UCD to most who enter here is a big change in terms of where they’re coming from. It’s huge with not so great signposting, there are people everywhere and around you are clubs and societies that say PICK ME! In the words of Douglas Adams: “Don’t Panic”.
Adjusting to college and campus life is not as bad as you might expect. It might take a while to get to grips with what F202 ARTS means (block F; second floor; room two, Arts building). Adjusting to college is made easier by peer mentor groups, clubs and societies. Some people come into UCD knowing large groups of people either from their own school or from extra-curricular activities. Others don’t know a single soul. And then there are the people like me, who knew a few people, but none of whom were in my faculty or in my year, let alone my class.
Getting used to knowing absolutely no one is probably the most difficult part of adjusting to college at the beginning. In my case, this was not helped by me turning up to orientation at the wrong time and thus not meeting my peer mentor group until a day and a half later. So I attended a barbeque alone and befriended a large group of Brazilian exchange students for the evening. “Introduce yourself to the person next to you in your lecture”, is common advice but can be easier said than done. However it can work. Everyone is familiarising themselves with this strange world that is university. Certain societal social norms disappear in college at the start; phone numbers should be swapped on first meeting, half way through, at the end, at the beginning, anytime, so long as they are swapped.
However clichéd it may be there actually is a society to suit everyone and even if you don’t find the perfect one (UCD unlike DCU for example, do not yet have a tea society, something which I feel would be really fantastic), you have the opportunity to establish one. All societies are student-created, student-run and student-kept. Without students, the societies don’t function. I won’t lie, initially society events may seem like a typically reported Tinder date: awkward, never-ending and with dodgy people who you have something in common with somewhere. I promise, they get better; they’re also not all like that. They can help you to make friends in completely different faculties from all over the country and even the world. UCD is lucky to have a very active clubs and societies base and all throughout Orientation week and Freshers’ week, almost all societies run events to give you a little taste of what they’re about. You can go to these events without making any commitment, and then if you like what you see, membership cards are the way to go.
For me, societies have been key to creating, expanding and maintaining my friend base, in UCD and outside of it. There are people who I would find college life difficult to imagine without, and only because I did that one thing that one time way back at the beginning of first year. I have directed plays and acted in them, been a stage hand and attempted to help the painting of a backdrop. I have watched Blind Date as Gaeilge and won a film quiz, assisted by my knowledge of the Lord of The Rings. I’ve spoken in a debate, judged debates and watched them. I almost took a salsa class and had the opportunity to do my own radio show. One of the problems with societies is that there’s actually too much to do.
Part of adjusting to college life is also adjusting to how you see the world – not just being more open to more things, but being accepting of people who are not so open. Opinions still exist even if they aren’t yours. University is about learning, and learning doesn’t happen without questions. If you disagree with a lecturer, debate it with them. Most lecturers enjoy an academic rapport with a student who is questioning their thoughts.
Rote learning isn’t central to college life, argument is. Unless you are studying something purely factual then there is always room for discussion, and if you are learning something completely fact and evidence based, the most important question is why. Third level isn’t the same as second level, so don’t treat it as such. Discuss; speak up in tutorials. When people actually make the effort they can be really interesting and really useful for understanding something. Even if you’re worried you might say the wrong thing, just go for it. There is only so much you can learn by being a sponge. Once in a while, you need to open your mind and your mouth.
Adjusting to college also comes with a few practical elements such as cooking and cleaning. Despite what it may seem, one cannot survive on chicken fillet rolls alone. Real food needs to make an appearance and if you’ve just moved out of home and have never had to cook for yourself before, there may be a bit of culture shock. Toilet paper does not appear in the bathroom of its own accord and if the bin starts taking itself out, you really need to think about what’s in it that’s making it move.
Adjusting is an important part of the college experience. For some it’s a simple transition; smoothly moving from one home into another. For others it’s a little more difficult with more bumps, lots of confusion and a feeling of “what on earth am I doing here?” But the feeling dissipates, and UCD becomes a home where you have a favourite couch to curl up and sleep on, or you discover the ideal place to sit in a lecture while hungover. For a few years, you have the freedom to do anything and the facilities to do most of it too. The rewards you get from trying all of those anythings will make any first week nerves or awkwardness an insignificant blip in your memory.