University seems to be one of those experiences that acquires a rose-tinted filter over time. If you ask the average adult about their experiences at university, you’re likely to feel uncomfortable that you’re not enjoying ‘the best years of your life’ every night, spending the entirety of first year in a drunken state, and staying as far from the library as physically possible. However, I’ve found the realities of life here to be a little different. Having finished my first semester and having to confront the beginning of my second, here are five (and a half) lessons I’ve learned from reflecting on the experiences (and yes, mistakes) of first semester.
- Despite the fact that most students might as well be defined as ‘experts in procrastination’, you shouldn’t expect to have too much time for it here. Other friends have described first year to me as an almost constant state of partying – I found my St Andrews experience to be slightly different. I’ve had my fair share of parties, but I did a hell of a lot of work, too. Somehow, when adults look hazily back on their first years at Uni they forget to mention the late nights spent at the library, crying over the fact that your three essay deadlines fall on the same day, or feeling like you can’t manage the quantity of work that is all new to you. If I could, I would tell my Semester one self not to worry too much – or to try not to anyway. I might whisper to her that she will be fine if she doesn’t get round to all (or any) of the readings for her tutorial, and not to freak out at the complexity of some of them. Some of the academics undoubtably have a slight tendency to overcomplicate some material for the sake of ‘academic prowess’, but don’t mistake not understand ing some (or all) of one reading for ‘I don’t understand anything about anything anymore…!’
- The dictionary definition of student might also include the word ‘broke.’ This is certainly what I found myself to be after the end of semester one. After looking at my bank statement in horror, I proceeded to do what all strong independent individuals do in a crisis – phoned my parents. On the other end of the phone my Dad sighed. He said that unfortunately being horrified at your overspending is a rite of passage into adulthood – when money starts to properly mean something. So learn from my mistakes please: don’t get drunk enough that you offer to buy all nine of the friends you’re going out with a Pablo, you don’t need to buy new stationary quite as often as you think you do, and try and keep the amount of expensive snacks you’re buying to a minimum – especially when you’re catered.
- Another defining feature of the student is their natural habitat: a club or bar. Now while we haven’t got a whole lot to choose from here when it comes to clubs, there are a few good bars to explore. May I recommend the curly fries in Aikmans (something good semester one taught me) and the wraps in Dervish (wonder if this is where all my money went…) Miraculously, I actually don’t think I made too many mistakes in this area, but I would advise the more serious party-goer to alter their expectations if they find themselves disappointed with their night out here. Yes, 601 is remarkably similar to a children’s disco, and yes the quality of some of the music can leave a little to be desired, but it’s not about that – I don’t think I’ve ever asked anyone why they came to St Andrews and they proceeded to reply ‘the legendary nightlife’ – we are in a tiny Scottish coastal town after all. But what I love about going out here is the friendly and unpretentious atmosphere. No one goes for a legendary clubbing experience. It’s thepeople you go with who make it special – and the quality of the drunken conversation in any of the takeaways after.
- Making friends is the key concern of most freshers and the pressure to do so leads to everyone being alarmingly smiley and nice, and the great thing is that this does (mostly) last! I have found people to be generally very lovely here – it would be a mistake not to profit from that. And what does loveliness inevitably lead to? New relationships. Now, I’m drawing on the experiences of some of my friends here: (as I am currently juggling the joys and tricky parts of a long-distance relationship) but it has been mentioned more than once to try to stay away from any sort of relationship with people in your halls. I’ve also been told seeing and hitting it off with someone in a dark corner of 601 is quite different to sitting down and looking them in the face at breakfast the next day! I guess the mistake here is obvious – try not to create for yourself too many situations that in such a small town may cause unnecessary romantic stress!
- Everyone is still finding their feet at University, especially in first year. My advice to my first semester self would be not to stress about this opportunity to ‘finally be who you are’. Yes there are loads of new opportunities at Uni, but don’t stress if you don’t make the most of all of them – there’s so much going on it would be literally impossible. I ended up falling into the things I wanted to do and loving them, but you can do this at any time. The person you thought you could be at the beginning of term might not necessarily be true to you. In a fit of change I signed
up for cheerleading and still get the emails now, which is highly amusing to me – anyone who knows me will know I’m much more of a coffee shop and books person than a cheerleader, and I can’t believe I ever thought I would be! But finally, I think my most important mistake of semester one was to expect to enjoy and love every single moment of Uni – because that’s what all the adults tell you to do. Yes, I had a great first semester, but I struggled with some things and found others very hard work. It’s a huge change in anyone’s life and we can’t expect it all to be plain sailing. I think if we make an effort to represent the full university experience (with all its highs and lows) more honestly, we might find ourselves more fulfilled by it.