An Empty Room With An Open Door – One Year at College

That’s it, my college room is empty and everything is packed up. I have officially left behind room A9 and all of its memories. This year has been the only academic year I feel I can look back on and smile. Why… I’ll tell you.

My college isn’t the biggest. We are a whole community made up of a minority- people with a visual impairment. It is a bizarre scenario where the minority becomes the majority, and it’s fantastic when even minorities within the minority are accepted with open arms. College is a plethora of different mother-tongues, religions, lifestyles and diversity. People are accepting, because we all know how it feels to be the odd one out.

Everyone is allowed to make mistakes. No one is mollycoddled or discouraged, quite the opposite in fact. You can burn your budget supermarket beans as many times as you like, as long as you don’t set the place on fire in the process there will always be someone to laugh with you about it. You mess up sometimes, and living in college is all about learning how to sort it out for yourself and avoid doing it again next time.

You can be naughty. This will never go in any college prospectus, but it’s true. Many of the students in college have been under the watchful eyes of teaching assistants for the vast majority of their school lives. The pressure this puts a student under is immense: your TA will always know when you didn’t answer question 8h of your algebra homework or misspelt ‘separate’ on page 6 of your essay. I remember the first time at college that I decided I wasn’t going to go to dinner, this is as naughty as I get I’m afraid. No one had previously said that dinner was compulsory but it was a convention I could break. Newly equipped with my new found skills in using the microwave (later advancing to hob, oven and grill techniques) I literally ate freedom for dinner.

People are a big thing. This year I’ve learnt something very valuable. I’ve learnt to let people in and to let them help me. Guess what? It is OK to need help sometimes! In college I feel safe and have established good relationships with staff and students. I feel I can go to them if something is wrong or when everything is falling to bits. I’m always being listened to. The friends who know how little sleep I am getting, so stay awake all night instead of moving me from their bed where I’ve dropped off to my own. The staff who come and sit in offices which smell like antibacterial gel with me and help me make thoughts into words. The ones who hug and the ones who have hope.

My college seems very good at taking in the people who have had it tough. There are a lot of people who have experienced things, discrimination and bullying, which no one should ever have to go through. But somehow everyone gets patched back together or at least get a few steri-strips. Watching people who had no mobility skills at the start of term fly around campus makes me buzz. Seeing people laughing and joking who at first sat silently makes me happy. Change is constantly in the air.

And me? I’ll be back in September, and I can’t wait. College is the first place I’ve been accepted as just being me and where I learnt a bit about how people work, myself included. It’s where I finally got the medical treatment I so desperately needed and where I learnt that I love to learn. Sure, AS didn’t go too well, but I have learnt a lot outside of academia which will support me next year as I focus even more on my studies. I remember my droopy self a week into the new term panicking and being comforted by residential support officer, R. He said “All people come here with baggage. It’s just a case of what’s in the bags and how best you can put them down”. Wise words, and if all I’ve done this year is learn to lower the bags then I am very happy. They are not dropped yet, far from it, but they are now more of a wheelie trolley than a 1000L backpack strapped to me. This way I can walk much further.

Thank you everyone who has been there for me this year.

 

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