University in Cornwall (and why it was the best decision I’ve ever made)

It’s been two years since I left university, moved out of Cornwall, and started a new chapter that would follow the best three years of my life. Having experienced university in Cornwall first hand and since discussed other university experiences with many friends who went all over the country (and in fact the world) to gain their degrees, I can hand on heart say there is no other similar experience like studying on the Cornwall campus.

Whether an Exeter or Falmouth student, I am yet to meet someone who didn’t enjoy their experience. So much so that my point is proved even further that, when visited by my brothers, they loved it so much that one has since studied at Falmouth for 4 years, having just finished his masters in digital marketing, and my littlest bro Ned is lucky enough to have another two years left studying Politics with International Relations at Exeter. I think we need a Bayfield plaque for our commitment to the place…

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The funny thing is I originally hadn’t even considered it as an option.

If I’m honest, I didn’t even realise there was an Exeter University campus in Cornwall.

That is, until visiting my childhood penpal at who was there at uni and experiencing a tiny snapshot of life in a small campus university by the beach. That short stay one weekend changed my mind and was exactly the reason I sat on a bench on holiday in the Alps after receiving my A-Level results, made a huge decision, and cried tears of relief to my Mum for finally being brave enough to be honest.

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I was all set to go to York University and study English.

Why not, York was a beautiful town, and English had always been my best subject, proven even further by my 100% in my A-Level exams (believe me, that was not at all expected!).

The problem?

I hate being told what to read.

I had always detested picking apart stories and poems and prose to the point where it no longer held the magic you can only experience from immersing yourself in a good book. I was good at English, yes. Of course it was the logical subject to study, having always given me the best marks. I could pass the exams and tick all the boxes, but I didn’t actually enjoy it that much.

So atop this beautiful mountain, one month before setting off for the 6 hour journey up north to a course I was secretly dreading, I cancelled my pre-booked accommodation in halls, I sent a late application to Raleigh International, I looked up costs of flights to India, booked an open day at Exeter’s Cornwall campus, and somehow told my parents what I actually wanted.

At that exact moment, when everything seemed decided and set, I flipped it all upside down.

In hindsight, I think it was quite possibly the best decision I’ve ever made. Nobody should do things just because they’re good at them. You should do things because you love them and you’re interested in them and they make your blood thump around your happy energized little body, singing with delight.

Fast forward a sudden gap year that in a nutshell involved a pretty substantial breakup, finding out actually what it’s like in the real world working 8-5, helping some of the closest people to me work through the hardest year of their lives, my best friends engagement and a crazy 6 week volunteering adventure in India that was the scariest, most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever pushed myself to do.

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Trust me, 2011 was a rollercoaster, and starting September studying BSc Geography with Environmental Management at university in Cornwall was everything I hoped it would be and more.

As children we’d visit Cornwall every year without fail and I’d always felt that buzz of electric excitement whenever crossing the Tamar bridge. Since living there it’s true that Cornwall really does get into your blood.

I started writing this post without any idea where it was heading, but I’ve also accompanied sporadic typing with pauses to trawl through old photos, flooding my mind with hilarious memories and so many reasons why I loved every single day I spent living in Falmouth, and so here is a tiny snapshot of those.

Reasons you should have gone to University in Cornwall:

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The laid back atmosphere

One thing you have to get used to in Cornwall is time. Not that you have more of it, but that it really doesn’t matter that much. The pace of life slows, your mind stops whirring somewhere just over Bodmin Moor and you relax. The Cornish explanation is that everything happens Dreckly – “at some point in the future, perhaps soon, or not at all”.

Now, it’s not as though nothing gets done there. Shops still having opening hours, buses still run (mostly anyway), but everything is just a bit more chilled. Who needs to run around feeling stressed constantly when you can take the time to start up a conversation with a stranger, admire the scenery or just go for an aimless wander?

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The proximity to the sea

This is something I will never get over. Being by the sea is like a drug, it fills you up in a way I can’t describe. At times of crisis in our family, we’ve always headed straight for the sea. There’s something so calming about standing in the shallows with the waves lapping over your feet, toes sucked into the sand and staring out across the horizon. I long to live with a sea view, one which I can wake up every morning and look out over so I get that same feeling to start every day. Being at university, and in my 2nd and 3rd years living a 10 minute walk from the beach, I was so content just knowing that at any given moment I could so easily take a break to sit on sand and swim in its cool salty water.

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Commitment to fancy dress

This is definitely one thing this particular university does well. The combination of Academic Exeter University with the Arts and Creativity from Falmouth meant that nights out, especially themed nights, were a serious business. And I bleddy love it! There was the night we went out as “renewable energy”, the “Space party” where I went as a Galaxy bar, the “90s party” where I dressed up as 9 teas, the combination of “chav night” and “superheroes” for a birthday party, pirate parties, “Noahs ark” dressed as animals on a boat , Halloween, the “come dressed as your lecturer”  where we dressed up as “geogletes” (think Mean Girls) with homemade t-shirts sporting our lecturers old university logo…the list goes on. One of my very favourite things about university in Cornwall was the mix of Falmouth and Exeter on one campus, and fancy dress was just a tiny part of why the combination worked so well.
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The Food

How have I got to #4 and not yet spoken about food?! Falmouth is AMAZING for food. Seriously. Get there now. (Or do like we did above and made a roast dinner to feed 8 INSIDE a pasty).

Not only does Cornwall have all your favourites – pasties, icecream, ale, fish and chips, cream teas… – but it also hosts some really incredible restaurants. My personal favourites were the tiny, highly sought after and delicious Wheel House, exquisite crafted food from Olivers, the best brunch from Good Vibes, South African from Amanzi, Jamaican from Cribbs, quick tasty lunches at Fuel (had to mention that one, I worked there for 2 years!), beautiful afternoon tea and homemade cakes from Dolly’s, the pub and bookshop combo at Beerwolf, quirky beers from Hand Bar, Sunday lunch at The Boathouse, Vegan fodder from Wildebeest….the list could honestly go on and on and on…

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If you’re going to come down to Cornwall for University, I order you to try out some water sports. Where else in the entire country can you walk down the road to such amazing surfing, sailing, gig rowing, SUP, surf-lifeboating, sea swimming, kayaking, windsurfing…??!! My preference was always gig rowing as ‘d wanted to do it since childhood, and I’m not going to lie, it was one of the main reasons I was drawn to that campus originally. I rowed for 3 years with Nankersey Rowing Club, competed in two world championships and even won a UK Sports Award. (If you want a laugh, see the super awkward and hilarious video the Top Gear camera men made of me below…)
I could not encourage you enough to get out and about on the sea, enjoy the amazing opportunity you have to see bits of Cornwall you’ve never seen before, meet so many different people, and have a LOT of fun.

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The Campus

You’ve heard that the campus is small and “nothing ever happens there”. Well, you’re only half right. Yes, it’s small. But would you rather get lost in a sea of 50,000 similar heads, or bump into 5 friends, 2 lecturers and the campus cat on your way to the library?

Going to university on a small campus was exactly what I wanted, I just didn’t realise until I got there. Think of freshers week – you make one group of friends, and low and behold that friends knows this person who knows your other friend, who introduces you to this person… before you know it you’re a massive BNOC and can’t walk anywhere without stopping to chat. The lecturers were really laid back, after all they also live in Cornwall for a reason, and would on occasion reschedule a lecture purely because the surf was looking good.

Because why not?!

Want to meet your friends to study –have a BBQ on the beach?

Falmouth may have only had one “real” club, and yes it did have carpet and played all the bangin’ tunes circa 2003, but trust me, you still love it all the same! Plus, did you know that Dawn French is now the Chancellor for Falmouth. Actual Dawn French. AND shes’ just as funny in real life.

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The Weather

*WARNING* When it rains in Cornwall, it RAINS. Horizontal downpours are not uncommon during the winter, but then neither is wearing wellies to lectures and sporting a beautiful yellow Seafolly raincoat from Seasalt. Swings and roundabouts. The real beauty is, when it’s sunny, would you rather be sat in a park in a smoggy city, or swimming in the sea. Yes, you can eat your Pret and pop into an air conditioned Topshop on your way back home, but wouldn’t you rather be wiping sand off your toes and carrying an icecream? There’s a very good reason the emmets flock to Cornwall every summer, so why not take advantage of that all year round?!

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Whatever you reasons for being in Cornwall, as well as just this list, I’m sure there are so many, I’d love to know why YOU love this beautiful county or why you’d love to visit. If you’re stuck trying to decide where to go to uni, I highly recommend that you consider this charming little “secondary campus”. Just read the outraged comments of this rather negative perspective that the Guardian penned last year and you’ll see just how passionate students that study there are about their love for it.

I have not been paid to write this, nor have I been asked by the university to put down my thoughts, I just enjoyed my time there so much, met so many wonderful inspiring people, and loved every aspect that university in Cornwall threw at me, I wanted to try and show you just how lucky we all were.

To everyone I met during my time by the sea, to Falmouth, and Cornwall, thank you.