Why University might not be 'the best years of your life'. A lesson learned in first year.
University is tough. When you ask most people about university, the first thing you’re met with is descriptions of amazing flatmates, wild parties and the complete carnage that is Fresher’s Week. Don’t get me wrong, there are some parts of university that are brilliant, but like any experience there are pitfalls. If I were to look back on my first week at Durham, I would have just as many memories of crying alone in my room as I would have meeting lovely people.
Undeniably, university is hard, lonely, and at times really doesn’t feel worth it. But we’re all burdening ourselves with the expectation that it has to be ‘the best years of our lives’, and that we’re supposed to be the very best version of ourselves before we get there. I don’t think I’m alone in this when I say that the summer before university I was convinced that I would somehow magically grow into a more mature, worldly and exciting person. I treated it like preparing for an exam; poring over student websites, picking my clothes with military precision and detailing in my head all of the wonderful experiences that I was going to have. But what I didn’t realise that I was the same person going to university that I had been three months before, but just with a bad sunburn and an irritating habit of chattering incessantly about ‘uni life’. Its okay that when you get to university you haven’t completely got your life together, or you don’t feel as though you’re the version of yourself that you envisioned. A lot of people that you meet in Fresher’s Week have a false bravado and a disconcerting level of confidence, but by the end of first term you realise that you were all exactly the same; scared, and eager to please.
In the age of social media, we’re forcibly confronted with other people’s lives. Trust me, when you’re feeling as though university isn’t working for you, the last thing you want to see is pictures of school friends looking as though they are having the time of their lives. It makes you question whether or not you’re ‘doing uni right’, or whether or not you should have gone to a city university, or gone to a more social accommodation. I spent months tormenting myself that I had somehow ruined my life by not going to Leeds or Manchester. Inevitably, the grass is always greener somewhere else, and it doesn’t help that others seem to be having a far better time than you. But social media only shows you a tiny portion of someone’s life and experience; its all well and good posting grinning pre-drinks selfies, but people are hardly going to write a status detailing how isolated they feel, or their ambivalence about their surroundings. You have to take it with a pinch of salt, and remember that you’re never going to have a full insight into the lives of others. All you can do is make the best of what you have, and realise that university is only a pre-cursor to the wealth of experiences you’ll have, people you’ll meet and places you’ll live.
Undoubtedly, some people get lucky and have the most amazing time; I’m not suggesting that it’s some kind of conspiracy to shepherd us into higher education. But I can safely say that university hasn’t been the best time of my life. I think I’ve definitely gained more of an insight into myself, and I understands my flaws and strengths with a lot more clarity. However, I don’t see it as a defining point in my life that will shape my future. I’ve met great people and I’ve got to grips with my course, but there are still glaring issues that I’ve learnt to accept, and have done my best to remedy. Joining a society, getting up at a decent time, and even just having time to yourself can help provide relief when it all feels hopeless. It’s a different experience for everyone, and we should all relieve ourselves of the pressure to live up to what we believe university ‘should be’.