First Year: Struggling to Fit in?

Thanks to copious amounts of coffee and energy drink, I have finally handed in all my assessments for this semester! As a final year student, this means that I have only one term of undergraduate life left. Although in recent weeks my life has been characterised by a routine of library going and essay writing, it wasn’t always so. Now that I’ve been dropped into the no-mans-land between finishing one semester and starting another, I’ve been looking back at my first year and how much has changed since then.

I study English Literature, which entails three years of reading, writing essays, and attending seminars and lectures. However, studying for a degree isn’t just about immersing oneself in academia, though that’s a big part of it. For the majority of students, it’s also about learning to live independently, getting to know a new place and meeting new people.

In first year, people are busy making new friends, getting used to lectures and, in my case, learning how to properly cook – the result of which resembled more bomb-disaster than Michelin star cuisine. At first, it can seem disorientating: you are dropped off in a new city (or country) and are expected to slide into a routine, settle down into a new room and acquaint yourself with your surroundings.

I didn’t find it so easy. Although I had been relishing the prospect of leaving home, at first I found living in halls isolating. People in my flat and all around me seemed to be embracing the archetypical student life I had heard talked about – everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives. I felt isolated from it: I wasn’t surrounded by a gaggle of newly made friends, or anticipating another boozy night ahead.  That isn’t to say I wasn’t open to these things, but I felt too bewildered and alone to participate.

Finding myself locked in my room for one too many nights, I decided to be pro-active about discovering University life. I went to societies I was interested in; I wrote for the University paper. Gradually, I began to make friends through my course and society events; these things were hugely helpful in making me feel more at home. However, I still struggled with feelings of isolation and depression, so I got in touch with the University’s Counselling Service. They offered me a course of therapy, which I found useful.

Starting University can be a daunting experience. Despite the challenges associated with moving to University, most people settle down quickly. It can be hard for those who don’t – part of the isolation you can feel stems from the misconception that you are the only that is finding it difficult. But appearances can be deceiving: when I talked to my friends in the months and years that followed first year, everyone said that they felt at least a little challenged by the experience.

That’s not to say that most people don’t have a great time in first year: they do. Many people get on really well with their new flatmates; some have made friends for life. And despite my difficulties, I ended up meeting some of my best friends and discovered new passions – human rights and cake, among other things.

Looking back as the learned third year I now am, the difficulties I faced in first year enabled me to have a really rich University experience. I was pushed to make friends and explore interests I wouldn’t necessarily have pursued otherwise. Perhaps it’s cliché, but I have learnt so much about myself and my resilience through experiencing hard times.

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