4 Things I would tell my first-year self
Hope all of you have had a lovely summer to recharge! With a new year just around the corner and for those of you starting university in a few weeks’ time, I thought I might share with you several things I wish I could tell the fresher version of myself a year ago.
Everything won’t change overnight
Last year I had these grand expectations that I would go from a timid, not-so confident teenager into a more outgoing, self-assured university student – over the course of Freshers’ Week. During the build-up towards the start of term, my growing anticipation made me feel that Freshers’ Week HAD to be the experience of my life. Else I would always be regretful for not making the most of my time.
But this expectation wasn’t going to be realistic, nor was it actually helpful. As it set me up to believe I had to jump from A to B so quickly, without acknowledging the smaller, important steps – getting to know people, establishing a routine, familiarising myself with the campus, etc – which all take time. Because I was comparing my actions against this extravagant image of student life in my head, it meant sometimes I wasn’t always appreciating the present moment.
I loved first-year, but my enjoyment of it was a manifestation of all the things I did and people I met over the course of the year. So by the end of the year everything had snowballed into something much bigger. So whether you’re feeling that you’re missing out or not living up to your initial expectations – don’t beat yourself up. Have fun with what you’re doing and enjoy being in the moment!
Don’t be ashamed to miss home, friends and family
As someone who is very close with their family and loves spending time with them, university was a huge shock to my system. Particularly as I had to deal with a fair amount of homesickness.
Despite not wanting to visit home regularly so I could settle into university life, there were numerous occasions where I got seriously upset and distressed. Especially when things weren’t going to plan or I was missing the warm comforts of home. Often this meant I was phoning home regularly – sometimes once a day at least. It felt embarrassing, often I would ask: “Why am I feeling like this? Surely I’m taking this to an extreme?”. I felt 12 years old again and trapped inside my 18 year old body.
But regardless of what degree of homesickness you may experience, remember it IS normal and is nothing to be ashamed about. Everyone is going to deal with this lifestyle change differently. For some settling in may take a few weeks, for others it could take a few months, or even a whole year to completely find their feet. But don’t fight your feelings. If you’re under a lot of emotional stress, fighting it will only make things worse.
If you do happen to feel seriously unwell, both the university and the SU offer a ton of support services to help you. For me visiting my residential tutor in my hall and dropping in to counselling appointments were both really beneficial. As they enabled me to share my feelings openly over a hot drink, with someone who wanted to help and understood what I was going through.
You are you
While it’s fantastic to meet a diverse range of people with different interests and tastes, if you do have some insecurities, it can be easy to compare yourself with the qualities of your coursemates, flatmates and other people you meet. Being critical of yourself if you feel you aren’t X or haven’t done Y.
Even though it is easy to do, especially if you’re having to deal with lots of life changes, please don’t take this and then pull your own self-worth apart. You are your own person – with your own interests and talents. You have family and friends who are rooting for you.
So do be mindful of this the next time you check any uni social media groups, are sitting in a crowded lecture theatre or are meeting people for the first time. You are awesome!
There’s this scene with Matt Damon in the film We Bought A Zoo (sounds random, but bear with me) where his character says whether there’s a time you feel intimidated, anxious or embarrassed to do something, “all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, and something good will come out of it”.
I feel this relates so much with being a fresher, as the new environment, new people and new opportunities available already place university far outside anyone’s comfort zone. So if you want to meet someone new, try a new society or go to a new event – without even thinking about it, give yourself just 20 seconds or less and go for it. Even if you’re worried about your actions backfiring in case things don’t work out the way you hoped, you still DID IT. You learn a whole lot more reflecting on an experience than speculating about one afterwards.
As you can probably guess, one major theme that links all of these points together is personal wellbeing. So in summary, all I would say is . Even if things take slightly longer before you start feeling fully comfortable, as long as you keep trying – no matter how long it takes you – something good will come out of it in the end.
Hope you all have a brilliant first week!