Those were the Days
It’s 2.pm in the afternoon. On any given weekday in uni, I’m probably frowning at mind-boggling questions, buried in coursework, worrying about deadlines or grumbling at the plasma reactor. Today, I’m both literally and figuratively jobless, sitting here reminiscing about uni life.
Typically, university studies is the last official stage of education, though some people think it is unnecessary – I mean, we all know those big names who never graduated from uni/college or even high school. Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Dell, Oracle, Ralph Lauren etc are all co-founded by college dropouts. Don’t forget WordPress right here. Matt Mullenweg lasted one year at the University of Houston in Political Science before calling it quits.
Funny how so many of them tossed further education aside and evolved into billionaires? It is no magic. These people have exceptional skills loaded ahead of college and they dropped out because they have something realistic to work on. Even Bill Gates claimed that ‘dropping out is not a good idea’, and that he enjoyed the 2.5 years spent in college. (Go listen to his commencement speech at Harvard if you haven’t, this guy is downright fun and inspiring!) So everyone complains about uni now and then but you can’t deny that this chapter of life is special. It is a period where you meet people from different backgrounds or of vast culture, where you discover more about yourself (e.g. how long you can work on a report before your brain crashes), where you learn so much about life and grow in depth!
I am fortunate enough to have the chance to pursue my entire degree in Manchester, UK. I had some mini regrets about putting University of Manchester as my first choice on UCAS at some point, wishing to start in an entirely new environment full of strangers (because Manchester is thriving with Malaysians and quite a number of Mirians too). But as things turned out, I kept my decision and ended up in Manchester.
18th Sept 2009 was my Day 1 in Manchester. I arrived at my student accommodation feeling excited and timid around people swarming in the courtyard and reception area. My allocated room was a corner room on the ground floor and I was more than happy with it. The first week, I remember, was a busy one, registering with the GP, starting up new bank accounts, registering with the university, buying new essential household stuff and making new friends. Freshers flu came and go. In November, we had the Reading Week which students interpret as Travelling/Relaxation Week.
Soon, I started counting down for Christmas and wondered how Christmastime is like in this foreign country familiar only in story books. Christmas markets sprung up across the city centre and every Sunday after morning mass, I walked around sniffing in the aroma of honey roasted macadamia nuts or German hot dogs, peering at pretty handmade crafts on display. The first snowfall landed one evening just past 5p.m. It set us first-time-seers in a frenzy, and there was the glee of waking up to a blanket of snow across the lawn outside.
My first train ride in UK brought me down to London for Christmas, where I gathered with close friends from home. We went to the big names in London for tourists – Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, London Eye, Thames River, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and more. The bustling crowds and city rush kind of deflated my impression of this capital (but I’ve come to admire the pretty parts of the city now!).
On Christmas Eve, we were in Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland and later on, salvaging Sainsbury for groceries. We had the English style Christmas dinner of roasted pork, boiled carrots and peas, mashed potatoes and roasted parsnips. Late that night, grand plans for Boxing Day aka the Day to Shop arose. Such an eye-opening sight of desperate shoppers chugging along roughly 2 km of shops. I was…amazed and amused.
Semester 2 was another flurry of lectures. For Chinese New Year, we had good attempts of baking cookies and later on threw a celebration dinner at one of our hall common rooms. Exams results were released and those disappointed (e.g. me) started working hard and being nerds in the library. Before we realized it, Easter holidays arrived. It was a good break and reminded me I had been there for almost 7 months now – what was left of Year 1 was just a group project and our Sem 2 exams. I went to Blackpool for a day trip with friends and had quality gatherings before preparing for the papers.
That was pretty much it for my first year in uni, the typical first year student life.
Started off splendidly with an upgrade to Business Class on my way back to Manchester. :)
We were warned at our introductory session with the impression that Year 1 is like honeymoon year, Year 2 is hellish. I give full verification.
Coursework was one of the nastier things in Year 2. They fell like meatballs from the sky, except they’re not as delicious. Another nasty thing was…Momentum, Mass and Heat Transfer. Our gracious lecturer who killed with his Maths paper in Year 1 intended to set a question paper made up of 20 MCQ’s. The time allocated was 2 hours, 0.5 hour more than our usual papers. And here’s the bomb – negative marking. MOST fortunately, it was reverted to normal marking after us students appealed and made noise about it. The questions turned out to be really dumbfounding. With negative marking, I guess most of the class would have failed the module.
I joined the Manchester Leadership Programme for the academic year and had lovely opportunities of volunteering work with different organizations and events. We helped pack Christmas presents to be delivered for children round the world, set up a neighborhood jogathon or food festival etc. Every week it is compulsory to participate in an online forum discussion on preset topics. At the end of the year, a 2500 words essay is due for final assessment. Sounds easy-peasy for a law student but geez, engineers and essays are almost aliens to each other.
This was also the year I started attending Youth Fellowship with MCCC. I recall the first night of joining – the joy of worshipping together with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ I got to know better in the years to come. We had bible study sessions in cell groups every Thursday and I am beyond grateful for this fellowship. God’s words refresh and nourish weary souls on a tired weekday, praise be to Him!
In March, thanks to our hall’s subsidies, I paid a mere £5 for a day trip to Alton Towers, inclusive of the theme park entrance fee. Zooming down an almost vertical roller coaster, getting splashed on a boat ride, dazed on a rotating optical illusion dark ride…talk about ways to release stress.
When the academic year ended, I stayed back in the UK to wait for my sister’s July graduation in Nottingham. Everyone flown home for summer holidays and I spent 2 weeks without Internet in my new apartment – finally moved out of student accommodation! I became a City Library regular, devouring books on the couch day after day until my sister came up for a short stay. We had another couple of weeks in Nottingham before our parents came, walking to the Robin Hood castle on a particular Monday and realizing it was closed. There was also the gloomy afternoon when we were on the Indigo bus and the thunder struck. It was my first time hearing it in the UK. The other passengers’ surprised reaction and bewildered looks proved how rare a thunderstorm is over there!
By the time I flew back to Malaysia that summer, I comprehended the fact that half of my uni life is done with.
Year 3 is well-known as the design-project year. In Sem 1, a business appraisal was gradually written and submitted through weekly deadlines. My group was a lovely team of people which made our almost daily meetings much more bearable. We met weekly with our dear supervisor, who brought poster-sized papers and markers to write on as he poured out every bit of information and idea that he had. While other supervisor meetings last normally for 15-20 mins, ours had a record of perhaps 2 hours. He was once guest lecturer for the design project, and became the first lecturer to exceed the lecture period. Well, he did warn us that he absolutely loves to talk.
Living in an apartment instead of student halls led to quite some changes in my daily lifestyle. The best part was having your own kitchen and living room, which are at risk of being contaminated with dirty plates or empty wine bottles overnight in the halls. Plus, I’m free to run in and out of the kitchen in pajamas or messy hair. Having a close friend as a flatmate was another awesome point. Our more-than-enough-for-2 dinners, couch potatoes sessions on Grey’s or Running Man or whatever we got addicted to, late night talks…and all the teasing/”slapping” for de-stress purposes. :P The one major downside is that utility bills is excluded from our rental fee, which means…no heater spamming. For someone who had previously worn layers of garments (incl. socks) to sleep during summer in the hall when my heater failed, it was a problem. The solution: A £5 fleece throw from Primark a.k.a. my happiest buy out of the 4 years in UK. Snuggling in it is joy!
And surprise! – I received a camera for my birthday this year. Thanks again clowns! The camera was a brilliant tool for snapping away precious memories over the last 2 years in uni. It’ll stay with me even when I get my dream DSLR one day. Because you can never walk around with a DSLR tucked in your pocket. And when you’re huffing and panting on a hiking trip, that’s where a digital cam comes in as the star.
It was a solid year of work and play. The last year of being a student; the last year of travels in Europe. I hoped to leave with the least regrets possible. Uni classes were a tad different this year.
First off, we had minimal lecture hours compared to the past years because of dissertation. Second, we don’t share classes with everyone in the course anymore. Each specialist subject had varying modules. We also came back to find a revamped North Campus (minus the abandoned spooky Faraday Building). New lawn, new Joule Library, new Mill foyer, new Enigma Cafe…and the new lecture halls which we never got to use. Dang. Even Starbucks moved in on campus.
I plunged into the world of plasma for my dissertation regarding Atmospheric Pressure Plasma-enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition (AP-PECVD). As fancy as it sounds, it is not the most interesting experiment out there. But for lab-scale experiments, I guess the purplish-bluish plasma glow is considered fun…though lightnings are far more fascinating! Working in the labs was less comfortable than I imagined – the lab is always so cold although we kept the windows shut and lab coats are the thinnest coats ever. My coursemate caught a cold after his 1st day in lab. Thankfully, we have portable heaters to the rescue!
Dissertation was a long journey throughout the year from proposal to lab work to writing the final long report. Walking home at predawn hours in moonlight was the best part of the day and eating Chinese takeaways became a norm for us – my email inbox had an influx of ‘Thank you for not cooking’ from JustEat.co.uk.
Luckily, there are always things that spice up the otherwise mundane life in labs or computer clusters. My final year was as eventful and interesting as ever!
Cut to poster presentation day: A double-tape crisis because the Blu-tacks don’t adhere to some of our poster boards left me with little time to get over nervous before my first assessor came round. And some 45 mins later, I’m saying thanks to my final assessor already – my heart lifted in joy and relief. The sense of satisfaction that I have completed this challenge. Just a year ago I was in the same place, looking for my extra tall supervisor to sign my dissertation form while being in awe of our seniors’ posters. Now I have finished it myself, looking for my supervisor again – but this time to take a photo together!
With only ONE exam paper to sit for after dissertation ended, it was almost sad to acknowledge that uni life is almost over. Exam revision appeared so precious suddenly that it was reasonably enjoyable. On a slightly evil note, I felt lucky to have just one module to focus on when I saw our juniors boiling over too much study materials. X) But hey, I’ve been through the same ordeal! So the very next morning following my last exam in uni, I was walking down the streets of Venice salivating at gelatos.
After getting cooked from my plentiful summer travels, the graduation period commenced. Manchester decided to be lovely this year and graciously remained sunny through the entire graduation period. Ours fell on the 17th July. A beautiful day of pretty graduation robes, words of congratulations and hats-throwing sessions. Yet what lies unknown is..the torture of high heels! This just increases 1) my respect for people who wear them frequently; 2) my love for pumps/sneakers.
Packing up to clear out the apartment was a nightmare. Bedroom was easy peasy except for deciding which notes/books to keep. The living room and the kitchen were the bombs. On the day we moved out, I couldn’t help but feel glad that we finally finished returning it to original state, albeit the tinge of sorrow to leave my home of 2 years.
On 13th Aug, I departed from the now-familiar Manchester Airport, sandwiched in between two of my Manchester buddies on the plane. We stopped at Munich and Singapore where we had the time to visit Marina Bay and have a feast of chicken rice and mind-blowing sugarcane juice. After a pleasant nap in flight, we were back in our tanah air.
And the jobless life begins officially. D:
Finally this lengthy post is over? Sorry, not just yet! I thought of adding this special section of silly stories and a bit of reflection.
Most ridiculous experience
This happened on my 2nd or 3rd night in Manchester, 1st year. Grateful my dad was still with me. Someone was knocking and banging on my door late at night. Being half-awake and a noob fresher, I simply opened the door as Drunk girl (let’s call her Drunkie) barged in without a word. That made me wide awake, and stunned. Drunkie started throwing her purse and stuff around and proceeded to lie on my bed. My dad and I tried telling her it wasn’t her room but it became obvious she was drunk and not talking sense. Around 5 mins later, we managed to find out her room was GR.02.16, not my BU.02.16. Wrong colour zone, Drunkie. My dad got impatient and half-dragged her out. Imagining she would be a ruckus outside my door if we left her there, I miraculously led her back to her room using her keys. Drunkie slammed her door in my face after getting back. *jaw-drop moment* Horrible Drunkies.
Most stupid thing I’ve done
The cinnamon powder challenge.
Word of advice: Don’t do it. It could be dangerous, I was stupid.
Most embarrassing moment
Sadly, there are plenty. I’ll just provide an epic one from our PASS sessions, 1st year again. The yellow-sticky horror. The game of guessing the actor whose name is written on the sticky stuck on your forehead. There were around 15 ppl in our group – new coursemates I know by name. Being the noob in Hollywood stars I am, I was the last one left with the awful sticky on my forehead. To help me, everyone started stating any facts about le famous guy who acted in Mission Impossible and whose wife is Katie Holmes and so on. Until it was obvious I was probably some nerd who never watch movies, our pass leader who wrote my sticky told me to just take it off and have a look.Most unexpected incident
Few minutes late for a lecture and lecturer was in bad, bad mood. I was ordered to get out of the lecture hall where there were probably 100+ students. Of all the days, I had to be late for this only time in the entire year he actually scolded people. Never imagined myself to be thrown out of class for being late. The 2nd time in my life, actually. But the first time, in secondary school, I was hovering around the class windows to listen until my teacher softened up and let my friend and I in. Too bad uni lecture halls are windows-free. :(
Things I wish I had done
Experience a farm stay. Hike more, maybe to the Roaches.
Things I miss
Everything. The lifestyle, shopping for groceries, the chit-chats over snow ice desserts and waffles at Dessert Room, lamenting over unresolved problems in C32 The Mill,
dragging myself out of bed on a cold morning for 9am lectures.
Writing this blog post makes me realize how much memories I’ve created in my uni life. Though it was a pain to dig for specific photos in my massive photo collection, I had fun going through them and recalling many moments, friends and places. Uni had definitely been a bittersweet experience and I wanna thank God, my family and a gazillion people who were part of it. You are all dearly cherished!
P.S. If you’re wondering why I never mentioned about my travels in Europe, I’ll be dedicating an individual summary post for it! :D