being a postgraduate and a “fresher” simultaneously

So it’s 21:07 on a Monday evening, the 26th September. I am no longer just a language student, but a post-graduate language student. Does that sound as fancy as an M&S advert? I hope so.

It is the first day of being a postgraduate student at Sheffield and I’m sat writing this by candlelight. 

Why? Although it sounds all atmospheric and calm… the short story is: we have no electricity.

Since I arrived home from campus at around three o’clock we’ve had no power. Luckily we have gas hobs so have been able to use matches and light the hob to cook food and boil water for some green tea or hot chocolate. Technically, I’m breaking house rule #2 by having a candle in the house. But as it flickers beside me (making my eyes feel like they are in some psychedelic mode as I try to concentrate on this screen) I’m glad I have it as the autumnal sunsets get earlier and earlier as the days pass by. 

First day at Sheffield University
First day at Sheffield University

Today felt like I’ve started my first day of school all over again as I walked into the masses of students weaving in and out of each other, being handed copious amounts of leaflets for events that were almost definitely aimed at freshers’ with money to burn or alcohol to drink. I’ve forgotten what it is like to have to learn a whole place, a system and become familiar with the people.

In some ways I think being an international student in a new place puts you in a better position to integrate slowly into the buzz of the university’s life whilst having a group of people to surround yourself with. My experience of exchange, and from what I can gather from others similar experiences, was hectic and confusing but really welcoming and felt like a fantastic place to be because the international “crew” was enough support. Also, all international students are in one way or another interesting to the local students. This isn’t racist, it’s the opposite. The introduction (or re-introduction) of a culture, a language, a fresh personality can be exhilarating for local or returning students. As I wandered through the Students’ Union and courtyard I glanced about at the mixture of people letting my imagination roam and guess people’s stories and how they’re here in Sheffield now.

There’s an exciting buzz here in Sheffield. It is almost a city that never sleeps. There are so many events, societies, meetings, nights out that to be a “fresher” undergraduate must be so awesome.

First day at Sheffield University
First day at Sheffield University

What have I learnt being a fresh postgraduate student?

The typical stuff I guess… to look around the campus more and learn the buildings better so I don’t flap in late all flustered as I feel I should have some adulty aura around me. 

I guess I have tried & tested joining societies during my time as an undergraduate. The best lesson I’ve learnt for myself is that I shouldn’t join until I have been to a few of the socials and/or coffee meetings because even though it’s just £5 for the year, that £5 should go towards the society I enjoy most or want to be proactive with. 

When someone says: “have a go”, “give it a try” … I try my best to. Today there was a stand for Doncaster Airport flights with Flybe that had dress up clothes on it and a massive Instagram cut out with their name on it. Even though this was a chance to win something, everyone who wanted to participate in the competition still had to dress up for the photo and have it taken. At first I politely declined as nerves hit me that people would walk past and see this girl in the middle of the SU on her own dressing up and looking all silly.

Firstly, isn’t that such a naïve mindset?

After two minutes of me thinking it over as I walked away from the stand, I decided to return and give it a go. The inner fear that would definitely have won if I were in my first year undergraduate lost. I took a silly picture wearing these beer glasses that I couldn’t see out of (let alone where the woman was to take the photo) and managed to laugh about it.

So I’ve learnt to be brave. Many people have definitely discovered this before me but it feels so spontaneous and free to just let myself give whatever I want, no matter what the world thinks, to give something new or out of the box a try. 🙂 

It’s also worth noting for undergraduates that are just starting.. have a look at the options for going on a year or semester abroad (preferably in the second semester of your second year) as it is an amazing and enriching life experience that you won’t have the opportunity to have in the same way again. Although moving to a different country is daunting, far away and not what we normally have planned; the benefits of just doing something different and getting a mini “gap-yah” (that sadly does still have exams at the end of it) is incomparable with most other university experiences.

First day at Sheffield University
First day at Sheffield University

What haven’t I learnt? 

To get fit and walk to university…

Sheffield is a city built on seven hills. And OH MY DAYS, I somehow managed to end up living one street away from the steepest hill in Sheffield: Blake Street. Nottingham was a city of buses and mostly flat walks… so I’ve got to get my calf muscles working!

There are so many things we say we wish we had known and I think all of those things are escaping my mind right now. Yet at the same time life is about learning and then remembered you’d learnt something and subsequently think drat, i’ll do that next time..!  

I think being a post-graduate fresher is something similar to what I’ve just described. You start out mentally preparing yourself that it will be different from the undergraduate experience, reassure yourself that it can’t be that different because it’s still a degree at a university… right? To then manage to feel absolutely forehead deep in this new ‘place and degree course fish tank’ and only knowing how to do doggy paddle. This mixed bag of emotions: excitement, nerves, hope, curiosity, and many more make us think “I’ll know for next time” 


“pfft! there is no way in heck I am doing a PhD.”

Another pause…

“Drat. What are life lessons meant to be for then?!”


Good luck to all those starting education or returning for another year. At the start of the Chinese New Year this year I went on a little adventure of asking people about their life experiences and to find out their most important piece of advice or wisdom that they would share with anyone else. My spanish lecturer’s story has really stuck with me over the past week and going into this new adventure. Maybe it’ll help you too:

Lots of love,


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