Words written by: Junwen Tham, Year 12
Xuanlin Tham served as the Editor-in-Chief of Winston before graduating to the University of Edinburgh in 2018. Now, we catch up with her as she shares how she’s adjusted to university and life in Scotland.
How is university life so far?
It’s chill, way easier than IB definitely– still get panic attacks though *Laughs* so there’s still quite a few deadlines, but the workload is way less. Because you have a lot less class hours, unlike in high school where it’s fixed from morning to the afternoon, you get a lot more time to choose what you want to do.
What do you tend to do in that free time?
I always try to study, but I really never seem to be able to! I enjoy hanging around the bookstore, but beyond that I really enjoy cooking a lot, and I think cooking is one of my favourite parts of university life because to me it’s like a mark of independence, being able to cook for yourself. It doesn’t sound like much but being able to choose what to make for your meals is incredibly liberating to me. It’s like the automatic doors of the supermarket open and you see people around you all making decisions, and now you get to be one of them. *In a solemn voice* Now I am totally in charge of my destiny, and that’s how I feel whenever I walk into a Tesco. *Laughs*
Have you had any troubles adjusting to Scotland, food or anything?
Not really; I found a Chinese supermarket in Scotland that has everything that I need, where I can get the exact same sesame oil and stuff I have been consuming my entire life, so that’s nice. Besides food, I think I’m really lucky to have a flatmate that really vibes with me, and just having that one person who I enjoy having around is already really comforting. Everyone always talks about how “you’re going to make so many friends and do all these things!”, but I’m here as the ambassador advocating that you don’t have to do that many things if you don’t want to, just go at your own pace if you’re socially anxious, like for me I’ve accepted my life as a hermit. *Laughs* As for things like chores, I personally didn’t have a lot of trouble since it’s nothing really new to me. I think Edinburgh is a very livable city so nothing was very difficult to get used to.
What classes have you been taking at the University of Edinburgh?
For this first semester I took a mandatory English course, and for my electives I took an introductory politics course, and a philosophy course. So far, I am really enjoying all the courses I’m taking; for English I finally got to write an essay on one of my favourite plays, and I’ve always been interested in philosophy and politics so it was a great opportunity to really learn about them in an academic setting. This next semester, I’m taking another politics course and a law course, Intro to Criminal Justice. I think what’s really great about Edinburgh is that you are allowed to take electives, unlike most other UK universities.
What are the class sizes there like?
Lectures have about 300 people, but you will notice as the semester goes by the fresh young faces are slowly disappearing, and in the last few weeks you’ll look around and think, “this is not 300 people, this is more like 27.” *Laughs* For tutorials, it varies between 8 to 10.
For the lectures, do you feel like there was any problems with how big the classes were?
In the lectures it doesn’t really matter how big the class size is, for the most part you are just listening so I didn’t feel like there was any problem there. When it comes to asking the professor questions, I personally think a class of 300 and a class of 20 equates to the same mind-numbing fear *Laughs*. But if you really don’t want to you can come up to the professor and ask them after class and they’ll be more than happy to answer if they’re not getting kicked out the lecture hall by the next professor, yeah. I actually did brave my social anxiety and asked questions in lectures, and when they said, “good question,” I felt a surge of validation coursing through my veins *laughs*. Bow before me you plebs, for I am a true intellectual.
For anyone who’s has been accepted into a university and is planning to go there – do you have any advice?
For me, wherever you are going, whatever it is that you’re doing, even if it’s deciding not to go to university, it’s important for all of us from BSM to be aware of how privileged we are to have this opportunity, and I think we should always remember that. We are amongst the most privileged people in the world just to receive this kind of education, so really treasure and take all the opportunities you can because it’s something that a lot of people would want to have but don’t get to. You should take full ownership of the fact that you have this amazing opportunity to change your life and the lives of others, so you should always think about how you can use this opportunity to do so.
The number one thing that I’ve learned about in university is just coming face-to-face with the impact that I have in society and on other people. In high school, we’re in a very sheltered environment where a lot of the time the only things you have time and energy to think about is yourself and your grades, and whilst these are important, you start to have a very tunneled view of what your purpose and role is. Living by myself away from this sheltered environment has forced me to think about the impact or lack of it I make on society. That’s why I went vegan and participated in Sleep in the Park, because I’ve realised at this point that I don’t want to be that person who lives in denial when I walk past dozens of homeless people a day. Before I came to university, all these problems seemed so big that I was scared of doing something because I thought it wouldn’t change anything. But now, I want to be fully responsible and accountable for the decisions I’m making.
That’s my advice for everyone, that you are fully in control of all the things you decide to do. We all are in a position to help so many people, and I don’t think any of us should live in denial of your responsibility to do so.