Coming to university was one of the most eye-opening and difficult experiences I have ever had. Forget high-school angst, university is on a whole different league.
Adjusting to this new setting really takes a lot out of you. With the support system that you conveniently had back home, now gone, being a university newcomer sort of feels a lot like your first day in primary school: lost, confused, you don’t know anyone, and you end up crying and wanting your mum. Heck, I’m in the middle of my second-year now and I am still trying to adjust.
Frankly though, everything could have been different and better if only I had received an honest advice when I asked people about uni-life. My only source of advice was some burned out cousins during family gatherings and dinners. They gave such vague and dismissive responses, it felt a lot like I was talking to one of those psychic mediums.
“Eh, yea, it’s okay, just try to balance your studies and social life.” Okay great, how do I do that? “Eh, it depends on your course, see and act accordingly.” Ehm, okay, how about my dorm-mates? “Eh, it depends. It’s different for everyone.” What about friends? “Eh you know, it depends. Just get yourself out there, they’ll come to you.”
So here I am, like a good (insomniac) Samaritan to give some brutally honest advice about university that I wish I was given. (Sidenote: It’s 5am, writing this on an old lagging tablet -I get to write a whole sentence before the letters start appearing on the screen-, you understand how randomly important I feel that this is for uni-students)
1. Friendship groups are formed within the first month.
How to jump on the friendship wagon and what to do if you’ve ended up landing on your face.
This is a widely-acknowledged phenomenon where any student will vouch that by uni-day no. 30~45 you can see these ‘cliques’ being formed that slowly become very exclusive and to themselves. Most typically they are either flatmates or people in the same course.
Therefore Advice #1 is get yourself out there and have a staying-out-till-late with the different groups at least once. Preferably during the first two weeks because lectures haven’t properly started yet. Let me expand on this a bit more below.
Do try to get close with your flatmates, you’ll be sharing a kitchen (and possibly a bathroom) with them so at the very least invest on some good basic rapport. Your flatmates will often make or break both your dorm-life and uni-life experience. Flatmates can be awesome friends (mine weren’t) but you shouldn’t limit yourself to them. According to my very accurate statistical analysis *cough*, people tend to suck and you have roughly 35% chance of coming across sucky people. When you add ‘private territory’ and ‘cohabitation’ the chances double up to 70%. Yes, most people end up having bad flatmates but that’s a topic for another advice post.
Freshers’ Week and Society Meetings/Socials are a great way to meet new people but also something very simple like going across the hall and saying ‘hi’ to your neighbours is still enough. By week 1 you should have at least three options of groups of friends to chose from (e.g. flatmates, course-mates, society-mates).
If possible try not to decline a group’s first going-out invite even if it is something that you dislike such as clubbing. University is all about getting out of your comfort zone. This is England after all, there is a prevalent clubbing and drinking culture.
Personally this is where I did wrong. I am a lazy housecat and couldn’t bother to go clubbing. Missing out on a group’s first two/three night-out sessions can really set you back. It’s a very natural process and that doesn’t mean that the people in the group are necessarily mean, you just ended up distancing yourself and bridging that gap can sometimes be a lot of work.
Even if you hate clubbing/drinking (join the club – ha! pun intended), chances are the majority of the people in the group would want to go clubbing or to the pub during the first weeks. All you have to do is tolerate it. In the next weeks, if you’ve got yourself a cool group of friends those clubbing nights can be switched to movie & pizza nights (a. nobody can say no to pizza and, b. clubbing will have a toll on their finances sooner or later). It’s a waste to miss on some fun future pizza nights because you couldn’t bring yourself to hang-out late during the first weeks.
Now fast-forward into your first year, you’ll notice something very interesting. Different groups/cliques have been formed and if you’ve found yourself in the unfortunate place of belonging in none, the task of breaking through their walls feels almost impossible. Here’s some of my personal tips that I hope they could be of some use to you:
- If there is a group of friends that you really like and want to be a part of but kind of drifted away, don’t let that dishearten you, you should keep on at it. Chat them up on Facebook. Invite them out for coffee. Let them know that you want to hang out with them. If they are decent they will notice your interest and effort and you’ll be part of them in no time. If they don’t, they never deserved you to begin with.
- Join a sports society/team. It’s no brainer but you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make friends in a sport team. Even if you join a month later. Even if you suck at it. You sometimes have the very serious professional teams but there are quite a few informal ones that are just for the fun of it. Even formal sport societies sometimes have a pro and amateur team. Again, don’t worry about your skill level, most teams will be excited to have you and would want to help you improve. Try out something that you’ve never done or known about it before. This will make it more fun.
- If exercising is not your thing (trust me, I truly understand) other societies that are worth joining in late are the ones that have projects/goals for you to work on rather than just a society which is a front for people who want to get drunk with others that have read the Harry Potter books. A society that gives said projects to its members will give you a group activity that will not only act as a social lubricant to get to know people better in ways other than doing vodka shots, but it will also really put you into a group with purpose. You come closer with people when you work together for something.
Such societies usually involve one of the university’s media ones, such as the TV/Radio/Newspaper. Again, no need to worry about your skill set. Most of the time these societies just need an extra pair of hands to help around. Also, some of them offer training and tutorials to their clueless members, you also get to learn a new skill set.
Volunteering Societies are also awesome and often have a lot of projects planned such as cookies sales and fund-raising walks. If I haven’t sold you on this so far, do I need to mention how great these look on your CV?
- Maybe for a change, sit on a different spot in your lecture. Check out for someone that seems friendly but looks like they are sitting by themselves. You are alone, they seem to be alone. Perfect. Already got one thing down as common. No, but seriously now, simply changing your typical seat and sitting next to someone new, saying ‘hi’, make a comment about the course, ask them when they have a seminar on this module, ask them where they are from. Done. It is very simple and can yield you amazing results. You may get to meet a really cool person that you would have never had the chance to meet with otherwise.
- You wouldn’t think of this but seminars and especially the all-knowledgeable mood you feel after them are great for making friends. During seminars they like to pair you up and have you discuss with your partner their approach to the questions, don’t they? Let’s say you are a good-long-way into the first semester and are still looking for friends. You’ve been to a seminar group for roughly what, 3-4 times. You got to chat with that paired-up partner 3-4 times. If you are on friendly/nice terms and they seem like a decent person, why don’t you chat them up after the seminar and suggest that you go and study together at the library what you’ve learned today or maybe arrange to meet up earlier before the seminars and prepare for them together. Chances are, because they are in that post-seminar eureka mood they’d say yes. If they say no, well, you have at least 4 other seminar groups to try out your luck.
I understand that for some this may be an iffy proposal ’cause you fear about them stealing off your notes (believe me, I’m a law student, revealing your notes to someone is like the ultimate showcase of trust) but prep for seminar questions is only 15% of the notes you’ll end up making for your exams. Frankly, I found those shared study-sessions to be very helpful and really maximising my performance in the seminars. You should give it a try as well.
- My last advice is, whatever method you chose to meet people, consistency, involvement, and respect will be those attitude points that will win you those friends. You have to invest a bit in them rather than wait for them to come to you. You should keep your contact with them, at least every other day talk with them; send them a message to see how they are doing or share a funny video/meme with them. And lastly respect them but more importantly respect yourself, don’t force yourself to be in a group where you feel uncomfortable and not like yourself. Universities are massive and have people from all walks of life. Being a university student is a very unique and short period in someone’s life, you should take the lead and start making the most out of it.