especially summer holidays with things to do and make them feel like people again. Being pro-active and doing that yourself is possible, but some need a slight nudge in the right direction. Many of us are partially qualified and willing to work for crumbs which makes many of us ideal candidates for work experience, especially if you already have a part-time job. You have to begin to start thinking long term – you’re likely to be far more employable if you’ve gone and gotten yourself a 2-week internship at a local company in your subject field, instead of being buried under a duvet binging Netflix. Yes you do need downtime, but your time is also very precious and shouldn’t be wasted.
It is so important to fill this empty space with prospects and things to look forward to. Saving up money can mean planning festivals with your university chums, finding charity work to do in other countries or seeking out work experience. The ARU Employability Service is a great place to visit if you need a head start: http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/student_services/employability/index.phtml. And if strict work doesn’t sound quite right for you, there are plenty of volunteering opportunities that will look wonderful on your CV whilst also giving back to the community. Currently: ‘42,000 higher and further education students across England volunteer their time regularly, and these external skills help to boost their employability‘. (Guardian, 2016). It’s not just a degree that gets you a job, bosses are interested in what extracurricular work you do also. You can check out some opportunities on the ARU Student Union Website: https://www.angliastudent.com/volunteering/. Most departments actually email out bulletins with placements so it’s worth logging onto your uni website – but also emailing personal tutors or lecturers who have connections in the industry. But you can also fill your time with more creative outlets. We’re always looking for new writers and reporters for the Ruskin Journal (as an ARU student you can sign up here: https://www.angliastudent.com/socs/19359/) or try your hand at blogging / vlogging or writing. Maybe attempt amateur photography or taking a cooking class. The Cambridge Union membership is open to everyone in the city and so you could even attend lectures and seminars by industry professionals and engage in debates and conversations.
Do look after yourself, your physical and mental health included. Just don’t let yourself become so idle that you miss out on all the wonderful opportunities that are available within and outside the university. Being in higher education means that you are bright and motivated and have a passion for a subject. Utilise this motivation and go try something new – it can have a wonderful effect on both your professional and personal life.
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