This week I had a very thought provoking exchange of emails with E** about her time at university. For me the three years I spent at Nottingham University were unquestionably the happiest period of my life but E** had a very different experience. She wrote, “Most of the people on my course quickly seemed to form themselves into tight-knit groups from which I felt excluded. I always felt that I was only tolerated on the margins of their groups, just making up the numbers.” “I missed the supportive familiarity of E*** and all my other home-town friends and in the early days I didn’t make enough effort to seek out like-minded people.” “I had been very lonely as a foster child and it was horrible to find myself back in that position.”
E**’s story rather reminds me of Jenny N who was a Nottingham University at the same time as Claire and I. In the first year the groups for practical science were arranged alphabetically so I worked with Jenny quite a lot. Indeed, coming as I did from an all-boys school, Jenny was the first girl I had ever got to know reasonably well. But she was so painfully shy and, apparently, so disinterested in any of the social aspects of university life that no friendship ever developed between us. As far as I could see her life consisted of academic work and sitting on her own in her study bedroom reading magazines.
In years 2 and 3, I no longer worked with Jenny and as far as I remember I hardly spoke to her again. It was only by checking the back issues of the faculty magazine that I was able to confirm my very vague memory of her sitting next to me at the graduation ceremony! I can only hope that her life wasn’t as horribly lonely as it appeared to be from the outside.
NB - I am away next week so my next blog entry will be in early June.