University can be the most liberating time of your life. Beforehand you were living under parental dictatorship and following a repetitive school routine. And afterwards a life of hard work with minimal holiday time and a slap in the face from the real world to look forward to. But these three to four years in between are a time for you to do whatever you want.
When you ask people about their university experiences they often focus on the highlights. Common phrases are “it was the best time of my life” or “I wish I could do it again.” I won’t deny that being at university has the potential to cause these feelings, but you can feel disheartened or isolated if the hype does not match with reality.
You arrive: finally free to be independent, but gradually all the high hopes you had to start making memories crumble. You question whether you’re “doing university right” because you’re not having as much fun as everyone else. Your school friends in other places have made a group of best friends whilst you sit at home hoping for plans. You didn’t go out every single night in Freshers’ Week, didn’t join any societies. You can’t help but ask yourself “am I failing this?” or “why aren’t I having the best time of my life? No one told me I would feel so lonely.”
If you feel alienated at the start, that’s okay. You will find friends and create a social life that works for you making countless memories. But maybe not immediately as some people find this straight away whilst others need a little more time. If you’re the latter, it does not mean you’re failing. It’s best not to compare situations as yours is completely different to everyone else’s.
And I promise you this, everyone is struggling with something. Even the people you think are thriving and are totally settled have something in the back of their mind. It’s important to remember you are not alone. You’re facing a unique experience which can be amazing if you make the most of it, but that doesn’t mean there are no challenges.
When talking about university to new first years and school students, we need to destigmatise all social challenges facing university students. No matter how great people say their time at university was, I assure you at some point they had to deal with something less then great, and others might not have enjoyed the experience at all. Sure we like to share the good parts, but it’s useful to hear about the hard things so those who aren’t having an amazing time don’t feel alone.
Otherwise we are sending students into a totally unfamiliar environment thinking it’s all going to be sunshine and rainbows. If my first year has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes you need those low points to find the high ones.