Starting college in a location which is far away from where you have grown up will be the first time many of you leave the comfort and security of your family home. It is a huge step, and in more ways than one…
On the one hand….
You gain freedom and independence: you suddenly become liberated of all the supposed constraints that family life brings: chores around the house; helping with younger siblings; differences of opinion with your parents; rules that hinder your freedom to come and go as you please… to name a few. You will be able to eat breakfast cereal for all meals if you like, stay out late and party all night, drink and smoke whatever you want… with nobody to tell you what to do or look on with disapproving eyes. Freedom at last!!!
But on the other hand….
You will have to take care of laundering and ironing your own clothes, sticking to a budget, getting around on your own. You may miss Mum and Dad (yes really) and even your annoying little brother or sister. You may feel quite lonely and lost at times. You will have to learn to navigate complicated issues in your daily life without the people who have been there for you, immediately on hand, throughout your whole life up until now.
It is the beginning of a very exciting – yet quite daunting – new chapter!
And it can be very scary.
There will be a lot of things to take in and remember very quickly: new people, new courses, a hectic new pace, a new academic timetable, social events, a new network of friends to create…. And as if this were not enough, for many all this will be a language which is not necessarily your mother tongue.
Tips & Techniques
First of all, remember that everyone is in the same boat. You are not the only one feeling lost and alone: even your peers who seem to have got everything worked out and appear to be full of confidence are probably just as scared and shy as you are. Some people are just better at hiding things or use bravado as a mask. Deep down, every new student has the same concerns, feelings, and fears. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just you.
It is quite normal to latch onto people early on and to form pairs or small groups. Everybody is looking to make friends, nobody wants to be alone, and nobody wants to be rejected. These may not be the people you end up staying with, or you may remain best friends until graduation. If you quickly feel you are with the wrong people, don’t worry; you will gradually drift towards like-minded students, those who will like you for who you are. Please do not feel you have to pretend to like everything and everybody. Never feel forced to go to social events or do activities that you do not feel comfortable with just so that people will like you. Stay true to who you are, and people will like you all the more for that. By doing the activities you enjoy – be that playing chess or going out clubbing – you are more likely to find the right crowd for you fairly quickly and naturally.
Remember that true friends can be counted on the fingers of one hand, so if you are not friends with everybody, this is ok, and it is normal.
A new environment
There will inevitably be much to take in about your study program, the location of your classrooms, your timetable, and more, in the first days. Where is lunch served? Where are the toilets? How do I get to the gym? Never be afraid to ask. Even if you feel that certain things have been explained and you should know them already, the staff and older students will always be ready to help send you in the right direction or explain the procedure you haven’t understood. Remember that we have all been in this position once and your anxiety is universal: everybody will always very happy to help you.
Dealing with homesickness
One of the hardest things about moving to university can be leaving behind your family life. Even if you have been looking forward to taking your first steps towards independence, it is normal to miss your parents and friends back home. Try to arrange regular phone or video calls to them and plan your next trip home early on, so that you know you have that to look forward to. If geographically possible, think about going home for a weekend during the semester, or perhaps your parents can come to visit you. If your home is too far away for this, try to find friends who speak your language, or come from the same town or region as you. If the feelings are overwhelming, talk to the Student Affairs teams, who will try to help you find ways of coping, providing a safe area for you to express your feelings and encouraging you to take up activities to help you to adapt to your surroundings and new friends.
Pace yourself – and plan your time carefully
While you should of course make sure you take your academic studies seriously, you should at the same time try to build into your daily routine some time for you, to do the things you like to do to relax. Reading, taking a bath, watching a film, whatever it is that will help you to relax. Relaxation is important in order that your mind is open and ready to learn during your classes. Making sure you are getting enough sleep will help, so that you will be able to keep up mentally, be alert, and learn to your full capacity. Don’t burn the candle at both ends: remember, you are here to study and if you fall behind early on because you focus too much on your social life, it might be difficult to catch up. University life demands a high level of self-organization: plan to use your time wisely, so that you will get the maximum benefit from your studies AND your social life!
Never be afraid to ask for help