1st year Student Accommodation at University – One over excited teenager and a crying mother later…
It never fails to surprise me how quickly September comes around. Before you know it, the leaves are on the ground, long hazy evenings are a distant memory and suddenly the motorways are jammed with students returning to university in cars that are so tightly packed you can just about make out the heads under the piles of duvets, DVDs and jumbo size packs of toilet paper.
I started at my university in 2004, bright eyed and fresh faced thinking that as an eighteen year old I knew it all. Clearly I didn’t and I learned the hard way. However, I think I have learned a few things since and if I couldn’t help my self back then maybe I can help you all now?
I threw myself in to that first week thinking that if I didn’t, I would be missing out on important experiences. I armed myself with a small wedge of money and joined every club and society at the fresher’s fair (or tried to – the law society wouldn’t have me. Apparently studying law was a prerequisite for joining the club) and somehow made it back to halls laden down with house plants, posters, a (free!) loaf of bread and numerous free pens.
I have now come to the conclusion that this type of childlike enthusiasm is absolutely normal. A speaker at a recent accommodation event described how students now expect from universities a “Harry Potter experience”. What this means for universities is perhaps for another time but I think that you have to go in to it accepting that you are responsible for your own Harry Potter experience. It will be what you make of it. Throw yourself in to everything, because there is no worse feeling than looking back and thinking ‘I wish I tried harder’.
With that same boundless energy I displayed during fresher’s week, I greeted each new person like they were my new best friend. Following the same scripted conversation that I’m sure you have all memorised by now (“what course are you on”… “where do you live”… “where are you from”…etc) we would eventually lose each other in the crowd, never to be seen again. Because they were not natural relationships, they were forced at the back of a lecture theatre where the desperation to make friends clings to the air. Friendships may not happen immediately but they will happen, just give them time. And when they do, they will be friendships for life.
And then the work begins…
It may sound big headed, but when I was in school I did pretty well without ever really trying. So to get my very first essay back graded as 57% came as a shock to me (seven years later and it’s burned in to my brain!) The whole learning experience was different to what I was used to and so were the lecturers’ expectations of you. At first it seemed like everyone was racing ahead and I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there, but it soon became clear that everyone struggled at first. Unless you’re a certified genius, it’s going to take a while to get used to the change in gear.
Unless you are very lucky, you will be greeted on your first day by quite a lengthy reading list. The temptation is to head straight out and buy up the entire list. There is no need to do this. Unfortunately I was more than half way through my course by the time I fully learned a) how to use the library properly and b) that it has absolutely everything you could ever possibly need. By all means, it’s useful to have copies of the core texts, but at least with library books there is the chance that someone before you may have made relevant and/or amusing notes in the margin.
And what will sustain you through these new found hobbies and long nights in the library? Man (and woman) cannot live on toast alone. And if your canteen is anything like mine was, the sandwich combinations are just baffling (onion bhaji and humous anyone?). There is just one thing for it: learning how to cook. I started my culinary adventure with a stir fry. The stir fry was my friend for a long time. This was swiftly followed by adding vegetables to pre-cooked noodles (for me, this was cooking) and was followed by a long fascination with fajitas. I’m not trying to confirm the stereotype here that students are unable to look after themselves. In fact, a lot of my friends are amazing cooks (and from them I’ve added Swedish meatballs and shepherd’s pie to my repertoire). But I know that for a vast number, the reality of having to take care of yourself is hard. Yet it is one of the most important lessons to learn and what it contributes to your mental and physical well being should not be underestimated.
So that was my first week or two in university: work, rest and play. It is by no means the definitive experience – these can vary hugely and I don’t think anyone has a “typical” university experience. And on that note, I would say that no one should try to; however, make the most of every moment.