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Welcome Week 2016: a letter to my student self

Jessica Swales (BA 1995) and Elinar M Azmi (BSc 2015)

Bruce Warman (BSc 1969)

27 September 2016

As thousands of new students have arrived in Bristol, we asked you to reflect on your experiences and tell us what you wish you’d known before starting your studies.

Dear Phil,

Should've warned you how strong the cider was/is at the Coronation Tap in Clifton. Whatever you do have FUN, mix work with play and keep your horizons wide! It’s not the class of degree that you achieve it’s what you do with it...

Phil Shingler (BSc 1970) studied Geography


Dear Jess,

Don’t be afraid to say yes to new things – at least once. You’ll make your best mistakes. When you're 43 (how did that happen?) you'll still see your younger self dancing up Park Street at dawn, playing your first game of water polo against massive girls from Swansea (they'll paste you), and sleeping under the Eiffel Tower after hitching to Paris with an American guy. 

Get up at weekends and enjoy the city. Go for walks (seriously).

You're not as clever as you think you are, or the people around you. But you will squeak through German grammar and learn about French feminism while spending six months on a beach on Réunion Island. Just get your head down. Go ask the tutors if you're struggling rather than not handing something in. They want you to succeed. Have an opinion. This country needs you to care about things. 

Don't chase popular people. Open your eyes to the weird ones. They'll be your true source of love and laughter throughout your whole life. You are not posh or sloany with flicky hair but you can be kind. Please be kind. 

Have the courage to accept the drink from the rugby coach after you tipped yours all down his shirt. You ended up marrying him and having two beautiful children with him. Even though your hair was wrong and your bum was too big for that dress that night.

And relax, slow down. You have time. YOU HAVE TIME! Enjoy the moment, the present. 

Jess x

Jessica Swales (BA 1995) studied French and German


Dear El,

Although you've just freshly graduated – you're gonna miss the hell out of your Bristol years. Working means you'll keep on looking back and wishing you're in Bristol again. Cherish the years ahead of you, go dance your heart out, stop staying under that cosy duvet watching Netflix (although at times it can't be helped) and don't be scared. Chances are everyone else is just as scared anyway.

Smile, say hello, get that degree and travel all over – I'll promise you the best years of your life!

Elinar M Azmi (BSc 2015) studied Economics and Accounting


Dear Bruce,

You are now moving from a life where much was to a large extent planned for you with others monitoring your performance to the freedom of planning your own life and deciding yourself how well you are doing.

This is a fantastic freedom but it carries with it responsibility – particularly, the responsibility to make best use of that most valuable and resource-constrained asset: time.

So, yes, focus attention on your studies and attempt to do well, but at the same time look beyond them at all the opportunities a student life at Bristol can offer you. Think about what you would like to do and what new areas might be of interest to you and then think again where they might lead and what further opportunities might then open up. This is an ongoing process and use what you discover to plan how you spend your time. And yes, follow that plan, but change it when the circumstances change.

Above all though, enjoy yourself and take the time to make new friends, some of whom will stay with you for the rest of your life.

I envy you the world that is about to open up for you!

Bruce Warman (BSc 1969) studied Biochemistry


Dear 1998 me,

Read up on Asperger’s and cognitive behavioural therapy. Don't be afraid to fail, or fall, or admit you need help. Know that you are amazing, and you don't have to hide. Each person has their own silent struggles, try listening and you might hear about them.

Forgive people for not understanding what they haven't lived. Leave the boyfriend behind; don't string it out. Don't be afraid to walk away from people that don't fit in your life. Talk to people early about finding a house for year two.

Don't bother with scuba club – your ears really weren't made for it. Don't believe anything anyone on the Internet tells you. Switch the computer off once in a while and go outside in the sun more. You'll meet your husband in year three, so either try early to convince him he wants to move to Dublin or don't waste your time applying there for a Master's degree.

Drink far less alcohol and far more water. And ditch the cow's milk, you're allergic.

I promise you there will be better times, amazing times, so above all remember to breathe, always remember to breathe.

With love from 2015 you (and our three kids!)

Anonymous (BSc 2001)


Dear Jane,

Try as many things as you can manage. If you’re not yet naturally a bold person, find a flamboyant friend to widen your horizons. You’ll be recounting stories about things you did at uni for decades to come so make them good ones.

The hint about keeping a diary is worth heeding. If it has to electronic then so be it, but work out a way of preserving it. Pouring your heart out in print would make for fascinating reading 30 years later, but even if you only have time to note down facts, events and friends it’ll still be SO worth it. And with luck it’ll start a lifelong habit which will be a stunningly useful record when dementia sets in later.

Why didn’t you take any photos? I wish you had. Pictures of your sinister landlord, your favourite shops, that weird student you shared the first digs with, the red satin lined cape you made for that poncey law student (what was his name?) or the time you entered the three-legged beer race round Bristol. They would all be so great to have now. And don’t forget pictures of yourself; you’ll change out of all recognition in the next three years.

On the work side do try harder to keep to deadlines, if only because you’ll avoid the necessity for those ghastly all-night sessions in the bathroom (when you’re in a bedsit and it’s the only private space available where you won’t disturb your room-mate). You’re on your own when it comes to study now and that’s good for you. It’s another life-long skill. But if you could summon up the courage to seek just a bit of advice before you write an essay, you’ll avoid realising only when it’s too late how much higher a mark you might have got if you’d thoroughly understood the question. And yes, read, read, read of course. It’s the only way to get efficient at it. But there comes a point when yet more reading won’t help you. You’ve got to take a deep breath and write something!

And Jane, if a fashion comes in and you don’t have the legs for it, have the courage to admit this to yourself and find another look. Be bold and individual, but not stupid.

Jane Harrington (BSc 1970) studied History

Further information

What would you say to your student self? Let us know. We'd love to hear what you would say.