As results day in the UK looms for all the anxious teens awaiting their results, determining whether they get the right grades for their chosen universities, I’ve been thinking back on my own experience as a fresh-faced 18-year-old, eagerly awaiting their new life at university. That’s five whole years ago now! Where has the time gone?!
I grew up in Brighton, which as towns go, is a pretty great place to live. And I’m not saying that because Zoella and various other bloggers and YouTubers live there now, Brighton has always been pretty damn cool. And as much as I’ve always loved Brighton, was always super eager to get away and go up north for university. I’ve had a weird fascination with Manchester since I was about 14, and all because I was obsessed with a series that Sarra Manning wrote, about a girl from Brighton who’s parents relocated to Manchester at the start of her A Levels. (It’s the Diary of a Crush trilogy, in case you wanted to look it up. While they are well out of my age range now, I still hold these books close to my heart)
Anyway, back to my original point. I was so looking forward to starting university, and when I actually started, I was a bit… underwhelmed. Everyone talks about how their first year of uni was the most fun, it was so great and they wish they could do it all again if they could. I, on the other hand, had a very different experience. I consider my first year of university to be my least favourite, due to matters out of my control, but there could have been some things I could have done better. I’ve complied a small list of things I would have done differently.
Don’t put up with other people’s shit.
Part of the reason I had such a crappy first year was that I had some pretty awful flatmates. I lived in a flat with five other similarly aged people, and while we got on pretty well at first, it completely escalated from there.
Since I have a late July birthday, and didn’t really have money for going out all summer, I wasn’t too familiar with the clubbing scene, so you can imagine that Fresher’s Week was a bit of a shock to the system to me. I didn’t go out every night, but I did manage every other night of that first week. But because my flatmates were party animals, and much harder drinkers than I, they were out all the time, and I guess therefore had more time to bond when I wasn’t there. Over the coming weeks, invitations to nights out got less frequent, and the times I did go out with them, I would often lose them in the club, and they would conveniently not answer my calls and texts in attempts to try to find them.
While this was annoying, it didn’t bother me too much at first. It wasn’t until they were planning day trips without me, going food shopping all together without me etc, that I really started to feel left out. They would come back from nights out and talk about me in the kitchen loudly with the door wide open (my room was opposite the kitchen…). Occasionally they would invite people round, whether friends from home or other people they met on nights out, and in their drunken state, bang at my door (causing my whole room to shake), shouting things like ‘weird girl’ at me through the door. Pretty scary, right? And all because I didn’t go out with them all nights of the week.
I didn’t actually know at the time that we had a number for our accommodation’s night security, which was specifically designed for situations like this. I only found this out a couple of months in, when desperately begging the staff at reception to let me move flats, only they didn’t allow anyone to move flats in first semester. At that point, I thought it would be pointless – even if I did move in second semester, I would more than likely be put in a flat with a group of people who already established their friendship group, and for all I knew this mess would happen all over again.
If I had to do it all again, I would have reported my issues with my flatmates much earlier, so that the people who ran the accommodation could have an ongoing record of their behaviour, and keep insisting that something be done about it. Would it have increased the tensions between my flatmates and I? Probably, but at least I wouldn’t have to suffer in silence.
Don’t shut yourself in.
Believe it or not, even though my flatmates acted like total utter twats to me, I still made an effort to be friendly to them at first. If I was cooking in the kitchen or hanging out in the living room, I would make conversation with them, trying to stay upbeat and show them that their behaviour didn’t get to me. However, the longer this was all in vain, and they all made it pretty clear that they wanted nothing to do with me, for seemingly no reason.
Because I was 18 and socially anxious and insecure, this caused me to retreat within myself and become a bit of a hermit. I frequented the common areas less and less, favouring to stay in my room, and for a long time, either went out to eat (usually at a Greggs and McDonald’s because y’know, student budget) or would just live off of sandwiches I kept in my room. I basically became a shut in. I did have a couple of good friends on my course who I would go out with from time to time. But unlike me, they got on with their flatmates like a house on fire, so they would often be hanging out with them, leaving me with no one else to reach out to. I remember getting through entire TV series in quick succession in my first year (LOST, True Blood, Gilmore Girls and Friends, to name a few), because when I wasn’t at uni, I had a lot of time of my hands.
If I could go back in time, I definitely would have reached out to others a bit more. Talked to more people on my course, join clubs and activities – anything to get me out of that stuffy little bedroom, eating hummus and telling Tumblr how sad I was.
Don’t be afraid.
This ties in with the point above. Because my flatmates didn’t like me, I assumed that anyone else I met would come to a similar conclusion. After all, my flatmates had managed to find reasons not to like me from seemingly nowhere, so what was to stop others from doing the same? This made me afraid to reach out to people and stopped me from doing things I wanted to do.
For example, I met a girl called Vicky through Tumblr (who I’m still friends with today, shout out to Vicky if you’re reading!), who coincidentally happened to live in the flat above me. Crazy small world, right? Despite the fact that we got on pretty well through messages on Tumblr, I was too afraid to go upstairs and turn an internet friendship into a real-life friendship. I didn’t want to intrude on her and her flatmates, or seem like I was weird or desperate. Had I not held myself back, Vicky and I would have become real-life friends much sooner, and my first year would have become a bit more bearable.
Something I also regret not doing in first year was join the Drama society at my uni. One of my friends on my course had joined and was performing in a show, and I really wanted to join in and experiment with acting, as I’ve always had an interest in it from a young age, but never had the balls to actually perform. Again, I faced the same insecurities as before – I was afraid that people wouldn’t like me. Especially since I have no acting background, and don’t have a big personality, I thought people wouldn’t readily accept me.
I actually ended up joining Drama in my second year of uni and was thankfully proved wrong, as the friendships I made there have lasted me throughout the rest of university and beyond. Had I only joined during first year, not only would I have found my Sheffield family much sooner, but my first year would have been vastly different, and definitely more bearable. I let my insecurities get the better of me because of a few crappy people, and I let them win by not just getting on with my life and getting on with my university experience.
I hope this post didn’t deter anyone who might be going to university soon, that wasn’t my intention at all. This was more a cautionary tale of a girl who wish she had done better. Luckily, my experience of first year is only a minority (or at least I hope so!) and the rest of my uni years were immensely better once I was rid of my awful flatmates and gained a bit of confidence. To leave you with some parting advice, which applies to all aspects of life, and not just university: don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be unapologetically you. If others don’t acceot you for who you are, well that’s their loss, because I guarantee you that there are others who certainly will!
I hope you enjoyed this slightly more personal post. Did you go to university? How did you find your first yer? Tell me all about it!