Words By Simon Edwards
There’s a particular excitement to this year’s Freshers Week: after a year and a half ravaged by one thing and another, the prospect of university normality (hopefully) resonates with us all; freshers ready to get started in style; second-years eager to squeeze two years’ worth of fun into one; third-years hoping to pick up where they left off; staff who hope never to see a Zoom classroom again. There is a real sense that everyone’s ‘uni experience’ is being given a shot in the arm.
The ‘university experience’, a quasi-mythical concept of university life in all its messy, liberating glory, is an enticing aspect of student life. Moving away from home, beginning adulthood in a fresh and exciting way, a chance to reinvent yourself and find out more about who you are, are all exciting prospects! But with the excitement can come trepidation – not only the unknown of leaving home for the first time and the pressure of university life, but the stress of achieving the idealised uni experience. The pressure to make friends, go to parties, join societies, go clubbing six nights a week, find love (once, twice or regularly), and everything else glamorized as the uni experience is overwhelming at best, debilitating at worst. Even imagining falling behind that schedule may leave you wondering “am I going to waste the best years of my life?”
Relax. Take a breath. Don’t stress. Everyone, to some degree, has the same concerns. This is especially true through social media, where you’ll be drip-fed constant glossy images of peers hard at work living the dream, usually when you’re stuck in a rut and feeling miserable. But the truth is, anything you get up to at university is part of your university experience, regardless of what it is, and it does not by any conceivable metric have to fit the popular mould.
There’s a whole host of aspects of the university experience which are mythologised and focused on in print and social media, which are actually much less all-encompassing than they seem. Drinking is a prime example: the image of the drunken student night-out or house party is ingrained in popular culture as a cornerstone of the university experience. At the same time, the idea might be intimidating to those of us (myself included) who don’t drink, or drink only a little, for a variety of personal reasons.
The fear of missing out clashing with unwillingness to drink is a heady cocktail that can paralyse you out of exploring your social options, but like all aspects of uni life, engagement with alcohol is not binary, nor a requirement – a 2016 NUS survey found that while 85% of students feel that drinking is part of university culture, 76% also believe that getting drunk is not a requirement for a good night out. Drinking is not mandatory to experiencing the best of your university life, and the same rule applies for near-every other aspect of the ‘uni experience’.
The fear of missing out and the urge to compare with others is an insidious force, but at the end of the day living your life on your terms is what counts, not meeting the criteria of others.
There are of course some basic ground rules for university – respect your peers as you wish to be respected, do the work (you are paying for it after all), and try your best. Beyond that, your uni experience is what you make of it; whether you dive right into the mayhem or take it slow and easy, your experience is your own, and will be joyful regardless.