Welcome to the academic year 2020-2021

Dear all

We want to welcome you back for the start of the new term. Well done for your efforts to make progress with your studies during lockdown due to Covid-19.

Those of you who are about to start a new course this may be the first time that you are away from home and living independently. Some of you may be coming to university as a break from work to improve your career opportunities and are looking forward to learning about your chosen subject. At the same time, it may feel a bit strange to be a student again. 

Some of you may have travelled a long distance from your home country to come to study in the UK. And some of you may be at home waiting for the opportunity to come to campus, so you are engaging online for the moment.

You may have several reasons why you chose to come to Reading to study for a degree. You decided to invest in yourself to increase your knowledge and skills for your personal and professional development. Meeting new people is a very stimulating part of the student experience. No doubt, you hope to make new friends and establish relationships where it is possible to feel comfortable to talk and share experiences.

You may be wondering what campus life will be like given the uncertainty due to coronavirus. It is understandable to be concerned, and even a bit apprehensive about the unknown.

Staff at the university have been working very hard to prepare the campus so that all can keep safe and well. You will see marked one-way systems, designated building entry/exit points and hand hygiene stations. Some rooms and facilities will have new layouts to ensure we all maintain two-meters distance. You will notice that some places have a limited maximum capacity so that we can all be on campus safely.

You can check the latest information on the Essential pages on the university website.

Settling in 

For those of you returning to continue your degree, you will notice that some activities you were able to do last year are no longer possible as the university is following government guidelines. It may feel rather disappointing; however, you can explore different ways of making the most of your experience. The university’s priority is for all students to be well and that all can engage with their studies.

Those of you who are new and starting your degree may be a bit apprehensive about what to expect. You may be wondering how you can get to know other students when there are fewer opportunities for face-to-face interaction due to requirements for social distancing. 

The first few weeks at university are likely to fill you with a sense of curiosity, wanting to explore, and excitement. Making a transition to a new situation can be an experience that triggers a mixture of emotions.

On the one hand, in your previous environment, you knew the people around you and had established relationships with them. You can take the initiative to meet new people and see whether you can relate to and develop a friendship. Give it a bit of time until you get to know them better.

In the first few days and weeks, you may notice feeling a bit uncertain being in an unfamiliar place surrounded by more people that you have been used to since lockdown. It is understandable if you feel a bit apprehensive, given that the past months you spent them in your own space, with limited contact with others to keep safe due to Covid-19. At first, it may feel awkward and uncomfortable, and this may be a bit unsettling. 

Keep in mind that these feelings are normal when going through a period of change. After a few days, as you get to know other students in your accommodation and course. Start to create a structure for your time, and you will gradually notice that things will begin to feel more familiar. 

Also, when being away from home, you will need to establish a new way of relating to your family and friends who now cannot participate in your new life. Fortunately, technology enables communications so that you can keep in contact with them to share what is happening and how things are developing for you.

Managing transitions

 At the start of a new experience, many people experience some mixed feelings. Sometimes we may miss what we left, such as family, a group of friends, a familiar environment. In general, most people prefer certainty, to have a sense of how things will turn out to prepare for situations to be able to manage them.

More so now, after a prolonged period in lockdown staying close at home to protect ourselves and others. 

It is normal to feel some apprehension after having adjusted to staying around a small group of people. Coming out to a new environment, where more new people are coming from different parts of the country and the world, can feel a bit difficult as we are not used to it. Do you remember at the beginning of lockdown how strange it was to suddenly to be required to stay home (or in accommodation if you were not able to travel home)?
Our brain is smart; it learns to adapt to new situations so that we can manage changes in our environment. 

To adjust to the new situation, it helps to trust your experience of how you adapted to other challenges before, and focus on the present where you will find new opportunities, discover your strengths and build your resilience.

Transitions are times of renewal, and they provide us with the opportunity to make changes that bring us positive feelings and experiences. We are motivated to improve and to have a sense of achievement. We feel good when we can have a sense of satisfaction for having done something meaningful.

 Each day look for what was good about your day, and what you learned. If there were some disappointing or frustrating experiences, decide what you can learn from the experience, and what you may do differently next time.

Managing uncertainty

Do you notice thoughts, such as What-if a family member becomes ill? What-if my course is too difficult?” “What-if I don’t make new friends?” When we are uncertain, our thoughts go into the future full of “what-if” questions, imagining negative future scenarios causing distress and lowering our mood.  

In evolutionary terms, we tend to focus on the negatives, and we have been designed this way to identify possible dangers so we can prepare for them (Tierney & Baumeister, 2019). As we live through the experience, it is essential to acknowledge our feelings and learn to cope with them. It helps us to build resilience. Once we acknowledge them, we can identify ways to manage symptoms of stress and low mood.

What matters now is to focus on what you can control and let go of what you cannot. By identifying something you can do and getting started, will help to restore a sense of competence and confidence.

One way of processing emotions is to write about our thoughts and feelings as this will help to process and make sense of what is happening.

As we face challenges, and we can manage the range of thoughts and feeling recognising that these are part of the experience, we build our resilience. By developing a flexible attitude, we can increase our ability to adapt and deal with change and uncertainty.

Strategies to adjust to a new environment:

Develop healthy routines:

 Starting a new life at university will bring a lot of changes, both in terms of different ways of doing things, new information to take in and adjusting to relating to new people. It will also bring a lot of internal changes in terms of how you feel about your choices, your feelings and how you see yourself. 

Your whole body will be experiencing changes, from noticing the difference in food, how people do things around you, or how the bed is different from the one you are used to at home. A change of environment can have an impact on how our body reacts; for example, it may take a bit of time to adjust your sleep pattern.

During transitions, it is essential to maintain our energy level as we need it to process information and manage our emotions.

Develop healthy routines such as eating well to nurture your body, exercise to strengthen your fitness and sleep well to maintain an optimum level of energy. It is fundamental to feel well and confident as you go about your day.

Focus on learning:

 You will experience many new things during this academic year, particularly in the first few weeks when you are adjusting to your new course and environment. If you experience something very different from what you were expecting, or something does not work out as you hoped for, you may likely feel disappointed or worried. Give yourself a bit of time to acknowledge these feelings. Then, look for new information and what you can learn from it.

You can participate in the Life Tools programme and join the webinars. If you are looking at different ways to develop your knowledge and skills to do well and keep well, you can find a range of topics related to personal, academic and professional development.

Understanding homesickness:

 When starting in a new place for the first few days and sometimes the first few weeks can be unsettling. You may feel that although you want to go out and participate in the activities, you may not feel too keen to be in a large group or be in a situation where you do not know anyone. Although this can bring a mixture of emotions that prevent you from enjoying your time, acknowledge these feelings.

They are not a sign that you have made the wrong decision to come to university, or that you cannot manage. It just means that you are going through a transition and that your body needs a bit of time to adjust to the new environment, and the new people around you.

When feeling homesick, there is a tendency to feel as if you are the only one experiencing these feelings. However, many experience this feeling when moving to a new place. What matters is to acknowledge the feelings and to take some steps to make contact with others.

To manage this period you can remind yourself of the transition periods you have gone through before (eg. from primary school to secondary school), and that after a while you gradually got used to the new situation.

Think about what things you like doing, perhaps you can invite another student in your flat to go out and explore the campus or you can go into town and explore your new environment.

Getting to know others:

 As you begin your journey at university, your curiosity and interest in getting to know other students will be stimulating and rewarding.  If you notice feeling uneasy it may be because you are unsure about how things will unfold.

At first, you may feel a bit self-conscious taking the initiative to contact other people. This feeling is familiar as you are learning about them.

In your previous environment, you knew the people around you and had established relationships with them. Also, you knew how things worked.

Also, when away from home, relationships with family and friends will go through some changes too as you adjust to your different activities and establish a work pattern.

Fortunately, digital technology can make it easy to keep in contact with them, share how things are developing for you, and able to continue to nurture your relationships with them as you also form new relationships.

 Engaging in social activities:

You may feel uncertain about what would be best to do as you do not want to miss out on things. Choose the activities that you feel could be interesting, and if you cannot get to one that you like, try another. If you do not get to see and do what you would like, keep in mind that there will be many opportunities to explore new activities during the academic year.

University life includes social aspects, and it is good to engage in activities that allow you to get to know your peers. Given the current circumstances, the guidelines are that you meet with others in small groups outdoors, and always being mindful of keeping physical distance.

You can explore the campus and get to know the different buildings and services.  You can explore the campus, and maybe go for a walk to the Harris gardens and around the lake. As you get to know other students, you can discuss ideas to create activities that can be done in a small group.

 You can check out RUSU’s website for events that they have planned for you during Welcome Week. You can follow their social media to keep up to date with future activities on campus and online.

All international students are welcome to join Global Buddies, an online activities group where you can get to meet other international students and find out more about the university. 

You can find details of events going on during Welcome Week. How about attending a few and see what you find out. These provide a good opportunity to get to know other students. 

Wishing you all a stimulating time and that you have rewarding experiences during the year that you are now beginning.

Reference:

Bridges, W. (2004) Transitions. Making sense of life´s changes. Massachusetts: Da Capo Press.

Tierney, J. and Baumeister, R.F. (2019) The power of bad and how to overcome it. Great Britain: Allen Lane.