The first day…
“What the hell have I let myself in for?…”
Here I was, a quiet, shy, introvert, living his first day, of the university experience – and I hated it…
I’d left my safe boring job, and my safe quiet home, to move into a pokey student terrace house sharing the space with 11 other lads. Cocky, young, 18 year old lads, the types who talked loudly over each other, trying to outdo each other bragging about sexcapades and drunken nights out.
I retreated to my bland box room with the type of blue carpet you find in offices, laid back on my bed and looked at the indents on the freshly painted magnolia ceiling wondering how I would even survive the week, never mind the next three years.
Not long after there was a loud knock on my door, it was one of my new housemates inviting me to come down to the student union with them. I was never into partying, and at the time was teetotal – but consciously aware that I’d gone to university as a “mature” student at the old age of 23, I already felt like an outcast and saw it as an opportunity to bond with the only people I knew in Middlesborough.
The nightclub at the union was called Juice, about as generic a name for a club you can get. Although this was the first night of the new student year, the floor was sticky with the cheap alcohol drinks bought by students like VK, which come in a disgusting range of colourful, sugary flavours like apple, orange, and the not so well-known fruit “blue”.
We hunched over one of those standing tables you see only in highstreet chain bars, I sipped on a coke in a glass meant from a mixer, while they drank beers until they felt comfortable round their new brethren. With my new group of misfits, we conversed, looking at girls to break up the awkward silences that took that often took place between new friends.
I slowly rolled down my sleeve peaking at my watching – it was nearly 11pm, and was well aware of the busy itinerary I had tomorrow. I looked over at the group of randomly thrown together people, to try and see who else was ready to leave with me.
“Right, busy day tomorrow… I’m off now” I shouted over some loud repetitive dance music.
There was a pause as I sheepishly waited for someone to join me. They carried on sipping their beers. I knew I was going to my new home alone.
I got back, fumbled with the unfamiliar lock a bit and got myself to bed. I lay down staring back at that magnolia ceiling again. The thought of “why am I here?” kept processing in my mind, keeping me alert to the world.
Eventually sleep took me, until I was abruptly awoken by the sounds of drunken shouting behind the back of the terrace house. My alarm wasn’t really needed that morning.
As I got myself showered and ready for a sharp 9am start the house was an eerie quiet, evidence of the night before still remained – takeaway pizza boxes with some of the contents still remaining sat on the side, as a pile of dishes and cutlery stained with pasta sauces towered over in the kitchen bowl, where no effort to even rinse them down first had been attempted.
Before leaving for the day, I took one last look in the bathroom mirror and thought
“What the hell have I let myself in for?…”
The introverts guide to surviving your first year at university
This week universities in the UK typically start up again for the new year and welcome their first years – the freshers, to help them adapt and feel settled into the university life.
For some this is an opportunity they’ve been relishing for years, the freedom from parents, restrictions, time to party, have sex, and somewhere in all of this pursue educating themselves on a topic of interest.
On the other side – the introverted, the socially awkward, the shy, this can be something to dread as you get pushed out of your comfort zone and are forced to live a new life with total strangers.
This is a challenging time but presents an opportunity for personal growth, as you adapt and learn to survive getting through university, it can be priceless to develop your confidence and soft skills. I wrote this guide for you, the introvert, to help you survive your first year at university:
Don’t take yourself too seriously…
You will meet lots of different personalities at universities. Hormones are raging, and 18-year olds are drunk on the realisation they no longer have a parent figure telling them what to do – they can eat shit, get drunk, come home late, bring girls over…
If you’d rather stay in, read a book and focus on your studies, you might disapprove of this behaviour. Life is much easier if you don’t apply the standards of your studious nature onto others and take yourself too seriously.
Learn to take a joke, and give a bit of banter back. Be more forgiving when your housemates come back at 3am and they wake you up trying to bang the toilet door down with a fire extinguisher.
Your ability to be chill will take you a long way, especially in that first year when you are put into houses with people you wouldn’t normally live with, and makes the life you have with them go much quicker.
Remember your raison d’etre…
There are always lazy deadbeats at university – they never buy toilet roll (but will use all yours), make a mess and not clean up, and generally can make life painful to the unobtrusive existence you are used to.
You can fight it, and cause more trouble for yourself than it’s worth, or you can run and drop out.
It was in these initial struggles I quickly forgot why I was even there in the first place. When you reach this situation think back to what your initial motivation for going.
I reminded myself I left my job because I felt stuck, wasn’t working to my potential and wanted to advance – a university degree was the solution to help resolve this and achieve my aspirations.
Everytime life got tough, I felt homesick and money was short, I would remind myself of this, until eventually things didn’t feel so bad, and I was able to reach my end goal.
Be comfortable being uncomfortable…
At some point in university you will feel stupid. Luckily for me this moment was in my first few weeks – because I’d not been in education for five years, I really struggled to understand and retain some of the basic concepts we were learning.
It was made worse by one of my class mates, a greasy little runt, who was so full of himself – who’d sit next to me in lectures and say stuff like.
“Oh this is easy! We did all this in my A-Levels”
When it came to my first assignment, I put my soul into it, spending hours perfecting it, so I was so disheartened to get my paper returned with 52%.
I wanted to quit that day.
But something in me persisted – I kept working, asking questions, reading books, learning how to write essays, and accepting I didn’t know everything – that is why I was there, to learn something!
As the year progressed my grades gradually improved, and put me in a good position for the second year.
And as for the cocky, little bastard in the lecture? He started to flounder, and would often come to me for advice. Actions always speak louder than words.
Accept there will be chaos and disorder
When you come from your home environment, you probably don’t appreciate how much your parents have given you a place of order. You get your own space, dinners on the table, routine, the majority (if not all) your chores done.
When you move into student accommodation, you are cramped into one house with other adults, all with their own motivations and selfish desires, and independent to do as they please.
Unfortunately, that means a varying standard of cleanliness, and the appetite to follow usual social etiquette like cleaning up after yourself, not stealing milk or throwing house parties until the early hours of the morning when you know your house mate has an exam first thing the next day.
Your survival is dependent to tolerate, and be resilient to this chaos and respect the different priorities of those around you.
Find ways to bond and build bridges
The logic my university put people to live together was based on what course they were doing. The flaw being that, just because we all were studying some sport themed course, doesn’t necessarily guarantee having anything in common!
To survive first year, you need to learn how to get along with people you might not normally be friends with. This can be done by find ways to build bonds with them, even if you don’t agree with some of their attitudes towards drinking to excess every night, staying up late and, skipping lectures.
One of the lads was a keen poker player, so I got him to teach me how to play. I then started to get involved in house poker tournaments, this helped me build a better connection with the rest of the house, and in turn they’d be a bit more forgiving if I got a bit grumpy about a late night wakeup or someone using one of my plates!
By keeping an open mind, you might even learn something about yourself. I always figured that gamers were more my people, but I realised by the end of the year hanging out with more extroverted people was better for my confidence and more interesting.
Only say ‘yes’ if you want to do it…
Importantly, I must state – compromise, understanding and building bridges will help you settle, but that doesn’t mean you do things you don’t want to in an attempt to fit in.
When I joined university, I was a firm teetotaller, who didn’t like club music, so I would often avoid going to the usual places my housemates frequented, and would sit at the side when drinking games took place.
Despite peer pressure, I never compromised my attendance at lectures and never half-assed my work.
I also made sure to do my own thing, I’d go to the gym, run or go to the shops by myself. And I pursued my own hobbies and interests – I took part in the bookish activities like studying Mandarin Chinese and joined an ice skating club, even though I regularly got jibes about it being effeminate.
My main regret was my resolve falling at the end of the first year – drinking to fit in. During those years that followed I acted like a fool and did many things I regret and am truly sorry for – it’s no excuse but I did a lot of these through my insecurity to fit in.
It was long after leaving university when I got into self-improvement I was able to rediscover my authentic self, rather than the person I thought entertained others. Lesson learned: Do what makes you happy.
Always have the future in mind…
In a particularly difficult class, a lecturer frustrated at the constant disruptions from a small section of the room said.
“Just remember, the friends you make here are only temporary, the outcome of your degree that you get will last forever…”
These words have always stayed with me, especially as I’ve grown to see them come true – even with people I was particular close to, geographical differences and life have there way of getting in the way.
It may seem a lot on your first day, or first year, but as you go about university always have the future in mind. Research what jobs you think you would like to do, network, find opportunities, set goals that will make you a more valuable person for whatever path you pursue in the future.
Whatever you do, don’t let the friendship groups you build in that short time sacrifice your success after university.
Take each day one at a time…
My first week was difficult, and I’d never felt so alone in my life. On the first Saturday of my time at university, I’d called my parents up for crisis talks. We took some time out discussing my future with walks on the sands of Whitby.
I was willing to go back to the student accommodation, pack my bags, and go home to start the job hunt.
But words my dad said stuck with me
“Why don’t you take it day by day?”
From then I faced each struggle a day at a time, until it was one week less….
I never did drop out.
On that day, I decided to stay, my goal was to fight through until I’d done one year at university, then decide if I wanted to continue. If I then dropped out I could look at myself proudly for achieving a first-year pass certificate.
By that time, it became less painful, day by day, became week by week, which was year by year until I was finished.
This has been a major life lesson for me – when working on a massive goal, make sure to break it up into smaller goals, and break the small goal into a series of routines and small tasks. By taking this approach you’ll smash through that first year.
The last day…
The feelings of struggle and isolation of that first day had become nothing but a distant memory. Daunting thoughts of committing three years of my life, was now something I’d be talking about in past tense.
During those years I’d built some good memories, even learned to enjoy myself, as my confidence bloomed to handle various social situations, and made some good friends in the process.
Despite all this, I’d never taken my mind off the reason I had come here in the first place. Exams had been sat, and a 10,000-word dissertation with my blood, sweat, toil and tears was handed in.
It was official, my time was done, with nothing left to do expect receiving my final result and deciding what I would do next.
That day began the next chapter in my life.
The more you put into university, the more you can get out of it. But it’s not just about the course you are studying, you can get just as much (even more) personal growth depending where you go, who you hang out with, and your ability to work through the tough situations you find yourself in.
During those times I:
- Learnt to not take myself too seriously, so that I was resilient to the banter of young men.
- Drove myself through hard times by keeping my eye on the goal.
- Got out of my comfort zone.
- Embraced disorder.
- Found commonality in people I wouldn’t normally be friends with.
- (But) asserted myself to maintain my own interests.
- Thought regularly about life after university.
- Smashed through a major challenge taking it a day at a time.
I learnt a lot of things during that first year, please see some more honourable mentions, I couldn’t quite fit in to this post.
- Spend your money smart – You’re an adult now, don’t blow your loan on shit like gadgets, designer clothes, games and vices like a child.
- Get a side job to ease the amount of debt you come away with.
- Look after yourself spiritual, mentally and physically.
- Engage with the career centre as soon as possible – look for summer internship places and anything that will help you settle into future jobs.
- Have a routine.
- Remember what you are going through is part of the change process.
- Seek out people who share your hobbies, interests, and goals.
- Don’t let defining yourself as an introvert, limited what you can achieve.
- Recognise what you can control and work on that. Don’t worry about what you can’t control.
- University isn’t everything – it’s only a small chapter of your life.
Actions for the introverted student to take away:
What lessons from your list can you apply to your time at university?
Are you being your true authentic self and pursuing what you want (your social life, hobbies and interests, your course?)
What are the things you can control to make your university experience better?
What things can’t you control that you just need to chill out about, and accept your lack of influence?
Take care of yourself and see you next time.
James @Perfect Manifesto