I Came To Get A Degree - And Look At All I Got With It
Anja Papenfuss, Germany
When I told my parents that I wanted to go to university in England and not in Germany, they thought I had gone insane. It was only with lots of effort that I convinced them that the English system with its emphasis on small group teaching, flexible programmes and idea of personal not just intellectual development was somewhat more appealing than German universities' over-crowded lecture theatres, unapproachable snooty professors, and pure academics (at least that's what I made of it). However, neither my parents nor myself had any idea of what English university life had really in store for me. Now, when a couple of months before my graduation I look back on my time in Sheffield, or on my CV, I can hardly believe all the amazing, exciting and valuable experiences it has offered me - and that is in addition to academic achievements!
Extracurricular activities is a very English concept, I find, and unfortunately quite neglected on the Continent. For me it's the magic key to a lot of fun, finding friends, developing existing skills and discovering new ones, to make a difference to life in your community - and handily use all this to impress future employers.
When attending the Students' Activities, Clubs and Societies Bazaar in the first year I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer choice on offer - I was spoilt for choice! Unfortunately, I had to sort out so many other errands like registration, accommodation, timetable etc. that I didn't make it to any of the offered taster sessions and almost forgot all about it. Fortunately, though, it's never too late for anything, and if you make but the first step, societies are more than happy to take you on anytime. Thus I ended up doing things I had never imagined myself doing or capable of by just dropping in, or getting in contact after seeing something interesting on the Union website or on posters around the Union and University.
In my three years here, I was the International Students' Representative in my hall, got involved in two theatre productions of my (French) department, was a committee member of the Cercle Francais, organised several fundraising events for student-run charity (which enabled me to go as a volunteer to South Africa this summer), and got co-opted for the International Students' Committee (having - typically - missed the elections). This last experience was particularly productive: I helped to set up informal conversation classes and socials with English students for International students (Lingua Club - check it out!), lead several of the Global Span Bus trips around Britain, organized all the major International events (which includes all kind of stuff, from blowing up hundreds of balloons to stagemanaging), and had the time of my life! It is incredible how many interesting people you get to know which you might not otherwise, and how many unforgettable memories both of successes and funny disasters you will have.
Of course, my parents were getting a bit worried that what with all the fun I was having I would lose out academically and thus later on on the job market. How wrong they were! All these activities taught me several so-called transferable skills, like time - (and crisis) management, communication and interpersonal skills, all of which come in very handy both in university and professional life - as both my results and the work experience offers I got will attest. So now that my little brother might be coming to Sheffield University as well, I can only urge him - and you - to make the very best of it, and use all these wonderful opportunities that are there for you to use. Oh, and yes of course, my parents are much less worried for him now.
Anja Papenfuss, Germany