Having successfully navigated my first semester at university, I feel like I actually know what I’m doing. Coming back after the Christmas break, I am fully prepared to deal with all the difficulties that come with moving 400 miles from home (like having to do my own washing).
Now that halls have been flooded with fresh-faced JSAs, us freshers suddenly seem to have the upper hand. We are, for the first time in our university careers, not the ones struggling to find lecture halls or determining the best late night takeout joint. It would seem that we know what we’re doing; finally, we’re the experienced ones showing new students the ropes.
So why does it feel like we’re still only playing at being students? Every lecture in the Buchanan Theatre, surrounded by two hundred other students, still feels like it’s my first. Perhaps this is a good thing – I’m still excited by my course, and my beginning-of-the-semester positivity has not yet been dampened by the reality of deadlines and exams.
Maybe I feel like I’m playing pretend because I know nothing I do counts. Maybe I’m far enough away from honours that I forget my grades will eventually help me find a job.
I think the real reason, however, is that life at uni feels no different from life at school. When living in halls, people swiftly form tight-knit friendship groups that are impossible to infiltrate. On top of that, the boys and girls still sit at segregated tables during lunch and dinner (maybe this is just a Regs thing). I generally have three hours of class a day with lots of extra reading, which still isn’t very different from my workload at school. I even have a weekend job as a waitress, just like I did at home.
Being in the second semester of your first year puts you in an unusual position. You belong, but only to an extent. You’ve found your feet, but only to an extent. Part of me expects that this is how it will feel my whole life – only ever playing at being a student, playing at being an adult, an employee, employer, or parent.
Students are inherently neither here nor there. We’re adults at university, but children at home. We spend our whole lives up until this point being told that university will be the making of us. It will “define who we are as people” and “change us irrevocably,” for the better or the worse.
I’m still too early on in the process to know if that will be true or not. Whilst I adore studying here and everything that comes with being a student, it still doesn’t feel real. The juxtaposition of both belonging and still feeling like you’re new can be overwhelming and confusing. Here’s to hoping that with time, everything will make a little more sense.