I have nothing bad to say about my first year of University. The people I met were fantastic, the physics course hadn’t brought me down and my accommodation had been a delight. I remember sitting on my chair, pondering leaving my room for the last time and had an idea to write the next occupant a letter. I never got round to it – in truth mainly because I fully expected the cleaners to find and bin it – but if I had have done it, I imagine it would have read something like this:
To the next occupant,
I hope you find this on your first night in this room. I think it’s fairly well hidden so the chances are low, but I’ll write under the assumption you’re reading this on your first night.
It doesn’t matter who I am, what I studied or who I was friends with. We probably have nothing in common with one another and yet, at precisely the time you are reading this, we have everything in common. You are alone. More than likely, it’s the first time you’ve ever been truly this alone in your life. Your parents, foster-parents, guardians, carers, whoever it might be have left you and you have to comprehend the terrifying prospect of spending most nights of the next year completely without their support.
I remember my first night. My Mum dropped me off, helped me unpack and then left me. I have an older sister and I was at home when Mum came back from dropping her off at Uni. She was a state, crying her eyes out, wanting to drive another 5 hours just to go and see my sister again. I persuaded her not to, and tried my best to look after her. She didn’t recover for days. When she dropped me off, I knew just how bad the next week was going to be and so did my best to act excited. A smile on my face, a skip in my step. I vaguely remember telling her I was going to have fun, although that might just be what I wished I told her.
What I can say with absolute certainty though, is that that night will not leave my mind for a very long time. I possibly will never forget it.
I’ve already said it doesn’t matter who I am but I think it’s important you know something about me. After all, there’s a small chance we might be the same. I cried over the possibility of university. I didn’t want to go. I spent a whole year last year denying that I would and then a whole summer trying to chicken out of it. The morning I moved I was a wreck, shaking and crying (out of my Mum’s eyesight), taking ages to get ready – avoiding the fact I was facing up to the one inevitability I had tried my hardest to run away from.
Why didn’t I want to go? I don’t find it easy to make friends. I loved my home city and I already knew at that stage that I didn’t particularly enjoy alcohol or getting stupidly drunk. I had spent a year and a half trying to come up with a viable alternative however the truth is nothing suited me like academia. And so there I was, my life packed into my Mum’s car, saying goodbye to my old life and hello to Nottingham.
If you are someone who’s been excited for university as long as they can remember, you can probably stop reading at this point. This year, and the ones that follow will no doubt be the best of your life. If you, like me, are sitting there shaking with dread about the prospect of the next year, please read on. I hope to write words of encouragement.
Two of my floor-mates welcomed me on my first night, which was exactly what I needed. I said hello, and then closed my door again and didn’t re-emerge until the next morning. It was through my closed door that I heard another of my new friends declare he was making pasta and wondered if everyone else wanted some pasta. Communal pasta he called it.
I stared at the pasta I was making (not only is pasta the easiest of foods to cook, it’s also always been my favourite), looked at my closed door and knew instantly I’d made the right decision to not leave it open. I’m quite precious about my food, and I didn’t want people to see my eating habits – at least not at that stage. One of the reasons for choosing to live in a studio rather than having a communal kitchen area was so I could eat in peace. We’re all different, and at times it was difficult to adapt to others.
If that doesn’t sound encouraging, then maybe this will. I needed space on my first night, I needed to adapt to my surroundings by being by myself. But the two girls who knocked on my door encouraged me overnight. They reassured me that it wasn’t going to be a horrible year and so when I heard everyone leaving the next morning, I did possibly the bravest thing I have ever done.
I opened my door.
Weirdly enough, I didn’t really think about it. I just opened it. I needed to go to the campus, it made sense to go with people so I didn’t get lost and they had seemed friendly enough from the night before. Looking back at it, I have no proper answer for the question why I did it. I see it as brave, because the easy route (and I’m a huge fan of the easy route) would have been to sit in that room as long as possible.
Everyone on my corridor was lovely, something you don’t always expect. It helps massively, but I think it highlights that I was wrong in certain assumptions I’d made before university and even here in this letter. There are two types of students – those who want to be here and those who don’t. But both of them are nervous when it comes to starting. Everyone has some reliance on something, and everyone has vulnerabilities that are only shown when you live with them.
I personally didn’t involve myself with freshers activities. If I have any advice for you it would be to remain true to who you are. If you want to experience it, then that’s fine, but I figured that I didn’t enjoy social drinking before I went and so if I had a week of non-stop clubs and alcohol I’d probably hate it even more. It didn’t affect my friendships with those people I met, because the other thing I learnt about university is the people who are worth caring about will not judge you for your opinions on things.
I’ve been out throughout the year, at semi-regular intervals, but I didn’t socially drink until I was with a group of people I liked and trusted. I’ve enjoyed it with them, and the freedom of coming home at 3 AM without your Mum around to judge you is certainly worth it. I just skipped freshers because I honestly saw it as the worst thing ever.
I made the right call, but then there are plenty of people who absolutely love the week and so what you do this week depends entirely on who you are.
University is tough, but it’s also fun. It’s the best experience you can possibly have. The freedom is overwhelming at first but becomes enjoyable quickly. I can watch The West Wing at midnight and still be up for my 9 o’clock the next morning. I never thought I would enjoy aspects of it that I have and then conversely I never thought I’d struggle with stuff that came so easy for me before.
We’re all different, and you are no exception. I sit here, staring at my posters and rocking on my chair, overwhelmingly sad that this will be one of the last times I enjoy this room. It’s small, but it’s unquestionably yours and you will care about it deeply. It will be the room where a little part of you becomes bigger and where you find out so much more about yourself than you can ever possibly imagine. This room really is the start of your life, and you will get out of it what you make of it.
You don’t have to lose touch with old friends and you shouldn’t be afraid to trust your new ones. University is such a big and challenging experience that we all need a shoulder to cry on. Your parents, most likely, are too far away to offer that support and so we have to turn to our peers. And whenever you feel down, whenever you feel like you can’t go on you should know that everyone else around you feels exactly the same, even if they aren’t showing it.
Make of university what you will, but I do urge you to at least show your face in the first week. Climbing the early ladder of friendship can go a long way to having as good a year as I’ve had.
So I will miss this room, this block, this accommodation. I’ll even miss the noise from the bar across the courtyard when I’m trying to sleep, and yes, some part of me will even miss the early morning fire alarms – trying to scramble on clothes and stand outside in the freezing cold as they tell you it was only a drill. And I might even miss the four flights of stairs we have to climb to get to our room, as we look across to the blocks opposite with their fifth floor and therefore a lift. You’ve just got to remind yourself that at least it’s keeping you fit.
I’ll miss this place, but I’m really excited for my future. If it was with fake excitement and real dread that my Mum left me with, it’s real dread and fake excitement that my Dad is collecting me from. My first year of uni has made me genuinely look forward for the rest of my time here and I say from the bottom of my heart, I hope you feel the same in a year’s time. And I hope this letter helps.