The Life Tools programme is a series of free talks designed by experts to help you transition into university life and enhance your student experience. The programme allows you to be proactive and take control of your learning, personal and professional development. You can find out more about the Life Tools programme on Essentials. Make sure to also check out the UoR Welcome app for the timetable of Welcome talks taking place throughout the Welcome period.
Life Tools Programme Manager, Dr Alicia Peña Bizama, shares her advice, to both new and returning students, on settling into university life…
Settling into university life
To all new students welcome to the University of Reading, and welcome back to those 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 on your efforts to make progress.
For some of you this may be the first time you are away from home and living independently. It is a time of excitement as you start the academic year. At the same time, it may feel a bit strange to notice everything is different.
Whether you have travelled a long distance or come from a nearby area, there will be many changes 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 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. We want to make progress to gain knowledge and experience by seeing, doing and learning new things.
Starting life at university will bring many new experiences that will be interesting and motivating. However, sometimes you may have moments of uncertainty, frustration or disappointment. Most people living through a period of change are likely to experience some of these feelings. Even more so when they have made significant efforts and invested a great deal of resources in the hope of creating more opportunities in the future.
If we experience some things in a new situation that we do not like, consider that these are also part of the experience. These events will become your stories of events that made a difference to you and that you can share with others in the future.
The first few weeks at university are likely to fill you with curiosity, interest and excitement. Everyone wants to meet new people and make friends. Even if you are not sure who to talk to, take the initiative to start a conversation with other students during Welcome Week activities, in halls and in class.
At the beginning you are likely to notice differences and compare them with what you are familiar with. 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 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 you are away from home, you also have to establish another way of relating to your families and friends who now cannot participate in your student life. Fortunately, technology enables communication so that you can keep in contact with them to share what is happening and how things are developing for you.
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 reorientation process. This is when we have to adapt to an unfamiliar situation where many things are very different from what we have been used to. During this process we also go through an internal adaptation process where we reorient how we see ourselves, and how we relate to others.
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 tend to compare the new situation to our past experiences. Sometimes we feel that where we came from is 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 have known for a long time and who understand us without explanations.
Sometimes we may experience doubt and worry about what is 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 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 aspects of the situation that provides useful information. You can also decide what to improve things next time.
Things to do to manage the transition and adjust to your 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.
During transitions, it is important to keep our energy 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 healthily to nurture your body. In addition, exercise to keep well and sleep well, as they help to maintain an optimum level of energy
Communicating in English as 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 get used to doing all of this in a second language. 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, remember that what matters is communicating with others. If you do not understand something, ask others to repeat it, and others will understand as they also want to communicate with you. After a while you will build your confidence and will gradually become more fluent
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. Give yourself time to learn new strategies to manage your studies. Give yourself time to adjust and find out what works best for you.
You can contact your tutors and ask for advice. You can check the Study Advice website for 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.
When starting in an unfamiliar place the first few days and sometimes the first few weeks can be unsettling. You may feel that although you want to get out and participate in activities, you may not be 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 been through before (eg. from primary school to secondary school), and that after a while you gradually got used to the situation. Think about what you enjoy 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.
Focus on the new opportunities:
You may already have explored the university Essential pages on the website to find out what activities are available to explore. You may also have explored where you can meet other students who are also looking to meet new people and make friends. You can check the Reading Students Union website, or go to their offices on Whiteknights campus to find out about their activities and services.
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 like, but feel uncertain about trying them out, you can ask for more information. This will enable you 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 attending to as you want to make the most of your time. As there are so many things available it is likely that you might be uncertain about what is best to do and not miss out on anything. Even 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.
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 meet new people.
Whenever we try something different, we are stretching ourselves beyond our comfort zone. This can make us feel uncomfortable, but we do it because we want to meet people and have pleasant experiences. After a while the sense of unease decreases and you will develop a sense of familiarity and confidence.
Learning to tolerate frustration and disappointment will enable you to move forward. 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 eventually find what works for you.
Wishing you a stimulating time and rewarding experiences during the year you are beginning.
Bridges, W. (2004) Transitions. Making sense of life´s changes. Massachusetts: Da Capo Press.
Davis, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change, and thrive in work and life. London: Penguin Random House.