February 27, 2020

Dee Dickens

My first week of university at Cardiff Met was spent trying not to throw up on the bus through nerves and standing in front of the doors taking deep breaths, willing myself to walk in. I spent my first seminar petrified that I had made a mistake because I had not the slightest idea what defamiliarization was or why Shklovsky thought it so important. Imposter syndrome had me by the neck and was steering me out of the door.

I was 47 years old and attempting to get the degree that I had missed out on when my friends went to university as I was busy being a wife and a mother. I had chosen Cardiff Met as it was local to me and my daughter person already attended as a fine art student. There wasn’t another choice for me, I didn’t apply anywhere else. I was middle aged and, as I told my lecturer Carmen Casaliggi on my first day, this was bucket list stuff for me. I was terrified, but I was determined.

I didn’t receive any extra support as a mature student and that was fine by me. What I did receive was infinite patience for the woman in the front row who always had her hand up. I was determined to milk every moment I was there, after waiting for so long, and that is my first piece of advice. There are no stupid questions, ask away. Join the societies, go to open mic, do things that frighten you. Be more brave, do the thing.

These days, when I am not neck deep in a dissertation I am sad it’s nearly finished; a seven thousand word poem about slavery, contemporary black identity and inherited trauma; I am more likely to be writing a poem about why Shklovsky was faulty in his thinking or performing either at an open mic event or editing one of my latest books. Being at university has improved both my critical thinking and my writing beyond what I had hoped. I have found, in Cardiff Met, a home for my way of thinking; a haven for my ideas to germinate and spread; and a community where my creativity and neurodivergence are embraced and encouraged.

This being the case, I am nowhere near ready to be finished with my education. Rather, I have come to see my undergraduate studies as just the start. I don’t know where this journey of mine is going to take me, but I know that the next stage of it is a master’s degree. Am I staying at Cardiff Met for my post grad studies? Absolutely. Not only do alumni get a discount, I have found a home here, where the faculty literally cheer when you do well.  I want to take what I have learned and see how far I can go with it. I cannot stop now, it is not hyperbole to say that writing has now become as essential to me as breathing, though it may be a bit of a cliché. You’ll learn how to avoid them in first year.

Since being a student at Cardiff Met, I have had three books published by Wordcatcher Publishing, been included in three anthologies, performed poetry in Liverpool, Dublin and Cardiff. I have been commissioned to write short stories and poetry for local artist, Rose Jenkins, hosted the women centred Empower Me poetry event and won the inaugural Cardiff Met Poetry Slam. I start my MA in Creative Writing in September. I am also a member of Roath Writers, which was founded and is facilitated by one of my lecturers. But for the support and encouragement I have had from the faculty and my friends, I would not be living the writers’ life I dreamed about as a child.

My top tips

Immerse yourself in as much as you can, but don’t forget to rest too. You get to spend three years reading and writing, being taught by industry giants. Embrace them! Oh, and get a cat to cuddle. Frida is my constant study companion and I could not do any of this without her.

If you are considering studying as a mature student and are worried that you are too old, or let’s be honest, your peers would be too young, I would tell you to apply anyway. You might surprise yourself and be surprised. It is where I have found who I am, and my age has been a positive. Your peers will keep you going too. I have made lifelong friendships with some of mine. Not bad for someone who nearly threw up on the number 52 bus.