Words by Megan Whitehead, Staff Writer

The university lifestyle, it seems, has always been synonymous with heavy drinking and non-stop partying. Every time I go home people joke and ask about how much I’ve been going out, assuming that every student’s life revolves around this one particular pastime. Don’t get me wrong, many of my best and funniest memories from university have been under the hazy influence, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that drinking is not the only way to feel like you’re living your best student life.

Drinking culture is something I’ve struggled with ever since I can remember. When I was younger, it was just the norm that once you hit sixteen your weekends should be spent forcing down cheap vodka with the aim of being  as drunk as possible. University has been no exception. First year, and freshers especially, has centred around parties and throwing back any drink you can get your hands on in hope of a night that lives up to expectations. Parties need to be loud, busy, and chaotic to be seen as adequate enough to stay. For me, despite being surrounded by so many people, it all just felt a bit empty.

The nights seemed aimed at getting so drunk that you wake up with a case of memory loss or feeling like you’ve been smacked in the head. Parties full of people I don’t know, being crammed into a corner trying to hold a conversation over (usually) bad music started to take its toll, and I realised this wasn’t how I wanted to be spending my time. As people, I think connection is something we crave and value so much, but how we go about finding it seems to be all wrong. Of course, there are so many good times that can be had whilst drinking, but for me personally, I have the most fun in those situations with people I already know.

It just doesn’t make sense that in a time where everyone is meeting for the first time that alcohol should be the main ingredient for bonding and getting to know each other. Many people are not the same sober as they are a few drinks in, so it just casts a blurry lens onto your perception of other people, and by the time the sun comes up it can be quite a hollowing feeling when you realise the people you invest your nights into either turn out to be only ‘good time’ friends or people you just don’t really have anything in common with.

Some of my favourite and most cherished memories from university have been the nights where I’ve cooked dinner with my friends, had games nights, watched movies, baked, created – these are all the moments where I’ve learnt so much about my friends, the things that would be forgotten about in the morning if we had the same conversation in a club toilet at 2am.

I just think there is such a huge pressure on students to get the ‘university experience’ which is painted as being heavy drinking, endless clubbing, and late nights you can barely remember. I think we undersell ourselves when we put so much emphasis on having to go ‘out-out’ in order to have a good time, when many of the best experiences you have at university are sober. Making breakfast with your housemates, going for coffee or dinner, having card game nights, and getting into late-night discussions, all these things are what I’m going to treasure from my time here and will outweigh the nights where I’ve been dragged to a bad, sweaty nightclub surrounded by strangers.

This isn’t to dismiss the fun that you can have whilst drinking because it is a big part of our culture and university. But I think it’s important to realise that nights out and partying isn’t the set structure of what it means to have fun and make the most of your time here, and that not participating in drinking culture means you’re doing something wrong. There is so much enjoyment to be found in the everyday moments with your friends that are played off as every day when in the end they’re the moments you’ll miss the most.

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