Our Health and Wellbeing editor recounts her experience of commuting to university in her first year, and offers advice to students tormenting themselves with the pros and cons of staying at home or moving away.
Much of my first year at uni was spent squashed into the corner of the Glasgow Subway. Plagued with the anxiety of fighting my way through crowds of commuters, my primary concern was simply getting off at the correct stop.
I commuted from home for the first year, which took around an hour and a half, jumping on a bus and two trains to get to university. I was never afforded the privilege of arriving on campus comfortably on time, or being able to stroll into the lecture theatre with the masses. Instead, I was either 30 minutes early or late: there was no in between.
Although it was nice not to have the hassle, or the cost, of moving into halls, I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing out a bit. While I wanted to go on nights out with people I’d met from my courses, paying for a taxi home myself was incredibly expensive, and I didn’t want to burden my friends by staying in their small rooms in halls every time we went out.
Impromptu plans were pretty much a no go for me. If I did venture to the pub after lectures one day, I’d spend most of the time worrying about getting two trains home myself in the dark, slightly intoxicated. Or sometimes, I’d arrive back home after a long day of classes and an hour and a half commute, only to then receive a message that everyone was going to Beer Bar on a whim. While it was of course lovely to be invited, trekking back to Glasgow was almost never appealing. When I wasn’t rushing for trains, I was hanging around campus all day with a massive backpack carrying valuables like my laptop and dressed in layers suitable for all of the glorious Glasgow weather I would potentially be travelling in, which isn’t especially congruous with spontaneous nights out. Having chatted to people who lived in the infamous Murano Street flats, I think I also missed out on filthy shared kitchens, 3am fire alarms, and the inevitable flat drama that results from a bunch of people who don’t know each other being forced to live together.
Nonetheless, during an important transitional period in my life, going from a high school pupil being spoon-fed everything we had to do, to a uni student navigating anxiety-inducing tutorial scenarios and academic work I’d never experienced before, I think being at home for my first year was what I needed. Having battled with myself for months over which university to choose before settling on Glasgow, I knew I wasn’t ready to move across the country by myself, knowing nobody and living alone for the first time. There’s no shame in not being ready for what other people may have been, because you know yourself best.
Yes, leaving the house in the very early hours of the morning to get a bus and two trains to my 9am exams on campus was not ideal. But having since moved into a student flat, I can confirm, with no one to wake me up should I happen to sleep in, I am awake at 6am anyway with the anxiety of missing my exams. The point being, there are pros and cons to both living at home and moving out. The independence is wonderful if you know you’re ready for it – indeed, the convenience of being able to walk to classes (or the pub) in twenty minutes is still a novelty, despite having lived near campus for three years now.
I’m also aware that I write from the privileged position of being a home student pre-Covid. Online classes aren’t known for their social element, with switched off cameras meaning you can’t even see your fellow classmates, so course group chats are your best friend in that scenario.
For any in-person classes you do have, talk to the people next to you. Sit next to different people week to week and get the conversation going. If they have a free hour afterwards, go and grab an overpriced West End coffee together. The worst-case scenario? They say no. There are 20,000 students at this university, and plenty of other people are around looking for coffee mate-dates.
Unfortunately (and I didn’t want to hear this either), you simply have to put yourself out there. Living in halls is convenient, but I’ve heard countless stories of people who didn’t get on with their flatmates and had to source their pals elsewhere. I know societies are scary when you don’t know anyone, but other people have also been there to make friends in pretty much every society event I’ve been to. With any acquaintances that you do come across, let them know that you do still want to come to things, like pre-drinks or parties, even if every time you rock up to the 9am tutorial you complain about how inconvenient travelling to and from uni is. The important thing to remember is that everyone wants to make friends, especially in the first year. We’re all in the same boat, even if some of us don’t dock on Murano Street.