First year won’t be the best year of your life. There, I said it. It will be filled with its fair share of loneliness, tears, homesickness and general heartache. The excitement of being a fresher won’t make you immune to the natural sadness and confusion of moving away from home and growing up. And that is completely okay. More than okay, it’s a given.
I spent most of my Freshers’ Week hungover, crying, missing home and feeling anxious that I wasn’t experiencing the week to the fullest. With hindsight, I don’t think those first few months were exceptionally bad, they just didn’t live up to the preconceived notions I had about my university experience. They certainly didn’t feel like the best years of my life, whatever that was supposed to mean, but instead of questioning the received truths that led me to believe they would be, I turned to intense self-criticism. It took a long time but I finally realised that my experience of first year was subject to nobody’s definition but my own. In an attempt to spare you the emotional exhaustion I put myself through, these are my top three tips for beating those first term blues.
Remember Instagram is a highlight reel
I would scroll through my Instagram and see people gushing over their new flatmates or their night out whilst I sat in my room alone doing seminar reading, queuing up the next episode of Gilmore Girls and eating my fifth bowl of pasta for the week. As much as I’m sure I could’ve taken an Instagram worthy photo of it with my lovely new duvet cover as the background, I was convinced my audience were expecting far wilder pursuits of hedonism. Nobody wants to be accused of being the odd one out or boring and that’s the same reason nobody would upload a photo of them crying in the library. Instagram is about constructing an image of your life based on how you wish to be perceived. It doesn’t provide an accurate reflection of a person’s life and therefore it shouldn’t be used as a point of comparison for your own experience and emotions and it shouldn’t be used as a stick to beat yourself with.
Nobody wants to be accused of being the odd one out or boring and that’s the same reason nobody would upload a photo of them crying in the library.
Join a society
One of the best things I did in first year was audition for Exeter University Soul Choir. After my fourth tearful FaceTime of the week (edit: day) my mam sent me a video of one of their performances and urged me to audition. Not only was singing amazing for my mental health, I met some of my closest friends, it gave me a sense of family when I was missing my own and the rehearsal schedule gave me much-needed structure to my week. I didn’t really click with every one of my flatmates in the same way my other friends seemed to with theirs and that left me feeling pretty isolated initially, so joining a society and meeting people I wouldn’t have otherwise met was my university life-saver.
Remember your academic worth
One of the things I found most difficult to deal with when I moved to Exeter was the culture shock and the sense of imposter syndrome it brought with it. I sat through so many seminar icebreakers where my peers told stories of motorbiking across Vietnam, volunteering at orphanages, travelling around Europe… I’d spent my summer working in a local café and the furthest I’d travelled was to Zante. Even though I’d arrived at university having exceeded the highest-grade offer made by my course, I still found myself feeling inferior to people I perceived to be much more intelligent, well-travelled and deserving of a place at Exeter than I was. It’s important to remember that you’ve all rightfully earned your place here and nobody is more or less deserving. Exeter will be academically challenging but you have proved yourself to be capable of accepting that challenge, regardless of your background.
It’s important to remember that you’ve all rightfully earned your place here and nobody is more or less deserving.
If you’re seeking advice about specific mental health issues then I would strongly recommend making use of the Wellbeing services. As part of their Freshers’ coverage, XTV have released a YouTube video on how to make appointments at Wellbeing and the health centre.