Do you feel like your first year has come and gone, and all you have to show for it is a passable grade and a collection of club night wristbands (that you've totally saved)? Guess what? Most people do. But that's ok because everyone has different experiences in their first year, and everyone takes away different life lessons. Kit Keane, an American student who's just finished her first year at KCL, runs through the 8 crucial life lessons that first year taught her...
1. Good friends will come.
If you're anything like me, you'll pound on the doors of your flatmates on the first day trying to get that friend count up, up, up. You gotta find your squad ASAP, right? RIGHT??
Lesson: If you're like me and way far out of your element, then you'll be anxious to find people to validate your freshers' experience. It may seem like everyone has found all of their friends and the entirety of their undergraduate career planned out, but that is not at all the case. Everyone is trying to find their footing in a new place. Don't be shy, don't lock yourself in with your immediate flatmates and miss out on opportunities to find ~your people~. University is what you make of it. So why not try to put yourself out there and build a community of supportive-as-heck, ride-or-die intellectual homies?
2. Remember who you want to be.
We all have those little talks with ourselves before going off to university:
"I'm going to be the me that I never got to be in high school, I'll wear my rainbow jelly platforms, I'm going to be confident, I'm going to unleash this amazing inner self to this new uni world!"
University is the perfect time to start a fresh chapter by embracing yourself and your nuanced personality and allowing yourself to experiment with all that you want to be.
Lesson: Your goals may shift, and you may grow out of your pink hair phase, but don't lose sight of the self-confidence and assurance that you propelled yourself into university with. What is important is to not sell yourself out for Instagrams or fake friends or experiences that, in the end, won't fulfil you. Remember your goals, remember the tone you set for yourself, and stand up for the version of yourself that you deserve to be!
3. Imposter Syndrome will strike.
Whilst you're having the time of your life and nearly forgetting why you're actually enrolled in a university in the first place, your work will be slowly building up. It may seem like everyone instinctively knows how to pace themselves and get their work completed on time, and you may feel like an imposter that hasn't yet been found out. It can feel like everyone is smarter than you, and that you can't possibly catch up. This is, however, surprisingly common.
Lesson: Most people default to maintaining the facade of having their sh*t together, and this can seem really intimidating. My PPE peers were, for the longest time, a massive source of anxiety. I was constantly comparing myself to my classmates, and consequently beating myself up for not being like everyone else. One day I walked out of a statistics seminar and had a breakdown in front of the library. A classmate that I had never really talked to came up and said "It's ok. All of us get overwhelmed sometimes." And at that moment I realized that I AM HERE. I am just as qualified and just as capable as everyone else. Remember that you were accepted for a reason, that you can do this, and your peers are in fact your equals, not your competition.
4. Adult responsibilities? On top of everything else?
There will be a pile of dirty clothes festering in a corner that somehow grows exponentially every day, despite your best efforts to procrastinate by doing laundry. You'll come home from an evening lecture and open your fridge, and survey disappointedly your dinner options: one egg, 10 grapes, some Crunchy Nut, and a lonely pack of instant noodles.
Lesson: For the first few months, you may be content running to your local chicken shop at midnight for your first meal of the day. But after a while this will get a little gross, a little unsustainable, and you'll need to do your laundry, replenish your hygiene products, and do a proper shop. And that Sunday when you emerge from your hungover freshers' cocoon and decide to get your life in order, you will be so proud of yourself. It's hard not having your mom around ready with some warm spaghetti after a long day. But, I assure you, acclimating yourself and making the occasional hot meal will be so rewarding.
5. So. Much. Free. Time.
This first year I had 12 contact hours a week... and, if my math is correct, this means that roughly 7% of my week is attendance at uni. SEVEN. I mean, what the heck are we supposed to be doing with the other 93% of time?
Lesson: Embrace the purgatory of taking intro modules that only negligibly will affect your final grade. Seek opportunities to learn outside of seminars. Find your little hole in the wall cafe that will get you through a bitter winter. Become a local, and blossom like the flower that you are. Don't burden yourself with first year coursework and lock yourself in the library. University will teach you so much more than what you learn in the classroom. You have all of this time for a reason, so go out and explore and expand beyond the academic!
6. Know Yourself; know when you're not being yourself.
As someone with lifelong mental health issues, I've lived with the ebbs and flows of my paranoia and depression for a while now. Moving away from your support system of immediate friends and family and being forced to create a new one is daunting, but it is also necessary. I know first-hand how easy it is to sink into a pity-party hole and convince yourself that you cannot face the world.
Lesson: Be honest with yourself and what you can and can't handle. Growing up means being an advocate for yourself. Invest in those friendships that you know will help you battle the storms that have yet to come. You owe it to yourself to try to be okay, and you owe it to your friends to let them know what the ~real you~ is feeling. True friends can and will help you through it.
7. Calm down. You can do this.
At the end of the year, when you've got a few weeks to revise for exams, you'll procrastinate until the very last moment. You might find that the course group chat is just poppin' with people ranting about procrastination or calculating the minimum percentage that you need to pass the course. As exams get closer, the smoking area at your accommodation will be littered with first-years chain-smoking anxiously, hyped up on coffee to make it through another late-night library sesh. It's so easy to get swept up in the panic, and honestly, no matter what I say, everyone will inevitably grapple with some anxiety about exams. It's normal.
Lesson: Give yourself time to mull over what you've been taught this semester. You'll realize that maybe the coursework you dreaded 2 months ago was actually manageable all along. Don't let the pretence of exams get you down. Trust your instincts. Take this time as an opportunity to familiarize yourself with what university exams are like, and don't hate yourself if you can't get a first. Acknowledge your strengths, try your best, and trust your "aha!" moments.
8. It will be over sooner than you thought.
And then, poof, exams will be over, you'll move out of halls, you'll go home, or go flip burgers, or do coffee runs for a neato startup, and your first year will fizzle, anticlimactically, to an end. As hokey as it sounds, you will realize that you have grown so much.
Lesson: Allow yourself to celebrate the little victories throughout the year, and applaud yourself when you finally make it through! You did it, like you always knew you could! The paper you got a 50% on will soon seem insignificant. All the horrifically embarrassing nights out you had will be mere memories, and you will move forward, confident in the lessons that first year taught you. When thinking about second year and the academic intensity and all of these new hurdles, just remember that you did this, and you can continue to do this.
About the Author: Kit Keane is from Washington, DC and studies PPE at King's College London. Her hobbies include procrastination, trying to be alternative, and ranting about literally anything. She wants to be a political journalist (but also still holds onto her childhood dream of being an actress).