It’s that time of year again. A level results have been released and for thousands of students the prospect of leaving home and starting university in a few weeks is a reality. Their heads are filled with expectations as they trawl through the shops with their parents buying new duvets, cushions and cookware. They are excited; they have bought their nightclub event wristbands and have been told that they are about to enter into some of the best years of their life, in which they will meet their new life-long best friends and spend a lot of the time either drunk, or hungover binge-watching box-sets.
If I think back to this time three years ago, I was one of them. I was nervous, obviously, but nobody prepared me for what I would actually feel the day I picked up the keys to my small, blue carpeted room in Cardiff. I had never been a clingy child and had made the most of the independence my mum allowed me, but I am a bit of a home-bird. It also didn’t help that I had just left the beautiful countryside, a great group of friends, a supportive and loving family and that I was cosy and comfortable in my relationship with my boyfriend at home. Thankfully, both he and my best friend were coming to Cardiff uni too, so at least I had that comfort. My boyfriend arrived on the same day as me but we both agreed to initially give each other some space and mingle with our house mates. Whilst I was finishing saying goodbye to mum, he was fulfilling his expectations and making plans with his new housemates to go out. He seemed to get stuck-in straight away, immediately adjusting to the change. (Blog post about going to uni in a relationship is in progress!)
I will never forget the sinking, lost feeling I felt the day mum shut the door of my room leaving me sat on the bed. I didn’t know anyone in my flat yet, I didn’t know the city and I felt the most alone I had ever felt in my life. The way people talk about uni as a big and exciting adventure, leaving out the potential struggles, had meant that I did not face up to what leaving home for the next three years actually meant, and the emotion hit me very suddenly.
In an attempt to distract myself from my homesickness, I agreed to join my flatmates at the SU for my first night out in Cardiff. Having only been 18 for a couple of weeks and not being a massive fan of drinking anyway, I stood there like a lemon whilst my new ‘best’ friends got drunk and confident. I got into bed later that night thinking it had been pretty average if I’m honest.
The next day my best friend Georgie arrived and I helped her get settled whilst filling her in about the night before. We met her housemates and agreed to see them later for pre-drinks and another night out. It soon became clear that people relied so much on the confidence alcohol gave them in order to make friends. In the nights everyone was very chatty but the day was a different story; some people I’d spoken to, or even looked after when they were drunk, didn’t even acknowledge me when I passed them in the street. If I’m honest, I didn’t really enjoy fresher’s week in first year. Drinking and going out every night wasn’t really my scene and yet, because that worked for so many, I felt like the odd one out. In school and in college it had never been this hard for me to fit in and make friends. Why was it so difficult now?
I mean, there were probably many people in a similar boat – they just seemed so few and far between. Not helped by the fact that a lot of time, effort and money is put into the advertising of evening events and not so much to events happening in the day. There is no doubt that I could have joined more day-trips and taster classes, but in the moment it’s difficult not to think negatively and question whether you will fit in or look silly. Georgie and I thought we would try cheer-leading but found ourselves surrounded by gymnasts and people who have trained and competed at the sport all their life. It was pretty obvious then that we would not make the team! Very quickly all my hopes that going to uni would unleash my undiscovered talent dwindled (I’m still searching by the way!)
After a week of crying, drinking and just generally feeling like crap, I was really looking forward to starting my course. Incredibly, I met my fantastic group of course friends in the very first introductory lectures and for this, I am so so grateful! With the initial ‘uni hype’ revolving around drinking and nights out, it was so nice to be reminded of the main reason I was there: to learn and immerse myself in literature! As the term went on, and with the routine and structure that lectures brought with it, I learnt to create a healthy balance of work and play. I went out drinking when I wanted to, and not when I felt I had to. I also joined an evening Spanish Course which was a great way to meet new, like-minded people.
Based on my fresher’s experience and the beauty of hindsight, here are three pieces of advice I would give to students starting this autumn:
So you’ve got your place at university, and you’re about to embark on a new and exciting journey. People keep telling you it’s going to be amazing and whilst it will be, try to spend some time preparing yourself for the massive adjustment. You will most likely be in a new place, with new people and new responsibilities. I remember being so hung up on the small details, like what colour bedding to buy and whether I had enough pans, that I didn’t really think about the bigger picture. Have a little think about the extent of the change, and hopefully, if you experience homesickness, it won’t hit you like a tonne of bricks.
One thing I will say about my fresher’s experience was that I lacked confidence. Even though I eventually learnt to love uni and didn’t want to leave when it was over, I do look back on that first term wishing I had a bit more confidence to try more new things. If you’re like me, and you’re not really sold on drinking and nights out, actively try and seek things you will be interested in. You will most definitely find something. I discovered tap and ballet in my second year and now wish I’d had that extra year to learn!
I spent a lot of time in my first year trying to make myself enjoy drinking and a night out, when deep down, I knew it wasn’t necessarily for me. I went along with it because I was scared of being the odd one out; I thought I would lose friends. I soon realised that if people are your true friends, they will accept you for who you are, and that you will meet lots of new people by taking part in things you do enjoy!
So there you have it, my honest account of my first few weeks of Uni. This has been a work in progress in my head for a few months now and I’m so glad I finally knuckled down and decided to share it with you all. Whether you have just finished uni, are mid-way through, or are just starting out, I hope my words and experiences will give you some reassurance that everybody lives a different and unique university experience. Whatever you’re feeling, there is probably someone out there feeling exactly the same! One thing I will say is stick with it; everything will probably work itself out in the end. You will learn so much about yourself. You will grow and develop and probably, like me, end up not wanting to leave when the time comes!