#LoveHE: Tabula rasa

Student life gave Roxanne Pallett a blank canvas from which to reinvent herself and the confidence to follow her dreams

August 26, 2010

On 11 September 2001, I was in my first week at university in Liverpool. The infamous freshers' week, when an abundance of bright-eyed students descend on campus like shoppers in the January sales.

That week was fundamental in shaping my naive but inquisitive mind thanks to the diversity of the students around me and their reactions to the Twin Towers attack. It represented the first time that I understood that there were no right or wrong opinions.

Cultures, religions and beliefs differed from those of the citizens of my home town of Carlisle, which seemed a million miles away in my mind. Nobody stuck to their own kind and formed a clique, as in school. There was no pressure to "fit in" - what a relief.

It didn't matter that I was raised by my mum and grandma without a dad, and it didn't puzzle people that my skin was dark (from my Persian genes). These aspects became normal in the little island of university society where students hailed from a variety of places, with different accents and backgrounds.

Being an only child, it excited me to have so many people to talk to, and on so many levels. I began to experiment with clothes, books and music that were new and exciting to me, and raise things in conversation that would usually stay locked inside my head so as not to sound too strange back home.

Finally, I could be whoever I wanted to be. University gives you a blank canvas - not only to reinvent yourself, but to discover who you want to be.

I met my first Jewish friend in my first year, in an English seminar. She was from a well-educated family in North London - both of her parents were professors and her older brother was a doctor. She wore modest clothes and would refrain from talking about sex while the other girls whispered innuendos about the hunky professor who took our Thursday seminar. She was a stark contrast to the frivolous girls I'd grown up around and I liked that. She was intelligent beyond her years and gave me confidence in my own integrity and standards when it came to boys and sex.

By the end of my first term I had an eclectic group of friends. Each of them helped me to discover who I was and what I believed in, and stimulated my mind to search for answers to questions that perhaps I wouldn't have asked if I had remained at home.

I was treated as an equal by my lecturers who respected my ideas and encouraged me to develop my ability. University gave me the initiative to know that my drive and ambition needed to be fulfilled and not ignored. Some small-town teachers had tried to dilute my big ideas, dismissing me as the "silly girl with her head in the clouds". Well, those clouds represented heavenly things, so I'm glad I knew better than to listen to those teachers.

The personal decision-making was the biggest examination of all: the supermarket trips without Mum, her car and her cash card; the risk of going out the night before an early exam and having no wake-up call in the morning; and the responsibility of figuring out how to wash my clothes without shrinking or ruining them by dyeing them pink. All these coming-of-age moments I look back on and smile about.

My university years helped me to grow into the woman I am now. It wasn't all about a vocational education to equip me with a mind for media and English, but also the ability to hold my own in conversation and mix in a diverse world.

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