Settling into university life

To all new students welcome to the University of Reading, and welcome back to all of you who are returning to continue with your studies. Well done for your efforts and achievements to get to this point. And to those who took resits, well done too for your efforts to make progress.

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. And some of you may have travelled a long distance from your home country to come to study in the UK.

Whether you have travelled a long distance or have come from a nearby area, there will be many changes that you will experience as you start your new life here at Reading. And for those of you who are continuing with your studies starting a new academic year will also bring some changes that will require some time to adjust to.

A new beginning
Any new beginning is a time of many changes. Whatever the environment and activities you were involved in before now you will notice many differences as you begin a new chapter in your academic and personal life.

Whenever we decide to do something new it is because we want to grow, develop and make things better. We want to make progress so that we can gain knowledge and experience by seeing, doing and learning new things.

Starting a new life at university will bring many new experiences that will be interesting and motivating. However, sometimes you may have moments of uncertainty, frustration or perhaps disappointment. Most people going through a period of change are likely to experience some of these feelings, particularly when they have invested a lot of resources, and made great efforts hoping for greater opportunities for the future.

Most of you probably made the decision to come to Reading to study something that you hope will be stimulating, and that will include developing the skills and knowledge for your future professional career. Furthermore, when in a new place all hope to make new friends and establish relationships where it is possible to feel comfortable to talk and share experiences.

Often in new situations there are some things that we do not like so much, if this is the case consider that these too are part of the experience. Imagine that these events will become your stories that made a difference to you and that you can share with others in the future.

Developing relationships
The first few weeks at university are likely to fill you with a sense of curiosity, interest and excitement. Making a transition into 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. Now it is necessary to take the initiative to meet new people who at first you do not know whether you can relate to and develop a friendship.

In the beginning you are likely to notice differences and perhaps may compare with what you are familiar. 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 more and you begin to find your way around in your new environment, you will gradually notice that things begin to feel more familiar and that you are getting to know other students who you can relate to.

In addition, when being away from home you also have to establish a new way of relating with your families 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
Transitions begin with endings. Whenever we make a change it means we leave something behind. Sometimes we may miss what we left, such as family, a group of friends, a familiar environment, and a sense of feeling confident about how to do things as we were used to the way things were done in school, or at work.

Whenever we move to live in a different environment there is a natural process of reorientation. This is when we have to adapt to a new situation where a lot of things are very different to what we have been used to. During this process we also go through an internal process of adaptation where we reorient how we see ourselves, and how we relate to others.

For some, starting university can be an opportunity to make a new start and make changes that will allow them to feel better. This could be due to having had a difficult experience either in their personal life or perhaps after a period of illness. Some may be learning to live with a chronic health condition, and others may be adjusting to living with a complex family situation.

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

As human beings we have the tendency to compare the new situation with our past experiences, sometimes we feel where we came from was better than the current situation. At times we may feel that the new people we meet are not like our friends and family back home, who we know for a long a time and who understand us without having to give explanations.

Sometimes we may experience doubt and worry about what would be best so it can be difficult to make decisions. If things do not work out at first how you hoped they would it does not mean that you made the wrong decision. For example, if you feel disappointed that the module is not what you expected, or that your accommodation is not quite what you hoped for. Instead, you can look for some aspect of the situation that can provide you with useful information and decide what you can do to make things better next time.

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 that is 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 different next time.

Things to do to manage the transition and adjust to your new environment:

1.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 have been used to. 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 t is important to maintain our energy level as we need it to process information and manage our emotions. To maintain your energy it is essential to 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. This is fundamental to feel well and confident as you go about your day.

2. Communicating in a second language:
As you are absorbing significant amounts of new information your brain is working hard to process all of it so that you can use it in your day-to-day.  For those who are coming from other countries you will be working hard as you are getting used to doing all of this in a second language, and it will require time to build language proficiency and confidence in your skills.

Even though you might feel self-conscious speaking in English focus on practising the language as much as you can. Instead of trying to speak the language without errors, keep in mind that what matters is to communicate with others. If you do not understand something do ask others to repeat, and others will be understanding as they also want to communicate with you. After a while you will build your confidence and will gradually become more fluent.

2.Focus on learning:
You will experience many new things during this academic year, particularly in the first few weeks when you are adjusting to being in a new place. If you experience something very different to what you were expecting, or something doesn’t work out as you hoped for, it is likely that you may feel disappointed or worried. Give yourself a bit of time to acknowledged these feelings. Then, look for new information and what you can learn from it.

3. Adjusting to academic workload:
At first, you may notice that you are not sure what is expected, and may feel that the workload is greater than you were used to before. If so, pause for a moment and give yourself time to learn new strategies to manage your studies. Give yourself time to adjust and to find out what works best for you.

You can contact your Tutors and ask for advice. You can check the Study Advice website where you will find useful information on study techniques, and more. You can also arrange a visit to ask questions which will enable you to make good progress with your assignments.

 

4. Understanding homesickness:
When starting in a new place 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, give yourself permission to feel upset and unsettled. These feelings 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 to 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 students have gone through the challenges of settling into university life and have found ways to get through these times.

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.

2.Focus on the new opportunities:
You may already have explored the university website to find out what activities are available that you can explore, and where you can meet other students who are also looking to meet new people and make friends. You can check RUSU – the Students Union website, or go to their offices on Whiteknights campus to find out about what activities and services they offer.

During Welcome Week you will receive information from your department about your course, and you will have the opportunity to meet staff. You can also find out about a variety of services available to support students such as your support centre administrators.

If you wonder which of the activities available will be something you may like, but feel uncertain about trying them out, you can ask for more information to see if you want to participate in them. Perhaps you may feel that it is difficult to decide what to do first, or perhaps you may wonder how to decide which activities are worth going to as you would like to make the most of your time. As there are so many things available it is likely that you might feel uncertain about what would be best to do and not miss out on anything. Even if you do not get to see and do what you would to keep in mind that there will be many opportunities to explore new activities during the academic year.

Adapting to new situations involves taking risks, so if the activity was not what you expected, for example, if the evening out was not as enjoyable as you hoped it would be give yourself credit for having tried it. It was not a mistake as you did not know how it would turn out. You can try another activity next time and this way you give yourself the opportunity to meet new people.

Whenever we try something new we are stretching ourselves and going out of our comfort zone. This can make us feel uncomfortable, but we do this because we want to meet people and have good experiences. After a while the sense of unease decreases and a you will develop a sense of familiarity and confidence.

Learning to tolerate frustration and disappointment will enable you to move forward, and by keeping an open mind, maintaining a flexible attitude and a sense of curiosity you will be able to identify new opportunities. What is important is that you explore and that you eventually find what works for you.

Wishing you 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.