Navigating the choppy waters of student halls

Published

Credit: Kirsten Colligan

Amy Shimmin
Writer

I was eighteen years old when I packed up my childhood bedroom into a far-too-small car and drove 200 miles north. Not a unique or unheard of choice; Murano alone could house a small settlement of people. My first year home was a private halls in Partick, and I shared it with nine others; since then I’ve privately rented in Glasgow and overseas, and just about feel qualified to impart some advice regarding the move.

The first thing to remember is that everyone is in the same boat as you – but some are better at hiding it than others. If you know you’re not the type to dance till dawn (well, realistically till 3am – or 4am, subject to licensing), it’s likely someone else will feel the same. Much of university culture is built around excess – but it doesn’t mean you must take part. Glasgow is renowned for being a huge student city, and our University has over twenty thousand students alone. There will be other people in your halls – or even your flat – who have similar interests to you, even if these interests don’t initially seem to fit the fresher student stereotype. One night of my own freshers’ week I swapped the dance floor for my dressing gown and stayed home for the evening to recharge – and unsurprisingly enough, one of my flatmates decided to do the same. Likewise, if you’re feeling homesick, it’s natural, and it’s more likely amongst your flatmates than you might think. Honesty is difficult, but can help you get through those initial feelings of worry, and might even help you bond with the people you’ll be living with for the next year.

Your bedroom will be your (albeit small) home away from home; make it your own. While you may be sick to death of packing, unpacking, and packing again, getting your stuff out of boxes and onto bookshelves and wardrobes will make you feel more settled. When you’re decorating your room, take a look at the fine print – will blutac on the walls eat into your deposit? Is it better to have battery-operated fairy lights than mains operated ones? Are candles allowed in your bedroom? (Answers: probably yes, probably yes, and definitely not.) It’s tempting to launch into Pintrest-inspired interior design straight away, but it may cost you dear in the long run (or at least a metaphorical smack on the wrist during room checks.) That’s another thing – in my halls there were regular room checks, including checks by the fire service. At the time it seemed boring and invasive, but they’re doing it to help. In shared accommodation, you don’t just risk damaging your own home in the small chance of a fire – things deemed risky are deemed risky for a reason, and it’s better to have an item confiscated for the year than, you know, your home burning around you.

If you’ve never been to your halls before, familiarise yourself with the site – where are the recycling bins? Is the laundry open 24/7 and how do you pay for it? Is everything in one compact building or spread out? While you will naturally want to ignore the minor details, it pays to be patient; read whatever information is provided when you arrive or take a tour with your flatmates. They’ll thank you when they’re desperate to do a wash, post freshers’ paint party!

Moving into halls can be a huge change. I, personally, grew up in a small family – to go from having a maximum of three people in the house to at least ten at any time was a big jump. Things you’re used to with your family or previous living environment can change quickly when ten people are sharing a space. Living amicably in halls isn’t a science, and often just requires basic respect and common sense – would you like to find your pan left on the side, stained with three-day old pasta sauce? (Please don’t answer yes.) Cleanliness can cause great friction – someone’s idea of clean may be your idea of filth, and vice versa, and a lack of boundaries can lead to tension. Outline expectations with your flatmates early on – perhaps each individual is responsible for their own personal mess; the bins will be taken out on rotation; a “clean” kitchen will look like this… You will usually have some sort of external cleaner visiting, but they often won’t clean a shithole – and rightly so. Setting up a money pot for cleaning essentials can help too – if everyone contributes a fiver at the start of term, you can use that money to buy washing up liquid, bin bags, and other basics. You can use a similar format for things like flatmate birthdays, to buy a cake and balloons.

After all, allocation to halls is (I presume) completely random. You will be placed with people you will probably have never met before, that you may have nothing in common with. In a positive outcome, this will give you the chance to meet new people and form the foundation for long-lasting friendships. In halls I celebrated Chinese and Iranian New Years; met people from the same childhood town as me and from the other side of the world; surprised flatmates on their birthdays with an impromptu party in the kitchen. We lay in the kitchen eating Domino’s after a night out and we had snowball fights (and they supported me when I broke my ankle, mid-January, and couldn’t go out in the snow anymore).

We also had real fights, too – what else do you expect when you shove ten unfamiliar eighteen year olds in close quarters? While things never escalated further than a few days of avoiding each other, there are options to support you if things do go wrong. University halls will have living support assistants, who are students who live in your halls, and you can contact them during your stay. They are trained to deal with any issues you have, and have usually lived in halls themselves previously. There’s also Nightline, a term-time service you can use at night if you want to talk to someone outside of your halls bubble. If things are really bad, you can contact the Accommodation Services to discuss your options going further. Halls become your home, and it’s important that you feel happy and safe there.

Living in halls can be one of the weirdest years of your life – full of surprises and always full of new people to meet. Above all, halls is a shared experience; there’s always someone who’ll understand how you’re feeling, whether that’s misery or elation. However you’re feeling, just remember that you’re never truly alone, and it isn’t forever.