Grads of the UK is an Instagram project and series of articles run by graduates, for graduates. We are documenting what being a millennial in 2017 is really like, with honest stories about life after university.
Every week we hand over our Instagram account to a new grad and share their unique story here on GradTouch. This week, Poppy Darnell is taking over. Poppy graduated in July 2016, having completed her Bachelor's in Architecture.
You can read our interview with Poppy below, and see more daily insights into her life since uni by following @gradsoftheuk on Instagram.
In the first week of her Architecture course at uni, one of Poppy’s tutors suggested she didn’t belong there.
“’You should do a hair and beauty course’, he said, and from that moment I was set out to prove him wrong.” This wasn’t the first time someone had told Poppy she couldn’t make it as an Architect. When she decided it was what she wanted to do at school, “so many of my teachers doubted me… I remember one saying there’s no point applying, you’re not going to get it.”
But she did. And now, having graduated last year, Poppy is an Architect’s Assistant. Soon, she’ll go back to university for another four years to finish qualifying.
Before coming to Manchester for her degree, Poppy didn’t have the easiest time.
Growing up, money was extremely tight and her family moved around a lot. They’ve lived in Australia, Cyprus, Watford and several different parts of Wales. She describes her life before graduating as a series of fleeting experiences, marked by temporary friendship groups and often being the new girl at a new school. “I’ve always started new again, started new again, started new again. It’s always just been starting over,” Poppy says.
Poppy was raised by her mum and her nan, and they were a massive inspiration to her. “I’ve always been driven by how hard my mum works and how hard my nan worked… I never really had one stable male figure in my life – we’ve done it for ourselves.” She describes her nan in particular as “the voice in my head” and the reason she believed she could do Architecture. “She pushed me. She always said to me: ‘you’re going to do something great when you’re older, you just need to find it.’”
When she was 13, Poppy’s nan passed away, but from then on she was more determined than ever to succeed. “That was a real drive for me to work hard, because she always wanted me to do well… We’ve never had a lot of money and I just thought ‘right, I want to be the total opposite.’”
Training to be an architect is a long, grueling process.
Students undertake a three-year degree, take time out to get experience and then go back to uni for an additional four years. “It was really tough,” Poppy says of her first three years as a student, “You’d be working hard on something until three or four in the morning, and then they’d say ‘I don’t like it’ and that was it.”
After graduation, she stayed put in Manchester, but all of her friends moved away to do Architecture placements or teach English abroad. “There’s not one who’s stayed in the UK. They were probably the longest friendships I’d had for a while, so it was quite horrible when they all went,” she says.
Moving around and having to see people come and go on a regular basis hasn’t been all bad for Poppy, though. She says her past experiences have been a real asset in the work she does now: “I’m alright with talking to new people and I’m quite a good public speaker, which is brilliant for clients. So, [moving a lot] did help me, because I’m quite easy – I can adapt.”
Having to say goodbye to her uni friends was hard, but Poppy seems happier than she’s ever been as a graduate.
She doesn’t miss university and is really excited about the life she’s building for herself in Manchester. “Growing up, you never knew if you were going to move or not, you never know if you were going to stay or not. That’s why I think, Manchester… I’m just going to stay here.”
Now, she rents a flat with her boyfriend, Jamie. She tells me, “We’ve been together for half a decade now – god knows how!” Poppy describes her relationship with Jamie as “a sort of stable rock... I know I’ll never let him down, so I hope he never lets me down.”
Alongside her relationship, Poppy says the work she’s doing has “given me structure in my life… I’ve never really been in a job before where it’s just gone so quickly and I’ve not looked at the clock. My mind’s always working.”
The underlying appeal of Architecture to Poppy is in its permanence. “When I see something that I’ve designed and it’s built, that’s like an imprint on history isn’t it? From the biggest skyscraper to… even just a small house extension.”
“I think it’s just the idea of seeing something that I’ve thought of in my head just there in front of me, that would be so cool… And I’ve never had anything permanent.”
Growing up, Poppy’s nan was “the fuel” that made her believe she could do well. She says now “I’m just trying to keep her fuel going.” And she certainly is. “I don’t say it enough, but I am quite proud of myself with where I am now. Because at the beginning I was thinking, ‘Jesus, I don’t know how I’m going to do this’. I knew nothing about Architecture, but I stayed up late and read a lot of books and really got my head into it.”
Finally, I ask Poppy what advice she’d give herself if she could go back to Freshers’ Week.
What would she say to people who are struggling at uni or as recent graduates?
“Keep on at it. There’s going to be times when it’s really, really tough – but just remember that you can adapt and you know what you’re doing. So, just have faith in yourself, I guess. Just keep going.”
Poppy is running the @gradsoftheuk Instagram until Friday 10th February.