“I want to possess radical but humane and well-informed political ideas, and I want to hold passionate but reasoned debates round wooden kitchen tables, saying things like ‘define your terms!’ and ‘your premise is patently specious!’ and then suddenly to discover that the sun’s come up and we’ve been talking all night.”- Brian, Starter For Ten
Lucky for me, when I read Starter For Ten, I was already far into my first year at Bristol. Lucky because I could laugh at, and also with, Brian’s optimistic and lovely lovely twee expectations of uni – which more often than not, aren’t met. Or, at least, not right away.
How many people have told you that Uni will be the best time of your life? Whether that be your cousin, the family friend in the year above or a keen blog. You’ve watched your uni youtube videos, packed up your stuff, got your good selection of postcards (only to discover the cruel banning of bluetack when you arrive), ransacked Ikea and acquired a determination that this will be amazing.
You’re coming to uni and you’re ready.
When I got to uni, I thought that the journey as it were, was now over. I had done school, I was an adult now and the future was full only of fun, red wine, new friends, essays and success.
What I quickly realised is that university is the biggest journey yet.
You’ve just been shoved into a tiny flat with a group of strangers in what’s most likely a new city, you’re all around 18 which means everyone’s (probably) suffering from massive self-consciousness and numerous insecurities, you’ve just left home so obviously it’s the perfect time for reinvention i.e an identity crisis, you’re desperate to be liked, loved, touched and kissed, you’re likely missing your family, home friends and the familiarity of the school you once detested, and to make matters worse – you haven’t got any change for the over-priced halls’ washing machines. The unfamiliarity of the environment and the fact that you probably don’t know anyone also provides a perfect setting for mental health problems to crop up or for pre-existing mental health issues to be that much more difficult to deal with. There is a weird smell in your room and you’re also all (probably) a bit awkward.
From this position of pure bliss you’re expected to socialise, have fun, come across as quirky, cool and hyped thus attracting people who you magically have an inexplicable, innate and most of all immediate affinity with. Such people, you hope, are conveniently the individuals the accommodation office has bundled you into a flat with, mainly on the basis of your panic-induced comment of ‘I used to play the violin and I’m quite bubbly’ on the accommodation form. To add insult to injury, you’ve got a whole new course, city and student easy-cook recipe book to grapple with.
It doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for perfection.
In fact the reality is more like…
‘You know the feeling of being at a party where you don’t know anybody?
It’s like that the whole time.’
– Tracy talking to her mum about her first week of College, Mistress America
Therefore, our main piece of advice to anyone currently embarking on fresher’s? Lower your expectations and just go with the flow. Nothing is perfect.
Remember everything you’ve ever learnt about friendships so far in life: friendships take time to develop (!!!) It’s very rare to meet someone and immediately feel totally connected to them, and that’s ok – think about how many years of school it took you to get as close as you are to friends from home. Friendships are messy, they require patience and forgiveness, they aren’t always wonderful. Also remember that your flatmates probably feel the same way you do, and at least one of them is probably lovely.
In those moments when you feel lonely and a bit crap and you’re wondering why it’s not all amazing, remember who took ages to make friends in their first year of uni? Brian. Now Brian may not be your personal icon (although he does love Kate Bush) but he is fairly realistic. If you’ve seen the film or read Starter For Ten you could even argue that he only really makes one proper friend in first year, Rebecca – and that’s isn’t exactly a smooth ride. So take Brian as your benchmark, and anything better than his experience is a success.
This article is not meant to make you despair either. There are so many great and wonderful things about Uni: new-found independence, a new and exciting city, being able to make basically every decision for yourself, meeting new people from around the world, sharing in an excitement at the new. Did I mention new? But you just have to remember that finding your place and your people takes time !
And by time, I mean longer than one week.
Tips from That’s What She Said:
- Self-care: this can happen in numerous ways. Reminding yourself that you’re doing fine, tidying up your room and having a sit down, eating a family-sized bar of dairy milk while watching Strictly Come Dancing, going swimming or a walk (Bristol is so beautiful), take time cooking your favourite meal, listen to music, come off your phone and just be quiet for a time.
- Remember that social media is a lie: Imagine if we lived in some 1999 bliss where mobiles were a huge size and Facebook didn’t exist. You’re probably reading this article because you saw it on Facebook but let’s ignore that for now. It’s likely that you’ve had this realisation before, but imagine that you couldn’t see via the internet what a ‘great’ time everyone else was having. Would you care? Would it bother you? Probably not because you wouldn’t know. If you wanted to ask your home friends what kind of time they were having you would have to call them, rather than browse their Instagram. Remember that pictures are misleading: when speaking to one friend about Uni, I told her how lovely she looked in a photo with new people and how happy she looked. Know what she told me? She was really tired that evening, she didn’t know the girl sitting on her right at all, she had been awkwardly listening to a conversation and had left five minutes after the photo was taken. So it’s not always as great as it seems.
- Push yourself: It’s really important to give yourself time alone and to look after yourself, but it’s also important to make the most of opportunities. Make yourself talk to the person next to you in your lecture (even if they turn out to be really unfriendly), go out for drinks with your flatmates, ask someone on your corridor if they want to come to that society meeting with you and if they don’t, go along alone and chat to people there. Remember that everyone wants to make friends and socialise and if it’s embarrassing or awkward that’s ok, see it as a personal triumph that you were brave enough to talk to someone. Even though at times Uni can feel really isolating, despite being surrounded by people, remember not to isolate yourself. It you want it to be great, you have to play a part in making it great.
- Join Societies: You don’t have to go to 100 meetings and you don’t have to try every society, but go to the freshers fair or google them and then drag yourself to a meeting (it doesn’t matter if you’ve missed the first few). We found that a great way to feel part of something is to become part of something – a society where people know who you are and they actually care if you don’t turn up!
- Be open to the kind of time you’re having: I felt such relief in first term when I told my best friend from home (who was at a different Uni) that even though I had met some great people, I still felt lonely and I still missed home and I was frustrated that everything wasn’t perfect. And she told me the exact same thing in return. From then, I started mentioning it now and again to people I knew – that while I was enjoying Uni, I was also finding it really hard. And most people agreed, understood and were relieved that I had mentioned it. Show vulnerability. That’s powerful and it’s also a great way to connect with someone else. And if they don’t get it and they’re having a good time that’s great for them and you can just smile knowingly.
Bottom line: ITS OK IF YOU’RE NOT HAVING FUN.
- Going Out: You don’t have to go out if you don’t want to. You don’t have to drink if you don’t want to. Just do what’s right for you. You might feel like if you don’t go out you’re going to miss a once in a lifetime bonding experience with the people on your floor, but if you want friendships based on something else, or you’re tired, or you would rather not drink, then don’t go! Just do what’s right for you and be ok with that. Stay safe.
- Have a sense of humour. Laugh at yourself, use your internal dialogue to your advantage – when embarrassing moments happen or you feel crap, talk to yourself, soothe yourself, laugh at yourself and remember that you are valuable simply because you exist.
There are some (few) people who live the Uni dream, and some of the best moments of my life have been at Uni, but it isn’t like that all the time. For each of us at TWSS, Uni has provided all kinds of different struggles. What’s really important is to give yourself time – time to adjust and to carve out the kind of life at Uni that you want and that makes you feel content. Uni does go by quickly and looking back, what we cherish most is the love for ourselves that we have been able to grow, the times we have given ourselves a break and accepted who we are – this takes lots of time and we’re working on it, but this is the journey you’re about to start.
So, of course you’re going to find the friends that you can have reasoned debates round wooden tables with, laugh with, eat turkey dinosaurs with, cry over your degree with, friends who make you feel valuable and wanted, and who also like Panorama –you just might not find them in freshers week.
Illustrations by Isabel Kilbourn and Izzy Finlay