Hi again, readers. The blog is back, and since we’re so close to the new academic year, I thought I’d offer some advice to our brand new starters, for whom these next couple of weeks will rocket by. In particular, I thought I’d offer some advice to our disabled students, some of whom will no doubt adapt to university life like a fish to water, but others like me will feel more out of place and just plain terrified than ever before – which is saying something. But for those of you for whom the latter description feels accurate, this blog is to help you with settling in and making yourself feel at home. Trust me, before you know it, university will feel like home!
So anyway, let’s get started – the first day you arrive at your university’s campus as a student. For many of you, that will mean living in on-site accommodation. For a few of you, those student halls might be your home for 3 or more years. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed – yeah, right … “if” – just take a couple of deep breaths, get the lay of the land so to speak, and then introduce yourself to your flatmates. These guys/girls will be your neighbours for a year at least, so introduce yourself, shake hands and always be respectful of others’ belongings – one of the worst things you can do is eat, drink or use something that doesn’t belong to you without permission. Labelling your stuff is a good idea.
For those of you who, like me, struggle with socialising, remember – everyone is in the same boat when they first arrive at university. Because everybody is a student, you’ll always have something to chat about. One thing you may be wondering if you’re a student who considers him-or-herself disabled … do you disclose it to your new pals? No doubt, not all of you will consider yourself disabled, but if you do and you’re scratching your head asking yourself this question … I did. I explained that since I’m autistic I naturally struggle with socialisation, find social events exhausting and am prone to sensory overload from noise and flashing lights and what-not. My flatmates were not only completely understanding, but I found myself the object of a degree of interest as a result. Plus, it brought us to an immediate understanding over what otherwise may have been seen as “anti-social behaviour” – as it often had been.
Also, if you aren’t exactly the social type, Fresher’s Week in particular can look like an ordeal at first, but it really isn’t. When I first arrived at university I was very tempted to sit in front of my xbox while everyone was out having a great time. But I decided to go out a couple of times anyway, if only to bond with my flatmates. And guess what? I had an absolute blast doing it! So my advice to new students, disabled or otherwise, is to go out with your new friends and have fun! You don’t have to go out every single night – I didn’t, since social events are tiring for me – but make the most of Fresher’s Week. After all, you’re only a brand new student once, and trust me when I tell you, there’s no experience like it!
That said, here are some general rules – if you are going to go out drinking, don’t overdo it – you really don’t want to remember your Fresher’s Week for constantly throwing up. Not fun, trust me. Never EVER leave your drink unattended or drink something that someone you don’t know gives you – you never know what could be in it. And for the love of all that’s holy and hand grenades (there’s a reference you gamers ought to get) please don’t wander off – there’s nothing worse than worrying the whole night about a friend who’s just randomly disappeared. Final point, and I can’t stress this enough guys and girls – watch those bank accounts during Fresher’s Week. DON’T take your credit/debit card with you – trust me, bank cards and alcohol are a match made in Hell.
Finally, look into joining a society or two at your Students Union – politics, dance, drama, sports – you name it, your SU likely has it. And if it doesn’t, you can create your own society! Why should you do this? Well, let me put it this way – I didn’t take part in any societies until well into my 3rd and final year. By then of course I was up to my eyeballs in dissertation work, so I couldn’t put much time into anything else. That year I became the founder of the Disabled Student Society, but I couldn’t spend anywhere near as much time developing and taking part in the Society as I wanted. Naturally, I also made a number of very good friends through the Society that I still have contact with after graduation. Perhaps the best thing about societies is that you will always meet new people with a similar interest, so it is an excellent way to make friends, and making friends is probably the most effective way of making yourself feel at home in a new setting like uni. So do it early. The earlier, the better!
Above all else, when you arrive at the university campus and you’re sweating bullets, and you’ve finished unpacking and you’re wondering what to do now, just remember; you are about to have the time of your lives. The friends you make at Uni will likely become friends for life, and the memories you create here will be among your fondest and proudest, and at the end of it all, you’ll come away with a qualification that will open many great opportunities for you. So for now, relax, have fun and make the most of these years while you can – because believe me, they go quick!