First year: expectation vs. reality

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By Rebecca Pugh, First Year Law

You’re told by everyone; teachers, family, and even strangers on the street that ‘university is a massive change.’ You maybe smile, nod and politely agree whilst internally and oh-so-naively not believing them. Then you have the moment.

Mine was on the second night of freshers’ week, frantically googling ‘how to defrost chicken quick’. This was followed by the classic accompaniments such as ‘can eating pink chicken kill you?’ and realising I hadn’t quite realised what I was signing up for. This moment may present itself in a multitude of other ways, such as seeing your home friends for the first time since leaving home and realising you have little in common anymore or becoming ill and missing a fully stocked medicine cabinet.

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Epigram / Rebecca Pugh

Like it or not, going to university is a massive change, and whilst I may still only be halfway through my first year, here are a few of my thoughts on the experiences I’ve observed so far: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Friends that haven’t gone to university show no signs of this pride in deliberately living like savages in the pursuit of being relatable.

Perhaps one of my most clear revelations since beginning in September is that being a student is more than just something to select for your ‘occupation’. It is ideal. People who likely receive significant monthly cash injections from mum and dad compete to see who can live most tragically. Someone will tell you: “I ate a tin of mayonnaise for breakfast #studentlife”, as if you’re not truly ‘doing university’ if you don’t indulge in habits likely to give you scurvy.

Friends that haven’t gone to university show no signs of this pride in deliberately living like savages in the pursuit of being relatable. I now too find myself wearing and idolising the ~wavy garms~ that 6 months ago I would have laughed at. I could spin this as an aspect of my personal growth and experimenting with the boundaries of the aesthetic, but it just doesn’t cut it when my mum laughs at my baggy trousers when I come home.

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Instagram / @eagersavage

Of course, what first-year review is complete without a critical piece of Freshers. Far too many expectations are placed on a single week. You go to gimmicky club nights with people you met less than a week ago and also hear how your friend at Edinburgh Universtiy claims she’s found her ‘sisters for life’. In fact, the main feeling I took away from the week was one of absolute tiredness, falling asleep in lectures and then rushing home from welcome week activities to take a nap.

Whilst I’m sure some would disagree, Freshers, and indeed my first year at University, have been largely overhyped. Trying to maintain connections with those at home whilst also making new ones was exhausting and frankly painful. Many people express similar feelings of disappointment and loneliness whilst struggling to adjust to a new life. The guarantees from friends and family that you will have the time of your life doesn’t help. Settling in, learning an appropriate work-life balance and lowering my expectations has significantly helped me so far and hopefully many others as they work out where they belong in the vast machine that is Bristol University.

Thoughts quickly find themselves returning to how long until you can go back.

Living away from home, possibly for the first time, is a daunting yet alluring concept for many, including myself, and as a result my brief experience with adulting has massively increased my appreciation for my parents. Surviving is hard. Living off mouldy bread and ankle deep in the clothes you used to be nagged to pick up begins to lose its charm somewhat quickly. Most frighteningly, you begin to find yourself echoing your parents ‘words of wisdom’ you thought you’d successfully blocked out for 18 years.

The true test is going home for Christmas, whilst at first nostalgically lovely to be taken care of, many may quickly find themselves feeling irked and later deeply annoyed at the remembrance of concepts such as ‘curfew’ and ‘doing the washing up’. Thoughts quickly find themselves returning to how long until you can go back.

More seriously, University has undoubtedly offered me a series of firsts I never would have experienced otherwise. At the risk of sounding like a John Lewis Christmas advert, living in a city I’ve made friends with people from a broad range of perspectives I never would have come into contact with otherwise.

At first, this felt overwhelming and isolating, the awareness you are a small fish in a pond bigger than you ever could have realised.

It would be easy to say ‘until coming to Bristol I never smashed 5 jaeger bombs in 10 minutes before’ (which you definitely shouldn’t do), but perhaps more interesting is the wealth of experiences each person can provide you with. The diversity of styles, lexicons and ideas from all around the world come into play in a way that would have never entered my contemplation.

The world appears bigger to me, purely through realising its sheer accessibility. At first, this felt overwhelming and isolating, the awareness you are a small fish in a pond bigger than you ever could have realised. But, there is something to be said for the opportunity and freedom to change. Whilst never considering myself sheltered before, living in a city is more draining, but more immensely exciting than I ever could have imagined.

Featured image: Instagram / @studenthacks.ch


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