The term “student experience” is one eminently fraught with difficulty. Whether drawn from across the Atlantic or somewhere as exotic as Cumbernauld, most students here will have felt it incumbent upon them to make the most of their time at university: in other words, to maximise their student experience. Seemingly, the touchstone of success at university, academic performance notwithstanding, is having a good student experience. One supposes this generally means making friends, joining societies, trying new things and asserting one’s autonomy at last, no longer trammelled by parental overbearance. Yet, there exists a category of student here that is less well known to other institutions of higher learning. It a frightfully common breed at this University that for manifold reasons – economic, social or otherwise – hasn’t quite cast off the fetters of the parental residence: the home student.
Now, there are, I’m sure, a myriad of ways to have a good student experience, even staying at home. The experience is, per the banal, oft-repeated phrase “what you make of it”. I would simply qualify that by saying some students inevitably have a head start in this regard and it tends to be those who descend on this city from far and wide. For my part and, I suspect, some others in my position, there is something of a poverty of student experience. A struggle to generate anything resembling a meaningful connection with this place, a struggle I suspect all too often coincides with the “life” of a home student. The words of the late Charles Kennedy are etched on the GUU’s debating hall and into my mind still make for a resonantly painful read: “The university gives you your degree, but the union gives you your education”.
Something about this conflicts with the modus operandi I was conditioned by my Glaswegian parents to adopt when my journey at this place began: “get your degree and get to fuck”. Surely, such an approach couldn’t be tenable? More concerningly, surely Charles Kennedy isn’t right? I’m disinclined to cede ground to any Liberal Democrat, but I think he may have been on to something. Three years down the line, with very little to show for it, this home student would like to offer some reflections on a, hitherto, largely joyless time at university.
When I arrived here as a somewhat less world-weary 17 year-old, I quickly became loath to engage with many of the Freshers’ week events. I believe this is my opportunity to take a pot-shot at the inordinately expensive Freshers’ pass that found little use that week. I was a shrinking violet, hamstrung by a drinking culture in which I could not partake. Forming connections in that crucial week was something I could barely do. The drinking culture was inescapable, every event was summarily followed by drinks or clubbing – something which my age squarely ruled out. And even if I did find some way to procure a tipple, I’d have to ride the high back to the south side on First Bus’ premium night service – a true test of courage even for a hardened southsider.
What’s more, wherever I went on the campus, a campus that is a miserable hour away on that hellish First Bus, my melancholic disposition and anxiety deepened. The library – a place I had hoped would offer some respite – seemed a very hostile place. A sea of disgruntled faces and coats territorially strewn across the seats, then as much as now, punctuated each visit. If you bungle that seminal introductory week, you’ll fall out of love with the place apace.
Granted, I made a few friends in that tumultuous first week. Although, I mostly confided in them over my dissatisfaction with the condition of the home student: rising at cockcrow, wolfing that caffe latte and bourbon cream down as an excuse for breakfast and hot-footing it to a bus-stop, only to find those heavy books a trifle difficult to scan. There would typically be no seats, and some unfeeling First Bus driver’s highlight of the day would involve quarrelling with a pensioner about whether their concessionary travel card is valid. Verily, an inspirational setting for consuming those great works of English Literature. One appreciates one has reached the apogee of the problems of the first world.
Whilst this was troublesome enough for me, I did always appreciate a longer commute existed and someone else, possibly with more drive than me, made it. However, at least for me, with the burgeoning price of public transport, the misery thereof and the overwhelming feeling of exclusion, that economic rationale, and any semblance of rationale for that matter, for this “home student life” ebbed decidedly away.
Slowly but surely, I embraced my place on the periphery, existing as a barely marginal figure, rarely visiting the campus unless absolutely necessary. Days could well go by in which I wouldn’t even speak to another student. My arts degree’s lack of contact hours did not exactly help my case, but those brief interactions I did have were not easy. That first few minutes before a seminar got underway felt excruciating. I’d overhear other students blethering about the previous night’s trespasses in Hive or whose friend from Murano got into an argy-bargy with big Kev outside the botanics. All this talk would just compound my woe, serving to remind me what I had forfeited in opting to stay at home. Couple that with access to lecture recordings and an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction and you have something close to a license to operate remotely. One could, and essentially did, vegetate in the south side of this city, existing in a self-indulgent social vacuum for nigh on two years.
Embittered and demoralised, I channelled most of my dissatisfaction at the university itself, holding it accountable for my towering misery. This was, I suspect, a tad puerile, bewailing my condition to all who would listen – incidentally, not that many. Perhaps one of the most important things in the faceless, impersonal setting that is a university is having a sense of belonging, feeling as though one is in the same boat as those around them. Living with other students, not having a tempestuous home life and feeling unwelcome and alone on campus tend to help one make connections, to cultivate that sense of belonging and camaraderie. Sure, it takes time and perseverance, but it can be done and even if one feels it can’t, existing on or around the campus in proximity to other students probably helps. Nevertheless, when one is so far removed from the action, connected solely through my campus to the place, it can be easy to slip further and further into obscurity.
As far as I was concerned, a miserable home student such as I might as well retract entirely. I burnt my bridges, I didn’t attend enough of those events, I made no attempt to integrate myself. Living so far away from the day-to-day rituals of the campus compounds one’s sense of isolation. It altogether makes one query the extent to which they actually belong at university, if at all. That feeling that you’ve missed your chance to do university “right” and that the whole affair is unsalvageable can, at least for me, take over you and sculpt a defeatist attitude to even going in. Not being surrounded by a sea of friendly faces can really be demoralising; it’s a shame one wasn’t at that last soiree in the halls or one might actually know someone. Being physically and emotionally so detached by a combination of circumstance and choice from the sphere of my peers, altogether withdrawn from the life of the campus; I was a student in name only.
The inevitable upshot of such profound misery is wrestling with whether one should continue with the slogfest. Indeed, I have myself flirted with and embraced sedition, absconding to Edinburgh University for a mere month, but that is neither here nor there. The sheer extremity of being a home student impelled me to make some deeply questionable decisions in this wayward period of higher education. The poverty of experience for the home student, in my own and perhaps uncounted other cases, is sometimes enough to break a home student. Comparisons are inevitably and relentlessly drawn with peers. What about all those who have fled the nest and now boast burgeoning circles of friends? Why am I not like them? Why did I not just move out in the first place? Sure I am saving some money, but is the social trade-off really worth it? See, with such costly trade-offs one might not even get that degree, which an overbearing Glaswegian father might pester a son about constantly, and that would certainly preclude the clause that typically follows it – “getting to fuck”.
Now, to be clear, I readily admit that some absolutely make the best of being a home student. Many probably do manage to find a middle way between on-campus socialising and academia and off-campus living. Much of this surly talk reflects my rather uniquely trying experience here, but I am not totally convinced I am the only home student who has struggled to generate those meaningful connections. In any case, it could do no harm to have a few more home student events throughout the year. It would help make, what is at least in my view, a deeply challenging study arrangement more tolerable. Perhaps a space could be created just for us – the poor blighters who need to, in a distinctly, classily and wholly Glaswegian fashion, brush our teeth in the library toilets, rack up massive library fines because sometimes it’s not that easy for us, nay desirable, for us to come to the campus and whose feeling of belonging is always going to be hard-won. Who knows? If they did that, I might even be compelled to materialise on campus again.