Credit: Dorota Dziki

…Or Away?

By John Hill

Coronavirus may take our lives, but it will never take our halls.

During my much-needed haircut after lockdown, I had a good catch-up with my local barber in Birmingham. We discussed the experiences I gained while at the University of Glasgow, and most of what I recalled were of my experiences in first year while I lived in Queen Margaret halls. My barber went on to recall his limited university experience: though he never went to university, he and his friend went to a university union bar to assimilate into its night-life by chatting up girls as they claimed to be enrolled on certain courses, until being accused by them of never being seen in classes.

Both my barber and I’s experiences appear to suggest that the overall “university experience” is exclusive. It’s mostly open to those who are always present within the local university community – which is mainly done through living on-campus, or as close by as possible. Although recently, according to an article in The Guardian, the trajectory of students leaving home to live in student accommodation to attend university has been falling, even before the pandemic and its whirlwind of detrimental effects on students.

Amid a pandemic, at the outset of a recession, and right on the cusp of an individual lifestyle never experienced before, freshers this year will be the first to experience a shift in the way young people will hitherto perceive the so-called “university experience”. More than ever may choose to stay at home, due to the uncertainty of a second wave and personal financial uncertainty. However, I intend to outline the other fearful, anxiety-ridden, and disturbingly expensive case as to why living in student accommodation continues to be a good choice for the sake of that precious university experience. 

The stay-at-home student is present in the day “enlivening academic discussions” as much as their campus accommodation counterpart, writers Steven Jones in The Guardian. Jones depicts their mere attendance at university as enough to suffice as the university experience, but I think we must consider that at night a large portion of the university experience passes them by; leaving them, at times, isolated and lacking integration. Regarding the socially explosive nightlife at university, I am not saying the halls student is nocturnal (though one could very easily make the case for it), rather the university experience persists past academia. 

In the wake of coronavirus there will be limited social opportunities, but living in student accommodation will certainly help fill the void. Whether it be making a pasta bake with one of your flatmates, sitting at the kitchen table chatting, or regular poker nights as a flat. Little moments such as these are everywhere as a student within these close-knit accommodation communities, which add up to produce great relationships and fun times.

Let us consider why the university experience is worthwhile at all: it is a developmental phase of life that produces a happy, hardy, and one would hope, hardworking individual. When we talk about the independence of a student living away from home and finding themselves, it is too easy to dismiss it as an overused cliche that lacks reasoning. Contrary to this wildly popular assumption, it is a valuable stage of life that imbues young adults with civic values and social skills. What makes the result of this process so valuable is that it gets students used to the idea of working (in academic work as well as part-time work) and socialising (in gaining a network of life-long friends) in order to incite graduates to continue living in such a way that they get a job they love and earn money they deserve so as to thrive as a content member of society.

Students living in accommodation exhibit far more independence than those who stay at home. Whether it is something as small as having to go to IKEA to buy some kitchen utensils, meal preparation, or having to pay rent each month, these experiences get students used to a world where we have to live by our own means. It pushes students to become more outgoing and interactive; as opposed to missing out on opportunities by being stuck in their childhood bedroom as their hours immersed in the university scene are limited to the bus or subway schedule.

Though there are benefits to the stay-at-home option, particularly amidst the current crises this year, we must remember to give credit to the almost invisible benefits of an immersive university living experience – even if most learning has to be done from the comfort of your halls bedroom. These vary from the networks of friendships, countless social stories from a 24/7 accommodation experience, and the life-building aspects of living as an adult for the first time. Even if learning can’t quite be normal this semester, living in student halls can still give you a close to full university experience.


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