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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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? 🙂