People are surprised when I tell them I’m a student. I’m not what they think about when someone mentions a student. I think that means I’m too sober for them. The student lifestyle has become synonymous with binge drinking and wild partying.
There is nothing wrong with this. If you’re an extrovert or just someone who likes the party scene, then you keep on partying. Most people who do this actually do have a good balance of work and play, and they still end up graduating with good marks.
But if you’re like me and you’re an introverted bedroom hermit, then the idea of that can be off-putting. I wasted my first two years of university thinking that was all there was to the experience. I wish I could talk to my first year self and tell her there is life outside the library and the girlfriend back home. Life doesn’t stop because there’s an essay due in two months. University life doesn’t have to be confined to the four walls of the classroom.
A few people have asked me advice in a similar vein. I hope this covers it for you.
So here are my five quick tips on having an enriching student experience.
Buy the merchandise
It’s the same rush sports fans get when they wear their team colours. Whenever I use something with our name and logo on, I feel almost patriotic. I own so many University of Sunderland pens that I might as well be a walking promotion. I own four University of Sunderland hoodies, not counting my Spectral Visions hoodie. I was even sent a free one because of how much I talk about the university on my blog and Twitter.
I’m not the only who does this. My good friend Lee Mitchell will live on in infamy as the Hoodie Man. He always wore a hoodie. I suspect he had one for every day of the week.
My point is that you worked hard to get to university, whether you realise it or not. Not everyone goes and it’s okay to be proud of yourself. And it’s okay to be proud of your university. So treat yourself to the mugs or scarves; they’ll serve as reminders one day, and they’ll keep you warm and happy until then.
Join a club/society
Fresher’s Fayre is there for a reason. It’s a chance for you to meet people who like the same things as you. At Sunderland, we dominate the gymnasium with rows of stalls dedicated to every hobby and interest imaginable. We’re pretty much a sports university. Whether its archery, rugby or cheerleading, there is some physical activity for you. It’s actually a great time for you to learn about something you don’t already do. If you’ve never played lacrosse before but you want to pretend you’re on Teen Wolf, then now is the perfect time to try it out. You’ll find people of all expertise and you won’t be the only beginner. Have fun with it.
As for me, I’m not a sports fan if you can’t play it on a broomstick. Instead, I looked in to other activities and groups that interested me. I joined the Society of the Gothic and went to a couple of LGBT meetings. I decided that neither were really for me, but I did make some friends from my short time.
If there isn’t a club for you, start one. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth mentioning again. That’s what I did with the Feminist Society. It’s a safe space for women and a platform for feminists of all genders to debate and discuss stories on our radars. I’ve learned a lot from the society members and met some really incredible people.
Go to a team event
This ties in with the pride in your uni point. This year, I went to see the dance competition hosted at our university. There were teams from York, Teesside, Durham… a dozen universities with some incredible performers.
I’m not myself a dancer, but my best friend Kelly is. She was in the tap sequence for Durham University, and she’s managed to convince me to come to every dance show she’s ever done. I enjoyed myself as a spectator with limited knowledge of the sport. She enjoyed it as an expert who has been dancing since she was five.
As a side-note, fear these people who committed to these lifestyles since they were children. They are the ones who will survive a zombie apocalypse. No mercy.
I had a lot of fun. I was surrounded by Durham dancers and I was still cheering for my team. The Sunderland dancers were incredible in my humble opinion.
Sign up for things
This year I signed up to be Student Rep for my course. Last year, I signed up to be an SU Buddy, a Student Ambassador and for the Student Council. Student Rep and SU Buddy are both voluntary positions. The Rep acts as the voice of their course and speaks at board meetings with staff about the successes and failures of the course. An SU Buddy acts as a mentor to younger or international students during their first year of university.
I can’t speak about being a Rep yet, but being a Buddy was an experience I will never forget. I met three amazing women from it. Two were exchange students who were only at the university for a semester, but one is staying for the full three years. She is in her second year now, and I still find myself imparting wisdom on her. She doesn’t ask for it, but the Buddy training to burned in to my brain.
The Student Council was a lot more formal than the others. It was a chance to have your voice recognised on issues raised about the university and union. I think the best thing we did at Council was vote to implement a Living Wage policy for all Union jobs, something which helped a lot of people out. It was nice to feel like I was making an impact and it helped my fear of public speaking. It was an all-around win.
Signing up for things gives you a range of rewarding experiences. You meet new people, try new things, and do things you haven’t done before. It’s one way to enrich your student experience while simultaneously padding out your CV. You may even make some life-long friends out of it.
Go out on the town
I’m not a drinker. I never drink. It freaks people out a little. You can go out on the town and not visit a single bar. That is the joy of being a student. By virtue of having an ID card, you’re entitled to a lot discounts to days and places you’ve never been to before.
In Sunderland, you’re spoiled for choice. There’s student deals on bowling, paintballing, the cinema… we actually have our own on-campus cinema, which is rented out to clubs and societies for film nights. During our Diversity Month, we had a night where we watched Made in Dagenham. I gave a speech as Fem Soc president.
There’s also discounts on food. Have a class lunch or something. Learn about your peers outside of the classroom. If you live in Sunderland, I beg you to visit Life of Riley’s. I am in love with their BBQ burgers. This isn’t so much a statement of student life so much as a regret that I am typing this at home, miles away from Riley’s.
Back to my original point. Going out and exploring is all part of being a student. Even if you’ve enrolled in a city you’ve known your whole life, there’s no harm in playing tourist for the day. Visit the parks, the museums, the tourist attractions. Fall in love with the city. And share that with your friends. This is the time you’ll make memories to share forever.
I tried to illustrate this one as much as possible. It’s mainly proof that I speak from my personal history. University can be terrifying. Moving to a new place can be terrifying. Anything can be terrifying, let’s face it. But these experiences can be wonderful too. I will cherish my time as an undergraduate. I hope I’ll continue to cherish my time as a postgraduate.
I’m not quite ready to give you up yet. Sorry, University of Sunderland. You’re stuck with me.
And so, dear readers, we reach the end of another post.
Let me ask you this: what advice would you give to a new student? What are your fondest memories of university? And what did I miss of my list?
Let me know your thoughts!