“University is the best time of your life”, they tell you, wiping a wistful tear from their eye as they recall time spent cramming for exams with dear comrades in arms, grabbing a takeaway with the boys, and late-night conversations with friends in the intimacy of their bedroom. But before I knew it, the first term had gone by and I’d done none of those things. My friends who went to other unis all seemed to have this thrilling sense of camraderie with their hallmates. I envisioned them always having peers to study with, eat with, walk to and from lectures with. Meanwhile, whilst I was learning tons of maths and physics, all I felt I was learning about adult life was that it was incredibly isolated.
After receiving my housing offer, I decided fairly quickly that I’d rather search for private accommodation than share a room in college with a roommate from hell. I didn’t realise the weight of the decision until fresher’s week- where I was constantly hiking to and from college, wasn’t given information to the point where I missed the fresher’s fair, and made a total of zero friends. It was a rough start, and whilst beginning lectures marked an improvement, I couldn’t help but feel cheated out of what was supposed to be amongst the best days of my life. I settled into a productive routine, kept up with my work, tried a bunch of new things and put effort into meeting new people- but months passed by and it seemed that any day I’d receive an email informing me that my one-week free trial of university had expired.
In hindsight though, there have definitely been upsides which I ignored during my pity party for one. Learning to cook for myself has been fun, and I wouldn’t have started this year if I lived in a catered college. I don’t come home to a kitchen that looks like a hurricane passed through it. And whilst social interaction hasn’t come easily, the very fact that I’ve needed to put in more effort in talking to strangers, meeting up with people and making new friends has forced me to come out of my shell and become more comfortable with taking social risks. Asking an aquaintance if they’d have the time to do something and being turnt down might’ve bummed me out and dissuaded me from trying again, say, a year ago, but now that it’s happened more times then I can count it just isn’t a big deal. It took more time than I would’ve liked, but I have met, and am continuing to meet, more interesting people I get along with than I could’ve imagined, from more backgrounds than I can count, and that’s something that makes me very glad I went to university (dare I say more than the maths and physics?)
I’ve definitely spent more time on my own than the average first year, and in the first term this was difficult to deal with. Now, though, I can appreciate that it has allowed me to become more intrinsically motivated in my actions. I guess as you get older you naturally care less about what others think of you- but it definitely helps that with so many people to meet, one awkward moment with one group of people doesn’t instantly give you a reputation as a social outcast. I’ve started swimming, started to learn martial arts (shoutout to DU Chinese Kung Fu Society!), and become able to make plans with others pretty casually which just wasn’t something I really did before.
It was easy for me to look at other people’s experience with rose-tinted glasses, think “if only” and sigh. In reality, I doubt more than a handful of lucky people get the “perfect” uni experience I saw myself missing out on, and with time I’ve gradually gotten closer to the life I want. I’d say I’m a significantly happier person than I was both a couple of months ago, and a year or two ago. Obviously there are still aspects I want to work on (does anyone live a perfect life?) but day by day, I’m starting to see the fruits of my labour, and that feels genuinely fulfilling.
Now, if only my acommodation had a larger kitchen…