The ‘First Year Fallacy’

By Luisa De la Concha Montes

“To start from zero”, a phrase that can be equally exciting and daunting. Exciting, because it’s full of possibilities. Daunting, because having too many things to choose from can only mean one thing: it’s time to become a good decision-maker. And how on Earth will you do that if before Uni your decisions were almost limited to what to have for dinner and what to watch on Netflix? Moving away from home means that your decision-making abilities will suddenly become pro level. Put briefly, you will realize that from now on, mostly everything that happens to you will have to be defined by you, and that is a pretty scary thought. The main thing that comes into play when you’re about to move to Uni are expectations. Expectations are actually a good thing to have. By placing ourselves in the future we can therefore prepare for different outcomes. Our predictive ability has survival value1; expectations help us rationalise our fears by making mental patterns that will help us make decisions. So, if you want to survive Fresher’s, the challenge is not to not have expectations, but to learn how to deal with these expectations in a rational way.

So, how can you actually learn to do this?

First of all, you need to establish what expectations you have. It’s easy to think that coming to Uni will be an extremely gratifying and straightforward experience; that you will meet your life-long friends in the first week, that you will love all your lectures, and that your mum’s cooking skills will be embedded into your genetic code. This is normal, we tend to embrace the best-case-scenario because it makes everything less stressful. However, if you don’t allow yourself to question these expectations, you will have an unrealistic scenario in your mind which will make it harder for you to adapt. So here are a couple of tips that that can help you rationalise your expectations and learn to cope when things don’t go to plan.

Prepare yourself. A big part of adapting to a new life will be the urban environment. Look up the Uni, and look at pictures of what the buildings are going to be like, that way you’ll have a clearer idea of what to expect (at least geographically) when you get there. If you don’t have the possibility of visiting Cardiff before moving in, do a search on Google Maps and familiarise yourself with the surroundings.

Be wary about what you use as a reference when you’re searching up stuff. It’s common to find Fresher’s ‘promo’ videos and think that that is how nights out will actually be like. Trust me, they really are not. Promo videos don’t show the queues to get in, the awkwardness of dancing with someone you just met, or the panic you feel when you go to the toilet and you can’t find any of your friends when you come back, so view with a healthy dose of scepticism. On that same note, social media can be a trap: everything looks amazing, but people only record the nice bits where everyone’s still sober enough to be photogenic. What you don’t see is tears of homesickness. Be realistic and don’t measure your experience against manufactured standards. A better way to inform yourself is by asking others, such as friends or family how their first year of Uni was like. Ask them how things differed to their expectations. Preparing yourself mentally in the most realistic way possible will help you keep things under control. And yes, sometimes things will still go wrong, but at least you’ll have a better grasp regardless.

The social side of moving to Uni is amongst the biggest concerns. There will be people who push you to go out every night, and sometimes you won’t feel like it. Other times you won’t feel as comfortable with the new people as you did with your friends from home. To deal with this, remind yourself that everyone’s on the same boat, and even though others might seem more confident and out-going, they are probably going through similar insecurities. Don’t be scared to stand up for yourself and do what you think it’s best. You had a personality before you came in, so it’s not worth changing it just to fit in.

It’s normal to feel a bit disappointed after the first few weeks. Everybody is way too friendly during Fresher’s week because they want to make a good impression, so people will make promises of eternal friendship that they won’t keep. Don’t place too much faith in one-night-friendships, and remind yourself that strong relationships take time to forge. Ultimately, when you’re creating expectations in your mind, it’s also a good to think of the not-so-nice scenarios. Sometimes you will miss home, your college friends and having someone to cook for you. You will feel overwhelmed and stressed about Uni work, you will feel unmotivated and scared of not learning or doing enough for your degree. Most times you will be in a constant limbo between reality and expectations, breaking down your own expectations and adapting to reality. And other times, you will have the sudden realisation that actually, you’re finally in absolute control of your life, and that is an amazing feeling.

So, going back to the initial phrase, we’re never really starting from zero; expectations are a product of our past experiences, so by having them you will be indirectly learning more about yourself. Maturity will come with this, you will find yourself admiring the fact that you were able to find a solution to a situation that you didn’t even expect. You will see how, after many years in a known environment, you were able to move out and as a result, know yourself to a more complex level. All of this will make you more confident. So, if things go differently, it’s not the end of the world. Everyone has a different ‘Fresher’s experience’, so don’t compare yours to others. As long as you’re taking it in as a learning experience -whether that is socially, academically or in an introspective way, you’re doing great. Embrace the whole experience with its ups and down, and if you ever need help don’t be afraid to ask for it.

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