Finding Your Feet: Freshers Week
This month, over 200,000 eighteen-year-olds will clear out their rooms and travel across the UK in the hopes of finding themselves at their new university and having the best years of their lives.
The first year of university, or ‘freshers’, is a year bursting with potential. However, potentially harmful expectations of university life can have an extremely detrimental effect on the mental health and general wellbeing of students. The BBC recently conducted a survey on loneliness, which uncovered that those aged between 16 and 24 years of age were most likely to report loneliness. It is not a surprise, then, that students who may be living away from home for the first time fall into this age range. The Independent has also claimed that ‘despite the romantic image we often have of student life, for most people, university is not a healthy place to be either mentally or physically.’ This being said, I believe that university can be wonderful, healthy, positive, and free; if only we take the time to look after ourselves, and prepare. Here are my tips:
1) Slow down:
University is such an exciting prospect because there is never a shortage of things to do, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Stay calm, there is no way you’re ever going to be able to manage six difference societies' meetings per week, as well as three sports clubs and four nights out – on top of your workload. So please, slow down. If all goes well, you will be at the university for three or more years; that is plenty of time to try perhaps 2-3 new things per year and find your rhythm. If you feel that you can cope with more than that, go for it! Just be careful to leave yourself some spare time. In fact, my best advice is to allocate at least two hours per week to do nothing. Stay in your room on your own and process all of the changes going on around you and within you. It's okay to feel overwhelmed. University is a huge change for everyone, so let it unfold day by day.
2) Keep a diary:
This changed my life. Writing my thoughts down daily, and keeping track of my activities each day allowed me to be mindful of how I was feeling, and this, in turn, eased the feeling of being overwhelmed. I’d recommend filling it in each night before bed – it’s therapeutic, and reading back through old entries before bed can remind you of the good experiences you have had at the university on days where it is easy to only think of the bad. This tip will also help you to pay attention to what is going on around you- university is an intense experience – make sure you remember it!
3) Value your alone time:
I know this goes against the vast majority of common fresher’s advice, but you do not have to be everybody’s friend. University will introduce you to the largest amount of people you have probably ever been around, and they are not all going to be compatible with you. Please do not waste your energy forcing friendships and changing who you are during fresher’s week to fit in and be included. You will find your people, but being alone is part of the experience. Embrace your alone time, be selective with your friends, and do not be afraid to say no to events you are not actually interested in.
4) Sit in the kitchen:
Sharing a kitchen with people you have never met before is daunting, to say the least, so coming armed with two or three recipes that you are confident with can help in the first few days. Sitting in the kitchen during the day can be a good way to get to know your housemates, and will help you to feel confident in the shared space. There is nothing worse than feeling anxious about cooking in your own home, so make sure to get accustomed to this early on.
5) Plan your finances:
It is likely that you have never paid full rent or planned your own meals (kudos if you have, that is impressive.) But if you have not, learning how to budget is extremely useful and will save you further down the line when you are between student loan payments. Start by writing down all of your monthly outgoings, then allow yourself a weekly or monthly budget for fun things/food/unexpected trips home when you miss your dogs, etc.
6) Don’t get addicted to Dominos:
It’s not worth the money (unless hungover, then it DEFINITELY is.)
7) Push yourself:
Even if you find it hard to attend all of your classes (it took me approximately two weeks to start prioritising my sleep,) please push yourself to go the extra mile when you find a module that sparks something within you. Go to your tutor’s office hours and discuss your favourite topics, be experimental in your work and attend what you feel you can (sleep does not write essays.)
8) Don’t be afraid to apply for extensions/welfare help:
Sign up to a local GP early on and familiarise yourself with your university’s welfare system, too. Do not be afraid to request extensions if you feel you need one- for whatever reason. It is better to take your time and feel as though you have reached your potential with a piece of work than to rush at the detriment of your mental wellbeing.
9) Clear your space:
You will realise pretty quickly that you really did not need to pack that clothes steamer, your favourite jumper from year 7, and your arts and crafts materials ‘just in case the mood hits me.’ Take the time to clear out your room. You do not need to throw things away, you can always take them home, but clearing your space will also help to clear your mind, and it will feel easier to focus.
10) Remember your worth:
No matter how out of place or lost you feel in the first few weeks, remember that you earned your place! Sometimes it can feel as though everyone else knows more than you – this simply is not true. If you were not capable of taking the course, you would not be enrolled. Not understanding things does not mean you are worth less than anyone else, and asking for help is welcomed by tutors; it shows that you’re trying. A degree is personal to you and over the years you will choose different modules and carve out your own learning path. So, to put it quite frankly, it is a waste of time to compare yourself to others.
As my lecturer once put it ‘what everyone else is doing, is not what you are doing, and that’s all there is to it.’