Starting my first year at uni
Alice Ewens joined Birmingham City University's School of English in 2019 and is currently studying BA (Hons) English Literature. She tells us how much fun she had in Welcome Week creating a mockumentary on dialect with her peers; how supportive the School of English community have been and that investing in a planner has been a life saviour in helping her plan her essays!
What were your expectations before starting your first year at university?
I was expecting – hoping – to be challenged. I fell in love with the course specification and I knew that each module would not only encourage me in my academic understanding of the world in which we live, and the worlds which exist within our minds, but earnestly expand my perspective and love of literature.
How did you find the first few months of university?
The first few months were so exciting. Moving from a tiny village in the middle of the fens to the very heart of the second-biggest city in the UK was undoubtedly daunting, but the trepidation was soon stamped out by all the incredible new people I met. I made friends who made me laugh until my jaw hurt; I met lecturers who inspired me and I found a community of peers who motivated me to work harder every single day. The first few months gave me unforgettable experiences and helped me find my home.
What has been the most fun/interesting project you have worked on?
The most fun project must have been a group project from Welcome Week, hands down. We were separated into random groups to get to know each other and were given a subject-specific buzzword and a medium in which to create a presentation for it. My group had to create a mockumentary on dialect. The sheer ingenuity and creativity of my peers was astounding and the hilarity of it all helped to take the plunge into creating lasting bonds amongst my course-mates and me.
However, the most interesting project for me personally was an essay I recently wrote analysing and connecting the works of Oscar Wilde and Linton Kwesi Johnson. I was focussing on two very different texts, so the research that went into each author was fascinating and prompted me to read further into their works for my own enjoyment.
Did you get any work experience in your first year?
I didn't personally – I applied for an internship at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic it was unfortunately cancelled. However the School of English are fantastic at keeping students up to date with opportunities and work experiences, so always be sure to check your emails!
I did have the opportunity to collaborate with a third-year student on her project which was shown at Graduate Fashion Week in London and at the BCU Graduate Fashion Exhibition, which was great fun and an excellent experience.
What is the community like in your school?
Everybody is so supportive and the lecturers want nothing more than to see you thrive. Office hours are repeatedly advertised and students are encouraged to seek help and advice when struggling. The School of English forward emails filled with opportunities, so you will always be notified of ways to enhance your career prospects. I’ve always felt very well looked after thanks to the bonding activities during Welcome Week and on the trips, I feel like we have a very close-knit community among English students.
Is studying at university much different to college/sixth form? If so/if not, why?
Studying at university has much more independent learning compared to sixth form. If you don’t put in the work then that’s your money you are wasting, so it adds to the motivation to aim high and engage well in all of your studies. It also allows for much more freedom of thought and expression, such as a seminar debate which is highly encouraged to explore new avenues of thought. The reading list is much heavier than sixth form, but not unmanageable, and all of the set texts are enjoyable regardless so it isn’t strenuous work. It’s all about finding a balance that works well for you, so if you don’t already, consider using a planner so that you don’t find yourself overwhelmed by the workload.
What advice would you give to students who are starting university soon?
Invest in a planner! Organisation is key and you want to be able to enjoy nights out (and nights in) without the lingering feeling of an overdue essay. Ask for help, and engage in every seminar. Truly put yourself out there and take advantage of the fact that university means you have a fresh slate to work with. Become the person you’ve always wanted to be.
Take every opportunity you’re presented with, even if it makes you nervous. Especially if it makes you nervous. It’s okay to be scared but be scared with open arms.