Cearúil Swords graduated in 2009 with a Master of Arts in Gender Studies & Anthropology. A native of Dublin, he has penned this brief letter to Aberdeen about a few of the things he learned about life during his time at the University.
It's been a while; how are you? Someone asked me to get in touch and since I haven't been back for a heck of a long time I felt it was high time to let you know some of what I learned and came to appreciate while we lived together.
It's not where you are on the map, it's where you are in your head that counts.
You can be in the most exciting place in the world, where great and momentous events are occurring right outside your door but the wrong mindset will drain all the colour and wonder from the experience. In the same way with the right mindset a place which is the centre of few people's world can be ripe with opportunities, possibilities and the hum of activity and life. I think Aberdeen played a part in establishing this mind set in me—it ain't where you are but who you are that counts.
Aberdeen gave us all a chance to be creative and push for things we wanted to see.
Often when I say I studied in Scotland people ask Glasgow or Edinburgh - Aberdeen doesn't register! But to be honest Aberdeen is a great place for being creative and taking on projects because the whole cultural caravan touring Britain doesn't always stop off in places like Aberdeen which means you put on events yourselves, champion a friend or acquaintance's efforts and generally push yourselves more rather than fall back on the abundance of events that a place like Edinburgh or London might have to offer.
Being out of the way meant there were some wonderfully kooky people to befriend.
Again, because Aberdeen isn't everyone's first destination and it is a little removed and tucked away in the north of Britain you find a fair amount of eccentric people of eclectic tastes who are a bit alternative in their manner and way of carrying on. As a younger person it seemed the sort of place people went to reinvent themselves or strike out on their own, like a modern craggy rock in the sea where the hermits of old might have gone to seek revelation.
The luxury of a friend only minutes away.
This is something that I didn't quite appreciate at the time but I do now having lived in several other cities and countries. Any time of the day I could wander for, at most, five or ten minutes and be certain to bump into someone I knew or come to a friend's house and join them for a cup of tea. I could do a whole circuit and happily catch up on their world, give details of my own and create plans for future days all in the space of a few hours and still have time to study. Now, whether in more compact locations or sprawling cities, that just isn't possible. The days of tripping down cobbled streets or narrow laneways within easy reach of a warm hearth are gone; who knows when they will come again.
Planning trips across Europe with friends I made as destinations.
A nice part of having had a motley crew of international friends is the opportunity to make their current homes and locations a part of any trip I am lucky enough to go on. On occasion I have made a trip's itinerary read purely like an excuse to see friends from my university days. It's a win on so many levels; you get regaled with tales, share some of your own and often see a place that might have otherwise lost out to bigger, more famous cities or even more fashionable boroughs within a city. On nearly all land-based trips I make a point of unearthing a friend and walking their streets to share in their world and reminisce about the one we once shared.
A fun quirky bunch who were always fighting something or building something.
You could often find us reading each other poems and stories, running free on the windy beach or tucked in under a giant blanket sharing a laugh, but we also had our moments of standing up and saying in one collective voice “we're as mad as hell and we won't take it anymore.” We were a fairly wholesome lot but with a stern word for the greed and hate in the world. Marches were attended, petitions were signed, articles were crafted, elections were run in and funds were raised. Some things changed, others remained the same but we ourselves were transformed. Some of us went on to fight the good fight in more obvious ways, while others found different methods of resistance and others still found a quiet contentment in small acts of goodness and tolerance.
I certainly travelled during my time in Aberdeen.
It may not have created the desire to travel, I think I would have ventured forth anyway, but it certainly didn't dampen my enthusiasm and sometimes informed it and aided my efforts. The term breaks and summers were a wonderful kaleidoscope of far-flung lands, road trips, hitch-hiking and moments reconnecting with family and school friends. The ideas for trips might come from a late night conversation, a documentary seen while at a lecture or a book on one's reading list for the week. A million things could set a trip off and it was usually the need to return for the next term that ended them, but it was definitely a welcome return on more than a few occasions.
Nothing is assured.
Aberdeen didn't exactly set me up for things since leaving but I don't know if it could, unless I did something with a more defined career path which I was willing to follow. To be honest, I think the world does not know what to make of arty types or those with social science backgrounds, and the opportunities to use your qualifications seem to be reduced to fierce fights for more and more limited funding, marketing the latest fad to consumers or figuring out more subterranean ways to advertise and promote messages and products to society at large. So if you are a bit contrary then you might suffer from underemployment and a 'realignment' to another field of endeavour. It is the world we have inherited and further moulded and no university seems to have figured out how to help students with the conundrum, but it was a happy bubble we shared before it popped.
Aberdeen, so you are to me: gardens, cups of tea, campfires, nights in with a film, dancing until the early hours of the morn, dumpster diving, face-painting, games of football, songs on the radio, days in the library reading between the aisles and the thousands of faces, some of which have faded and others that burn still brightly in my mind's eye.
Aberdeen, you are a funny auld place with funny auld folk and I hope since my departure you have continued to welcome the types of people I grew to love and adore while I was there; I hope you cherish them and nurture them and do everything you can to see them as people not numbers, to will them to share their potential with the world in spite of their sometimes disruptive effect on the status quo and the sleepers. I hope, Aberdeen, you continue to act as a jumping off point where some may soar and others may hover closer to the ground but where we are all carried on the winds together learning to fly.