What is your imagination of university life or it was before you came to one? Is it really hard work and nothing but reading books and practicing maths? Partying every day of the week? Meeting lots of new people and learning new hobbies all the time? Difficult exams with a hangover and sleepless nights?
Well, it depends on you. I met many different kinds of students at Imperial. Obviously, student life has changed a fair bit since the COVID-19 pandemics but we all hope we can come back to our old lifestyles soon. I think British universities are a bit different from what I know of central-European universities. What is standing out for me is the community feeling and a wealth of clubs and societies to join. I am one of those who are spending most of their free time outdoors so won’t tell you about the best night clubs in the city. Both, at my undergraduate university and at Imperial, I have been really trying to make the most of the extracurricular activities that were on offer. Surely, thinking about it, I could have probably worked longer and harder, we always can. But I wouldn’t change.
During my undergraduate studies, I have been a keen member of the kayaking club, hiking club, Czech and Slovak society, punting society, synthetic biology society, improvisation theatre, and several others. I was also part of three committees, in the final year even all at once. I am perhaps a bit of an extreme. I say about myself that I am addicted to trying out new things, especially if they are somewhere outdoors. Perhaps I sacrificed most of the idle relaxing time which, I admit, has its place in our lives.
I have realised a (perhaps unexpected) positive impact of the clubs and societies after the first term already. I was doubting whether I should study in the UK for my undergraduate degree with education at home is free and I already knew many students and some lecturers at our unis from science competitions and camps. All of my friends were going to my hometown for the uni. But not knowing anyone at my UK university and what is expected was a bit scary. The clubs and societies have shaken this fear off very quickly. After those three months, I felt like I already knew all the jargon, what I should be learning, and plenty of insider tips from older students.
Part of the reason why I decided to come back to the UK for my PhD (despite Brexit threat) were its university culture of societies, community feeling, and student life. It was very strange having to change part of my identity as I now belonged to two universities and didn’t want to give one up. Strange to think those could be conflicting but I have learned to rarely speak about my previous university directly with my friends here now. I have started new hobbies here, continuing the tradition of adding at least one new thing every year after visiting the Freshers Fair. While I kept being active in the kayaking club a bit in my first year, my major activity here is caving. The caving club has an awesome community of people. A bit hard to get into at the start, but then very nice, diverse, and welcoming. In pre-COVID times, they would usually do a weekend trip every other week, two week-long trips before Christmas and before Easter, and a 5-week expedition in the summer. The expedition has a relaxed vibe, living in a tent on a plateau surrounded by mountains, singing and cooking random food we have brought 3 hours up the mountain in our backpacks. But we do a huge amount of actual exploration down in the mountain and it’s probably one of the easiest ways to get to a place where nobody has ever been, even as a fresher! We have the opportunity to map your piece of the cave and name it too! Besides caving, I have also done a bit of diving and gliding. There, I decided to use the advantage of how cheap (and easy) it is to start or just try out these sports. It may never be so easy anymore after I finish studying. I have found most of the outdoor clubs have a similarly relaxed vibe. Now, having a boyfriend who is a keen climber, I can see myself involved with the Outdoor or Mountaineering club too when the lockdown is lifted.
As I wrote in my last blog, London can be overwhelming. It may feel very expensive, difficult to navigate. True, it actually is expensive. But university life offers many options to experience something really fun for a very good price. It is quite common to make friends for life in the uni! And I truly believe looking after our mental health and having a proper break we actually enjoy helps with productivity too. I am really hoping the club activity will be able to restart as soon as possible so we can start enjoying the student life with all it has to offer fully again!