Living in Bristol means that, since the start of September, the city is now awash with students and I have found myself queuing for longer at the supermarket, dodging bleary-eyed teens on my walk into work and being forced to reflect on rugby initiation ceremonies, which I still can’t quite believe are a ‘thing’.
Aside from being an old grump about Bristol being busier and the fact that students here are better dressed than most adults with actual wages, I can’t help but feel for the first years who have been arriving with their brand new pots and pans over the last few weeks. I regularly overhear awkward conversations between barely-friends and often hear second and third years talking like they have life sussed. Seeing all these fresh faces makes me think back to when I was at university and how desperate I was for someone to guide me through it all because, no matter how it may have seemed to my fellow students, I actually really struggled with the whole thing.
With this in mind, I have decided to write a list of (hopefully) helpful and (at least semi) relevant advice that I would give to any fresher, should they ask. Baring in mind I do not have my shit together in the slightest, I’m not holding out for a young person to come up to me and ask my opinion on how they should spend their time at university, but should one lonely fresher read this and find some comfort on a lonely day in a new city, for that it will have all been worth it.
So, here goes.
Let your parents help you pack
Although you’re probably all moved in already, don’t huff at the hundred sachets of lemsip hiding at the bottom of your suitcase or the childhood comfort blanket they forced you to bring. Trust me, when the weather grows colder, you’re feeling a little lonely and you fall ill? You’ll be grateful for their interfering.
Looking back, me and my friends were so wrapped up in our own world to even notice that there were people sitting alone at dinner times or in lectures. I was so worried about not making friends that I ignored those who really could’ve used one. Those people who refuse to come out of their rooms? Listen, they’re not being weird, they’re probably just struggling, so knock on their door and offer to share a cup of tea and a packet of Hob Knobs with them. You could be the difference between them quitting or seeing it through. And that hour spent in their room? I promise that it will make no difference to forging new relationships for yourself. Open your eyes to everyone around you – uni can be tough when facing it alone.
Go to lectures
I hate to sound like your grandma, but just fucking go. Yes, even to those 9 o’clock ones that the fit guy from your course doesn’t even go to. Let’s be honest, you probably have no more than ten contact hours a week – not going is not only a really bad habit to get into but it doesn’t leave a positive impression on your tutors (who you will really need down the line). Spend the rest of the day in bed if you must, just make sure you get up and go.
I’m not just talking in seminars, I’m talking your whole course: presentations, actually reading the books, pair work – own it. Never forget that you have paid thousands of pounds for the privilege of being there. You won’t be the mug for geeking out, those pissing away their degree will, which brings me onto my next point…
Don’t waste too much time drinking
I’m not going to lie, some of my greatest memories from my time at uni were from when I was blind drunk on WKD (see photo evidence above) but my friends and I went out a lot. Like, four times a week, a lot. It’s fun, but it’s not conducive to much else. University is supposed to be a time of discovery and exploration – if you’re hungover, you’re less likely to go to lectures, get involved in the cool stuff or find something you feel really strongly about. Missing one night out isn’t going to make a difference to your life, no matter how hard that is to believe at the time.
Don’t get sucked into the ‘hierarchy’
Exeter was pretty bad for this. Those people who are part of the ‘it’ crowd who always walk around in large groups and talk five decibels louder than everyone else? They will probably refer to university as the best days of their lives, even after travelling the world, having kids and getting married… you do not want to be one of them.
Find something to do
Basically, get involved in something other than shots at the bar. Think sport, charity work or writing for the student newspaper. This is one of my biggest regrets looking back, especially because I knew I wanted to get involved with so much at the time but just… didn’t. Branch out of your comfort zones and make the most it because you will spend the rest of your adult life wishing for so much spare time.
Ramp up that CV
If you can intern during your holidays, then for god’s sake, do it. Ask your friend’s mum or that distant relative if you can get some work experience at their company, gain as much relevant experience as you can, start a blog (I started this in my third year) or spend time researching what you might want to do when you graduate.
Have that relationship if it feels right
People always say that you should remain single while you’re at uni. Although I think it’s good to have a bit of both (I was one of those lucky ones), if you meet someone and fall in love, then go for it. That shit doesn’t happen often, so embrace it, people.
If you need to work, then work
I was pretty much the poorest person at Exeter, which made it difficult to find the motivation to go to work when hardly anybody else did. The peace of mind I got when I received my pay packet, however, was well worth it.
Finally and most importantly…
Be yourself. It might sound like such a cliche, but honestly, this was what ruined university for me. I have spent many a conversation blaming the city itself or the abundance of obnoxious rich kids as to why I hated Exeter so much, but really, I was just pretending to be someone I wasn’t and that shit is HARD after a week or so. Be yourself and you will find true friends and enjoy great experiences without driving yourself insane pretending to be someone you’re not.
So, undergraduates of the UK, even though you will probably ignore all of the above, get ready for an emotional time – on so, so, so many levels.
Take care of each other and good luck.