Credit: GG Illustrator AJ Duncan (@ajd.illustrates)

Finding friends when your flatmates fall flat

By Ella Mayne

What do you do when your flatmates aren’t the fun-loving freshers you were hoping for?

When I imagined starting university, I envisioned making great friends, partying a lot, going out without many consequences – the studying and academics seemed rather secondary to me. We’re fed a rhetoric throughout our school careers that university is the ultimate aim and will inevitably be the time of our lives, however, it isn’t always that easy. I ended up feeling isolated and lonely, and my first year almost put me off university entirely. 

I moved to university in September 2018 and chose to live in Cairncross as I felt it was geographically the closest to university and I wasn’t too keen on Murano after hearing many an urban legend. I moved into a 10-person flat on the top floor, which wound up being single-sex despite not applying for that. On move-in day, I left my door open and spent lots of time in the kitchen, as everyone had told me this was the best way to make friends and seem approachable. Slowly I met my flatmates and I realised that this wasn’t necessarily the flat I had bargained for. 

Now that makes it sound like my flatmates were bad, and they definitely weren’t – however, they weren’t all the fun-loving freshers I’d hoped for. In my flat, there were four international students who were in their third and fifth years, and so were considerably older and more focussed on their degrees. They were personable but had a whole network of friends through the Erasmus scheme and had no intention of traipsing around the freshers’ fair with me. Of my other flatmates, they were all involved in their own things, had strong peer groups from school or their subject. They had already established strong relationships and so I was left a little lost. I wasn’t totally alone though; the girl in the room next to me was in a similar situation and had expected a slightly different flat, and so we formed fast friends. 

We went to flat parties and freshers’ events and slowly we made connections in our block, so I ended up enjoying freshers’ week after all. But in a blur of hangovers, it was all over and the work began; the routine of university and less frequent social events meant the monotony set in. My flatmate who I had become firm friends with was in a sports club and, so through regular practices and socials, she maintained a social calendar, whereas I had ignored all the advice to join clubs and societies, finding the maze of stalls in Bute Hall overwhelming and spending all the taster sessions in a hungover blur. As Glasgow got colder and darker I found myself unhappy and isolated: I went to class, came back to the flat, ate and sat in my bed watching Netflix – alone. My kitchen wasn’t sociable, and everyone ate in their rooms. Sometimes I would go a whole day without meaningful social interaction – and weekends were the worst. My sporty flatmate would be at games, the tenuous social connections I had formed often had weekend plans, and I found myself eavesdropping on a lot of fun from the isolation of my bedroom. 

By Christmas I was seriously unhappy, I wasn’t enjoying my course and felt very alone, I had gone from a thriving social group at home to a circle of acquaintances who all seemed a lot busier than me. I seriously considered dropping out – university just didn’t seem to be for me. When I talked to my family they were supportive but suggested if the social aspect was what I was missing then I should go back for one more term, throw myself into refreshers’ and if university still wasn’t for me, then that would be it. So I contacted the university accommodation services and I arranged a transfer to a Murano flat. 

It was nerve-wracking and terrifying walking into a flat of nine other people who had a three-month head start on all of their friendships. I was awkward, weird and probably very out of place, but thanks to a couple of welcoming flatmates I found my feet. I was surrounded by students the same age as me, wanting the same social experiences as me, and I even reconnected with people from my course and school mates. Murano is so full of people, you’re bound to find your group. I also took advantage of refreshers’ – I joined a sports club and went to societies. I put myself in initially uncomfortable situations, I accepted every social invite, I reached out to people, and I threw myself into student life. I can now say in hindsight, that advice you always get to “join lots of clubs and societies” really is true. In second year, I joined a whole host more societies – I even did competitive sport for a brief stint and met a core group of great friends. Being isolated in your first year is hard; there is a rhetoric that university and especially pre-honours is the greatest time of our lives. This didn’t feel very true to me until recently, and it’s taken me two years to get here. 

First year, and first semester in particular, is hard. It’s a baptism of fire, and it can feel overwhelming and overhyped. There’s a dip after Freshers’ Week when the work sets in where it can be easy to fall into a monotonous routine and feel isolated. My advice is that it’s never too late to start. Join all those clubs that you eyed up at the freshers’ fair – I know I wish I did. So many people join mid-semester, so it isn’t weird or impossible. Just contact the committee and you’ll be greeted by a hoard of welcoming faces. Reach out to those people you meet in lectures – be brave and the pay-off is great. I spent a lot of my first year being too scared to talk to new people, paralysed by fear, but the reality was never as bad as I imagined. Most of all, remember this is temporary: you can change your accommodation, course, and friends; and in my experience, it only gets better.


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