By mostly being situated on the edge of discomfort, I’ve been able to flourish and grow.
England’s Roads Are Paved With Gold (2017) – Tiff Webster
Naturally, every student’s experience is different because everyone is inherently different. This difference may well be informed by our backgrounds, class, abilities, gender, support networks, mental health, personalities and how they all intersect, thereby influencing how we chose to identify and how we navigate higher education as students. I grew up in a predominately white region of Northern Spain, leaving when I was 16. I completed sixth form in Kent, UK and then carried on to the progression centre at Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon colleges of Art (CCW) through the Widening Participation Programme. CCW Foundation was the first time I had seen such an amount of students that looked like me and came from similar backgrounds as myself (working class, from migrant families, etc). After I’d completed it and moved on to a BA, I wasn’t sure what to expect of my first year at Camberwell College, other than a mirrored experience to some degree of CCW’s Foundation. What I’m pointing out here is that I have a culturally contrasted education growing up in different environments for most of my upbringing, the only similarity between the education institutions was that they were predominantly white; this in turn became the norm for me. As a result, I had grown accustomed to the feelings of discomfort, tension, anxiety; I learnt to live with and brush off and internalise these emotions for many years. As a form of self-preservation and to not stand out or to draw too much attention to myself, like a form of survival I had learnt to turn these feelings into swift assimilation and adjust to new environments with ease.
First year, in truth, seems quite a blur. In a good way.
This was the year I met my fellow peers, tutors and was getting used to my new surroundings. I enjoyed first year, mostly because I had memorable times with peers, that to this day have become very close friends of mine that I have learnt from and grown alongside with. I enjoyed the contextual studies presentations , learning to write essays, acquiring new research methods and attending workshop inductions. Crits took place in larger groups and critique of work was more constructive, at times harsh, other times more generous, but ultimately, first year pushed me to explore more and question more.
Second year was a very difficult year for me personally, I was dealing with things unrelated to the course that affected my attendance in the studio. It was also the year that the refurbishment and renovation of Camberwell College began, which brought a lot of disruption and outrage to many students, becoming a catalyst for change to many of us that progressed onto our final year. These changes created a tense vibe at the college, there were many moments I thought of dropping out from the course and/or transferring of pursuing another degree that would secure a more lucrative future for myself. Towards the end of second year, I joined Shades of Noir (SoN). SoN motivated me to continue within my course, provided me with the language, resource and support needed to push me through till the very end.
Third year has been the most rewarding and flourishing year to date. I have grown consistently. I feel fully equipped and prepared for the professional industries whether it be creative or otherwise. New skills that were acquired and nurtured through Shades of Noir have influenced my thoughts on my practice and my navigation of topics of interest, as well as in depth contextual research undertaken for my dissertation topic.
I’ve gained strong organizational, and production skills. Strong communication, research and writing skills. Being part of an organisation such as Shades of Noir has helped me with branching out and expanded my networks; in this last year my list of artists, journalists, film crew and all creative industry professionals have doubled. All of this mostly after working on external projects, within Peckham and South East London mostly, and from running and leading events for Shades of Noir. I’ve been able to meet and interview artists with similar interests and work, I’ve also gained more filming, editing and photography skills.
I have met many challenges and faced countless obstacles, but have learnt to deal with these situations professionally and effectively.
For my Final Degree Show Performance, I submitted a Proposal and successfully applied for Funding from UAL. Final Degree Show has been one of the most challenging periods I’ve experienced within higher education to date. I applied all the skills I had acquired and persisted through the obstacles and difficulties. I began to look at my final piece not as a completed and all round perfect end production, but as a progression and continuation of my constantly evolving practice; as a starting point of departure for future projects. I’ve had to readjust and improvise a lot for this piece, and have learnt from this experience in regards to health & safety, risks, materials, etc. In terms of planning ahead for any negative or unexpected outcomes, I still have room for improvement within this area, as not everything is certain when working within site- specific areas that carry multiple risks to the public, which would need more time and preparation and talking with the right people consistently.
I have a heightened self-awareness and a clearer understanding of my interests and on making informed decisions. Patience and organisation and perseverance has definitely been key.
Ultimately, University experience is what you make of it. It’s not down to anyone else.
I feel extremely grateful and privileged to have had this opportunity to even have had a chance at higher education and to complete a BA Degree. It’s not something I take for granted or lightly being the first in my family to be able to do so. During these times of global uncertainty and instability within this government and in terms of tuition fees and in funding for the arts and cuts in particular; now more than ever before it’s apparent that nothing is permanent and everything is temporary. Even access to education for all.