Hey there, guys. Alex Ekong here, recent University of Birmingham graduate. That still sounds extremely weird to say, and I’m not quite sure how I made the transition from waking up at 2 in the afternoon and watching reruns of Pointless hungover to being a law-abiding citizen with a 9 to 6 in just 3 months, but I’m glad I did.
These days, now I’m writing at Debut, I’m inspired, happy and I feel like a different person. But like many just joining the working world, I wondered how the new me would fare doing the old me’s lifestyle.
So, in quite possibly the longest answer to ‘So how was your weekend?’ of all time, I’m gonna tell you all about what it’s like to be a graduate visiting your old uni and all the funny, useful and sobering lessons I learnt.
You’re a tourist
Was it always this nice here? No, but seriously, was it?
So, Birmingham recently completely overhauled their main hub, New Street Station, and it’s amazing. It’s a challenge to cast my mind back to Applicant Visit Day and imagine the small, drab, dusty station that my Virgin train spat me out in, because it doesn’t exist any more.
In it’s place stands 3,300 sq. miles of white walls, huge skylights and toilets that flush with rainwater. Trains are the last thing you’d expect in this building – it looks part-hospital, part-high-end shopping mall and part-cathedral.
Thing is, I’ve been here before. It was finished just before I started final year. But now, visiting with just a gym bag full of clothes and no other burdens, I’m actually seeing it for the first time. Why did all my old hangouts seem so new to me now? It’s amazing what you miss when you’d been looking at the ground the whole time.
You’re 100 years old
The euphoria of it all came undone by the time I hit my old stomping grounds, Selly Oak – the charming Southwest Birmingham town that houses UoB students, with a population density to match most favelas and whose streets once reportedly held the title for the most reported cases of chlamydia in the UK.
Back then I could look around and see peers, recurring characters, friends. But scarcely any of those remain for me now. Most of my friends who are still here have run for the hills – the satellite towns of Selly Park and Harborne – to escape the Selly Oak madhouse.
My earliest memory of anything is from when I was about four years old. That means that when the youngest person living here first made sense of the world, I was already eight. Eight. I already knew a ton of swear words by then!
And thus in that moment, I knew the world that had been mine had moved on without me. So I assimilated with the crowd making their way to campus, looking just like everyone else but feeling much, much older.
Your university campus will never be finished
If you thought your university was going to stop building things just because you left, you were heavily misinformed. Birmingham Uni’s campus was a building site the whole time I was there.
New halls of residence seem to be expanding into all the available space. The new library stands tall, glassy and yellow next to the old one which has been fenced off for demolition. The site of the new sports centre is still blocking off my favourite route to the Guild.
As I walked the long way around, I looked at my watch. If I still had lectures, I’d be late by now. Nice to know that some things never change.
There’s so much cool stuff you missed out on
You never really get a chance to do all the cool things your uni town has to offer, not least because, sadly, your student loan is not infinite. But being a tourist (a gainfully employed one at that) does have it’s benefits. Namely the chance to explore the town centre at your leisure and actually shop without having to add the prefix “window”.
This, as you can imagine allows for fun things like going to Selfridges and randomly buying a kit so you can make sushi with your boys at their house.
You still love your awful SU club night
Love it. Fab n’ Fresh, the weekly Birmingham University party at the Guild of Students was just as sticky, boiling, overcrowded and chaotic as I remembered it. Sure, you’re surrounded by hordes of strange teenagers, but the pretentious Shoreditch nightclubs I frequent nowadays never quite satisfy my yearning for the turn-up.
Even with a tight two-man crew of myself and my final year medic pal, I still had a whale of a time. You know you went hard when the DJ follows you on Instagram.
Your university life was amazing…
The good times you have at university are the best times you have in your life. I have to admit, I made friends for life, learnt a million things about myself and I was able to do a whole bunch of amazing things that I wouldn’t have the time, resources or inclination to do now that I work full-time.
Going back to Birmingham brought all this to the fore for me and even though I felt like a completely different person than who I was 6 months ago, my old life was still here and I could slide right back into it if I wanted to.
…But you don’t miss it.
But to do that would be to ignore all the restrictions and struggles that inevitably come with being a university student. Sometimes, the safety net is the thing that keeps you from really flying.
It can feel like your university is your whole universe at times, and sometimes that can get claustrophobic. The first thing most people I knew who had been there for 3 years or more said to me was how much they wanted to be out in the real world.
Life after graduation is scary and uncertain because anything can happen. But on the plus side, anything can happen. So don’t think that post-graduation, your life is over. The next step is terrifying but it’s the best one you’ll ever make.
Feature image courtesy of Unsplash