Freshers’ Week spares no superlative and you’re promised that you will have the best week of your life and make friends for life. It’s a lot of change in a short space of time and for many it can begin to take its toll and feeling homesick, isolated and unsettled is entirely understandable. Indeed, a 2011 report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that as many as 60% of students get homesick in their first year.
It is something I remember all too well. It was the third night of Freshers’ Week and, as if out of nowhere, butterflies began to well up in my stomach along with an undefined sense of dread. I did the British thing and tried to ignore it, maintain a stiff upper lip and hope that it would all go away in time. But of course, that almost never works...
What began as nervy butterflies quickly spiralled and I was soon on the verge of a very real depression. Every day was a struggle; I was not enjoying my course and I hadn’t made many new friends. Of all the things I had expected from university life, this was not it. It seemed that my options were to stay in a situation which was slowly making me more miserable or to drop out, go home and work in a call centre. I felt trapped.
If anything I’ve said sounds familiar to you right now, then first and foremost the most important thing to know is that you are not alone. I remember feeling like I was the only person not enjoying my first semester at university; that everyone else seemed to be making new friends, going out every night and having the time of their life.
It was only in subsequent years that many friends actually confessed that they struggled similarly. It’s a strange facet of human nature that we like to create the illusion that everything is fine all of the time. My advice would be speak to someone - a friend, your parents, a flatmate. There’s no point in suffering in silence, and talking things through can help to take the load off. The Students' Representative Council also operates Nightline, a confidential and anonymous listening service which is open from 7pm to 7am.
Whatever aspect might be getting you down, be it mental health issues, accommodation or your course, the University has a wide range of support services on offer. If you’re not sure where to start, head along the the SRC’s Advice Centre in the John MacIntyre building and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
The Glasgow University Counselling and Psychological Services also has a wide variety of support services for students who are experiencing emotional and mental health issues, including a drop-in service where you can pop in for a 30-minute appointment to talk over your concerns.
One of the biggest factors in helping me settle in was getting involved with the student union’s events committee. It gave me a sense of purpose and I made great friends who would become my flatmates in subsequent years. There are hundreds of clubs, societies and sports group within the University which cater to every interest imaginable – from pole dancing to Jane Austen, and everything in between. Student clubs are a great way to meet like-minded people, learn new skills and build up experience for your CV.
If you’re feeling low, try to take extra good care of your health – sleep and eat well and get some exercise. Aside from the physical benefits, rest and exercise play an important role in mental wellbeing. Similarly, while you’re feeling a bit down, steer clear of alcohol. Booze is a real false friend when it comes to your mood. You might think that a few drinks will help you relax and feel better, but alcohol is thought to reduce the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain which are required to ward off anxiety and depression. Once the buzz has worn off it can leave you feeling even worse than before.
Settling can take time, but there are lots of exciting opportunities available on campus, as well as support services. Take the time to explore these options before you reach any final decisions about university life. In my first semester, I came within a hair’s breadth of dropping out, but looking back I am so glad I stayed.
I slowly began to settle in and, with some changes to my course, I began to love my studies. I did all the clichés: made friends for life and had the time of my life. So much so that I even came back to do a postgraduate and as I embark on my 6th year at Glasgow University, my new concern is that I may actually never leave.