Words by Teddy Parkin
Starting university for the first time can be a daunting prospect. The responsibility of paving your way and making good of the opportunity is a heavy burden to bear. What can help us during this uncertainty, what can we fall back on when we are struggling with pressures, and how should we approach the chaos that is freshers?
I was in the passenger seat driving down the M23. My dad at the wheel of the car with my older sister in the back. Strange anxiety circulated my stomach. My thoughts were coloured with a contrast of doubt and excitement, rebounding back and forth inside my brain. There was no imminent breakup with a long-term partner, and I wasn’t entering a warzone where the odds of survival would be stupendously low. Something tamer. I was enrolling at university and moving away from home for the first time. We arrived at my accommodation in Brighthelm, “the best on-campus” everyone reverberated to me, and I unpacked my belongings with the help of my dad and sister. We hugged and exchanged goodbyes and off I saw them drive down Refectory Road. Me, myself and I were left with the stark reality of a blank canvas that was my university experience to come.
I remember feeling this deep uncertainty, a lingering doubt embedded in the middle of my chest.
With all the change happening around you it is more important than ever to remember who you are. To solidify your core and your values, think deeply about what you want from life and establishing a direction. This can encapsulate all meaningful areas of life: your relationships, career, community. In this context, university can be understood with more clarity. A stage of life that will help cultivate your character. The inevitable hurdles and moments of pressure seem worth it as you know why you are enduring them.
It’s not that you have to have everything worked out. More so, that putting together a solid idea of where you want to go and how you will approach it will help reduce anxieties and offer guidance in that journey. It will help you carve out a meaningful experience in an environment that can be overwhelming and frantic.
As life changes, people change and your environment changes – you can remain internally steadfast. With this in mind, It may be helpful to separate your university experience into three areas: solitary time, social life and engagement with university opportunities.
Time for yourself is golden. Freshers is, of course, a big social occasion and you want to be out there meeting people and making friends. It’s easy to neglect yourself. Respect the solitary sphere of your life. It’s ok to say no when you need space to think, to relax. You can use this time to really clarify what your values are. The social mirrors can be blinding and distract you from what matters and why you wanted to come to university in the first place. What does your social or work life really mean if you haven’t understood what it’s all for? This time can be used to plan, to reflect, to realign in the direction you want to go. Write down your ideas, be creative with your life, develop a hobby and appreciate the space away from the chaos of the outside world. But also relax when it all gets too much. Have a nap and watch that Netflix show. Many students explain to me that they do not consider the importance of alone time, which I understand. I am here to say that your solitary time must be prioritised. It is from here that you can compound a solid base for the other aspects of your life to be built upon. To establish what you want from this stage of your life. To rest and to work, but also to reflect on the process as it unfolds.
I would like to add that if you’re struggling with depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue, I recommend talking to the people around you. Seek help and don’t be afraid to do so. There is a link to the resources available at the University of Sussex at the bottom of the page.
There are so many interesting people in this world. University brings a substantial chunk of them into one place. Appreciate this phenomenon. Embrace the occasion and go for the deep end, say hello to everyone, go to the club nights and house parties. This is such an exciting experience, and everyone is out to have a great time. But as the dust starts to settle, having established some personal values in regard to relationships will help you make sense of how you want to engage with this part of your life. This is personal and varies for everyone. Subjugate your doubts to what you know is of importance to you, whether that be honesty, creativity or generosity. The social element of Uni can be especially overwhelming, and as someone who can be anxious from time to time to it was important for me to understand this sphere of my life in a wider context. Your university social life will be a fun experience and the excitement of all the characters that come into your life is truly incredible, but it is not the be all end all. You have other things to do. The world is open for you. Have the patience to not connect with everyone, have the confidence to put yourself out there even if you don’t consider yourself the most social person in the galaxy. Enjoy, have fun and remember that your social life is not everything. Take the pressure off it by focusing on what’s important to you and understand how your social life fits into this.
Clubs and Societies
University opens doors. Alongside throwing yourself into the deep end of freshers socialising, I strongly advise you to get involved with the myriad of clubs and societies. This is a magnificent opportunity for you to release your steam, meet new people or discover unfound passions. Explore anything that interests you. I have taken strongly to salsa. Every Monday at 8pm I am there moving my hips in the Mandela Hall to the funk of Cuban musical vibrations. After a period of exploration doing things that are exciting and uncomfortable, you can assess how you want to engage with these opportunities. With the overwhelming social pressures, work and other matters of the mind, it can be so great to have a release or another facet of your life for which you care for. To diversify what you spend time doing as to not pressurise one aspect over another. A society may help you develop skills for later in life or act as a point of focus to contrast with the hectic and changing world around you. Do what is important for you however that may manifest.
Since that first drive down, my Uni experience has been incredible. Entering my third year, I have had my ups and downs, my challenges and moments of beauty. I have met some incredible people and learnt valuable lessons. The journey continues. Looking back thus far, I don’t have any regrets. All in all, it was a fulfilling experience, and I hope all the freshers out there can approach university with optimism and back themselves through the whole process. Enjoy, focus on what is important to you and everything will be fine.
Here’s a link to Sussex mental health and well being resources http://www.sussex.ac.uk/wellbeing/mentalhealth
Image Credit-Image by Nick Youngson