Having just finished my second year at uni and had the best year I ever could have imagined (despite it being cut short unfortunately) I’ve been reflecting on the ways I would handle things differently if I were to to do the transition from school to university again. Listed below are the top 10 pieces of advice that I would want to impart to my past self.
1) I know it’s hard but try to resist ringing Mum and Dad every night. Trust me you’ll settle in a lot quicker this way and then when you do ring them you’ll have more to talk about as more time has passed. This will prevent the conversation from drying up and taking a turn for the worst by getting onto the subject of how you miss home which 9 times out of 10 leads to tears (on both ends, as they hate to hear you crying when you’re so far away!)
2)Don’t worry about not making close friends in that first semester, it definitely doesn’t mean you have failed or missed your chance. Friendships take time to form and will come in time! And when they do, it will do wonders for your homesickness too!
3)It’s no shame to keep things simple in the kitchen. I used to literally cry on the phone to Mum as I’d get so embarrassed at my basic cooking when the other girls in my flat were making full home-cooked meals. I felt behind in life, incapable, and like they looked down on me which was nonsense! As I wrote in my blog post ’20 things I’ve learned in 20 years’, just because someone has accomplished something before you doesn’t mean you won’t get there too. Everyone grows at different rates. And now in second year I can happily say that I can confidently whip up quite a few tasty meals. Practicing making some meals at home in the holidays is the best way to start, as anyone who is relatively new to catering for themselves will feel a bit overwhelmed and self-conscious in a kitchen with 6 people cooking at once. So getting to grips in the calm of your own home with no one watching you burn your peppers (although I like to say that they’re chargrilled haha) is probably the best way to start. And remember to focus on making good food for you, rather than trying to impress anyone else.
4)You’re smart enough to be there. They don’t accept those who aren’t. It can be hard going from a school were you’re considered to be relatively “clever” to university where you’re suddenly average. But don’t doubt yourself and remember that a lot of people are very good at sounding smart but it is sometimes just talk!
5)Opening up about how you’re actually feeling will help take friendships to the next level and you’d be surprised to find out that most people are feeling exactly the same as you. I went a long time thinking that I was the only one who was struggling and I envied those who seemed to have taken to uni life like a duck to water. But I eventually found out that most of those people had in fact just been doing the same as me, putting on a brave face and acting. “Fake it til you make it” and all that! You’re all in the same boat and you’re definitely not alone in the way that you’re feeling. And often they would love someone to open up too just as much as you do.
6)There isn’t a time that you should have settled in by. Just because you’d thought that you’d have settled in by the end of the first semester doesn’t mean that you’re never going to. To be honest, I don’t think I’d fully settled there until returning to uni after Easter break in my first year. It’s a big change but us humans are surprisingly adaptable and will settle eventually.
7)You’re fear of messing up in labs is only making you more likely to mess up! I’ve never been the biggest fan of labs, especially since we didn’t do much experiment wise at my school. But once I started to lose my fear of them I enjoyed them much more as I wasn’t so nervous. Again I think the barrier I’d put up to labs was a confidence thing and the toxic feeling that everyone was always way better than I was at everything. Having been through two years of weekly labs I can now definitely say that literally everyone makes mistakes in them and often these only make the labs more interesting and fun. You’re all learning.
8)You don’t need to bring your entire wardrobe home for Christmas or Easter break! Yes, you may get away a few times with the person working at the check-in glazing over the fact that your suitcase is 1 kg over the weight limit. But this is a risky game to be playing and you are very lucky that one of the National Express bus drivers hasn’t broken their back yet when lifting your cases onto the bus!
9)Letting someone know that you’re struggling who is at the university will help so much as they are actually in the vicinity whereas your parents and school friends are across the water. Opening up to my flatmate and academic advisor helped me to feel less alone in it all and I felt a lot more supported, as just knowing that there were people nearby who knew how I was feeling made me feel more at home and was comforting. Speaking to people physically can make you feel a lot less alone than when you can only talk to someone over the phone who is a plane or boat trip away. I think the reason I held off speaking to my advisor about it is because I thought that he would think less of me which was silly because that’s part of the reason why you have an advisor to go to and you’re probably not the first one that they have supported through something.
10)Make yourself comfortable there. Have your favourite tea mugs on your shelf and a tin for your biscuits and cakes. Turn on the heating when it’s cold and if you can’t work something ask someone to show you!!! I went an embarrassingly long time not understanding how to work my radiator and once I admitted that I couldn’t get it working, my flatmate was more than happy to show me. I think one of my biggest regrets from first year was not asking sooner! Anyone is going to feel down when they’re sat shivering at their desk, and all these little things make you feel more at home. Also bring your favourite teddy and fluffy blanket. It’s not embarrassing! Honestly you’ll be shocked at how many students, (yes, even the “cool” ones!), have their teddy tucked under their pillow.
I hope some of these tips help any of you who are making the jump of living away from home for the first time. Homesickness is normal but will fade away gradually. Granted it may take longer than you’d expected but it will go. And your new residence will eventually feel like your second home.