Accidental Advice

The good, the bad and the ugly: Friendships and the loneliness epidemic

Friends Photo credit: snicky2290 (via Pixabay)

I’ve had my fair share of unusual encounters at university. Having dropped out of my first degree in February 2015, I made the decision to move back into halls of residence when started again in September. Doing Fresher’s Week in halls for the second year in a row was an experience in itself- one that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to anyone. Fresher’s is surreal; the evident lies that are told around the table in ‘Never Have I Ever’, the extortionate wristbands and ice breaker events, the awkward introductions in the corridors with your parents. The first time around you get swept away with it all, but the second time you just feel like a bit of an OAP. I distinctly remember a girl saying to me during my second Fresher’s week: “I’ve heard of this really cool club called Glam.” I feigned a smile and tried my best not to visually express what I was thinking, “what on earth am I doing here?”

One thing I did learn during my extended Fresher’s escapade is that there is no guessing who you will be placed in a flat with, and often it is luck of the draw. University is one of the only times in your life where you’ll be placed with a group of random people and be expected to play happy families. To my knowledge, Cardiff University does not allocate housing based on common interests like other institutions do, and instead randomly places students in shared flats and houses, letting the leash free and leaving them to navigate themselves. This has its pros and cons, of course. Halls is a great way to meet people that you ordinarily never would; people of different backgrounds and cultures. My flatmate in my first (first) year was Malaysian; I am embarrassed to admit that I lacked much knowledge about her country or her culture when we first met. She is now one of my best friends, and I learn more and more from her every day. However, there is also a dark side of shared living. Have you ever heard the phrase “you don’t really know someone until you live with them”? This is something that I’ve unfortunately learnt to be true, and have stories about flatmates that would make your toes curl. However, overall, my experience of shared housing was positive, and I was usually housed with at least one person who had similar interests to me. But what do you do if you’re finding it difficult to integrate with the people around you? What if you haven’t found ‘your people’ yet?

Loneliness at university is a bigger issue than some may think. With the Lash full the brim on a Wednesday night and with hordes of students walking the streets of Cathays, it can be difficult to imagine that there are many around us who are feeling isolated. It is so easy to pop on your rose-tinted spectacles or your tunnel vision glasses and presume everyone is having as much fun as you are; but there will undoubtedly be some who, through no fault of their own, still haven’t settled at Cardiff University. The Jo Cox Loneliness Commission report, released in late 2017, proved that it is not just the elderly who experience these anxieties. In fact, it found that over 9 million adults in Britain are lonely. There has even been an appointed Minister for Loneliness who has been tasked to tackle what is now a social epidemic. Loneliness can and does affect us all at some point in our lives, but it can be difficult to spot in other people. It’s not just the quiet girl in your flat who locks herself in her room who could be feeling alone, as those with the biggest smiles and loudest laughs could be simply putting on a brave face. It is important to be considerate of everyone you are living and studying with, and you should make an effort to keep an eye out for them, especially those who choose not to get involved with the social side of university life. All of us suffer from homesickness now and again, but if you are repeatedly noticing that someone is isolating themselves from the rest of the house, make sure you do your best to look after them, and speak to the Wellbeing and Counselling Service if you’re worried. There is also lots of help and guidance on the Student Intranet, so make sure you search your query there.

If you’re struggling to find friends, there is lots that can be done. I can categorically assure you that there will be so many people with similar beliefs to you, and loads who would love to meet you. For starters, there is society for even the most niche of interests, and there is no better time than the present to join. It is a common worry that once you get past Fresher’s Week your friendship group is locked into place and you will never meet anyone new. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I have met some of my best friends in second and third year, and some in the most random of situations. Friendship groups grow and evolve over time and there is always room for one more. Meeting new people will take some action on your part, of course. I completely get that attending a meeting or a taster session for a society is extremely daunting, but the benefits you will gain will make it all worth it. I have been a part of Student Media since my first year and I still remember my first ever meeting- I was absolutely terrified! But you should bite the bullet and try your best; you won’t regret it!

If starting a new society is out of the question, set yourself some smaller goals instead. Work out why you aren’t clicking with the people around you, and try your best to overcome your differences. For example, if you aren’t a big party-goer like the rest of your flat, suggest that a couple of you go for a meal or perhaps have a quiet drink at the pub. Try and voice your worries with the people around you, as it is possible that they may not have even noticed that you feel isolated.

Most of all, know that there are certainly like-minded people around, and those who would be more than happy to get to know you. It can be very easy to assume that everyone at university is of a similar ilk. However, I can vouch as a two-time-Fresher that there is no one-size-fits-all, there are so many different kinds of people at university, and there are certainly people out there for you. However, if in doubt, contact Nightline on 02920 870555 or search the Student Intranet for help.

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