It always worries me, this time of year, that freshers might actually be perusing the wealth of material churning out of newspapers and social media on The University Experience – and believe what is written as a manual on how to negotiate the workings of the institution. Such content is devised by those who may or may not have even attended university; and yet it is taken to be concrete guidelines for your first few weeks:
- ‘Ten things freshers must never do!’
- ‘Make sure you do these five things as soon as you arrive at Uni’
- ‘How to move away from home successfully’
The trouble is that such pieces fail to run a disclaimer that the target of success so vehemently supported in all reality depends on individual experience. These articles are not reflective of everyone’s feelings, the atmosphere and experiences inside the Universities across the UK can be as different as chalk and cheese – but the expectation that there is a step-by-step way to survive moving to University remains, giving an impression that everyone else seems to know what to do. Believe the words of such reports, and you’re made to feel like the only one left floundering in incompetence:
‘Does everyone really know what to expect already?’
Perhaps, if older siblings have already made the move – but it is, of course, different for everybody.
‘Do you suddenly have an epiphany of University expertise in second year?’
Definitely not. We’re all still learning – maybe those of us with a year or two of experience under our belt know our way around the college buildings a little easier, and can find our way to lectures (or decide not to go to them without feeling guilty) – but we’re not oracles. Second and third years still struggle from time to time too.
‘Will I ever feel prepared?’
It’s all relative. Going to University, like many things in life, is an experience each individual reacts to differently. If week two finds you with a gaggle of lifelong friends, a knowledge of the intricacies of the city and permanent roles in multiple societies already – good for you. But this isn’t to be expected, and you’ll be just as happy going along at your own pace.
University is a major life event, and reports explicating just how you must experience it do no favours: we will all have an individual perspective on the occurrence, and this will never be in black and white.
The prospect of going to University, for me, was one filled with dread from a young age; and, as soon as I was plunged into my GCSEs, and realised my inevitable plunge into the unknown gloom of Moving Away From Home was rapidly approaching, I became terrified. I bought every saucepan recommended, was equipped with the best bike £20 could buy, and had décor galore decorating my room – and yet I still flirted with intermission in the first few weeks; spent more time sobbing in my room than socialising, and convinced myself things would never get any better. They did, in the end – but I still flashback to that terrible period from time to time and find myself again consumed by a helplessness I thought was permanent.
I’m telling you this because, later, I found many others had felt the same; but the lack of communication between us meant we all lost out on a support network that would have helped us move forward. That’s not to say we didn’t – we pretty much all made it through; progressed beyond the barrier of fear and actually started enjoying our time away from home – but it would have been so much easier had we spoken to each other.
These feelings are not toxic. Hiding them away, however, is.
I think we all thought our University experiences were so far away from the assumed norm that we could not bear to reveal how divergent we were feeling. It mortified us – it mortified me – that we were not having ‘the best time of one’s life’ that had been promised, and were instead suffocating in agony; I just wanted to feel the ecstasy of moving away that everyone else seemed to be experiencing. But, in retrospect, I can see so clearly that they weren’t; that things may have been better for others but they still weren’t ideal – meaning that we all were having vastly varied reactions to the event.
In all that time, I just wanted someone to say to me: “there is not right or wrong way to experience University; just do things at your own pace” – but they didn’t, and I was left feeling like I lacked some major maturity skill because I was incapable of the transition away from home. But I didn’t lack anything except such advice – which is why I’m giving it to you now, in the hope that you will pay more heed to these words than those plastered across Facebook which detail the ‘120 Things you NEED to know before you move away!!!’. Learn things your own way, for goodness’ sake – take your time, make sure you’re comfortable, and don’t rush to say goodbye to your old life. Give yourself time to settle in, too, and be aware that, if things really aren’t working out, there are other options.
After all, moving to University is hard enough without others telling you how you must experience it.