The raucous drinking and partying of freshers has tailed off (well slightly) as assignments, deadlines and the depressingly dark weather sets in. Suddenly university isn’t all about Jesters and day-time telly; ‘freshers blues’ have finally descended.
But there is hope! I’m now in my second year and thankfully loving university. But having spent most of my first year teetering on the edge of dropping out and desperately scouring the internet for any and every piece of advice I could find on how to survive uni, I feel like something of an expert on the initially horrible first term.
If you’ve drawn the short straw in the lottery that is the hall of residence flatmates, it can be tough to enjoy uni when it seems like everyone around you is making friends for life and you’re stuck with the hermits who seem to speak only in monosyllabic grunts. Yes, it’s not fair but it is worth remembering that, during second and third year, you’ll be living with your mates. So, for now, you’ve got to suck it up and work hard to make friends outside your flat.
Every website and blog will implore you to get out and get socialising as the best way to avoid being on your own and making new friends. It’s obvious but true. Whether there’s a society you’ve joined or a sports team you play for, embrace it and all its socials, as drinking and having fun are always a good way of making new friends while also offering a welcome distraction. I spent most of my first term hauled up in my room watching hours of tv and shovelling bourbon biscuits down my throat. The truth is it might be comforting but you’ll never get the most out of uni this way. If drinking’s not your thing, invite a friend over for a movie night or meet up each week to watch your favourite tv show; just don’t sit at home alone.
If it’s your degree that’s worrying you, give it a chance. For some, excelling in your chosen subject at A-Level is like being a big fish in a small pound, so arriving at university and finding yourself surrounded by people seemingly more passionate and more talented can knock your confidence. In the first term I panicked because I wasn’t enjoying the modules and briefly considered switching degrees (this is doable, but you have to provide good marks from whatever degree you started with). Then semester two arrived and suddenly it wasn’t all new and nerve-racking; it was familiar and I had a built-in set of friends on my course. I understood what was expected of me and most importantly the modules changed and I saw how great my degree could be. If you know in your heart of hearts you’re on the wrong degree then speak to your academic tutor and they’ll advise you. For most freshers though, there is always an initial panic about the enormity of the decision you’ve made. Give it time and you’ll hopefully come to see why you chose your course in the first place.
The only cure for homesickness is time. For most people it creeps up on them every now and then but can usually be fixed by a phone call home. However, for some it can come as a growing burden that can stifle your uni experience. Unfortunately my experience was the latter, and the temptation is to rush home every weekend and spend your evenings skyping your increasingly frustrated parents. If you’re struggling to cope without family and friends, maintaining communication with them is vital. Nonetheless, don’t ever allow yourself be so distracted by what you are supposedly missing out on at home that you begin to miss out on the university experience itself.
The university offers loads of services to help you cope; student services run a daily drop-in session with a councillor if you just need someone to talk to, while Nightline is free and available when you just need a chat. Additionally, every subject’s society has a welfare officer who is only a Facebook message away. Most courses run a buddy or parent scheme and, of course, your tutor’s door is always open to you. It can take a lot of guts to admit to someone that you struggling but having a shoulder to cry on or just having someone listen to you rant for a few minutes can really help. Homesickness is something that will slowly fade over time, I promise you. The painful truth is that your family will always be there but these experiences and opportunities will never come again.
Ultimately, the first term may have gone okay but you can’t shake the sinking feeling that university just wasn’t what you expected. You hear endless accounts from teachers, parents, siblings and friends that these will be the greatest years of your life so who can blame you for marching in with unrealistically high expectations. You just have to remember you are at the beginning of this experience, with no idea what will happen or how amazing it could be. University is a time of freedom and choice, and whilst it is a hell of a lot easier to stew in self-pity about how great your first term could have been, you can choose to make it into the experience you want and deserve.