By Katie Waits
University. So many people had been telling me how amazing it would be, how I’d absolutely love it. And while I never thought that first year would be a breeze, I can’t say I was expecting it to be quite as tough as it was. It definitely wasn’t that fantastic frenzy of socialising and freedom that you see so often in the media. In fact, it couldn’t have been further from that. To state the obvious, university is extremely different from school and there’s lots to get used to. For me personally, first year was one big overwhelming blur.
To begin with, my first term at university was rather lonely. I had moved into university accommodation and, although nervous, I was eager to get to know people. Instagram was flooded with pictures and videos of people with their new flatmates, looking so happy, having the best time. Perhaps naively, I expected something like this to be the case in my flat. Instead, it was incredibly quiet. Too quiet. In the first month or so, I only met the Residence Life Assistants and two other girls who were the only other first years on my floor. They were great and I enjoyed the conversations I shared with them. However, they were doing completely different courses to me, our timetables clashed, and when we could talk, we would often be too tired to stick around for very long. It was just my luck that they both moved out.
By November, I was the only first year on my floor. I’d chosen quiet-living. Big mistake. I didn’t expect to be spending so much time alone. There were no happy group photos on my Instagram. Instead, I began dreading going back to halls and spent many nights sitting at my desk upset, wondering why on earth it had to be me who was lonely, who wasn’t having the ‘fresher’s experience’ that everyone else seemed to be having. A large part of that is because I don’t drink. The fact that Instagram and Facebook ads and memes made it seem like everyone at university enjoys drinking and going out made me feel even more isolated. There didn’t seem to be much emphasis on non-alcoholic events. I’ve never been on a night out, and for a long time I felt like my friends were outgrowing me. They’d been having that so-called ‘student experience’ you see on social media, but I hadn’t. It’s difficult to admit, but I was having a hard time.
I found it challenging being part of a bigger friendship group. That’s not to say I’m not grateful for their friendship throughout first year. I just initially found it bizarre. From being in a small, close-knit school group, to one that was pretty large in comparison was new to me. Initially, I isolated myself from my new friends – I’d been spending so much time alone that when I spent time with people, I got easily overwhelmed. That’s not their fault at all, my nerves often just got the better of me. Also, I really missed my best friend, and still continue to. We went from seeing each other pretty much every day, almost whenever we wanted, to relying on messaging and the odd weekend visit here and there to see each other. It’s safe to say I still find it difficult to adapt to not seeing him as often as would be ideal. Along with this, I missed my family. I sat in my room every night wishing I could be with my parents and my sister, and craved the weekends, when I could go home and actually relax. Therefore, I chose to move back home. Adapting to the commute was much easier than trying to convince myself and everyone else that I was having a good time in halls.
I can deal with slow lectures and some 9am seminars, but I had trouble accepting my grades. Throughout school, I had consistently succeeded, achieving a good deal of A/A* grades. I had been among the top achievers and had always felt I could do well. University changed that completely. Last year, it seemed that despite all my best efforts I could never quite achieve what I wanted to. As a perfectionist, just missing those Firsts or getting a mark less than a 2:1 was incredibly frustrating. I often found myself doubting why I had taken English. In school, it was my best subject. In first year, it was the half of my joint honours that I couldn’t seem to get the hang of.
Adapting to university is tough and in the midst of trying to prove myself, I almost forgot that I was only a beginner, that I didn’t have to have it all figured out yet and that’s okay! We all adapt at our own pace, right?