This is Me

My journey to university

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The day I had an argument with my photography teacher was the day I believed a heart attack could be possible. We were arguing over deadlines and she eventually told me my attitude would get me nowhere in life. That got me thinking about options after sixth form, and I realised I had no idea what the hell I wanted to do next.

Every teenager has that point — the panic of being unprepared for change and the pressure of changing whether you are ready for it or not. I was scared of making a choice which would set me up doing something I hated for the rest of my life.

I only narrowly avoided that.

I applied for three apprenticeships, and one of them got back to me in late May; I went for an interview, and a week later I was invited for trial. For two of the hottest days in the year I was sat on the second floor of an unconditioned, barely-ventilated office (with six computers and two fans that only blew around the hot air) wearing tights and a polyester shirt. I earned a heat rash and a fake ideal of what life would be like at an Estate Agency.

I joined Water Reed Homes on Mon 27th July. I remember the date, but I don’t remember my first day. I remember being bored, but everyday was like that. I did everyone’s side jobs aside from my own tasks, which meant I worked too hard for what they were paying me, even though most of the time it felt like I wasn’t doing anything at all. I humoured my colleagues, conversed about things I had no interest in, and tried to turn a blind eye to the disdainful way the boss treated me.

I was so lost by the end of my time with the company that my future rested on one thing; securing a maintenance loan for university. In truth, I didn’t know if I wanted to go. I was anxious about the daily 60-mile commute, and petrified I’d lose my horse due to money struggles. My worries were doubled when my boss sat me down to convince me university was pompous, expensive, and that graduates couldn’t all get jobs anyway. When I left, I realised he’d only said those things to save himself — he had a good employee who worked for nothing.

So I drove to the car park for a few more weeks believing what he’d said, but still sat wondering what I was doing there. Then, I wondered about other things; whether throwing myself off of the overhead railway bridge would solve my problems, and why it was that the ticket machine could be just in taking a day’s wages from me a week when I only earned £2.73 an hour.

It was when my mother remarked I looked down that I told her I wanted to go to university. She said if it was only because I hated my job, I was doing it for the wrong reasons. She was right, but I was beyond knowing what I wanted. I called on people to make the decision for me; her, my brother, my uncle. My uncle said he had felt alienated at university, which didn’t help at all. I was glad he couldn’t see me crying when I phoned to speak to him, but I wonder if he’d have told me something different had he seen my face.

I made a lot of phone calls that week; multiple to Student Finance England, a few to university help-lines and two to Calaway Equestrian. If the maintenance loan fell through, my plan B was to take my BHS exams whilst working for the same awful wage (and a company who’d work me harder than I’d ever worked in my life). It would be worth it, I thought, to right the misery.

I did a trial day with Calway, which proved to me what I had already been thinking; it was step in the wrong direction — careers with horses never pay well (unless you are a vet or equine physiotherapist) and yet you put your body through hell for it. A day later, I quit my job and emailed the equestrian centre to tell them thanks, but no thanks. The business owner came back to me and told me it was the right decision. She admitted she thought me too intelligent to settle for a lesser career than I could achieve. That gave me confidence.

For the first time in months, I knew I had done the right thing, and I am still proving that to myself every day. University is brilliant and I wouldn’t change any part of it. Canterbury is my new home, even if I’m not living there.

With thanks to Heidi Conroy

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