Walking onto Front Square on a warm early September morning last week, I started thinking about the differences between my experience as a fresher this year and last year, in a different university. During the first week of college, you see a lot of faces, most of whom remain nameless, chameleons taking the form of just “another student”. I reflected on my first year in college and the anonymity I felt walking around my old campus. Although anonymity is a welcome change for some, it can also lead to a pervasive sort of isolation.
Let’s be honest, we’ve all seen those tacky American films – when idealistic, well-meaning teens embark on the exciting move to university. They make their friends for life and they go on cute dates with people they meet on the “quad” (I’m still not even sure what a quad is). The plots and characters change, but the point remains the same.
Sometimes when we go to college, we can have hyper-unrealistic expectations of what the social experience there will be. College has a lot to offer, and there were definitely aspects of student life that I enjoyed, but there can be a discomfort in appearing to be unhappy in what your parents will say should be the “best years of your life”.
What I’m saying won’t come as brand new information to a lot of people – the students’ union bombards you with emails regarding some of the amazing support it offers that’s there to help people experiencing these kinds of feelings. However, the harsh reality is that many first years can still feel isolated and like outsiders when they start college.
There were days last year where I would look forward all day to going home, or to meet friends from school between lectures, simply because I was missing normal human interaction. I definitely wasn’t alone in feeling like this – isolation is one of many issues severely affecting students’ mental health. It is well known that mental health services are straining to deal with the increased numbers of students availing of their services. Issues like isolation are continuing to damage students mental health – and first-years, particularly those who have moved from abroad to study here, are especially susceptible as they are completely new to Trinity.
The harsh reality is that many first years can still feel isolated and like outsiders when they start college
It isn’t all doom and gloom – sitting in the bathrooms filled with existential dread probably won’t be the reality either. Yet, this is a myth that has to be broken. The idea that college will be the best years of your life and you’ll spend them in perpetual bliss isn’t the reality, and this applies to everyone. Some of us may have the aesthetically perfect student life, where work, friends and study are all balanced in perfect harmony. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that even the people who seem to have everything under control are probably adjusting to becoming adults just like everyone else.
Navigating the seas of college life isn’t easy sailing – the very idea of pursuing this perfection is exhausting. But there is a lot to be said for putting yourself out there. If you’re socially anxious or think that you’re not the best with people, there are most likely 20 other people in the lecture theatre feeling somewhat similar. It may sound like a cliche, but try and look after your classmates and include people. There is some fantastic support available to you in college, like S2S and the Student Counselling Service if you feel isolated – but we can all act in a more inclusive way collectively to help people around us who may be suffering too.
I learned very quickly in my first year that these unrealistic images we have of student life are incredibly harmful to our mental health, and I do struggle in practicing what I preach. But we have to let them go and experience the reality in its terrible, odd and wonderful form: the good, the bad and the ugly.