An Honest Reflection of My First Year of University

Hello! Hope you’re all doing well! I am currently on my summer holidays?!??! Which is mad because that means that I’ve SOMEHOW survived first year of university?!!!? If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that this year hasn’t been plain sailing and you’re probably very fed up of me rambling on about university, but it’s been a massive change in my life and I feel like my blog as become an outlet for me to document my experiences as a student. It’s definitely been a tough year and there have been points where I have wanted to give up but I feel like I have grown immeasurably as a person since last September and have learnt many skills for life throughout my university experience so far.

In all honesty, my mental health has suffered significantly since starting university and this exam season especially has been the toughest few months I’ve ever had to go through. Whilst I know it’s going to take me a long time to recover from the mental and emotional exhaustion of this year and get my mental health back under control, I don’t regret coming to university as I feel like my experiences here and the independence I’ve gained have helped me find the confidence to seek help for mental health issues I’ve been struggling with for a while. I don’t want to focus too much on the negatives though, I just really wanted to be honest and break the expectation that university is the “best years of your life” because believing that is partly what caused me to struggle so much this year. There have definitely been many high points throughout the year and I should be proud of myself for everything I’ve achieved. I’m going to talk about some different aspects of university life this year and share some of my experiences with you.

Living with other people

This was, perhaps, the thing that I was most apprehensive about when moving to university. Would I get on with my flatmates? Would I be able to look after myself? Can I even cook!? There were so many questions and worries that I had before moving into halls, which I think is COMPLETELY natural. One thing I’ve learnt is that everybody’s living situation is very different. The people that you end up living with in halls are allocated completely randomly and whilst some people get on well with their flatmates and become best friends, for others it can be a living nightmare. I’m quite happy that my living situation turned out to be somewhere in the middle of this spectrum as although my flatmates and I are very different and don’t have a lot in common friendship-wise, we get along well enough to live together. Sometimes I’ve wished I lived in a more sociable flat where we ate together and went out together instead of just five-minute small talk whilst cooking in the kitchen. At the same time, I’ve loved having my own personal space and the fact that I can stay in my room all day if I want to without seeming rude. Living with people from different backgrounds, cultures and countries has definitely been a learning curve but it’s been a very unique experience that I don’t think I would have got if I hadn’t had come to university. I’ve lived with people this year that I never would have crossed paths with otherwise and it’s helped me to become more understanding of different people. Of course there have been times where I’ve been fed up with the mess in the kitchen or the state of the bins but that’s just part of student life and adjusting to living independently. I think we’ve all coped quite well, aside from flooding the hallway, a ladybird infestation and the sad death of Henry Hoover. I’m actually quite grateful that I wasn’t close friends with my flatmates, even thought I’ve struggled with loneliness throughout the year, as that forced me to go out and socialise with other people! One thing I would say is that if you don’t find your best friends in your flat, try not to worry or compare yourself to the experiences your friends are having in halls as their living situations will be completely different to yours!

Independence

I guess this follows on from the first point but moving out of home as definitely given me more independence. I feel like almost a completely different person to when I moved in here. I was unable to cook anything and didn’t like using public transport or going shopping by myself. I quickly picked up how to cook for myself, I think you have to when you’re put in a situation where no one else will cook for you! And whilst I used to dread having to take the bus into town alone when I lived at home, now I will quite happily travel across the country on various modes of public transport, including going into London by myself and navigating the tube (which was honestly terrifying at first!!). I’ve also become a lot more independent in other ways such as looking after myself when I’m ill, taking myself to the doctor’s and reaching out for help from personal tutors and the well-being services when I need it. In that sense, I feel like I have more control over my life now. Part of me still can’t believe that I’ve managed to keep myself alive for the past year?!!?

Going out of my comfort zone

So pretty much the whole concept of moving out of home to the other side of the country was out of my comfort zone this time last year. I wasn’t even sure if I’d make it through Fresher’s Week but when I got here, I just kind of threw myself into everything and realised I could do a lot more than I thought. University is full of challenges and changes and I feel like I’ve really made a conscious effort to do the things that scare me as I know that’s how I’ll become more confident. In Term 1, for example, I went to a hiking society taster session BY MYSELF which was absolutely terrifying but it actually worked out okay and I ended up spending the whole day hiking with people I’d never met before (and unfortunately never saw again as they didn’t join the society, but that’s not the point!). I’ve also made an effort this year to keep in touch with some of the friends I made in Fresher’s Week and meet up with them throughout the year. I personally find inviting people to meet up very anxiety-inducing so this has been a big thing for me but I’m glad I put in the effort to keep in touch with people as now I have two good friends who I meet up with regularly for coffee or lunch that I met during welcome talks in the first week of term. Travelling to London by myself was very much out of my comfort zone too, but now I’ve done it dozens of times, it’s not scary anymore! Finally I applied to be a peer mentor in second year, which means I get given a group of freshers from my department to mentor throughout the year and help them settle in. It’s something I really wanted to do as I feel like I’ve been through a lot this year and would really like to help people settle in to university better than I have. To my surprise, my application was accepted and I attended training last week, which was daunting in itself, having to do group work with strangers! I think expanding my comfort zone is one of the biggest things I’ve gained from first year and I definitely feel like I am more confident than I was in Sixth Form.

Adjusting to a new environment

Another key part of moving to university for many students is living in a new city/area. Personally, I was really excited to move away from my hometown as nothing much really happens there and I wanted to escape all the bad memories that were made there. I’d only visited my university town twice before move in day and I somehow failed to notice that it was so hilly?? Like, the whole campus is on multiple hills. So the hardest thing to adjust to has been having to walk up two hills everyday to lectures and walk up another hill on my way back from Tesco with my bags of shopping (it is AN ORDEAL). My university is on a campus near a small town on the edge of London so I think it’s been easier to adjust to than being in a big city as it didn’t take me long to figure out where everything is. Although occasionally I still get lost walking down some of the residential roads as all the houses look the same! I’ve actually found living somewhere new really refreshing. It may sound weird but uni is starting to feel more like home than my hometown as it’s the first place I’ve lived independently and I’ve actually chosen to live here.

Homesickness

Although I have struggled this year, homesickness was surprisingly one thing I haven’t struggled with. There have maybe been one or two occasions where I’ve thought that I want to go home, but that’s more been because I’ve been struggling mentally and couldn’t look after myself properly rather than actually missing home. However, it is 100% okay if you are homesick as the majority of students go through this. Moving out for the first time is a big shock! I think what helped me not feel homesick is the fact that I told myself I could go home half way through term when we had our reading week, which was about 6 weeks after move in day. I was determined to stay at uni for as long as possible so I could let myself settle in and adjust to a new routine and setting a date in the future where I knew I could come home helped. I definitely think if I had gone home the first weekend, I would have been a lot more homesick. Also, I think choosing a university that is 3-4 hours away from home has worked well for me too as the hassle (and cost) of taking the train back puts me off from wanting to go home!

Friends

I think making friends at uni has been really hard for me. At first, it was easy to talk to people as everyone was friendly and wanted to socialise but as soon as people started forming little groups, it felt impossible. I was lucky in that I met a group of people at my departmental welcome party that I’ve stuck with throughout the whole year in lectures. Although they are all lovely, we’re not very close as I feel like we don’t have a lot in common so I kind of wish I’d branched out a bit instead of sticking with the first people I met. But I’m hoping next year I’ll get to know more people on my course as we split up into different modules. As I mentioned, I haven’t become good friends with my flatmates either which was hard. I think I just felt like the outsider from the beginning and as I’ve struggled with my mental health, I became quite withdrawn and avoided them at some points throughout the year. I have made two good friends though who I meet up with every few weeks, one who I met at the languages welcome party (as I started uni studying French and Politics) and another that I met in a Welcome Talk on the first day as I just sat down next to her and started chatting. So I am glad that I have them although we do different courses so I don’t see them as much as I’d like! I think making friends really depends on who you end up in a flat with and who’s on your course, but it’s never too late to make new friends!

Nightlife

Honestly, I was dreading this before coming to uni. I had only been to a club a few times back home and really hadn’t enjoyed it, mainly because the pressure to drink made me anxious. I did end up going out once in Fresher’s Week but after that I didn’t go out or drink again until about March because I just really didn’t like it. But then I made a good friend on my course, who I’m living with next year, that respected the fact that I don’t drink a lot so I’ve been out with her about ten times over the last two terms. I’m actually starting to enjoy going out now and figuring out what I do and don’t like drinking but if you’re not a fan of nights out, it’s definitely not the be all and end all of university life!

My course

Finally I should probably talk about my actual degree. As some of you may know (because I keep going on about it lol), I actually changed degree within the first few weeks of university as it just wasn’t right for me. This was very disruptive for me and I think it stopped me from settling into my flat as I was so stressed trying to catch up on work that I spent most of my time in my room studying. Sometimes I do miss studying French, but I don’t regret my decision as the way it was taught here just didn’t work for me and I probably would have ended up dropping out. So, I switched to Politics and International Relations and studied four core modules: Intro to Politics, Intro to IR, Classical Reading and Research Methods. IR has definitely been my favourite module this year. I struggled a lot with Classics because it’s a philosophy module and I had no clue how to go about writing essay or why Plato and Aristotle were relevant to my degree, but at least it’s over now! I’m still not completely satisfied with my course as it doesn’t offer me everything I wanted to get out of university, like the opportunity to study abroad for example. When I was doing French, I was enrolled on a four year programme with a compulsory year abroad which I was really looking forward to. However the PIR department doesn’t have ANY study abroad links, which I didn’t realise before I applied here. It’s really frustrated because I know if I studied politics at pretty much any other uni, I could do a semester or year abroad and still get the experience of living in France that I really wanted to get out of university. But I guess I just have to accept that that’s the way it is and there’s not much I can do about it now. In terms of the workload, it sort of fluctuates. As I only had 9 contact hours a week – 5 lectures and 4 seminars – keeping up with my weekly reading wasn’t too challenging as I had a lot of free time. However, in both November and March I had four coursework submission dates within the space of two weeks, which was very stressful and it was difficult to juggle writing four essays at a time whilst attending lectures and doing weekly reading. When it came to exams, I had one for each module in which I had two hours to write two essays. I’m honestly not expecting much from my results and it will be a miracle if I pass because I’ve been quite physically/mentally ill through exam season so was barely able to do any revision. At one point I almost didn’t turn up to an exam as I’d been sleeping for about two hours per night for the past few weeks and was having a break down at 5am on the phone to my mum when I had to get up two hours later for my 9am exam. So, exams were NOT FUN to say the least, but I’ve managed. And next year I’m definitely going to try to stress less and take better care of myself so this doesn’t happen again.

Wow, that’s been a lot of writing and I’m sure I’ve missed out some important stuff! Anyway, just wanted to say thank you for sticking with me throughout the past year and putting up with my rambles. It’s been tough and I’m so glad I have to whole summer to recover, I definitely need a break!

If you’ve just finished first year too, how have you found your university experience? 🙂

Advertisements

How I Spent My Student Loan: A Guide for How (not) to Budget

As I’ve now officially finished my first year at university (eek!!), I decided to look back at how I’ve managed my money since moving out in September. One of the biggest responsibilities you have as a student is managing your income as for many people, university is the first time where you are expected to pay for your rent and bills by yourself, whilst also somehow having enough money to feed yourself and socialise.

I’m quite a visual person, so things graphs and charts mean a lot more to me than just lists of numbers, so I thought I would create a pie chart to breakdown my spending this past year. Throughout the year, I have been recording everything I spend in a little notebook, as it helps me keep track of how much I’m spending each week so I don’t end up in my overdraft. I’d highly recommend doing this as it’s a straightforward way to keep track of your spending and budget better. Also, if you’re bored and miss doing maths like me (who am I kidding??!), you can then spend hours creating fancy pie charts at the end of the year!

For context, my living costs at university have been funded by a maintenance loan from the Student Loans Company, along with a bursary from my university itself. Luckily my loan covered my accommodation costs but I know for some people this can be a struggle and they find they need to work alongside to support themselves.

The first chart I made is an overview of all my spending throughout the year.

Pie chart titled: Year 1 spending
Rent = 58%
Deposit = 10%
Other shopping = 7%
Groceries = 6%
Holidays = 4%
Social = 4%
Transport = 3%
Books = 2%
Other = 2%
ATM = 2%
Laundry = 1%
Top-up = 1%

As I expected, the rent I’ve paid for my university halls of residence has been the biggest outgoing, followed by the deposit I had to pay for my second year house (which was ridiculously expensive arghhh!!). Most student’s will probably end up spending the biggest chunk of money on their accommodation, unless you’re commuting then transport might be the biggest cost. Aside from the rent and deposit, all the other things I’ve spent money make up a relatively small percentage in comparison, so I’ve broken this down further into another pie chart, excluded the rent and deposit.

Pie chart title: Non-accommodation spending
Other shopping= 23%
Groceries = 19%
Social = 12%
Holidays = 12%
Transport = 1-%
ATM = 7%
Other = 6%
Books = 6%
Laundry = 3%
Top-up = 2%

So, excluding the amount of money I’ve had to spend on actually having somewhere to live at university, my next biggest cost by far is ‘other shopping’. I didn’t really know what to label this but basically I mean things I’ve bought that isn’t included in my weekly grocery shop, so non-essential items. The majority of this spending has gone on clothes, birthday/Christmas presents for friends and family and the new phone which I had to buy myself in first term as my old one decided to give up on me. I honestly expected transport to be by biggest non-accommodation cost, so this was quite surprising. I definitely think next year I can aim to spend a lot less on unnecessary items so I can save more money for after university.

After shopping, I’ve spent the most money on groceries which is to be expected as food can be expensive!

I’ve also spent a lot of money this year on holidays, which isn’t that surprising as flights and accommodation can be expensive! I also had to renew my passport this year which cost A LOT, but at least it’s valid for the next 10 years now. To some people, holidays/travel may seem unnecessary but travelling and exploring new countries is something I do for fun and to relax, and whilst some people might spend £100 on a night out, I’d rather put that money towards travel. I’ve spent the same amount of money on socialising, which includes things like paying for society memberships and events, going out for meals/for a coffee with friends and going to the Student Union club nights. The amount of money I spent on socialising definitely increased a lot in second term as I made more friends and although I have spent a lot of money socialising this year, I think it’s important to find a balance between studying and social life. It also proves to me that I haven’t been as anti-social as I thought I’d been this year!

Then transport is my next biggest cost and I was totally expect this. I think I’ve spent almost £400 on train and bus tickets this year, just travelling around the UK which goes to show how extortionate train tickets are here. It costs me £50 for a return ticket every time I go home, which is why I’ve only been home 4 times throughout the year as it’s too expensive to go back more frequently. I’ve also travelled a lot around my university area, going in and out of London multiple times and visiting my sister at her university in Portsmouth, so that accounts for the rest of the transport costs. I think next year I can aim to cut this down as well. One thing I’ve noticed this year is that when things get tough, I have a tendency to want to run away and escape, which usually results in me jumping on a train to London or another nearby town/city to go and explore for the day. I have enjoyed exploring the South East, but I think next year I’ll have to try and travel less frequently to save money.

The next three biggest costs which each make up around 6% of my spendings are books, cash withdrawals from ATMs and ‘other’ (which includes random costs such as posting parcels and buying new glasses, which are ridiculously overpriced!!). Honestly, university books are so expensive and I can’t wait to sell them at the end of my degree, even if I only get a fraction of the money back. I put ATM withdrawals as a separate category as I can never remember what I spend cash on specifically, but I guess it’ll usually be groceries or bus/train tickets.

Then finally I’ve spent the smallest amount of money on laundry (3%) and mobile phone top-ups (2%). I thought laundry would be a lot me, considering it costs me around £7 each week to wash and dry my clothes. However the good thing is next year I won’t have to spend any money on laundry as my house has it’s own washing machine and tumble dryer, so that’ll be some more money I can save. As I’m not on a contract, I only top-up my phone when I need credit and I’ve only spent £50 on credit this year, which just goes to show how good value pay-as-you-go phones are (well for me anyway)!

I know finance isn’t the most interesting of topics, but I did find it quite fun making these graphs and seeing what I’ve spent money on this year. I think the fact that I’ve spent more money on shopping for clothes etc. than groceries reflects the fact that when you’re student loan comes into your bank account, you kind of get a bit carried away and start buying unnecessary things. But next year I can definitely work on cutting down this unnecessary spending and reducing the amount I spend on transport which will help me to budget better!

I hope you found this useful in some way to see a breakdown of what I’ve spent in my first year at uni. I know every student has different priorities and will spend their loan differently, but I thought this might give people who are thinking of going to university in the next few years an insight into the types of costs you might want to factor into your student budget.

Good luck to anyone sitting exams right now! I’ll be back soon (*fingers crossed*) with a post about my experience of first year. 🙂

University Halls Room Tour!

First of all WHERE did April go??!? I cannot believe it is May already (or more like I REFUSE to believe it is May and that exams start next week aaaah). Anyway, I hope you’re all doing well!

Today I thought I’d take a break from revision to show you my room at university. Some of you may be going to university in September or maybe the following year, so I thought it might be interesting to show you what my room in halls looks like. I can’t believe I’ve only got 6 weeks left living here and I’m definitely going to miss this room – it’s changed a lot since I’ve moved in, as have I, so if anything I’ll enjoying reflecting on this in a few years time.

For context, I live in halls of residence on my university campus. My block has four floors and I was unlucky enough to end up on the fourth floor, which means every time we have a fire drill I have the joy of running down four flights of stairs and always being last out the building. I live in a flat of 8 and we share a kitchen, although we do have our own en suites which is nice!

Also: I know that accommodation does vary from university to university and even across university campuses, so not every student room will look like mine!

When you enter my room, the door to the en suite is on the left. The bathroom is actually a wet room which means basically the whole room/floor gets wet when you have a shower which is kind of annoying but now I’ve learnt not to leave stuff I don’t want getting wet on the floor it’s not too bad! I also have some hooks on the right hand wall which I hang various coats/scarfs/dressing gowns on. Then there’s a little shelf above the door which is one of my favourite things ever (lol I know that’s so sad) as it’s the perfect size to fit my suitcase, sleeping bag and roll mat on!

On the wall running along the right-hand side of my room, I’ve strung up some bits of string and made a photo wall by hanging photos off of it. I’m actually pretty proud of this as it took some skills to tie the string around the coat hooks and then tie the other end to the hinge inside my wardrobe that’s at the other end of the wall (would have been so much easier if I was allowed to stick pins in the wall!).

It’s kind of hard to get a photo of all of my room at once, but basically once you walk past the en suite it’s a square shape. This wall backs onto the bathroom and I have used it as a sort of poster/photo collage wall and added some fairy lights in for good measure too. This wall was actually plain for like the first term and a bit that I was here but I got a bit carried away at our Student’s Union’s poster sale back in January. I also have a bookcase on this wall which is adjacent to my bed and is filled with various folders, books and cans of cider (student essentials).

My room has a double bed, which was strange to sleep in at first as I’m used to a single bed, but now whenever I go home my bed feels so small! It also has storage under the bed which is great (if I remember to take my stuff out from there when I leave!).

Then on the other side of the bed is my desk which is where I spend most of my time (if I’m not lying in bed procrastinating). I really like how there’s a massive window in front of my desk as it lets lots of light in and makes studying more interesting as you can daydream. I try to keep my desk tidy but sometimes mess piles up (also excuse the random plate haha). I spent a lot of time decorating my notice board too when I moved in and I’ll be sad to have to take it all down soon!

At the end of my desk, I have a cupboard, a drawer and a few shelves which get a bit cluttered sometimes. Then there’s my wardrobe which is pretty much full now as I seem to have accumulated more clothes since moving in! It’s actually quite a big wardrobe which is great and it has a mirror in the door.

So, that’s pretty much an overview of my room in halls! I’ve really loved living here this year and I think it’s just the right size for a student room. It’ll definitely be weird living in a house next year but at least I won’t have to worry about carrying my key card everywhere with me in case I get locked out (or the 1 am fire alarms!).

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing my room tour! And if you’re heading off to university soon and have any questions about life in halls, feel free to comment the below!