LIFE | My University Experience

Graduating from University of Leeds

So I can’t believe I can finally say this after four years, but last month I actually graduated! And the week before that, I got my first proper adult job as a Graphic Designer. Safe to say, life is moving pretty fast right now. Now, prepare for all the vomit-enducing clichés. My whole university experience really has been a rollercoaster, and as much as I’ve always said I can’t wait to graduate and get a job so I am no longer a poor student (extra poor because I actually have an adult house where I’m expected to cook proper food that didn’t cost 10p and didn’t once have mould on it)- I’m just a teeny bit scared that this is actually it. Like, it. So grab a cup of coffee, slice of cake, and an all-you-can-eat buffet, kids- this is gonna be a long one.

My first year at university was… well, I wouldn’t say it was all horrible, but a lot of it was pretty bad. Most people have an absolute ball in first year, and I did for like two months. Basically, I decided to move into halls even though Leeds was an easy commute from my hometown, because I wanted the proper university experience and to meet new people. When I met my flatmates and the others in my block I was so relieved because we all got on so well. They all seemed to have a lot in common, and they were all from the South so couldn’t go home very often, whereas I was still local, with a long-term relationship, and kept my Sunday job so I could still, y’know, survive. So it was slightly more difficult to fit in to begin with, but it seemed to work as I still went out with them and did things with them during the week. It was around November when things started to get weird- almost out of the blue, all of my female friends in our block just stopped being friendly to me. They would do stuff without inviting me, do things in our own flat without telling me, and just making me feel incredibly isolated when I had done nothing to deserve it. It was classic secondary school behaviour in its’ worst form.

It got so bad in the build-up to Christmas that some of them seemed to be deliberately passive-aggressive and at some times outright nasty to me. It literally felt like they all had some private joke that I just wasn’t let in on. When I went home for Christmas, I was determined that I wasn’t going back to live there- I tried everything to get the money for my accommodation for the next term back, but was told unless I could find someone to fill my room this wasn’t an option. So, begrudgingly, I moved back in January and basically became a recluse. I would cook my meals when I knew everyone was out or in their rooms, and hurry back to my room to eat it. If any of the girls were in there whilst I was cooking, they would act like I was invisible. They would use my food and all my cooking utensils and leave them until I had to wash them myself. I started keeping my door shut when it would always be open at first, and staying back at George’s or at home as much as possible.

Only the two guys in our flat were still nice to me- whatever the in-joke was, they either decided to ignore it or they just didn’t know either- but they were barely ever around compared to the girls, so that was little consolation. I remember one evening I came home from my friend’s student house down the road on Pancake Day, and the two boys were in the kitchen making pancakes with Nutella. They were both so pleased to see me, hugged me and offered me pancakes, which I ate even though I’d already stuffed my face earlier. I sat and laughed with them and just had a really nice time, however short-lived, and it’s actually one of my favourite memories from my time in halls. I’ll always be grateful to them for not letting me feel completely alienated, and not joining in with whatever was going on.

When I eventually decided I wasn’t coming back after Easter, no-one bothered to ask where I was for an entire month. Yeah, that’s how much they cared. After this time, I sent them a group message apologising for not being there and saying I hoped everything was going well. They all replied and were really nice, and I wondered why it was so easy for them to be nice on paper (well, Facebook) and not in reality. I had hoped to spend some final time with them when I went to collect my things, and messaged them to let them know I was coming, but when I got there and saw some of them they said ‘We’re going out to Hyde Park right now if you want to come’ like they’d only seen me yesterday, when I was half-way through loading up the car. I said I could come once I finished if they let me know where they were (it’s a pretty big park) and guess what? I never heard from them again.

What kept me going through first year was the dance society I joined. I have loved dancing since I was about 6, and had taken part in classes since I was 7, so I couldn’t wait to get back into it. Freestyle Dance were like my second family in first year, and my escape from my pretty dismal halls situation. I met some amazing friends there who I’m still in touch with now, and even though I couldn’t continue going regularly once I moved back to Harrogate, the memories I made with them in first year were some of the best I have. I went on tour with them in the Easter holidays and had an absolute ball (despite developing a really nasty chest infection during the 24-hour coach journey to Spain), and competed with them both on tour and in our university’s dance competition- I’m so glad I took advantage of the opportunity in my first year, but I wish I’d been able to carry on through the rest of my degree.

Freestyle Comp Pic

So, that’s my rant about first year out of the way! Now onto second year. 

I didn’t really mention much about my actual course during first year. There wasn’t much about my course that I really enjoyed in first year, either (feel like I should be playing the world’s smallest violin right now) because I was really busy working on my first published children’s book (yeah, I did that t00- there’s a whole other blog post in there somewhere) so I felt like I was constantly working. There was a lot of academic focus in first year too, which just didn’t interest me. I felt that my design work just wasn’t good enough most of the time, because it’s the first time I was in a room with 60 other graphic designers.

In second year, I feel like I really came into my own. I became used to commuting from Harrogate to Leeds, and actually quite enjoyed it, even though it meant it was a lot more difficult to socialise outside of uni hours without having to hang around all day. I enjoyed the work we were given a lot more, and started to gain more confidence in myself and my designs. My grades were improving on my fairly average first year marks, which gave me more of a boost. I did suffer quite a big knock over Christmas, when my grandma’s partner who was like my grandad sadly passed away. Because my mum and grandma were both so shaken, it was down to me to basically arrange his funeral, and sort out the clearing of his council flat, so my uni work suffered quite a bit during this time. The one good thing to come from this awful time was that me and George decided to move in together! My grandma said that we could have as much of my grandad’s furniture as we wanted, so we could finally afford to move into the flat we had bought in the summer. I genuinely don’t know where we would be now without this generosity, and I am so happy we were able to keep my grandad’s memory alive by keeping some of his possessions.

I loved my new life in our little flat, and this made me even happier and able to take more advantage of my time at uni as we lived 2 minutes away from the train station so I could get into Leeds much more easily. I produced some of my favourite work I’ve ever done at uni in my second semester- I’m even going to include the posters below in my final degree show because I’m so proud of them! I was finally able to incorporate my love of illustration into my course work.


So, second year was much, much better than my disastrous first. But, despite not being at uni, third year– my year in industry- was the best yet.

My placement year started over two years ago now, with a summer internship at the visitors’ centre of the prison in Leeds (everyone is always so bemused by the fact I worked at a prison, but it really wasn’t that exciting!) I then went on to my 9-month placement in Harrogate, which is where emmabydesign was born! I started this blog in October 2015 as a place to document my placement and the struggles of being an unpaid intern, before I got fully immersed in the blogging community and began writing about beauty, lifestyle and whatever else took my fancy really. I know I haven’t been the most committed blogger at times, but I’m looking forward to putting more time into it now I’ve finished my degree, and getting a routine going once I’ve got myself a full-time job!

It was the most difficult year of my life, as well as being the most interesting, because for the first 6 months of my placement I went totally unpaid. I started my first month at a cleaning job, working from 5-7/7.30 every weekday evening straight from work. That was horrible. I’m not a snob, and the actual cleaning wasn’t the issue, but it was the way it made me feel. The place I cleaned at didn’t treat the cleaners like friends or allies- they treated me like an alien, and made me feel incredibly degraded. Cleaning is a perfectly viable job, and one that should not be discredited, because it is hard work.

So when I was made to feel humiliated when all I was doing was trying to earn some money to support myself and get through this vital experience for my degree, I decided I’d had enough, and quit after only four weeks there. The boss was absolutely horrible about me leaving without notice (I hadn’t signed a contract or made any agreement on my notice period- although this was meant to be the case, it still hadn’t happened after over a month working for them so they obviously didn’t care that much about me) and basically said I was inconsiderate and essentially a terrible person who didn’t care about anyone but herself- all for quitting a job that I definitely didn’t feel valued in anyway, making me feel miserable. Everything works two ways.

My next venture was into the world of hospitality. I had never been a waitress before, or had a desire to be- I always thought I was too clumsy to carry 1000 plates at a time, remember orders, and deal with people complaining about their food. But I was really desperate for money, so I started my new career as a waitress just a couple of weeks after leaving my cleaning job. And it was actually pretty fun! I never thought I would enjoy it, but most of the people I worked with were really laidback and made me feel part of the family straight away. It was stressful as hell, don’t get me wrong, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when the restaurant would be packed to the rafters, or Sunday evenings when kids would have trampled endless chips and peas into the carpet. But at the end of the day, I really enjoy working with customers (most of the time) and it made me really happy *soppy moment* to give people a great experience- having a miserable server at a restaurant is the worst. 

I tried to leave my waitressing job in the new year, but ended up staying until March as when I handed in my notice they begged me to stay! I was really touched, and so agreed to stay in for just one shift a week until I got to the end of my placement. My placement year was rounded off nicely with two placements at my dream job, which I had waited so long for and never believed I was good enough for. It was at Elmwood, a design agency in Leeds who have some pretty big clients, and I was lucky enough to work on some amazing projects with them. Getting an internship at the place you’ve wanted to work since first year is pressure enough, but when you’ve only got two weeks to make an impression it’s even more difficult. I had a great time, but felt like I was constantly having to put myself out there and not be as shy as I would usually be when I first meet a lot of new people. It really taught me to be more confident and just talk to people straight away, and it definitely paid off because I got along with everyone there really well, and I was invited back once last summer, and once again in spring this year.

I’ll come back to the whole job thing, because it’s the most up-to-date part of my story, but for now it’s on to final year. This was one of the craziest years of my life, starting with me and George buying our first house together, selling our flat, and moving to Leeds! Because of complications trying to sell our flat, we didn’t end up moving until my second week of final year, and to say this was stressful would be a giant understatement. George somehow managed to contract pericarditis- an infection of the sack around your heart- which causes chest pains and generally knocks you out for an indefinite amount of time until you start feeling less like you’re being constantly stabbed. This was at the same time that we were moving all of our things from the interim location of my mum and dad’s dining room into our house, and the panic of being undiagnosed at the time made it so much worse, because we basically didn’t know what the hell was wrong with him.

This cast a little bit of shade onto our happy homemaker bubble, as did the fact that I was expected to start my final year with a house full of half-unpacked boxes and my life still basically in a suitcase. I had to think about dissertations, get my creative mind kicked back into gear after a couple of months off, and get used to my new commute which took pretty much the same amount of time, but was infinitely cheaper, than travelling in from Harrogate. Let’s just say the timing was less than ideal. I’m obviously so happy that everything that happened did happen, because I love our house and living so close to Leeds city centre, it would’ve just been nice to move without all these extra annoyances getting in the way of it being truly enjoyable.

I loved working on my independent project in second semester, working on improving dementia education and awareness in the UK. Determining my own brief and work was really enjoyable, but mega stressful at the same time. When I finally came to the end of my final ever university project, just moments from a full-on mental breakdown, I couldn’t quite believe it. I was so unbelievably happy, but it was scary to think that there was no excuse now not to have a full-time job and become an adult out in the real world.

Final Hand in

Rather than explain all about what came next, I made a YouTube video on my job hunting experience and a few pieces of advice that I picked up along the way. It was basically massively stressful and all-consuming, but I made it through and now I have a job that I love and I am slowly figuring out how to fit in adult life around being a proper little worker bee!

I hope this post hasn’t been too rambly (it has) and that it has given you an insight into a probably slightly different university experience to the ‘norm.’ I don’t regret moving in with George instead of uni friends in the slightest- I still got to enjoy my university experience as much as I wanted to, and I knew that the kind of lifestyle a lot of people live as a student just wasn’t for me. I kind of got to dip my toes into the bits I wanted to, without being forced into it. My only regret? Not joining more societies in my first year! I made some of my best uni friends through the one society I did join, and I bet that if I had just sacrificed a bit more of my free time then I would have made even more. You really do have to take advantage of first year for things other than course work whilst it doesn’t count towards your final grade!


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