Forming friendships, the human side of university life
“Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.” Woodrow, Wilson
Even the most resilient amongst us would find that going to a new location to study, live, and make friends is hugely daunting. Going to university marks a significant life change and will be a culture shock to a fresh undergraduate, who will be apprehensive and excited about the adventure ahead. Indeed, when casting their minds back to their university days, a substantial number of graduates look back on them as having been some of the best days of their lives. They reminisce over the lasting friendships they forged and recount how the strong networks of mutual support enabled them to become the best version of themselves. In this article, I aim to advise new undergraduates who will be travelling away from home to start at university in an unfamiliar cultural environment. When applying for universities, you will have gone through lots of university prospectuses, will have crafted your personal statement and chosen a course to study that you would like to pursue based on a wide variety of personal preferences, but mainly founded on the subjects that you wish to pursue. However, your university experience is much more than the course material and subject matter you are studying in depth. University allows you to develop networking and social skills and provides a structure for organised research and study. Many students follow courses vastly different from the areas of work they then will pursue after their university experience has finished. However, the comprehensive university experience gives us a vital skill set that opens the doors of opportunity. The soft skills we hone at university, driven by our intrinsic values, work ethic and ability to embrace change and foster mutually supportive networks, allow us to make the most of the opportunities that university life affords us. Therefore, by having an open mind, you can make informed choices that will shape who you become. One of the challenges that many students face when starting at university is that of becoming independent. Students must manage their time and finances wisely to ensure a healthy balance between study and recreation, and the importance of having a substantial network of mutually supportive friends is central to making the most of the experience.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FRESHERS’S WEEK: JOIN THE CLUB
In the first few weeks of their course, a new undergraduate student, or ‘Fresher’, is faced with the exciting yet daunting experience of freshers’ week. This period is significant and needs to be planned for. At these events, the new student will be able to meet like-minded friends through common pursuits. It is also an opportunity to try something new. Indeed, many of the people I met during freshers’ week and the experience of being a member of a structured club or organisation were influential in some of the life choices I later made. The plethora of societies and activities available at all universities, from debating forums to sports activities, such as rowing, rugby, hockey; as well as academic interest groups, focusing on areas of science, arts, computing, design, economics and business to name but a few, are attractive for the new undergraduate. My advice to a new undergraduate is to be bold and brave, join a few, and see where it takes you. I can guarantee that you will make friends and you’ll be able to talk to people who are all going through a similar experience as you. Importantly taking on roles such as President, Treasurer or Secretary shows leadership and management skills which are a significant asset to include in one’s resumé when looking for future jobs. Many students come and join societies from all over the world, and everybody brings their unique feature to the club or society. People may do things differently and by sharing their diverse viewpoints with others with an open mind and a sense of humour, they will learn to appreciate different views. If, for any reason, you have missed the freshers’ fair, contact the Students’ Union, and they will give you a list of clubs and societies with contact information.
Build a support network around your interests and lifestyle
Networking is an essential life skill and is a mutually beneficial process; therefore, it is important to give some of your time to hone your networking skills. It is important to be authentic and honest with both yourself and your new friends as you develop your network. It takes courage to meet new people and at the start of your university journey you may well need some encouragement to take that first step. Let’s consider the benefits of having a mutually supportive network of friends. Give thought to the types of mutual support groups that you will look for. You may want to join with a study group who have a common subject focus, you can work with these friends both face to face and in online discussion forums, discussing your areas of research and focused study. These groups provide you with an excellent opportunity for you to hold one another accountable in meeting deadlines and in constructively critiquing one another’s work, whilst keeping your academic integrity and authenticity. Together you can enable one another to stick to your study plans and be there for one another when needed. You should think about the benefits of joining a sporting or activities group which is different to your academic domain, where you will be able to represent the university or just enjoy physical activity for the benefits it brings to your wellbeing and passion for a particular sport or interest. Many universities have halls of residence or shared student accommodation in houses close to the university. You will have to learn to live and share with others, it is vital to set out the house rules with housemates from the start to avoid disputes over minor matters. In the second year, many students choose to change their housemates as strong friendships are formed. It is essential to be patient, mindful and understanding of your housemates.
Reach Out and look after Number One
Reach out and be welcoming throughout your time at university. Be patient and understanding of others and make sure that you maintain a healthy work-life balance. If you are finding the equilibrium difficult speak to someone from the Students’ Union or the University Counsellor. It is natural to feel homesick and you may be surprised by how many of your friends are feeling the same. Take the time to connect with friends and family. Plan your time so that you have a balance of physical and academic activity and hold yourself and your friends accountable and celebrate your successes. Look after yourself by allocating having some ‘me time’ to relax by doing what you enjoy, either on your own or with friends.
University life is so much more than the subject that you are studying and is likely to be the time in your life that you have the widest array of opportunities available to you. So, throw yourself in and make the most if it- you will develop essential life skills and build a network of lifelong friends who will enable you to be the absolute best version of yourself.