What a year!
It was an academic year in which I moved out, started university, joined a church, became self-employed, had a traumatic experience, was a victim of crime… And that’s only 9 months.
Despite all the ups and downs, first year at Queen’s has been the best year of my life. I wish to reflect on how I have developed this year in three key ways: social, academic and spiritual.
I had friends in primary school when life was simple. You played with the same Lego box on the first day of P1, and bam!, friends. Things got more complicated in secondary school, when I got left behind as others developed socially. Anyone who knows me knows that I have the intellect of an adult but the temperament of a ten-year-old. After getting an official autism diagnosis and medication when in sixth form I improved, but I’m still weird, and that’s ok.
My closest friends are those I live with in Union College together, you have to get on with people when you are living, eating, studying and dying in the 40C laundry room together. There were fun events throughout the year like decorating the college for Christmas and playing hide and seek during the night (we’re adults, I promise). Of course there are challenging aspects to living together (dishes, dishes, dishes) but at least in Union we have our own rooms and bathrooms. My gratitude for our accommodation was heightened when one of the architects who designed it died while he was cycling with Cycle4Christ. His legacy will remain as countless students enjoy lovely accommodation.
During fresher’s week I joined no less than seven societies. It’s not everyday you have the opportunity to fly an engineless glider. Joining societies has made making friends easier because you are united by a common interest. As the year went on, I figured out which societies I wanted to stay part of, and I have now condensed it down to two: UCO (University Christian Outreach) and Dragonslayers (the people who arrange Q-Con).
Next year I want to get more involved in the two societies I have left, and I also want to be less dependent on my snazzy noise blocking headphones. They make me seem stand-offish.
At times I must remind myself the purpose of university is to study. There is so much support out there for disabled students, although you have to fill out endless forms and get endless medical notes to prove you qualify. My dual diagnoses of autism/arthritis meant I was eligible for an equipment grant and a weekly session with a support provider. My weekly sessions are basically a chat about how I am getting on, and she buys me porridge. I also get extended deadlines, which is a lifesaver because I think I handed in an assignment on time about once the entire year. In my defence, before I started Humira I was sleeping 12+ hours a day (yay arthritis fatigue).
I have found the theology course at Union really engaging. There isn’t a single lecturer I dislike, and they are always available for a chat over coffee if you are struggling. In union the staff and students have coffee/tea together every day at 11, which gives the place a lovely family atmosphere. I did one module with the politics school, and the atmosphere there was much more anonymous. I have discovered what areas of theology I am not equipped for (history) and what areas I love (practical theology). I am looking forward to studying pastoral care next year. Messed up people like me are good at understanding other messed up people.
I saved the best aspect to discuss last: spirituality, or in better terms, my relationship with Christ. During fresher’s week I went to various churches, and I settled at the Church of the Resurrection (aka the Hub). I went to this church for several reasons: good teaching, worship that is lively yet not oppressively noisy, and free breakfast (I’m half Scottish, I love free stuff). I have met so many amazing Christians from all sorts of backgrounds, which has really opened my mind to all the different ways Christianity can be expressed. For instance, UCO is an ecumenical group, and although we have our obvious theological differences and attend different churches, we are able to come together and focus on the most important bit: loving Jesus and following his commands.
My greatest challenge is yet to come. This August and September I am going to Japan to studying Japanese at the OMF language centre in Sapporo. It will be my first time doing a long-distance trip by myself, and it will put my newfound confidence to the test. I am looking forward to it!