Fellow Freshers, I Survived. These are the words that ran through my head as I left my humble abode of the UCD campus and set off home to ‘study’ for my summer exams. I’m proud to say that I survived this year, and expertly so. It wasn’t the smoothest of starts by any means, but after some mental coaching and bullet biting, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Going from a well-liked girl in school with 20 odd friends and a brilliant social life to the girl who blends in with the furniture in a short summer isn’t a confidence booster. So here I am to let you in on a little secret… it does get better. Not overnight, not in a week, or even the first month.
By the time Christmas holidays swing round and you’re sitting on that suitcase, shoving the necessities into the dead space between that makeup bag with too much makeup and the countless pairs of socks, you will miss the constant state of sleep deprivation and stress that comes with not having a clue what you’re doing most of the time.
To understand this, I’ll take you back to August, moving day. The size of UCD didn’t hit me until my Dad was speeding down the wrong exit of the M50 with my mother doing her best passenger seat driving and me sitting with a cardboard box of food on my lap.
It isn’t a small place – it’s the largest university in Ireland after all. Twenty-five thousand students wander around the campus daily. In perspective, about 8.5 times the size of the town I live beside. My own house is on our family farm against the side of a mountain, up a random backroad in the midlands. Moving to Dublin was going to be a change. And while my Dad refused to listen to my mother’s haphazard road directions, I felt like I would never fit into the fast-paced lifestyle that these Dublin kids were used to.
There were only 100 people in my year in school. In university, there would be 9,000. Of course, I had to pick the biggest course, in the biggest university in Ireland. There were 1,600 in my course. From my school, five of us were going there. I only really talked to three of them. But I only liked two. And one of them dropped out in week 5 after not turning up for the first four. So on my first day I had no friends, just my parents.
We arrived at my new home and unpacked. My parents left in tears and I was alone, waiting for my three other roommates to join me. I went for a walk, and returned to two girls my age. But they had arrived with an entourage. My first week was nothing short of petrifying. Everyone talked about the overwhelming size of the campus, but it was the overwhelming loneliness that hit me hard. Two of my best friends had moved country for university and I only had two close friends with me, neither of them in my course.
Everyone else seemed to be surrounded by a smaller version of their school. I don’t think I ever felt as lost as I did during that week. I felt isolated by people I didn’t even know. I wasn’t interested to talking to my roommates because they didn’t need any more friends. I just wanted to be wrapped up in my own bed and to go to my own school and see my own friends. I hated university. I hated it so much. I would never fit in. I was sure no one could relate, because they all seemed to slide into the rhythm of university.
Easy ways to get to know more people
I had learned in Transition Year that walking up to a friendly group of people was one of the best things you could do if you feel lost. And that is what I did on the Monday afternoon. I found another arts student doing one of my subjects and for the first month, we clung to each other. As the year moved on, we grew apart, getting to know more people and becoming comfortable in our surroundings. It was hard at first, but if you just turned to the person beside you in your lecture, you would find they were just as lost. The most important thing I did during my first month was to say yes. To lunch. To meeting up for coffee. To the odd night out. To going to society meetings. There were a few moments when I wondered why I was sitting in someone’s apartment, only knowing two out of the twenty people there, but it was the perfect place to get to know more of my neighbours.
I learned to be more active in friendships. Be the person to make plans. If you meet someone who lives nearby, invite them back for tea. They won’t turn you down, because, no matter how comfortable people seem, that first month in college is terrifying for everyone. My mother said that if I wasn’t content by Christmas, I could re-apply to the CAO and go somewhere smaller, quieter, more like home.
But by Christmas, I had made a nice group of friends on campus, and another group of girls within my course. And two of the five were from Dublin. The whole “Dublin and the rest of the country” divide is far from the truth.
Now here I am at the end of my first year. Looking back, I have some amazing memories, embarrassing photos, hilarious stories and people I can call friends for life, all because I tried to put myself out there. If you’re finding it hard to settle in there are a million and one services in every university, college and IT around the country for fresher blues. And if you’re reading this as an incoming first year, know that outside your comfort zone is where the best things happen.