University: How to fit in (without trying to fit in)

What a time to go to university, right?! Social media has exploded and the personal lives of everyone we know, and incidentally don’t know, are available at our mere fingertips. Thanks to Snapchat, we know what everyone is doing at every hour of the day, we know what happened on that night out after we went home… and thanks to development of all of the popular social mediums we can completely control the way that we are presented in the virtual world and we can manipulate many a situation, which in turn can make us feel even less in control. Ironic?

Back in the day…

When I started university over three years ago, I was overwhelmed by the new people, the new course, the new town, the new lifestyle and the “new me” that I felt pressured to find. University is where you find yourself, right? Where was I? Who was I?

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I was merely a lost, slightly anxious 18 year old with hardly any life experience, no friends and a bad sense of direction. I didn’t even know where to start; my social skills weren’t all that and I wasn’t the “uni type”, as I had been constantly reminded by friends and family throughout school and college.

I’m not really a drinker at all, and I don’t enjoy going out clubbing; I find it pretty claustrophobic, intimidating and I just never feel safe or secure when I’m out in that kind of atmosphere, even three years later. I had a pretty tough decision to make there and then; should I go out anyway just as everybody else seemed to be, and try to fit in and make friends, or stay home, find other things to do and risk being alienated?

It took a fair amount of deliberation, but I decided to stay strong and choose the latter option. I had a lonely Freshers’ Week, but I did make friends on my course during the daytime. And this was the first step to realising that I didn’t have to try and fit in.

See, at university, we are all totally different. Different backgrounds, families, home towns, educations, upbringings, opinions, religions, different stories. Each and every student is unique and special (and it’s remarkable how as one of about 15,000 Surrey students, I can truly believe that). And so nobody truly fits in, because there is no mould. Meaning that we all fit in, because we’re equally different! (Even if my coursemates and I do enjoy dressing the same sometimes…)

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You don’t have to be the stereotype!

Let me put it this way. Students are so often portrayed in the media as lazy, sleepy, hungover big kids in trackies crawling to their first ever 9am with last night’s make up smudged slightly around the eyes and some spilt vodka in their hair, wondering why they are even there.

Okay, so that’s some of us, sometimes. Many go a bit crazy when they leave home for the first time. But we all came here for a reason, and that’s to study a subject that we are passionate about. We don’t spend (at least) £9000 a year just to spend another £50 a night on cocktails which will only make a triumphant return to the outside world within a few hours. It’s just a huge and unfair generalisation.

Yeah, there are so many stereotypes, and once I realised (after a short time at university) that these aren’t actually accurate, I relaxed so much more in myself. I wasn’t the only non-drinker; no way! It just takes a little longer for shyer characters like mine to emerge. The people I met in my first week weren’t all the same at all; they were just all into the same kind of thing.

I actually did go out, for the first time, just before Christmas. I still have a photo from that night; my course-mates and I went to town and I showed my ID for the first time and bought my first ever alcoholic drink. Late to the game I know, but it was more than worth the wait. I was going out with my friends because I wanted to, not because I felt I had to.

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Tips for settling in – in your own way

Throughout my degree I found it easier and easier to “just be me”. I think that the more people you meet, the more comfortable you can become in yourself – with their encouragement and your recognition of your identity. There is no “uni type” – just a huge bunch of individuals, misfits, confused and wandering young adults who will soon find their feet in the world and settle into themselves.

So until that happens (if it hasn’t already), I’d suggest some of these ideas:

  • Go out, have fun, do the “uni thing” – if you want to! If friends are pressuring you, re-evaluate whether they are solid friends to have.
  • Or don’t go out, have fun in other ways – again, if you want to.
  • Be yourself, as much as you can be. We all have protection mechanisms and are a little wary, especially when thrown into the university-sphere for the first time! But the less you have to pretend, the easier your life will be. Honestly.
  • Surround yourself with people that make you feel comfortable.
  • If you’re not a huge party animal (like me), look for alternative events – of which there are many!

I’m now a Master’s student, doing Music Composition straight from graduating with a BMus Music degree (from Surrey). I loved it here, and enjoyed my course so much that spending just one more year here fine-tuning my studies to my deepest passion seemed like the obvious thing to do.

Surrounded by my closest friends on a campus which has become my home from home, I still get nervous going out, and I still feel social pressure. Freshers’ Week ’16 has just finished, and I was fortunate enough to discover an amazing event on the Friday night that encouraged me so much to write this post.

Drinking doesn’t have to be the central part of student life

Red Frogs UK (http://uk.redfrogs.com) is part of an incredible global movement initially born from a church in 1997, which recognises the dominance of alcohol in the culture of most 15-25 year olds, and the consequences of people’s actions when they consume too much.

Red Frogs Guildford works with the university as a supportive presence in Rubix and elsewhere, giving water, sweets, hydration stuff, general free goodies and lots of support to anyone who needs it. And this year, they hosted an event called “Pizza, Mocktails and Music” in the university pub, Wates.

It was incredibly successful, completely sold out (students paid just £2 to go towards loads of pizza, unlimited mocktail drinks made for them by the volunteers, freebies and entertainment) and I found it so encouraging to see this event taking place on campus on a Friday night when the rest of the Freshers were probably pre-drinking for Rubix.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but for the several students who aren’t into drinking and nights out, this event was just perfect. I totally understand both subcultures of university, and rejoiced that there was something out there for everyone this week.

Hats off to Union President Alex Mackenzie-Smith and the rest of the Union Sabbs and their teams for providing the opportunity for an amazing group of people like Red Frogs to host such a successful event – proving to new students who must be nervous, self-conscious and perhaps even a little homesick – that they don’t need to feel any pressure; they can just be themselves.

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You’ve come to university for you, not for anyone else! You don’t have to change yourself in a negative way to fit in – fitting in is just an illusion. So finally from me, a big welcome to the huge international family of University of Surrey miss-shapes, and have a great start to the semester!

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View of the Library from the Music Department

Work hard, play hard, in whatever way makes you happy.

Until next time,

Kirsten