Louise whole interview
Chapter details: Louise describes her experiences as a Sociology student, including her appreciation of her subject, taking Ecstasy and studying for a term abroad in Alaska
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Subject: Sociology
Student status: Home, Finalist
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Could we start off by talking about why you decided to go to university and any major influences on that decision for you?


I think for me going to university was kind of the thing that was always going to be what I was going to do. I think I didn't really think about having a gap year and I didn't really think about doing a college course or just working. I think it was kind of instilled in my brain that that was what I was going to do, so I went from school straight to uni and, even if I had some indecision about what subject I was going to do, I was still going to go to uni.


I think I got quite scared of having a gap year, I didn't know what I was going to do and now I think it would have been good if I had had one because then I could have thought about university life a bit more. But then I don't know if that's because university has taught me, has kind of helped me to open my thinking plans and thinking thoughts, that now I am kind of thinking more about what I would like to do in later life. So no, I don't think there was anything that really pushed me to go to university apart, that it was just kind of pre-programmed to do it.


OK so you say it was instilled in you and you were pre-programmed – how did it become like that for you? What instilled it in you?


I think it's because I think  your parents always want you to do that and I always spoke to my mum about it from a young age and she wasn't like forcing it on me but we just talked about it. She said how she had done it and she had to drop out of uni because she had me so she was always like "It will be really good if you could do it but if not don't worry" and she was never like forceful but it was kind of like an unsaid thing.


I think there is also, well, in 6th form it's kind of like the teachers are all thinking about it all the time and they're always saying about it all the time and UCAS is like this huge thing that takes up your whole life. I think it's for everyone else if they weren't going to uni it was kind of a bit "Oh, OK, what am I going to do?" and so a lot of importance was put on it and now I've kind of grown up a bit I think I know why that importance is on there but then you just think it's because you need to get a good job; you need bla, bla, bla.


I don't think it's like that at all and I wasn't going to university to get a good job, I was doing it to experience it. I think it was also for me an escape route out of home life and kind of being on my own and doing what I wanted to do and not having to answer to anyone. I think it was just people around me and it was also in me that I wanted to get out and do something on my own, so maybe that was instilled by that. 


You said you realise now that university isn't just about getting a good job or a better job - what is it about for you?


For me it was about the experience, I did Sociology and I really, really loved the subject. I think I, it makes me now look at the world in a very sociological view but I never, I might not go into sociology and maybe I'll use it to get a job but it won't be, I won't become a sociologist, I don't think, and so for me it is the experience. The experience of kind of meeting new people; being on your own and it's such a different environment than kind of just moving out of you, I don't, I suppose I don't know because I haven't been through that either, but just moving out of your parents house and then getting a job.


I suppose it's kind of a nice little stepping stone to the big scary world of work that I'm facing now and it's, although it's, it's kind of a little net as well because it's institutionalised and you can, there are people there to look after you even though people say you're on your own, you get a lot of things done for you and you're still kind of working from the government giving you money and stuff. So I think it definitely is about that and it's about kind of broadening your ideas and finding out who you are, not that I think you can find out who you are but kind of the different societies that go and the different kind of cultures and people that you'll meet. I think that all helps to shape you and kind of make you more open I think about life.


OK. There's lots of things there that I want to talk about. Let's start by thinking about your subject, Sociology. Can you tell me how you reached the decision to study Sociology?


I first wanted to do Drama because I was a really big Drama geek at school and I kind of lost my passion for it in A Level. I suddenly decided that I didn't want to do it anymore and I didn't know what else to do. I'd been doing Sociology alongside it and I'd really enjoyed Sociology but had never really been the thought of "Ah I'm going to do this at uni." I kind of was just really getting into it and I found that I was quite good at it. I wasn't amazing but I was good at it and so it was sort of "OK I'll do Sociology."


I just kind of, I didn't really think about that it would be the next 3 years of my life and it was actually a really big decision, I just thought "Oh whatever, I'll just do sociology" and it was a good instinctual choice, I think. I think if I'd done drama I think I might have gone a bit crazy but definitely I think it suited me a lot and it's definitely helped shape my university life but yeah, it was kind of an instinctual thing.


Do you feel differently about your subject now to what you did then?


Yeah, definitely. I didn't really realise the importance of Sociology and how far it could reach and how the other areas it would cover because in A Level it would just be like the sociology of religion and the sociology of education and kind of now there's so much in sociology that you can kind of point your views and make something, kind of find out what you're interested in.


So you can kind of really point it in your right, in your direction, it's not like something that's kind of if you're going to train to be a doctor, you're going to become a doctor, you can go into lots of different areas. So I definitely have,  in first year I didn't have a lot of respect for it, I kind of lost interest in it a lot and I didn't know what I was doing but second and third year I really loved it and got my love back for it, so it was good.


Tell me about that love for your subject and perhaps what Sociology means to you personally.


I think I really like it because it's really inclusive and it kind of doesn't, it doesn't wash over the problems that are in the world and it kind of says things for how it is. I mean I'm not saying that Sociology is the answer to everything and I once had a teacher that said that anything but Sociology was wrong and I thought that was very, I think it's one way of thinking but I think that it's very inter-disciplinary and you can think about all the psychology and stuff, it's all very inter-linked.


I just think it's a way of looking at the world that yeah doesn't kind of put a cherry on the top, you glaze over, is that, yeah … it doesn't kind of glaze over the world and the world's problems and if you … or a certain type of person because I'm gay and so therefore I've got kind of a little bit of a niche where I can go into that and look at it, whereas if you did maths or something you couldn't really go into that. I think it's quite open and can make you think a lot about it, about other things.


How do you feel the subject you studied will influence the direction you take after graduating?


It's already influenced me a lot. I say to myself I do not want an office job. I'm not going to work in an office doing something for a bank or doing something that won't mean anything to me because I want to, although I don't think I can change the world I want to see if I can make a difference to a few people. I've already got an internship with Stonewall this summer and I'm like working as a PA for a blind lady.


I don't think that if you're doing something else it kind of takes you along a different path like a lot into, which aren't any less important but just different, so I think it definitely will shape my life a lot because it's given me information and knowledge that I probably wouldn't get from elsewhere to think about different things.


Thinking about the process of studying at university can you tell me about the differences between studying at school and college and what study was like at uni?


I think studying at college, looking back it can be a bit spoon fed. My mum always used to say to me that A Levels were the hardest exams you were ever going to do, even harder than university and although I think that's true to a degree, that some of the exams can be harder I think that university is harder, especially at my university it's often … it's not spoon fed at all, it's quite independent and you're kind of left to your own devices.


You can have an hour a week with a tutor and although a lot of people complain that they want more contact hours I think that it's probably good that you don't because it kind of kicks you up the bum to do something with your life and find out for yourself, whereas in school it's "OK we're going to learn about this today." Then you go off and you research it, whereas being at university allows you to – it's kind of like free thought and you kind of …if you have a thought you can go with it and you can get help from other people but if you want to do that then you really can.

They don't kind of hold you back and sometimes tutors will say "OK this idea is a bit shaky, like try and back it up a bit" but that's just them helping you and so it's all about kind of finding your own way of independent thinking rather than following someone else's thought so I think definitely it is a big difference and think for the amount of money that we pay that it should be.


Which style of studying do you feel suits you best and are there particular challenges that come with the style of studying at university?


I like the university style better. I like being able to think independently and not have anyone put across my ideas, although you worry a little bit if you hand a piece of work in and it's quite dramatic or like drastic. A lot of people, a lot of tutors do actually respect if you have anything that's good. Difficulties are that again you can go too drastic if you don't get a view from your tutors or anything, then it could be that you've gone on completely the wrong track and you don't really know what you're talking about and it's always good to kind of get some feedback.


It also can be quite difficult if you're researching like a really little area, a really like niche area and there's not much out there and you're kind of going on your own – kind of going on your own ideas and your own back. It's your own thought that might be criticised but I think it's good to learn. I think it's quite brave if  you can do your own idea and then just take it forward. If no-one else likes it that's fair enough but there's a lot of people out that do theories and people don't like them. I think definitely it's better. I think it's better to develop you as a person than to be spoon fed.


Can you tell me about any particular highs and lows of studying at uni?


First year was a pretty big low for me. I think because one it's not assessed, you have to get 40% and that's it, then you've passed the year and that's quite easy to do unless you really do fail something. I think although it's good because you can have a bit of a party year, it kind of doesn't really set you up well and the jump from first year to second year is so big and it doesn't really kind of prepare you for … it feels like it goes from A Level, which is really big, and then really low again when you're like "What am I doing here, why am I paying all this money" and then really big again.


So I think that was definitely a low point for me and I really didn't like the subjects, it was kind of you didn't have much choice and you couldn't take where you wanted, you thought where you wanted to go. You just had to do the compulsory subjects and so I think that that was a big low.


I think my high was, I think it was I went abroad, I went to, on a study abroad scheme, I went to Alaska for four months and the teaching there wasn't very great. They were really good sciencey but they weren't very good in the liberal arts and so I found it really easy, it wasn't easy but they do it differently to here, it was kind of a lot of work but easier rather then just like big chunks of work and harder.


One of my marks got transferred, I was getting 85% and I didn't think I really deserved it so when I got back here and was thrown into doing my dissertation and all my things I really, really enjoyed it, I really got into my dissertation and it was kind of, I felt really proud of what I'd turned in and even if I don't get a good mark for it, at least I thought that it was good and so that was definitely a high for me.


Also second year, the first term was good for me and I think I really worked hard. It kind of slipped after that because my personal life took a high, so my studies took a low but first year, second year, first term was good and I handed a lot of my work in really early, I think it was making up for my lack of studying in first year.


Can you tell me more about that balance between social, personal aspects of your life and studying?


Yeah, it is hard to balance it. In first year it's not that hard to balance it because you can have a big social life. You don't really need to work that hard, you can do an essay the night before and you can guarantee that you're going to get at least 50% so you'll be fine but in second year it is a lot harder. I met someone, so then therefore my studies slipped and I stopped going to the library. I started doing essays like three or four days before they were handed in and it was just lucky for me that I'd done a lot of my studies and my exams and stuff in the first term so it favoured me but it is hard to.


I think you have to think about it a lot and make sure that you don't do too much drinking and too much partying and kind of neglecting your essays because they will reflect badly on you and people don't think. That's what the trick is, like people don't do that because of 1st year, they don't have to work that hard and they were getting OK marks. I was talking to my friend last night and she was just saying "I worked so hard last year and, oh no, I didn't work that hard last year. I was getting good marks and I've worked so hard this year, I'm getting worse" and that's what it's like.


It gets worse in third year as well because…and then it also means something like the percentages mean something this year so I think there is …you do have to think about how important this degree is to you, do you want to be wasting 21 grand to just party? You can do that if you have a little part time job and stay at home, so I think you do need to think about it.


Looking back now, is there anything you'd do differently?


I don't know if I would have gone on my study abroad because I did, I don't know, maybe I would. I did really, really enjoy it but I enjoyed it for the social and me growing aspects but I didn't do it for the academic. I missed a lot of good courses that I would have liked to take here and I'd been, there was a lot of repeats over there, a lot of, although it was good to learn. It was good sociologically because I could learn about  people and human interactions whilst not actually studying but.


I felt a bit cheated … I cheated myself out of my degree because I gave myself a big head start, which a lot of people would think was really good, and I do think it's really good, but for the first term I got 85% and I think if I was back here I probably wouldn't have got that at all. Probably would have got, hopefully would have got a 2.1 so now that kind of, I didn't have to do as well in this, in my dissertation which obviously is really good, but I think that's probably what I would change.

I think I'd also change that I'd worked a little bit harder in first year because that's the grounding of the degree and you learn all the theories and that. I just kind of forgot them and then had to learn them all again in second year, so I think I probably would concentrate more in first year.


Thinking about your placement abroad, were there any particular challenges or difficulties you faced either making the decision to do that or when you were there?


The courses were a big decision. I had to kind of assess whether it would be worth going for my degree and the courses that I chose over there looked really good when I  was talking about them, it's just that they were taught in a very weird kind of school way. It's very "school" over there not very kind of, I was used to kind of independent work and things and we never even had seminars. It was very strange but that wasn't really a big thing, it was more personal reasons that it would have been a big decision for me but academically I was really excited about it. I was really happy that this university offered that chance to do it and I've always wanted to go to Alaska, so it was a really great thing to do but I just wish that it was a better liberal arts uni over there, it's a shame.


Moving on then to think about the personal and social aspects. How about challenges and issues that you had to deal with from that angle?


Well I was in a relationship and still am, so it did survive but it was, I think you have to really think about that because I was 24 hours away on a place and it was nine hours ahead, that it was really difficult to continue it. It was always like I spent half my time on Skype rather than going out there and experiencing it,  kind of being left out of all your friendship groups for a long time. It was four months and I didn't really get to speak to them much and when I came back it was really difficult to settle myself down again. I kept thinking "Oh, it's really fine" but it was really awkward when I met my friends again and we were all really shy and didn't really know what to say. Everyone knew what everyone was going on about and you have to, although you've had this really great experience that they've been left out of you have to kind of think "Well, do I want to be left out when I come back" but it was a big thing.


I did meet a lot of great people over there that I'm going to see again, so that was really good. I definitely would say that that's one good reason for going and it just is really good. I think that – I said before that I would – that I might not have gone but I think that I probably would have done it again because it changed a lot of parts of me that I realised a lot of stuff about myself that I might not have done just staying here. I think it's always good to put yourself in new and challenging situations. I think that university is a time to do that because when you're in the big wide scary world of work you can't really just detach yourself from normal life and go and do something for four months, so do it while you can. 


What was it really like to study?


Good and bad; easy and hard. There are some times when it's really easy and you think "Why am I paying so much money for this, I could have done this at home?" but then there's a point – you think you're going along really easy, you haven't got any work to do and then bang, weeks 7 to 10 hit and you've got 21,000 words coming out of your ears and that's scary but it isn't, maybe it was Sociology. I mean I'm quite defensive of sociology because everyone says it's a mickey mouse subject and I don't think it is at all, I think it is quite hard and you have to have a certain way of thinking but definitely third year is hard.


You have a lot of work to do in third year and it's of a really high standard so you have to kind of, I think it's working up to that one point and then that kind of says what you're going to get for your degree but yeah, it is difficult to say how it really is. It's kind of easy and hard at the same time like once you've done it you're like "Oh that wasn't too bad" but when you're actually going through the throws of studying and sitting in the library and trying to find all the stuff and trying to find a different idea and referencing, oh my god it does feel really difficult but I think that you feel quite an achievement afterwards.


You mentioned the perception of your subject sometimes being as a Mickey Mouse subject. Can you say a bit more about that, how it makes you feel and how you deal with it if you've had to at all?


I do think Sociology is perceived as a Mickey Mouse subject and I think that's wrong. I think it's wrong of other people to say it, I think it's quite unfair actually and sometimes it does …when, if someone asks me "What do you do?" I'm like "Oh I did a Sociology degree" and although they probably don't actually think anything of it I always think they're going to be like "Oh, that was a bit easy, why have you done that?"


It makes me annoyed that I probably know that the government is trying to do the same thing to a lot of subjects, like kind of take it out of the university life and study opportunity because it's not needed in the big wide world of work but I think it really is. I think it's really important. I think it's more important than people think it is and I think that if you take it in the right direction it can really work but obviously it's not as valued as things like Chemistry or Maths or Science but to me like they're really, although obviously we need them and they're really important for like doctors and finding out about new things I think sometimes it's kind of good to look socially at the world rather than scientifically because I don't think you can really explain the world scientifically sometimes.


Yeah, it does hurt a little bit when someone, when you've worked quite hard for something, or like you've had an idea and people don't think much of it and everyone's "Oh what are you going to do with that then?" and it's like "Well, I think I'll do quite a lot" but yeah, it is difficult but you just kind of ignore it and think that they're ignorant. I had a big argument with someone once about kind of what was harder, Engineering or I think it was Philosophy or something and it's a different kind of hard.


Some people have got a kind of scientific mind and some people haven't and if you have both then great, good for you but I think that if you haven't got a scientific mind then obviously that's going to be really hard for you. If you haven't got a liberal mind or I don't know, whatever the word is then I think that's also got to be just as hard for you to think about things in, and also think about things that are actually going on in the world and actually matter and things about, I don't know, local charities or something. Having compassion and kind of looking at problems rather than looking at little molecules. Maybe I'm being, maybe I've turned into a bit of a biased person because I've had it so much but yeah it makes you feel a bit under achieved.


Do you feel there is that distinction between who's studied a science or a scientific subject and those who haven't?


Yeah, I think definitely. Definitely at this university there is, there's kind of liberal arts side and then there's the science side and they're even on campus, they're divided in half and I think there definitely is a difference. I don't really know because I haven't really interacted with that many, I think that's why, like I know a few medical students, I think they do, I think they can look down on you a little bit. I mean I've met a few but I think they kind of, I think the scientific students may see us as this bunch of hippies just dancing around thinking about life, whereas we think about them just sitting in their labs like looking at little molecules. So it's kind of a big stereotype and unfair and I don't really think that deep down, but it's kind of the first thing that comes to my image.


If you have a conversation with someone you've kind of nothing to talk about because you haven't been "Oh have you studied this philosopher or have you studied this" and they go "Oh well do you know about this molecule?" or something, I don't even know about science so I think there is a big distinction and they don't really mix that well, I don't think, but that's just my experience and I don't know what other people's are.


You've mentioned a few times already about paying for your university education. How does it feel to be paying tuition fees?


I think what the government are doing is really stupid. I think that they're never going to get their money back from everyone and I don't even think it's the government that are giving out the loans, I think it's private companies. It's just another thing to kind of turn a university into a business rather than having education as a right, not privilege and a lot of people aren't going to come to university because of that, paying.


It does make you feel, yeah, it kind of makes you feel that you can't get a degree because you have a certain gift in one area or a certain intelligence is because you've got the money to pay for it and people that are going to have like more than three years. I feel sorry for them that they've got to pay that much money and that it won't go away for a long time but I think it is a really stupid scheme. I'm sure they could find the money from somewhere else if they really wanted to raise taxes or something.


Does paying for the educational experience or the education change your expectations?


Yeah, you kind of think that because you're paying a lot of money for it that it's going to be really, really good and really state of the art and that the teachers and lecturers are going to be amazing and it's not like that at all. There are times when the researcher or your lecturer is not actually qualified to teach because researchers aren't qualified to teach, they haven't been trained how to teach students and therefore you can have some really good ones by chance. Then you can come into a seminar and they don't really care what you think, they don't care if you do well, they just want to do this teaching part so they can do their research.


It's fair enough, that's life but it's not all amazing and it's not, the courses aren't always what you think they're going to be and if every university is the same and there are some universities that are better than others and you go to one that isn't as good as something else, you might not get the courses that you want. Just because you're doing a certain subject like Sociology it doesn't mean that you're going to get the same knowledge and opportunities as other people.


I think that it definitely does have some expectation,  it kind of gives you expectations of what it's going to be like and you kind of think "If I'm paying this much money which is like three times the price of a car then I'm going to be getting something really good" and it's not often like that. The government knows that it can charge as much money so therefore that's why it's doing it.


In what ways do you think you've developed your skills while at university both in and outside your academic studies?


I think I'm pretty good at researching now. I'm good at researching ideas. I'm quite good at being analytical because it's the kind of thing that sociology does when you're doing your own research and things like that. I think it does increase your confidence but I don't think that much. It hasn't really increased my confidence in myself which I thought it would. I thought there'd be a lot of presentations and kind of, but it hasn't really.


Looking at jobs that might, that you might want to go into I don't think it really prepares you for those. I don't think you can really prepare for a job; you have to kind of learn it beforehand. I just think they can give you the skill to think in a certain way and to kind of come up with ideas so it's training you to think rather than to do. I think that's what my degree was about because we don't really do anything, we just think!


What about outside of studying? Are there any skills you developed by being a part of clubs, groups, societies?


OK, yeah, definitely, I think I've definitely got some skills from outside. I'm quite a big protester and I've got quite a lot of experience on campus with certain protests and certain groups. I was also part of the scuba diving club and so I learnt to scuba dive. The thing about university is that it is really good for widening your opportunities and you can do a lot of things that you wouldn't usually be able to do if you weren't at university.


There are so many clubs and so many societies that you can, if you really want to do something you can, and if it's not there you can actually just set it up yourself so I think that is good for like widening your skills. Especially with this university I think it's got quite a lot to offer kind of with activism and I think that's why a lot of people probably come here, it's got quite a good reputation for getting involved.


You mentioned being able to set up groups or if there isn't one that already exists – is that something you've been involved in?


Um, well I kind of helped set up an alternative gay group because I thought – well me and my friends thought - it was really unfair that there was just one group on campus that all LGBT people were meant to fit into and I think that was really unfair so my friend set it up and then I helped like run it later on. I think maybe the environmental society because it used to be just eco-uni but I'm not sure but that was mainly my friend who did that and I just kind of helped a little bit, so I haven't actually set up – I wanted to set up an animal society – save the animals or like save Tibet because there hasn't been – there's not one on campus but I'm sure someone will come along and do it because I'm leaving now.


Can you say a bit more about what your involvement in those groups and being an activist on campus has given you - how it's added to your sense of identity and what you feel you've gained from the university experience?


I think that's probably along with Sociology, it's the clubs and things have probably given me quite a lot. It's kind of opened my views to a lot of things that go on especially with the whole education up for sale kind of thing going on. I definitely got really involved with that and was quite outraged at what the government was doing and yeah, like being part of lots of different things like the environmental society. Although I wasn't really heavily involved towards the end, during it we went to like a lot of protests. It just kind of makes you think about the world a bit more rather than just going along in your little bubble and la, la, la, nothing's wrong.


I think it's good to realise that there are, there is some horrible stuff going on and that we as a privileged western country can actually do quite a lot and so I think that it definitely teaches you that because I was part of the Darfur society and kind of looking at that. We were sending letters to the Ambassador and stuff and even though it's something really little it kind of just makes you care and I think it makes you compassionate – I think that's what you need and if some people don't really have that I think it's a shame because I think they can really help.


Can you tell me a bit more about your social life at university and particularly what it was like making friends to begin with?


It's actually quite a touchy subject because I came to uni and I got involved in a lot of drugs. I hadn't done drugs before I was 18 because I came to uni and I'd only been 18 for three weeks. I hadn't even been clubbing cos I was so young in my year and I kind of was put – the way I was living I was with a lot of people who had done them and I kind of just slipped into it. I wasn't like an abuser or anything but I wasn't used to it and I did really enjoy it at the time but from someone who went from thinking an ecstasy pill will actually kill you when it's first taken to actually being like "oh it's really fun." I just thought the government were kind of like misleading everyone and didn't want them to take them because they didn't want them to be free or something – that was me being a bit crazy.


It kind of got to the point of kind of six months in when I was still studying and still doing alright and leading a normal life but just kind of going out three nights a week and doing drugs and it got to the point where I started to get a little bit paranoid and get a little bit …I think it was from all the weed and it all seemed fun from the outside but from the inside it really wasn't.


I ended up having a huge panic attack in June which is probably the biggest change of my life … I can't really recognise the person that was before that panic attack. I've got no like …I don't think there's any part of me that's the same a little bit and so that really did alter my life and it's kind of changed my whole university experience because of that and all because I got into drugs and with the …they weren't wrong people, they're really lovely, I'm still friends with them but it's often because I got in with people that I wasn't used to.


I'm now in kind of a group where I'm kind of used to them and I still see my friends from back home and from back then a lot and I really get on with them and sometimes it feels like all we talk about is drugs and how crazy I was on drugs and that's a bit boring so yeah, it definitely wasn't me. I had a bit of a blip for 6 months and then came back and was someone totally different but making friends was pretty easy but maybe it was easy because of that. I often think that maybe it was a lot of drug bonds although I talk to them when we weren't on drugs it was kind of "oh I love you, I love you so much."


I've made friends like, I've made a lot of friends. I met one really good friend through scuba diving and he's kind of stayed with me since and so I think that although maybe you don't have, you might not have a lot of friends at uni I think there will always be people, one or two people that you click with and I think it's quite a unnatural to have loads of friends anyway. I think it's good to have a few good ones and then a few acquaintances but like what do acquaintances do for you really anyway, they just say "Hi" to you and it goes a bit awkward when you say "How are you?"


So it sounds like you've changed quite a lot socially between starting and finishing university? Can you just describe to me that person in the first year as compared to now?


There's three different me's really. There's the one before I came to uni then the one in first year. The one before I came to uni was kind of a bit, quite loud, um, kind of a bit excitable. I was really excited to come to uni. I was really, really excited and I probably might have been quite annoying. Really naïve, didn't really know much about the world, about relationships or anything, not that I think I know it all now and kind of didn't really think about the world or think about issues going on. I just thought about my little own life and then kind of did drugs and I got really into like thinking about like philosophical questions about like where did the world come from and I really did enjoy it and like I was always.


It was funny, even then it was, I was quite dark, I was always quite a dark person and my friends always laugh because they'll be like "hi" and running around and I'd be sitting there like writing about death in my death book and just writing about like different things and experiences and then what I felt and stuff and I was always, I was turning like quite analytical. I think that's what made me have a panic attack cos I was kind of, when I used to, say, swallow a pill I'd start thinking about what I was doing in my body and why my body was reacting with it and that and when you start to look at it analytically it can really freak you out and that's what I did with the one I had a panic attack with.


I started to think I was dying and I had a lot of death experiences where I thought I was dying but this time I actually thought I was going to have a heart attack  and I kept telling my friends "Ring the ambulance, I'm going to have a heart attack, going to have a heart attack" …I wasn't actually, I was having quite a serous panic attack and then I kind of got over it and then I turned in this …because of that I kind of instilled this anxiety in me that hasn't really gone away so I've turned into quite an anxious person – I worry a lot. I never used to worry before and little things can like worry me but I've kind of dealt with it a lot and it's kind of made me feel like a stronger person because I've now dealt with it because it's been two years now and I'm not dead yet.


I think it has definitely helped me to deal and I think going to Alaska was really good for me even though I got anxious like, and it's like anxious about lots of different things that I won't go into but definitely has helped so I kind of, although I always regret that experience because it changed me so much I kind of think that it was meant to happen. It was kind of someone telling me that this isn't really you, you're not really a druggy person and so kind of slapped me around the face and brought me back to reality but a bit too much. So yeah I think it was good but I'm just very, very different, very, very different.


Thank you for that. Can we think about your relationships at home and with your family? And can you tell me how those relationships changed after you came to university?


My relationship with my mum actually got better because I lived with her and my step dad and they just had two little boys so they were kind of their own little family and so I was just waiting to escape really and I really did love my brothers but I just really wanted to get out and I was fed up of being bossed around. For the first like six months or so my mum found it a bit touchy. I only came home once between September and Christmas and whenever I came back mum said that I was really ungrateful and that I just wanted to go back to uni, which was true.  


I think when I had my panic attack it kind of, I kind of appreciated my mum more and we get on really well now. I think it was because she was going through a hard time as well, I think she was a bit depressed so it definitely improved. I still think she's being a bit shit because she's not coming to my graduation and I was really upset but she doesn't know that I was. I always have to ring her so it's kind of really now I've become her mum and she's become like the fly away daughter with her own little life.


The relationship with my dad doesn't really change but it never really has and I don't really know him that well, I don't really see him that much so I don't really care. My home friends, I've stayed close to the ones that meant a lot to me, so I've got kind of a few that I talk to, not even that regularly but like when we talk it's always the same so it's good. I don't really miss, I kind of wanted to detach everyone else from me. I don't, they were kind of, I was kind of bullied a little bit at school so anyone who was involved in that I didn't really care about, I was just being friends with them at school because that was what I had to do but then when I came back, when I came here I didn't really care so yeah, I'm OK with it. I think, I think I've done alright.


Are there differences between the kind of friends you have a uni and those you have at home?


There was when I got into, with my druggy friends. They're not even like druggy anymore, it's just that they were very different so I always saw them as the popular kids at school. I was always the geek and so when I found myself in the middle of them I was like "Oh my god I've changed so much I'm now a popular person" not even that I believe in that, popular/geek thing but it was always we were on a different level a little bit. I think that now the friends I've got now are probably similar to the ones I've got at  home because I'm kind of, I've stepped, I've gone back to kind of my roots a little bit but the ones in the middle were very, very different and my home friends got on really well with them, they're just very different.


How do you think the whole university experience has affected your sense of who you are?


I think it does, because it's such a big part of your life, you do it for three years I think that it must, I think it alters you so much that, well for me anyway, it's altered me so much that I don't, can't really think back to who I was three years ago. So I don't, I think it's always, I  think there's never really a "who am I" because the "who am I" always changes, you're never really the same person like one week to the next.  There's always something that makes you different like impacts you in your life so I think that doing a degree like definitely you don't really remember who you are, at least for me anyway and so it kind of changes you a little bit at a time, apart from some maybe like big moments. Other than that like it's quite gradual I think, you just don't really notice it and you are just growing up, becoming like someone else but still you, obviously.


What does growing up mean?


Don't really know, becoming more aware of yourself and people around you is definitely a factor of growing up. I don't think, I think this maturity thing is rubbish. I think that everyone is mature and I think that if someone goes back to their kid side or someone is still being immature in a relationship I think that's not maturity I think it's just them, that's just the way they are. So, I think we kind of attach a lot to our identity, it's probably because I've just read For Tibet with Love so I'm looking a lot at Buddhism but we kind of attach a lot to identity and a lot of who I am when really we're all kind of the same but different, do you know what I mean, kind of trying to get to the same place, like we're all trying to get by in life.


I think that it obviously does affect your sense of self but I think that anything would like I think if you did three years at the same job I think that would change you so I don't think it's university as a whole …I think it probably must have more of a difference though because there are so many more opportunities but yeah, I don't want to get too philosophical just because I read a book [laughs].


Feel free [laughs]. OK, let's move on to think about work and the future. When you started university what different futures did you imagine for yourself and has that changed?


When I started university I had no idea what I wanted to do and it was kind of OK because I didn't have to think about it. I was just like "I'm going to do a degree" It was going to take ages and then I was in my third year I was going "Oh my god I've got to decide what I want to do with my  life" and I don't think it's really that black and white, like you don't have to decide what you're going to do. You just have to kind of maybe do things you enjoy, maybe do something you don't enjoy just to get, just to make a living for a little bit.


I think I know more, like during my second year I was really like going through a lot of careers and being like "I want to be a paramedic why didn't I do paramedia" and I was like seeing all these great things I could have done and I'm like "Why did I do Sociology, what's that got to do with anything" but I've kind of come round to the idea that this is what I've done now and so I kind of have to live with it, you can't really do another degree because it will just cost too much.


I think I know what I want to go into now, I kind of want to go into like charity work. I want to work with people and help people and change like a few things or like just make a difference to someone or a few people or something. I think – I think I always knew I wanted to do that but I just didn't know how but now I know a little bit of how I can do that and what I can offer although I don't think there's anything concrete that, I think when you just look at something you think "Oh yeah I'd quite like to do that".


And what's your next step?


I've got an internship with Stonewall for 2 ½ months in the summer and I've got a little job with a blind lady two hours on a Monday, that's permanent but my internship is only till late August so then after then I've got to see what I'm going to do but obviously hopefully that will give me a lot of experience that I can kind of go into the same kind of area.


Until then I'm going to still live off government benefits and go on job seekers allowance just to get my last thing through but I think that's fair enough because I am working full time so I should get a little bit back. I don't know really, I'm kind of – I don't really want to get tied down into anything too big – not because, I do want to travel but I don't want to travel just to travel. I want to travel to kind of like, I want to save up some money and travel to like little villages and help villages and obviously see the world but I kind of want to help a lot, so travel to help, kind of thing. 


Do you feel having a degree changes the different futures that are available to you?


I think if you go into something that's so, that you need a degree for, like becoming a doctor or becoming a paramedic; something that really like you do need to have it, it's the requirement, something with Sociology though, unless you want to be a sociologist or a researcher obviously it will stand you in good stead if you want to work for a charity or something but I don't think you really do need it.


That's why I'm always saying that if you don't enjoy your degree then don't do it because you really will enjoy it but yeah, obviously like as I said some subjects will stand you in better stead but it just depends what jobs you want to do. I don't think you really need to do a degree if you don't really want to, I am sure there is something that you could do, there are other courses you can take like college courses or there's like other … well you can do some work experience that would make you look good on your CV.


It's all rubbish anyway like I don't' know, it's all … I think it's just the governments ploy, I had this theory that the government is making you pay for university so that you're in debt forever to the economy and therefore you can't leave and you have to keep working for the economy to make it go round and round and round. I mean that's why they want to get 50% of people and the people that don't go to university will be the bottom people that have to do all the shop work and kind of "the working class" but it is like a lot of it is why would they want to get 50% of the population to university when a lot of people don't need to do that and don't need to spend that much money. I just think it's a bit ridiculous unless you really want to do it I wouldn't.


I think there are experiences that you can do that are just as good and I think if you saved up for a year, went travelling for two years helping people you could get just as much good experience. I think yes, it's a really good experience but it's also a way of making sure that you've got the skills to make this economy work and that's why they're pumping up things like business; that's why they're putting more emphasis into science because that's what the economy thrives on and that's why they're taking away liberal subjects because they don't really need people to sit around and think about a bunch of stuff they don't care about.


I would recommend it but I think if you're unsure of it then I think wait definitely because you can always come back and do a degree like you can be any age so you don't have to, don't feel like you're going to be forced, don't feel like you have to be forced into it because I mean I wish that … I left at 18 and I wish that I'd had a gap year, kind of find out what I wanted to do but then again I don't wish because this has been my life now so I don't want to take it back. But yeah, don't feel forced into it by your parents or the government or anything because it's your choice and your money.


How do you think your experience may have been different if you had taken that gap year?


I might not have done Sociology. I might have done a different subject. I might have not come to university at all if I'd found something but then the only thing that university is really good for is meeting new people and kind of looking at their experiences. It's a way of putting loads of different people into one box and making them all talk and you learn from them. So you can get a lot from that and sometimes it might be university that kind of shows you what you're interested in and then it could be something else. It's all really chance.


I suppose it's just offered you a choice and chance really but I think it's kind of instinctual. I think if you really think you'll kind of really enjoy it but a lot of people get really anxious. A lot of students are really anxious. I'm doing an open day on Saturday and the person was saying that a lot of people and a lot of parents are going to be really anxious about coming to university and it's like "If you're anxious about coming to university, why are you doing it – you don't need to." It's kind of a bit this unwritten requirement to get on in life and if you're not you're going to end up working in a shop or something and not being respected.


Can you tell me what the idea of a career means to you?


A career means to me a job that lasts more than seven years or something,  quite a long job and that you can move up. I often think of a career as someone who sits in an office and works for a business or something. It's the managing director or something. I often see that as a career but then also teaching is a career and being a paramedic is a career and often people think career means one but I think you can have quite a lot of careers.


You can do anything in this life like I don't think you have to be especially gifted at anything. Obviously you have to have some form of intelligence but I think most humans have some form of intelligence and so I think if you really want to do something and you really feel you can I think you can do it and obviously money always draws you back. I don't think there's only one career for anyone, I think there's quite a few and you don't feel like just because you've got one job that you're going to stick in it, be stuck in it for the rest of your life.



Just to finish off, can I ask how you managed your money while at uni?


I was quite lucky because my mum, my mum rented out her old house because she lives in an army base with my step dad and so they got that house free and they rented out my old house and the rent they got for that they were allowed, they could pay my rent. So I was actually really lucky, really privileged and I know that and so I didn't have to worry too much about money. Obviously I had to kind of budget and things but at the moment I'm really skint, I haven't got any money at all and I'm on a budget of £30 a week, I think.


If you're not paying, if you haven't got anyone to help you pay your rent I think it is really difficult, you need to get a part time job or something or you need to apply for bursaries at university because you cannot get by on £1,000 a term, like it just doesn't do anything unless you've got savings. Most people just end up like £1,000, spending 2,000 and getting into their overdraft by 1,000 and getting another 1,000 the next term so they're on zero then they spend that 1,000 then they have to get into credit cards or have a job or something so it can get really messy, you have to be really careful. 


Would you say your attitude to money has changed over time at all?


Yeah, because I think now kind of coming to the end where I'm supporting myself for like the last year. Before I didn't really think about money, it was kind of just a given that I had it and that I was in a very privileged position and now that I don't really have it that much I don't put any more importance on it but I just am very careful. Like to be honest, money isn't really that important, like it makes the world go around but it doesn't really, people's love for money makes the world go round and you can get by with no money, it's not sometimes fun but you don't really need money to have a good time as long as you've got good friends.