Reflecting Upon My English BA at King’s College London

View from the Virginia Woolf Building, Kingsway

A note to you, dear reader:

Whilst being published in July 2020, the following post was actually written in March, but a lengthy hiatus and certain circumstances prevented me from posting. I have a LOT of things to talk about on this blog and from now on I’m going to task myself with posting once weekly or fortnightly- it’s therefore up to YOU to keep me to my word! 😉

-Leyla x

This post is dedicated to my coursework which has taken over my recent life. Much love to you, my ride or die ❤

If someone had said to me during the very first week of my study at King’s College London (KCL) that a wave of union strikes and a global pandemic would put an early end to my undergraduate experience, I would’ve told them where to go. Well. Maaaaaybe I should’ve kept an open mind.

Even before we were informed about the strikes and the words “self” and “isolation” had never been put together in the same sentence, I had entered a melancholy state. Like I mentioned in my previous post, you only ever start to realise what you have, and subsequently will miss, until you realise that you are about to lose it. My first weeks at KCL were hard and quite frankly miserable as I made the transition from A Levels to what I had been reassured (A.K.A. lied to) was easier: an English degree at a prestigious university. Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense, does it?

But despite the early difficulties, I eventually found my place in my department and this institution, making some amazing friends and wonderful memories. This is why I was devastated to leave (assuming at the time that I wouldn’t receive an MA offer) and why I am still so disappointed, like so many others, in how my degree concluded. We were initially told that our late-July graduation ceremony was cancelled and that every single one of us would receive, as reward for our many, many years of hard work, a mere certificate in the post. No ceremony, no goodbyes, no cute group pictures, no parties. We deserved a hell of a lot better than this and thankfully, KCL have assured us that after reviewing the situation (and countless student complaints), the cancellation will rather be a postponement. This isn’t the worst result and I understand the exceptional circumstances, but it is certainly an unfortunate circumstance.

However, as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy goes, I’m trying to look at the bright side of this situation, or the silver linings in the dark clouds, as it were. It’s such a cliche and I’m wincing as I type this but true friendship really does last forever. I am incredibly lucky because I can count a great number of wonderful people whom I met at KCL and can call friends, whether I’ll be a bridesmaid at their wedding or just have a laugh with them on Instagram every so often. I am PRETTY sure that a number of my closest friends will still be by my side, whether in person or spirit, as I go through my life. And on that note, I reflect on how I came to this point…

Applying to KCL

During the summer of 2016, my mum and I branched out over vast distances to scout around all of the potential universities that I could attend. Albeit, this was vast distances to someone with extreme anxiety- meaning public transport into central London and on one occasion, a £200 train ride to Southampton (I was feeling extremely ambitious that day 😉 ). We visited UCL (boo!), Queen Mary, King’s (obvs!) and Southampton, the latter of which fell towards the bottom of my preferences when the head of English Admissions literally said to me, “why would you come here and study with us when you have all you could ever want in London?”. Valid point.

As application season dawned on us, I applied to the four institutions above in addition to Oxford, as mentioned in my previous post. I was terrified about what would happen, knowing that my fate was literally in the hands of several admissions teams and wherever I went would effectively help mould my future. But even this early on, I had a feeling in my gut about KCL. The staff on the open day had been warm and welcoming, the journey there not too difficult for me, and the English course seemed intellectually stimulating. As I waited for a response, I began to dread the thought of opening my UCAS tracker and seeing a rejection. After a few weeks of awkward limbo, I was given an offer by KCL, Queen Mary and Southampton. UCL literally wrote on my rejection that my application “wasn’t strong enough” which I thought was pretty rude, all things considered. Despite feeling quite bitter about this at the time, I realise now upon reflection that UCL actually did me a great favour. Who knows what kind of awful experience I could’ve had there? My mum always tells me that everything in life happens for a reason and now I know what she means.

KCL became my firm first choice of university and I put in an obscene amount of work to try and achieve the AAA grades that I had been predicted for my A Levels. Funnily enough, a running joke between a dear friend and I, who was in my A Level English class (and studied English with me at KCL ❤ ), is that we used up all our academic capabilities and energy on our A Levels. This is indeed true as I may have achieved the AAA , but it also turned out to be at the cost of my eyesight. Apparently spending 10 hours a day glued to a computer and producing 200 pages worth of ICT coursework is enough to make you short-sighted- 10/10 don’t recommend.

On A Level results day, alike that of the GCSE equivalent, I was abroad competing in the Super Mario Kart Championships so my mum had to collect my results on my behalf. In the early morning I was sat on a bed in La Suze-sur-Sarthe, France, with my uncle Sami and friend Conor eagerly awaiting the news. The main thing was that my conditional offer at KCL turned into a confirmation of study and when I opened my UCAS track to see that I had made it, I was elated. A teary phone call from my mum was the cherry on the cake, as I became the first member of the Hasso/Çetin family to achieve straight As in their A Levels. Upon returning home I was welcomed with a lovely cake and words of encouragement, although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified for the coming weeks ahead. After all, it was the beginning of a new era…

First Year (2017-2018)

I will never forget my very first day at KCL. It was a Monday morning and I took the bus alone for the first time in my life, from my parents’ house to the Strand campus. I felt so sick that I remember shaking whilst trying to untangle my headphones and managing only a slight nod when commuters would acknowledge me as they walked past my seat. Luckily, I knew where to go for my first class as I had travelled in with my friend (the one I mentioned earlier) the week before to enrol and meet my tutor. Prof. Mark Turner, if you’re reading this, you’re a real one!

Walking down the corridor to the Safra Lecture Theatre instilled a new kind of fear within my soul. Everywhere stood students of all nationalities, dress senses and energies, huddled together in large groups and chattering away like a bunch of Turkish grannies. Having opted (for obvious reasons) to live at home and commute in, I was socially disadvantaged. The vast majority of my course had moved into student halls and so it seemed as if everyone here had already found their friends. I mean, it was so packed that you couldn’t even find the walls. When we went into the lecture, I made the conscious decision to sit towards the back and in the very middle to limit the chances of someone awkwardly asking me to move. To say the lecture content itself was challenging would be an UNDERSTATEMENT. I had never once read or studied any literary theorists, coming from an exclusively historical background, and the whole thing went over my head. I was completely and utterly BAFFLED and thought that I had made a mistake. University education was clearly not for me. How could it be? I didn’t know anything about Kant, Nietzsche or Foucault, and it seemed as if everyone else around me did.

After the lecture, I had a 4-hour gap until my seminar and having zero clue about where people hung out in the city between classes, I decided to venture to the Maughan Library with a girl that had spoken to me as we left Safra. As we tried to locate the library and then find somewhere to sit, we tried our best to communicate and get to know one another, but something didn’t feel right. She was a lovely girl, shy like I was, and friendly enough, but I knew deep down that we just wouldn’t click and I never saw her again after this day. I don’t even remember her name. With hindsight I know that this wasn’t a problem as some people just aren’t suited for others, but at the time, it felt like a disaster. This one awkward encounter made me believe that this would reflect my ENTIRE uni experience and I would never make any friends at all. After an equally overwhelming seminar and a long journey home, the first thing I did was run to my bedroom, fling myself on my bed, and cry. The thought of having to do this 4 days a week for the near future was sickening and that night I declared to my mum that the only way through this is if I don’t go through it at all. I was an inch away from dropping out and I had even prepared an email to my tutor. The only thing which stopped me was my mum’s offer of a compromise. She said that I had to give it a month and if after that time I still wanted to leave, then I could do so. Thank God I listened to her.

While we shared no seminars, my school friend and I made sure to sit together in lectures and in true ‘what-a-small-world’ spirit, had soon separately befriended the same girl, who as of today is still a sister to the both of us ❤ She also hailed from South London and had no clue what was going on, so the three us bonded over our mutual confusion and disdain for the North Londoners who’d laugh at where we were from. Anyone who isn’t from London or has never lived here is probably unaware of the Civil War that we have going on. The majority of English students at KCL are based in the so-called ‘fancy’ North of the river and they really LOVE to remind the Southern peasants like I of this fact. So, if you ever want to tick me off, then I’d recommend telling me that Croydon sucks. Or, ask me if I’ve ever been stabbed- it has been a while since I heard that one.

As the one-month trial period was almost complete and I had to make my decision about my future at KCL, a simple Monday afternoon in chilly October became the unexpected turning point. In my Literary Theory seminar, I was paired up with a quiet girl who much like myself, had never uttered a word in class before. We were given a passage to analyse or a question to answer and I remember, in my state of utter confusion, laughing awkwardly once we had to speak to each other because I was afraid that she would look down on me. I don’t think you truly understand how happy I was to hear that she was just as baffled as I was! In a room full of eager and quite pretentious students (not naming any names 😉 ), I felt this sudden connection to this girl and it was as if I’d always known her. I never had this experience with anyone else at uni and as we left class together, laughing over the fact that we were both anxious home students who’d never travelled alone before, I knew that this was meant to be. We were meant to be put in this class together and we were meant to be paired together for this task. But what I reflect on so fondly of this moment, is how for the first time in a whole month at KCL, when I got on that bus to go home, instead of swallowing a lump in my throat, I broke out into a smile.

With a newfound sense of contentment and adaptation to my new academic surroundings, things started to fall into place as we approached Christmas. I’d made a couple more friends and felt extremely lucky that my new ‘uni-bestie’ would be in every single one of my seminars in the second semester. It’s just a shame that a wave of UCU strikes would terminate almost the entirety of that semester and leave us with the world’s longest summer holiday. But, I had enjoyed the classes that I did receive and performed decently in my coursework and exams, despite the fact that my dear grandfather passed away two days before our Early Modern Literary Culture exam. He had always been one of my greatest academic supporters and it broke my heart that he couldn’t be there to help me get through this new experience. However, I’d like to think that much of my academic success is still down to his legacy ❤

Second Year (2018-2019)

Knowing that we’d get much more freedom with our module choices, I was pretty excited for Second Year. I’d developed good friendships, gotten wholly used to my new surroundings and I liked the idea that I could finally begin to shape the academic side of my degree. The first semester is probably the semester I remember most fondly out of my entire degree, despite the absolutely manic Tuesdays where I literally had FIVE out of eight classes BACK-TO-BACK, and had to completely bomb it between buildings and turn up late to everything. That was a whole load of fun, and one of my good friends never ceased to laugh at my struggle as I spent the last ten minutes of every 19th Century American Literary Culture lecture sloooowly packing up and staring at the clock above. NOTE TO FUTURE KCL STUDENTS: the staircases in the Strand and King’s Buildings are NOT your friend during rush hour, so just accept defeat!

Even with this anxiety-provoking situation, I loved my modules and enjoyed getting to share classes with a whole new bunch of people, even if I rarely spoke to them. Throughout Second Year I made a few new special friends, many of them having survived a certain eccentric medieval lecturer’s wacky seminars with me- that’s enough to bond you for life! But my favourite story of how a new and close friendship developed funnily enough involved a rude and unfortunate remark made by a CERTAIN SOMEONE towards the short story written by my friend for class. When he realised his error, he got extremely embarrassed and after the three of us talked it out and my friend and I got to know him better, we realised that we all had a hell of a lot in common. Just yesterday, the three of us played Animal Crossing together and if you’d told me two years ago that this would eventually happen, I would’ve outwardly denied it. So, while he was a TAD rude to my dear friend, I’m still happy that he made that mistake as otherwise, we never would’ve become such good friends.

As Second Year progressed and I continuously added to my academic repertoire, I felt like I was finally experiencing the uni life that people had always reminisced of so fondly. I started going out for lunches, visiting markets and taking days out with my friends, slowly trying to knock down the fear that had prevented me from doing this for so long. It was sad saying goodbye to a very close friend when she left for America to study abroad, and I felt her absence many a time during further outings, but I knew that this was part of life. People come and go and then sometimes come back again, but it was something I had to quickly accept. I also had to remind myself that I was incredibly lucky to even have such close friends in the first place. I thought back to my very first day and subsequent weeks after where I felt so lost and lonely. At that moment I would never have thought that I would forge a bond so strong with someone new at this institution, that upon her departure, I would feel devastated. It was definitely a bittersweet and strange moment to experience.

While my friend was living her best life setting fires to kitchens in Northern California, I was proudly explaining the difference between the 68 and 468 bus routes to the North Londoners (see left-side image if this damned format works correctly!) and being promised “awesome field trips” only to be literally marched to Somerset House to look at rocks in the ground. Fun. Let’s just say that my second semester didn’t QUITE academically satisfy me as much as the previous one. But hey, I’ll never forget Piers Plowman or Bevis of Hampton anytime soon so that’s a bonus, right? …right? All jokes aside, it was actually really nice to experience a full “year” at uni without any UCU strikes or global pandemics, and I would be lying if I said I hated ALL my modules. Unlocking Early Modern Letters was definitely a highlight, whether I was letterlocking with wax seals or trying to stop my friend from throwing her empty water bottle around like a child. Such nostalgia ❤

Third Year (2019-2020)

There was something different in the air when we returned to KCL in September 2019. A whiff of urgency, a sense of instability, and an inner dread masked as dark humour appeared to be oozing from each one of us. How could it be that this cohort, who had only just transitioned into their undergrad degree, were now preparing for the home stretch? Modules carried greater weight, dissertations were being researched and the lovely thought of entering the UK’s mess of a workforce suddenly became wholly real. Whilst the majority of my friends took the leap, I had pulled out of writing a dissertation at the last minute, despite having a topic I was passionate about. Whenever people asked me why I had changed my mind, I was somewhat embarrassed to admit that I simply believed I wasn’t good enough. Regrettably, the pressure had gotten to me.

As mentioned in my previous post, the autumn of 2019 had me at breaking point, as personal circumstances drove my mental health to take a turn for the worst. I desperately wanted to savour my last first semester of my undergrad, both socially and academically, but as I barely slept and struggled to complete my readings, this desire appeared further and further away from my reach. I spent many days crying in staff members’ office hours, admitting that I had barely touched any of my work, and forced myself to put on a smile as soon as I walked out of their doors. The worst thing that could’ve happened was for the student body to see me as a failure, as someone who had let themselves go, and as someone mentally and physically fragile. I laughed and joked and socialised in my go-to ‘I’m-Extremely-Nervous-To-Be-Here-With-You-So-I’m-Going-To-Make-A-Bunch-Of-Self-Deprecating-Jokes-And-Pray-That-You-Like-Me’ personality that often shrouded my true self, when in reality…I was suffering.

However, in addition to my being placed on medication, I was also lucky enough to have a vast selection of amazing friends to help me get through this bump in the road and share my time with. We made the most of our freedom between classes with sharing meals at new eateries, playing on our Nintendo Switches and reminiscing about the good ol’ days. We did still work though, I can assure you, but there is only so much Absalom, Absalom! that a sane person can take in any given day 😉 Furthermore, it was extremely bittersweet that I had made some good new friends in my final year, and I lamented over the lost times that we could’ve shared throughout our degrees, had we been lucky enough to cross paths prior to that moment. But, the sense of a growing community and shared panicked experience made me feel like I was finally living through that genuine university life I had always craved. It was just a shame that it would soon be over, and be over far quicker and much more dramatically than we had hoped or deserved.

Back when we were still naive to the upcoming…obstacles, shall we say, and getting in the swing of our final semester ever, myself and a group of my friends befriended a couple of first years in the common room, and I’ve never been quite able to get our exchange out of my head. Listening to these girls talking about modules such as Classical and Biblical Contexts made me squirm as I remembered those painfully awkward lectures, and answering their questions regarding module recommendations made me view myself in a wholly different light. I was no longer Leyla Hasso, walking disaster of a final year English student, but rather Leyla Hasso, beacon of knowledge, fountain of wisdom and most importantly, ‘the one from Croydon’. Reflecting upon my own experiences and calming the nerves of these girls allowed me to realise just how far I had come and how much I had to be proud of. Not too long before I had been a lonely, silent and terrified mouse, who would fling herself upon her bed in tears every night, begging her mum to let her drop out. But as I joked with these girls and connected with them on both an academic and human level, I questioned whether my younger self would have ever believed she would eventually grow into that person. The answer, of course, was: no way in hell.

Sadly, it was not too long after this interchange that I would take the final lecture and seminar of my English undergrad at KCL, without even knowing this to be the case. There had been murmurs of further UCU strikes for some time and I think I was in denial, praying that if I didn’t give voice to it or speak it into existence, then it wouldn’t rip away another semester of my degree, it being by far the most important semester of all. But alas, it happened, and one global pandemic later (yeah, THAT one), KCL had completely shut down and my final semester at this institution had turned to mulch. When I received the email about our graduation being cancelled, the straw had finally broken the camel’s back and I burst into tears, devastated that all our hard work would not be celebrated. In my entire school career, I had never had a prom, a party or a graduation ceremony and so I had always known that my university graduation would be the cherry on the cake, the last hurrah and the climax to 21 years of life. I know that in the grand scheme of things, the wellness of a population is obviously far more important to humanity and safety should always come first, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling melancholy whenever I think about how my day could’ve been. All I’m going to say is, I’d better get a bloody graduation for my MA next year, otherwise I’m going to seriously lose my marbles!

A Final Note

In conclusion, my time at KCL has undoubtedly been a whirlwind. Who would’ve thought that the terrified girl who took the bus alone for the first time on her first day at 18 years-old would be shaped into a 21 year-old woman who would be livid at her SOLO journey abroad’s cancellation due to a global pandemic. That, my friends, is character development!

My time at KCL, while interrupted throughout, gave me some of the greatest friends I have ever known, taught me what I love (Call It Sleep <3) and hate (Piers Plowman please go to hell), as well as making me see that I too have the right to call myself a scholar. I may not have entered this institution with knowledge of the Classics, literary theorists and the most complicated philosophies, but I know that I was shaped into becoming my own brand of critic, which in an era that is gradually encouraging self-acceptance, is so incredibly important.

As of right now, I am preparing for my MA in Modern Literature and Culture at KCL, and by prepare I mean, panic and not start any preparatory reading. I would be concerned but if the last three years are anything to go by, I know that I’ll somehow make it there in the end.

Published by Leyla Hasso

I'm an anxious 21-year-old Londoner who by day studies English Lit at King's College London, and by night competes in Super Mario Kart...all while trying to always look on the bright side!

2 thoughts on “Reflecting Upon My English BA at King’s College London

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