Has something happened to you that made you experience a period of anxiety, stress, loneliness or sadness? Do you wish you had spoken to someone about an issue sooner? It always helps to talk and in doing so you could help another student experiencing similar problems. Whatever way you want to share your story is up to you.
I had always wanted to study at QUB whereas my key group of mates had made the decisions to attend universities in the UK and Scotland. Saying ‘goodbye’ had been easy, after all “Seeya at Christmas” along with “You’ve gotta come visit” were token clichés that I’m sure people in my position had heard in years gone by and would hear recycled in years to come. I was social, into activities, came from Belfast, and I still had people who I went to school with living here, surely I would embrace the student experience and take advantage of all QUB had to offer? Apparently not!
I still recall the first day at university and how, because of the nice autumn morning, I decided to make the hour walk to campus. I was very nonchalant about the idea of starting wasn’t intimidated by the mass of crowds around QUB. I suppose being a Belfast boy made me somewhat immune to the Fresher chaos as I’d easily fought my way through the mass audiences in years previously. However, my mood quickly changed when I arrived for my first lecture to be greeted with a corridor of unknown faces that, in my mind, had already segmented into groups or couples. Within seconds my ‘idea’ of university was quashed and I felt alone and, for want of a better word, slightly lost. As we proceeded into the lecture hall I had changed; usually someone who liked being in the centre of discussion and debate I looked for the most isolated seat and made my way to it. From this throne I scanned my surroundings “Surely someone I know is doing this module?” but alas my hope for a familiar face, even that of an acquaintance was short lived. That lecture and those which followed, along with the loneliest and longest lunch hour I’ve ever experienced, made this day seem more like a week. #MissingOldSchoolDays
Looking back, that evening when my parents asked “How was your first day, son?” I should have replied honestly about how it was difficult rather than lying. But I felt there was pressure on university being perfect because I was the first individual in my family to attend it and dashing my parent’s excitement seemed cruel “They’ve supported you in achieving your academic dreams. This is as much their reward as yours”.
By the end of week 1, I had lied to everyone who was in a position to help me “It’s great!”, “I’ve met some interesting people”, “I’ve looked into joining some teams”. These lies seemed necessary because I also felt that I had to compare with my friends who, according to Facebook, seemed to be having the time of their lives.
I was very much aware that I wasn’t myself during this period and throughout the following few weeks. At school I was a Prefect and a member of multiple clubs, teams and societies. I was confused as to why I enjoyed spending time with people in the past but all I seemed to do now was carry out my academic duties and request more hours in my part-time job. Having your nose in a book provides a perfect excuse when asked “Why aren’t you out this weekend?”. I just couldn’t get myself out of this rut and I couldn’t stop comparing myself to the experiences my friends seemed to be having.
Christmas was my turning point. Generally, my friends and I joke with each other but don’t talk about serious topics yet within seconds of seeing my best friend I had the urge to say “I hate uni and I want to leave!” One coffee lead into another and before I knew it he had listened to me talk about how I’d made no friends, how I didn’t enjoy my course, and how I was going to disappoint my family. He had pointed out that he suspected something was wrong as friends from school, who had been asking me to meet up in Belfast, had been speaking to him and asking how I was doing as they’d heard little from me. Also, he found my lack of social media activity alarming. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and over the Christmas period I fully made the most of being surrounded by my friends and my confidence began to return.
Upon returning to university for exams I found that “How was your Christmas?” and “did you revise_____?” were excellent conversation starters and I couldn’t understand how I’d be so shy in my first three months. I had a much clearer perspective and even joined a couple of societies in Semester 2, which were excellent ways to meet people. Although I felt like I was playing catch-up in Semester 2, I found that I was having much more fun and my opinion on my uni course improved too.
Even now, 2 years later, I cannot seem to point to the exact reason as to why almost overnight my personality changed. On a day when I should have been proud for reaching my, then, academic pinnacle I felt like a failure. I worked too hard at hiding what was happening in my life, I was unhappy, and I cut myself off from those who were in the best position to help me. One lesson that I did learn from this period was that opening up to friends and family should not be overpowered by your fear or embarrassment.
*Names have been changed.