And so today I find myself packing up clothes, pots, pans, pens, paper, DVDs, fancy dress, books and, most importantly as a Computer Scientist, my electronics! Doing so has taken me back to roughly this time a year ago, when I was nervously consulting an equipment checklist in sheer desperation that I wouldn’t forget anything important. Much has changed since then, and yet I still approach the new year in nervous anticipation of another adventure in Southampton.
But the major difference I’ve noticed, as I’ve been preparing, lies in having the comfort of having established some ground there already, particularly in terms of knowing people. Before I moved down to Southampton last September, there was one thing that terrified me more than all other obstacles I anticipated facing there, and that was the prospect of having to completely reinvent my social circles.
I’m perfectly happy to admit that I was an introvert at school, and even now, I still appreciate the odd day spending time by myself, whether it’s pausing to reflect on the week’s events or simply catching up on some TV. Up North I have plenty of close friends, most of whom I met at the beginning of High School, but my preference during school terms to stay in and work the vast majority of weeks did mean that I tended to rely on the strength of these relationships rather than actively seeking to make new ones.
Thus, the idea of having all of my links suspended in one fell swoop, in my case by a two-hundred-and-fifty mile journey, was absolutely terrifying to me. Despite many people repeating to me that “you’ll have the time of your life” and “your friendships will just... happen!” before I set off, I didn’t find these words hugely comforting at the time.
But they were right. As I grew to appreciate in a first year packed with successes, but more importantly mistakes, Uni is a learning experience in all senses of the phrase. You learn unquantifiable amounts about yourself, about everyday domestic tasks, about the real world, and, particularly, about other people. And one thing I soon discovered was that it really is the experiences and times you share with one another that form the foundation of your friendships.
The most salient example I can think of is that of my flatmates. I was lucky enough to be placed with a group of guys who, despite coming from diverse backgrounds and areas of the country, each clicked into a ‘role’ in the flat very quickly. We each contributed something different to the group, be it brand of humour, opinions on matters or just advice on cooking (guys: make friends with the girls, they help a lot with this!). As we initially struggled together to figure out exactly what to do every day, these roles were cemented, and after six weeks I can recall feeling like I’d known my flatmates for months.
Looking back on those first few weeks, they seemed like a bit of a struggle at the start, but as everyone relaxed and got used to one another, they were pivotal in letting all our characters come to the fore; a classic example of how, in my opinion, time really is the most crucial factor in settling down.
The Jumpstart programme run by ECS (Electronics and Computer Science) exemplified a similar idea, as we were divided into our tutor groups, each tasked with devising a scheme to defend the city in the (unlikely) scenario of a zombie apocalypse. Although hardly foolproof (we settled on converting a pub to quench the Undead’s alcoholic cravings), Group 29’s efforts got us working together and having a laugh within minutes of meeting. Oh, and a later pub quiz helped too – despite a complete absence of general knowledge on my, and most people’s, part!
But if things don’t quite click for you instantly, and there’s no reason why they necessarily should, I found that the connection-based nature of University meant I was meeting new people all year round. Whereas at school definite social divisions appeared very early on, the more relaxed and fluid nature of University mingling means that, even months into the year, there are opportunities to meet a friend of a friend, or just someone you bump into on the bus every day. So just by being polite and friendly (easier said than done on the way to a 9am lecture!) things can fall into place.
If you’re looking to expand your social horizons still further, my tip would be to attend the Bunfight in Freshers’ Week, pick up some flyers (or sign up to mailing lists), and then head along to introductory sessions. Being busy early on helped me hugely to stave off any feelings of homesickness – I didn’t have time to feel it!
Plus, not only will you meet people who you already share a mutual interest with, but you’ll soon see which societies you want to get involved in further, allowing you to take advantage of the superb opportunities they offer along the way. Being able to share these with like-minded people is empowering in forming your friendships, as I encountered time and again with Theatre Group and SUSUtv (the Students’ Union’s Television Station) events last year.
|By the end of a hectic week of rehearsals and performances for the show ‘Unseen’, the name ‘Team Unseen’ had caught on!|
And whereas at first I, apprehensive, reverted to school-based conditioning and began to classify people, it was soon clear to me that such an approach just isn’t flexible enough to capture the complexities of the people at University. Meeting so many friendly and open people was a real eye-opener, so I needn’t have worried whether I would ‘fit in’ or not: there was a place for everybody.
I guess that, overall, I learned the value of going into the University social experience with both patience and with an open mind. The sheer variety of personalities you’ll mix with completely differentiates the experience from school, so you’re almost guaranteed to meet people on your wavelength. I’m looking forward to heading back to Southampton to catch up with great friends, and I’m eagerly anticipating the chance to make some new ones as well, but all in good time!
You could say that friendships just... happen!