Diary of a Fresher: 'Perhaps the real purpose of uni is to facilitate growing up'

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The Independent Online

At a recent dinner party – one of the many joys of being home – I was asked a slightly unsettling question: what, exactly, had I learnt during the months I'd been at uni? What disturbed me wasn't the question itself, but rather that I couldn't immediately think of an answer.

I sense I've learnt more about which of my T-shirts can't be tumble-dried and obscure drinking games than about my subject. Academically, all I've really done is skim-read a ton of books, speed-write essays about them and discuss what I've written for an hour every week. True, an increase in my cheque-writing, clothes-washing, food-preparing, tidying and small-scale DIY skills shouldn't be overlooked completely, but it just doesn't feel like enough.

I'd always somehow imagined that I'd undergo a great mystical transition once I went to university. By now, I ought to have become not only vastly knowledgeable in my subject, but also unspeakably fashionable, endearingly idealistic, impossibly well-informed, and, for good measure, a dashing social revolutionary. The only concrete gains I've made are a slightly increased general knowledge and a similarly increased typing speed. I could've got that at home.

Still, I know there's something that makes uni worthwhile, over and above the people I've met and the wonderful time I've had. I just can't quite work out what it is.

I suppose the place itself is special. I can't imagine anywhere else in the country that could so comfortably accommodate a drug dealership wafer-thinly disguised as a burger van ("Caters for children's parties!"), a herd of cows, and, if a certain urban legend can be believed, the largest collection of printed pornography in the world. Where better to spend your latter formative years than at the kind of place that often requires you to wear a tuxedo just to attend a glorified party? It's pretentious, but it's wonderful and I wouldn't have it any other way. The sheer randomness is infectious.

Perhaps the real purpose of uni is to facilitate growing up. Despite being unpleasant at the time, there's really nothing like accidentally locking yourself out of your room with only a towel on to make a man of you. However, the fact that I decided it would be a great idea to go shopping with my elderly grandma two days before Christmas shows uni hasn't given me any more common sense than I started out with. While I've undoubtedly changed, it's yet to be seen whether this change actually constitutes improvement.

The man who asked the question is still waiting for a response, so I tell him my hilarious story about learning to tie a bow tie. Best to keep things simple when trying to explain the complexities of life to grown-ups.