Yes, you read the title correctly - I’ve been filling out ‘university student’ as an occupation on all my forms for the past five years. Reading those words, it dawns on me how long it has been and how much everything has changed. I came to the University on the last weekend of September 2017 ridiculously early (my dad made us pack and leave like we were going to the airport). I had no idea what was coming next, this was the first time I was on my own. I’ve gone through the highs and lows, made some mistakes and got the battle scars so you don’t have to.
First steps and fumbles
I have always been a planner, there’s no greater high than looking at a time blocked calendar or well-curated to-do list - it gives me some semblance of ‘adulting’. I’m going to be honest with you, absolutely none of my uni life has turned out like how I planned; I had a particular image of what I thought university life was about and who I should be. I thought I would be out every night, I now look forward to my alone time and wholesome evenings. I thought I would be an industrial engineer changing the world, and placement made me realise that manufacturing might not be the best fit for me.
My first year was filled with me being too nervous to introduce myself to people so I stayed with my flatmates and coursemates who spoke to me (I’m very grateful that my quietness was not taken for snobbery). No one gives you a manual on how to make friends and if there was a course, I would have probably scrapped a condoned pass.
Lesson one: Go for things you’re interested in!
I enjoyed university so much more when I actually started trying out events and clubs that sounded interesting to me. Societies, volunteering and random events are great places to meet like-minded people and even if things don’t go great you’ll have a fun story to laugh about later. If you were like me and stocked up on uni YouTube videos, you’ll hear the phrase ‘everyone is in the same boat’ said a lot and it’s actually true.
Uni is a unique place where most people really do want to make new friends; so if saying your name brings sweat beads to your face, try it anyway, it becomes easier with practice.
Lesson Two: Your mental health matters
I never really saw myself having my first panic attack in my first-year accommodation lift. I had no idea what was happening or why, I just was in the corner curled up in a ball. Thankfully, I had a call with a friend who lived in the building just before the panic attack and she came to get me. I have had similar moments following the next year and a half but I’m thankful that I actually got help.
The University’s Wellbeing Team offer six free sessions of counselling or CBT. I got matched with a counsellor who helped me work through the things that were causing me stress and gave me a space to be open and vulnerable - something that I didn’t realise I needed and now recognise I wasn’t giving myself.
Lesson Three: Meet yourself where you are
I spent so much time chasing an ideal version of myself that I wasn’t giving my current self what she needed. A lot of my mental health struggles came from factors outside of my control and I just had expected myself to just get over it. This was not the case and I needed to give myself time to process and in certain moments grieve.
The people you surround yourself with impact your uni experience, be intentional about the people you invest time with. I wanted to be kind, loving and open to everybody but it’s OK not to get along with everyone, learning how to set boundaries brings a world of peace.
I’m going to be frank, being a minority student at university offers its own mental challenges. I battled with other people’s perceptions of me as a person and my academic capability. Imposter Syndrome was alive and active.
It can be really difficult to get work done when you are continuously questioning yourself, but having a supportive community, with people who have had similar experiences and who see you from the outside, and not through your thoughts can give valuable perspective which can point you back on the right path.
Lesson Four: Jump, you’ll learn to swim after.
So many of the best moments of my university experience have come from feeling the fear of doing something new and going for it anyway. I joined committees, got to be involved with different events, developed a whole range of skills, and got to learn from so many people. I ended up completing a Study Abroad year in New Zealand and doing an industrial placement.
Placement especially taught me that I didn’t need to know everything, and everybody is learning as they go. You just have to be committed to keep on trying to do better – in whatever form that may take.