In two weeks time, I will have finished my degree, and my time at university will be over. This feels like a significant life moment, but I’m not really sure why: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the future and what my degree is really worth… and, of all the things I have learned over the past three years, the stuff I was taught in lecture theatres and seminar rooms is the least significant.
I have learned to function as an independent human being. In September 2010, I moved out of my parents’ house, and in to a university-owned flat. The year after that, I moved to the other side of the world, and in to a university residence in Australia. This year, I live in a share-house with mould and friends.
Consequently, I’ve had to find the time between studying to do the food shopping, make my dinner, clean the bathroom, do my laundry, and remind myself that bed time is not 4am if you have class at 9am. These, to me, are some of the most valuable skills university has taught me.
Although I had a lot of financial help from my parents and the student loans company, I’ve also had to learn to budget. I’ve had to work at the same time as studying – and work to pay for food, and not just for trips to the cinema, which is what my sixth form Saturday job paid for. I’ve had to figure out how much money to set aside for the water bill, and how much that flight would cost, and if I really need to buy new jeans. I’ve also discovered an over-draft, spent all of an over-draft, and worked my arse off to pay it back. The fact that I did this without asking my Dad for help is genuinely one of the things I am most proud of in the world.
I’ve had to live with some people I didn’t like, and I’ve had to learn how to deal with that. I’ve had to figure out my own priorities, and learn to put my mental health and happiness before my grades. I’ve had to learn to ask for help when I needed it, and to tell people when things were wrong, rather than just bottling it up.
In moving to Australia, I also had to put in to action my rudimentary arithmetic skills, and learn to convert exchange rates. I’ve had to deal with opening bank accounts on my own, and apply for visas. I’ve had to learn my way around two new cities, and to figure out the Canberra bus system – which is a lot more challenging than it sounds.
I’ve studied a lot of things, but I don’t really class any of them as useful. I really like reading, but I’m not sure an English Literature degree has enhanced that, or made me more skilful. I honestly think it’s just made me better at bullshitting. The history half of my degree is the half I truly value, because now I can listen to the news and critique it intelligently, rather than just yelling random thoughts.
I have learned how to analyse and to think; how to research and to construct an argument. But I don’t think any of the actual facts I’ve used will help me at all in the future. Need to know what percentage of the Tanganyikan population lived in rural areas in 1961?! I am your girl. Need, for that matter, to know where Tanganyika was? I can help with that, too. I may not need to know these things, but I have loved every minute.
For a very long time now, I’ve been wondering whether the vast amounts of debt I’ve accrued these past three years have been worth it, and whether I’ve learned anything worth learning. But now, I can safely say that I think I have. I think the life-skills and experiences I have gained will be worth a lot more than my grades. I think that the confidence I have gained has been worth most of all, and that my real understanding of the value of a pound, or a dollar, will be something I will always value.
But seriously, if you need to know about colonial Tanganyika, give me a shout.