Southampton, 5 Years On…
Two years ago, I walked out of my final university exam.
I can still picture the lecture theatre where I sat that final paper, my classmates gathering outside and our elated walk to the Union pub. If you had told me then that I would still be in Southampton today, I would not have taken you seriously.
Throughout my degree, I had banked on leaving the city for a Masters elsewhere. When that plan fell through with just months until my graduation, the assumption was I would move back home with my parents and get a job locally.
While many of my friends were chasing graduate schemes in London, or teeing up to move to completely different cities, I could never entertain this possibility.
The idea of losing university, regular contact with all my friends, starting a career and moving somewhere completely new was too much for me to comprehend. My head defaulted to the comfort of home where I would have my family, old friends and my dog for company, heading into my next chapter.
Yet like everyone who has flown the nest before, the prospect of returning was attended with anxiety, most likely for all involved.
I left home at 18 a very different person to the 21-year old I was when I graduated. Part of the anxiety I think was (and still is) a fear of regressing to that younger self. For me, that was someone less outgoing, less confident and far more dependent. Someone who was passive and a bit of a recluse.
If I am being completely honest, there is more to it than that. I defaulted to moving home because I had felt guilty moving away from my parents in the first place. I felt guilty having some of the best years of my life, without them.
After 3 years, they were expecting me home. My mum had been counting down the months. In a strange way, I felt like I owed them my return. I don’t think I’m the only graduate who has ever felt this way. It’s an unspoken pressure as my parents would have never said as much and supported whatever decision I made.
The Perks of Staying in Your University Town After Graduation
Looking back on it, I think I ended up staying in my university town because it seemed like the magic solution. I didn’t have to face uprooting myself and going somewhere completely new. I didn’t have to risk my independence either.
My parents wouldn’t mind too much as they were used to me in Southampton anyway. I promised them – and myself – it was only a short-term extension.
There’s a lot to be said in favour of staying in your university town. It gives you the chance to hold onto your treasured university experience.
As someone who dreaded leaving, working in the area was the easy way out. I still had many friends in different academic years who would be around for a while. A good university friend to live with, at least for the first 6 months.
I imagined continuing to go out and party like a student on the weekend, only this time I would have the money to afford it. The chance to meet more girls was an advantage too, especially when I thought back to my lack of options at home…
Sticking around definitely paid off in this respect. After 3 years of wanting a relationship with little luck, I met my now girlfriend almost straight away.
I transferred from my university sports team to the local twinned club.
I went back to the Union pub and even made the odd nostalgic return to the library.
Sure, working was different to studying but less changed than I had imagined would. A lot of my good friends had left, but that had happened every year while at university, and I met lots of new people too.
On paper, staying in your university town after graduation is the dream.
The Trouble With Not Leaving
All the while though, I told myself – everyone – that staying was temporary. My girlfriend, my parents, my boss, my teammates were all waiting for me to leave.
When I was offered a full-time job out of an internship, I actually turned it down for a 6-month contract. When this came to an end, I tried to angle for the same extension but was convinced to sign a permanent agreement.
This was a scary prospect.
My commitment suddenly became a lot more concrete, whereas before I had almost passively stayed on. This commitment doubled when my relationship finally went official, after months of dating having anticipated our inevitable split.
The trouble with staying after university is that it does feel, to some extent, like a continuation, not quite a fresh start. It probably doesn’t help that I still live around the corner from where I used to rent as a student.
There is a lack of closure.
A feeling that maybe you did take the easy way out and not challenge yourself.
It can be difficult still having friends in the university bubble, in my case my girlfriend, as their experiences, schedules and anxieties are very different to yours. The weekday nights out, exam stress and all that free-time. It’s easy to be envious and, at the same time, catch yourself telling “in my day” anecdotes.
As someone who always imagined themselves staying in academia, maintaining this close link to studying has me regularly question my career path.
My Verdict On Staying in Southampton
All things considered, I have learned to accept that staying in your university town after graduation requires accepting that things are different, not necessarily better or worse.
I have so many things going for me now that I didn’t as a student and I have all the fond memories of my 3 years at my fingerprints, I only need walk down the high street or pop onto campus.
I love Southampton and it will always be a special place for me.
At some point in the future, I will leave and seek out my next adventure. There’s a greater appeal to moving back home now that I have accepted leaving is inevitable.
Until then, whenever that may be, I am no longer seeing my time here as a ‘temporary stage’. I am committing to my life and work here because, in the greater scheme of things, everything is temporary and we can’t worry about that.