As clichéd as it sounds, my ‘gap yah’ really was up there as one of the best years of my life. I had the compulsory ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences and met people from all over the world, which meant I returned home feeling confident with a readiness to tackle whatever ‘Freshers Week’ could throw at me. Having never been someone who struggled to make friends, I knew I wouldn’t be home sick – I’d just spent a whole several months away from the place! I thought the ‘gap yah’ lifestyle of friendships, drinking and partying was set to continue. Nearly all of my friends from sixth form who had gone to uni the year before seemed to be having the time of their lives.
But, the year didn’t pan out as I expected. Although all the girls in my flat were friendly (and I still see them now), we all had different interests. Several of them didn’t enjoy nights out or the ‘drinking culture’ which, while fine for them, didn’t really suit me. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, my closest friend ended up leaving the university before Christmas for personal reasons.
When imagining setbacks I might encounter at university, I’d considered untidy flatmates or gaining the ‘Freshers 15’, but I never thought I’d struggle with making friends. Instead of taking positive actions to combat this, I spent the evenings talking to my friends at home or looking up options to transfer universities. After Easter, I decided to give Leeds one more chance and I’m so glad I did. My second year and subsequent year abroad were fantastic and I’ve now made some really close friends in Leeds. So here are some ways to make the most of your first year.
Join societies. I made some of my best friends at uni through societies, and Academic Societies are a great way to get to know people on your course- especially if you’re studying a large course that doesn’t involve group work or has very few contact hours. If you can’t find anyone to go with you, go anyway. People will be pleased to see you; they want their society membership to increase and will encourage you to join. Remember, there’s no obligation to join – give it a go and if you’re not sure, reflect on it and make your decision later. One of my friends destroyed two scarves before realising Stitch ‘N’ Bitch wasn’t for her!
When my closest friend ended up leaving university, I didn’t really have many left. But it helped me to find that my perfect balance of friendships is having housemates, course friends and then also society friends. If you have different groups to hang out with, it saves arguments and gives all your relationships space. Also, if, for whatever reason, a friendship stops working, you have others to fall back on or even vent to.
” Social media portrays ‘Freshers Week’ as the big week during which you’ll make friends for life. Of course this won’t happen for everyone – it’s an unrealistic expectation. Be sure that not everyone is having the time of their lives and you shouldn’t feel pressure to do so either.”
Be welcoming to everyone. We’ve all been guilty of judging someone before we know much about them. Don’t dismiss someone just because they don’t drink or because you think they drink too much. Friendships depend on more than just drinking, eating, and social habits, and they take more than just one ‘Freshers’ week to build- two of my course mates are best friends and one uses water as a mixer while the other doesn’t drink!
Don’t be afraid to ditch your friends. Not to contradict the previous point – obviously don’t ghost or ignore someone – but it’s okay to faze out a friend. You don’t want to end up having to sit next to someone for three years, or worse, living with them, if you feel there’s no real connection. If a friendship isn’t working (and some of them won’t!) you don’t have to stick around until the bitter end. And let’s face it: the other person is probably thinking the same thing!
Social media portrays ‘Freshers Week’ as the big week during which you’ll make friends for life. Of course this won’t happen for everyone – it’s an unrealistic expectation. Be sure that not everyone is having the time of their lives and you shouldn’t feel pressure to do so either. Go out every night if you want to, but don’t feel you have to. It’s not like ‘Freshers Week’ is the only opportunity you’ll get to have fun at uni- most students enjoy their second year more than their first anyway! Don’t worry if everything doesn’t go well right away. I thought I knew everything starting uni after a year out but I forgot that I started my gap year on the verge of tears listening to what I thought were rats in the roof (they turned out to be 300 bats) and that it took about two weeks to really settle in and start enjoying myself.
Lastly, ignore all of the above and enjoy yourself. Everyone’s Freshers’ experience is different and there’s no need to feel pressure. You’ve got months ahead of you. Just don’t spend your whole loan at once!
[Image: Canal Mills]