A young impressionable teenager entered university looking for success, with only a backpack filled with experiences from a small corner of London, Newham. I remember the day, the first day. My father and myself planned our route to another part of the UK using TfL journey planner, (which I later found was not the best resource for quickest routes). A mind can be very narrow if you’ve never left the M25. Having spent the last 18 years wrapped in cotton wool, my parents weren’t ready to let me walk alone to unknown territory. I still remember the milestone of walking to sixth form alone.
We took the train to Waterloo; father and daughter. His hands fumbled over one another with angst, whilst her feet tapped with excitement. At that time I didn’t know what waited ahead and had I known, the excitement would’ve faded, the worry would have set and it is possible, I would’ve turned back to the comfort of my home.
At Waterloo, we booked my ticket to Kingston on the southwest train. The butterflies started to flutter once I held the paper ticket. Somehow (I believe through emotional blackmail) I persuaded my parents to let me do the journey to Kingston by myself, but to compromise my father agreed only if he drops me half way. Hence there we were at Waterloo. He pressed my shoulder as his voice quivered, “My child, may you arrive there in good health. Call us once you get there, your mum will worry.” Now my father, you should know two things:
- He does not show public displays of affection – he believes fathers are an authoritative figure and to show affection would be improper. This is most likely due to example set by my grandfather, a navy command general.
- If he wants to express any direct love, he redirects it through my mother. So let’s read that again: My dad pressed my shoulder as his voice quivered, “My child, may you arrive there in good health. Call us once you get there, your mum will worry.” There is a handful of times a parent will be close to tears, each of these moments are one tin which the child etches closer to adulthood and further away from dependency on parents. This moment in time, we shared amongst the bustle of one of the busiest train stations in London, would not be recreated until the day I get married. A father who repressed his emotions and negates any form of affection, broke his shield and gave me a glimpse. Little did I know this was the beginning of many more to come.
I remember checking the platform several times on the overhead screens. So many places, who knew England had so many destinations. I looked for Strawberry Hill. Read the list, saw Kingston and walked timidly to the platform. Father as protective as ever wanted to follow through the gates and in true Bollywood style wave goodbye at the platform. Alas he was not allowed and for the first time of many, I boarded alone to a foreign destination.
The train ride was long, I was use to the pace of tube lines, to the underground life and city metropolis. But here I was going southwest leaving the city and into greenery more than what I had seen in a lifetime. I was a tourist in my own country. Amazed by this new side of England. Although, I had been soothed by the general rocking of the train, the palpitations returned as the train announced the next stop was Kingston. The butterflies were jumping, fluttering frantically as if they had been prisoners for too long.
The bus stops outside Kingston Station were badly sign posted. It was difficult to work out what stop to wait at when there was over 8 stops located in one pathway. I asked a guy in a high vis, his response, “Go look at the board love.” But I had looked, yet I remained… . I convinced myself to jump on the next bus no matter what it was. Luckily it was the 281, I walked quickly to the stop. Loads of people were getting on to the bus, so it must have been the right one. I confirmed with the bus driver and he told me how many stops to count. At each stop the passengers getting off would say ‘Thank You’ and when getting on to the bus would greet the driver and wish him well. This was a foreign concept for an East Londoner but it became a quickly adopted habit.
I arrived at the University and had trouble locating the entrance. It seem to blend in with the mix of modern historic buildings, but the bold blue sign gave it a way. I followed the buzz of people and bumped into a girl I recognised from a programme I did in college, she had applied for the same course. We nervously laughed and giggled and both pretended we knew what we were doing. In reality I was trying to consume this step I had taken, and by clinging onto this other person I thought no one would realise I was very much lost and confused.
Induction involved a ugly head shot, which resulted in my head looking like cross between a pumpkin and a potato. I am not exaggerating, when I first presented my ID for student discount the guy verbally agreed and launched into laughter. This photo haunted me throughout my whole seven years at university. We received our timetable and the heart murmur began, as if it was dancing off beat to a new song. I was about to begin a journey of a chapter I thought was written, but evidently it just started on the day I entered university with the remaining innocence of childhood and the optimistic start of adulthood. The prose of my university time was unique to all other life chapters. It called upon past and future events to influence my persona. It rewrote the soul, relinquished demons and redefined my values and core goals. No longer one to chase happiness, wealth and love. Now I ride a wave with long term sustainability: balance, health and kindness.
First day tips:
- Make sure you got your face looking good for your ID photo, the photo is taken so quickly so know your angles. When in doubt give your best grin. Don’t wear a coloured or pattern scarf unless it’s a neutral colour like beige.
- Use Citymapper app to navigate to your new destinations, don’t trust TfL.
- Don’t worry about making friends, no one knows anyone. It’s a blank page and a huge establishment you will find your niche of people.
- Be prepared to fake the confidence and approach people.