As I near the end of my undergraduate studies, I would like to dedicate a blog to what has shaped me perhaps the most during my time here - and I'm not referring to the invaluable professors or internships I've written about on this blog, but to life in the Newman House Chaplaincy. While Oxford or Cambridge have their own halls of residence, which serve, among other things, as meeting places for different disciplines and community building, most London universities do not have this tradition, and students live on their own in flats or private halls of residence. In my first year I lived in a dormitory assigned by my university, but in my second and final (fourth) year, I found a home in Newman House.
I could list the practical advantages of the accommodation, such as its location right on the UCL campus in Bloomsbury, or the fact that among the sixty students staying there I always found a native speaker willing to practice foreign languages with me. But to see Newman House as just a collection of great people would be very reductionist. This Catholic college has the dimension of a family: it is a home where people care for each other. Sometimes all it takes is a computer crashing before an exam, a flat tire, a missing calculator, a friend dropping out for a concert, or getting sick, when walking to the pharmacy on a crowded street seems like a superhuman task. Newman House has a simple solution to all of these problems - a WhatsApp group full of helpful people, usually several of whom will respond within minutes to any request for help: they'll take care of the flowers when you leave (even though my potted Christmas tree didn't survive until January), lend you things and expertise, or suggest a program for free weekends. In short, they never leave you to face the challenges of the metropole alone.
I remember so well the day when twenty of the then forty or so students occupying Newman House ended up in contact isolation, the blue spring sky above them, and their smiling faces leaning out from the white facade of the house into the street toward us, who had escaped quarantine, chatting with them from the sunny street on our way to the shopping errands we were happy to run for them. Or the day we opened the door of our rooms on the first of December to find a chocolate Advent calendar.
Now in my fourth year, when I open the heavy doors onto Gower street on Sunday mornings and settle in at the reception desk to greet people going to mass and sell coupons for Sunday lunch afterwards, I think of my first-year self, bewildered by the new world of London, how I walked through that door glad that I didn't have to eat lunch alone on a Sunday in an anonymous university dormitory, but could sit surrounded by people of different disciplines and nationalities in the noisy basement dining room of Newman House, bursting at the seams.
On other Sundays, I sing in the same choir that got me into Newman House three years ago, and sometimes I find myself daydreaming, looking at the faces of other "Newmanites." They are scientists, artists, doctors, fashion designers, chemists, writers and musicians, nobles and scholarship recipients, people from all corners of the world.
stipendistka projektu Univerzity
Of course, living in Newman House places certain demands on those who are in their second or third year of living there (senior students). It is a school of kindness to live in a house where at all hours of the day and night you can meet someone on your way to the kitchenette, and a challenge to a busy student's schedule to live in a house where there is an intellectual or spiritual event almost every night. You may find yourself running errands during a busy school day for someone you otherwise don't talk to but has fallen ill and you just happen to have a moment, or you're having a foreign language dinner after a busy day when it would be more enjoyable to listen to a podcast. But after leaving for summer break after my first year as a Newman House resident, I felt how much I missed even these random interactions and involvement in the community.
Another important principle of Newman House is that it remains open at all times, especially to those who do not live there. This means not only the above-mentioned open reception, but also the willingness of each of us as residents to reach out to newcomers, invite friends, and not to close ourselves off into groups by nationality. After spending a year abroad, living in similar dorms in France and Hungary, I have come to see how important this openness is. In some ways, Newman House reminds me of the dormitory at my grammar school Open Gate, from which I flew out into the world only to discover that student life is best experienced in a community. Sharing your studies and extracurricular activities with others and being inspired by others' stories is, in my opinion, one of the best things about the college years, and lifelong friendships are statistically most often forged during university studies.
At a time when so many young people are quite understandably struggling with mental health issues, I would therefore encourage younger students, and especially those studying in anonymous big cities like London, to get involved in a community like Newman House or student societies. It doesn't have to be about socialising at the expense of studying, but rather sharing some of your daily activities, such as running or eating, with someone else. Because the goal of studying is not only to grow intellectually and professionally, but also and above all as a human being.
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