Hearing the news of the two deaths in Belfast last week during freshers has really hit hard. Freshers were some of my best memories of my time at university, especially during that first week of meeting everyone for the first time and being let loose in a new city.
It’s a huge culture shock for some (like myself) and a huge change that had to be adapted to. The first few days and weeks can be hard, especially being away from home for the first time and having to fend for yourself. But my flatmates and I always thought back to those first few days when we had just moved in, how awkward we all were, the nights out and the first arguments and we laugh about them now. We have such fond memories of the naive young adults we were and how far we’ve come.
There are many ideas that people have about university. What they imagine it to be like, what the movies show, what TV series show, and for the most, they’re kind of true. But for some students, a lot of expectations they have about university are never met. I think the best TV show that showcases real university life would be Fresh Meat on All4. They’re a little bit older, so I would say it would be like 22 year olds going to university for the first time, but it is all quite relatable for when you move in to a house with strangers for the first time.
I didn’t go to university in Belfast and I never got to experience the Holylands (a few days a year was all I could take) but I know that most people move to university in Belfast with their friends and are able to live with people they know from the first day. To me, I thought this would make things a lot better. It brings home with you and you’re never really on your own. I could be totally wrong but I know that freshers can get very messy in Belfast and it’s not what it used to be with the rise in drug culture and having to keep up with the Joneses on social media.
I’m going to write about five things that aren’t all what they were cracked up to be about first year of university and things that freshers may think are the be-all and end-all right now, but down the line, those things won’t matter.
Something is clearly failing in Northern Ireland big time in terms of our mental health care and the fact that we don’t even have a government in place to do anything to help the situation, is only going to let things get worse. If you’re struggling at university, in school, or at any point in your life – speak up. There is always something better coming and always something to live for. Your best days are yet to come.
1. You don’t have to drink every single night
Honestly, you won’t be missing out on much if you would rather have a night in to yourself. You might feel pressured to do what everyone else is doing and want to show off by being the absolute legend that makes it out every single night during freshers, but don’t do that to yourself. I didn’t do every night during freshers. I mean, I made it out most nights but there were definitely a few nights my flatmates and I spent it inside watching Netflix instead.
You don’t have to be the Big Name on Campus that turns up at all the parties, is always on the sesh or is an absolute champion for making it to a 9am lecture after only getting home at 8am. Great for you, but are you really paying £4-£9k per year to do that? I don’t think so.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved going out in my first year of university and they were some of my highlights of first year, but find friends that want to spend time with you at 2pm not just 2am. Alcohol is known to be a depressant, so take some time off occasionally. There will be nights that you just know you’re not going to have a good time, so make the decision to stay in for the night or grab some friends and go for dinner or to the movies instead.
2. Don’t get pressured into taking drugs
There will most likely be times when you are in a situation where there are drugs involved, but that doesn’t mean you have to take them. Even if everyone in the room is taking them or someone says ‘you need to be on something to enjoy yourself’ don’t believe them or don’t feel forced to take something you don’t want to. I managed to go my entire time at university without doing any and still enjoyed my nights out in Medication (Liverpool nightclub) without it.
There does seem to be a huge drug culture in our generation and there aren’t many people that don’t take some form of something when they’re out or at a party. I don’t see the point in taking something that could potentially kill me or leave me incredibly vulnerable so I just opt out. Being honest, you would be more respected for choosing not to and if your friends are pressuring you or making jokes about you because you’re ‘boring’, then I would maybe re-evaluate whether these people are actually your friends.
3. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you aren’t enjoying your course
Going straight to university after school baffles me. We’re all basically forced to make our ultimate career choice at the age of 18. How are any of us meant to know what we want to do for the rest of our lives at this young an age? When I was in school, it felt like if you didn’t go to university, you were a failure. But that isn’t the case whatsoever. It would make much more sense to take time out and decide what you really want to do before you choose a course at random and waste thousands of pounds on a degree that you hate or will never use.
If your course isn’t for you and you know there’s no way you can stick it out, speak to someone in your university. They may be able to transfer you onto a course that better suits you or let you defer until next year so that you can do what you’d prefer.
I know that one of the scariest things is telling your parents, but they only want you to be happy. They would hate to think that you are suffering in silence, hating the course that you’re doing and wasting more time by not telling them or someone else. It’s your future, and you aren’t a failure if you decide to drop out. It’s your life, not anyone else’s so don’t care about what other people may think because it’s your career at the end of the day, not theirs.
I was lucky with my degree choice, but when I first started my course in PR, I didn’t even know what PR was. The best you can do is give it a chance to see whether it’s for you. If it’s not, it’s not and there’s nothing wrong with saying so and changing degrees.
4. You’ll likely get homesick and that’s ok
You’re away from home for the first time, away from your friends, family, pets and everything you’re used to. It’s a huge change and especially when you’re constantly surrounded by new people and not anyone that is familiar to you.
One thing that I’ve come to learn over the past 4/5 years is that you are a lot more homesick when you don’t have a circle of friends around you. In my first year of uni, I met a lot of new people who were friends, but not my best friends as I’d only known them a matter of months. At the start, I was a little homesick. I mean, not so much that I was pining for home, but I missed my home friends and my family and my old bedroom, my parents’ cooking – the small things as well as the big things. But, the more time I spent doing things with friends or at university, it took my mind off of home.
As the years went on in university and I made friends that I now consider best friends, that feeling of homesickness definitely went away. It even got to the point that when I lived in London, I was actually homesick for Liverpool and not Lurgan, my hometown.
I think I was at my most homesick in London as I didn’t know many people apart from the interns I worked with and a few friends that I had in the city, but at the time, even they weren’t ‘best’ friends. The more weekends I spent by myself, the more I missed things like The Burn on a Saturday night (tragic) or even just being in Liverpool. My year in London definitely taught me that to truly make somewhere a home and to enjoy where you live, you need to have your own little family in that place.
This may be why I am yet to feel any sense of homesickness in New York (excluding the first two days) since I’m around new friends 24/7 and constantly doing things on weekends and never feel alone in the city. I definitely have a very large community in New York already and that definitely helps with not missing home too much.
So in your first year, expect to miss home for a bit as moving out is all so new to you. You’ll learn how to cook, clean, wash, do everything for yourself. But take an odd weekend and head home to see your family and friends – there’s nothing wrong with that, most people do it. If you’re homesick, book a flight. See your family and then I bet you’ll be itching to get back to your university city.
5. If you’re worried or stressed about anything, speak up
Going to university is being thrown into the big, bad world for the first time. You’re going to have to manage your money, look after yourself health-wise, get yourself up in the mornings to go to classes, maybe get yourself a part-time job and everything else that comes with fending for yourself.
Money problems can be a huge worry for first year students as when I moved into halls, my student loan didn’t cover my rent for the year which meant I had to find money from somewhere else to pay off the rest of my rent and to also pay for my socialising as well as every day things like food.
There are people in your university to help with everything and there are always support systems in place. I know LJMU had the Hardship Loan which I never took advantage of (I really don’t know why) and other systems in place to support monetary needs.
The main thing is to really not suffer in silence with anything. Speak to someone; friends, your lecturer, a counsellor, even the librarian. Just don’t keep any worries to yourself, no matter how big or small.
Your uni days will be the best days and you’ll meet so many people, make friends for life and maybe even find the love of your life (not speaking from personal experience).