So here you are. First day of university life. Sat upon a freshly made bed, your mum’s parting gift, trying to get your head around the fact that you’re actually here. You made it. Months of studying, then a summer of anticipation, researching what to bring to uni, societies, your course. Now you feel like you’re in free-fall. Thoughts awhirl – you’ve suddenly realised just how far away you are from the place you grew up and everyone you knew.
Even the cardboard box crammed car journey hadn’t quite felt real. Arriving on a partially remembered campus, a plethora of buildings and winding roads. Those open days and applicant visits are far-off memories that come back to mind, like trying to unravel half-forgotten images from a dream. Then the flurry of people passing by, fellow students and their parents wielding boxes and suitcases. Key in hand, door swinging back to reveal a blank wall bedroom. Torn between cringing with embarrassment at your parents’ affections, and wishing they could stay another five minutes when you hugged goodbye.
Perhaps things will seem better once you’ve unpacked. Headphones on, you put on a playlist of favourite songs to ease the boredom. There’s more floor-space here than the Harry Potter broom cupboard of a spare room you know awaits you come Christmas vacation. Your utter lack of coordination has always got you out of sports teams. Still, you can’t help but smile, the tension between your shoulders loosening as you half dance, half unpack.
Breath caught, and stuff unpacked, you survey the room, no longer imposingly empty. Instead, miniature versions of you wave or grin back from the opposite wall in photos with friends in goofy poses or holiday snaps. The desk is now adorned with laptop and stationary, and an entire grocery of fruit is crammed into the mini fridge, your parents having taken into their heads that student life will incur scurvy from a lack of vitamins.
It’s all too tempting to stay in here, rather than face all those new faces back out in the courtyard. There’s a safety to these memories from home, transplanted into your new life, whereas the unfamiliarity of university is daunting, especially as you happen to not be a massive people person. There’s nothing you dread more than introducing yourself over and over. You think of one of the many ‘inspirational’ mottos teachers liked to use in school assemblies: life begins outside of your comfort zone. Cheesy, but there’s some truth in it.
Figuring that you’ve come this far in getting to university to cave in and stay in your room until dinner, you head back into the corridor. A bundle of nerves occupy your stomach, but everyone else must feel a little adrift too, right? As you round the corner, you spot a neighbour, her lithe figure lugging both suitcase and a bulging bag. You pass by as she gets the key into the door. She glances up at you, brushing back spirals of dark hair that have fallen in her face.
“Do you need a hand? Those doors are heavier than they look,” you say.
“Cheers mate!” The girl says, as you hold the door whilst she gathers her belongings and shoves them through the doorway. “I’m Lucy, by the way. From London. You live along this corridor too, yeah?”
You nod, introduce yourself, and crack a joke about the North’s perpetual rain, relieved that Lucy laughs. Little do you know that North/South divide is a perilous slope leading to many, many debates with your course and hall friends. Right now, you’re preoccupied with worry at not making any friends, although Lucy seems friendly, and the small talk isn’t too excruciating. After a couple minutes of chatting, Lucy excuses herself to unpack, telling you to look out for her at dinner.
You head out of halls along a path towards the centre of campus, limbs stiffened from travelling. Autumnal leaves adorn the pathway. There’s something calming to the abundance of trees and green spaces across campus. During your walk, you spot columns of windows from a looming library, which you’re pretty sure you’ve visited before. Sure enough, there’s that black and white cat you saw on an open day, although the election posters pinned outside the entrance are no longer there. The cat idly eyes you, curled up by the automatic doors. Reminds you of your cat back home. At least if you’re missing your own cat, this one is here, all too happy for some caressing strokes, as you discover when you crouch down and outstretch a finger into tufts of fur.
Somewhere a clock chimes, and after carrying on along the path, a clock tower comes into view, protruding from a white building down the hill. It’s ornate hands glint amidst the clouds, and it’s later than you thought. You’ve heard there’s a lake nearby, definitely near to the clock tower, and make a mental note to explore some more another day, before turning back.
A small crowd has gathered in the courtyard, jostling their way to the dining room. Everyone already seems to have gathered into groups, chatting away, with a few welcome mentors in pink t-shirts dotted around. Being surrounded by all these people makes your heart thud uncomfortably, though you notice that the dining hall looks like something out of Hogwarts, which is pretty cool. The table you’re sat at fills up quickly, but you’re not quite sure who to talk to.
At the sound of a chair scraping beside you, you turn. The guy who has sat down doesn’t waste a moment in saying hi, greeting you with the brightest smile you’ve seen all day, as if you’ve been best friends your entire lives.
“I’m Tom. Nice to meet you,” he says. “Where bouts you from?”
You discover that he is another Londoner, mystified by the Northern village that you grew up in. Amongst the crowd, you spot Lucy and she waves back, appearing a few moments later with another girl who has shock of blue hair. You don’t quite catch her name, but learn that she’s sharing a room with Lucy. After exchanging where you’re from and what course you’re studying, someone further down the table brings up nightlife and freshers events. Lucy and a few others are interested. Solo dance parties aside, clubbing has never been your thing. To your relief, you’re not the only one, as Tom shrugs, says he isn’t into clubbing much.
After dinner, Tom catches you on the way back to your room. “Hey, we’re all going to play Cards Against Humanity in the common room. Wanna join?”
You tell him you’ll be along in a moment, once you’ve got something from your room. Amongst the tangerines and boxes of grapes is the box of chocolates that your Gran slipped you. Most of the chocolates you don’t actually like all that much anyway, so you bring the box along to the common room.
About six or so people have gathered upon the sofas. Although you recognise Tom, Lucy, and the blue haired girl, the rest are unfamiliar. You squeeze in at the end of a sofa, all of which are facing a coffee table, where the cards lie scattered. The game seems to have been abandoned, but the chocolates go down a treat and rapidly vanish, though you’re the only one who likes dark chocolate. As a few more people join, everyone swaps names and degree choices, the different accents linking themselves to counties across the UK, and countries around the world. Each new face is greeted like the oldest of friends. That bundle of nerves has lessened, as you no longer feel so alone, but realise that you’re surrounded by new friends.
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Featured image courtesy of Georgia Butcher.
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