Finding purpose as a student

One of the aspects of uni that most excited me when I was still at college was the thought of joining new societies- Uni of York has an overwhelming 225, so for any activity that you can think of, there’s probably a bunch of people that you can go and do it with. But I found that last term, it was too easy to let the days and weeks slip by- it was enough just computing my new surroundings and workload, let alone taking on new commitments.

I know other people who wholeheartedly threw themselves into so many new societies and met a bunch of new people, but for me, it just didn’t feel that easy. Most of my days I just fluctuated between the flat and my lectures/seminars, which some people don’t mind at all, but I really started to get cabin fever… this is probably part of the reason why I was so homesick! I made a promise to myself to branch out this term, aiming to feel more fulfilled by the end of it (and pad out that all-important ‘extra-curricular’ section on my CV…).

I hope this piece might inspire any fellow students who, like myself, started university feeling a bit purposeless. If you aren’t entirely in love with your course and haven’t adjusted to the way uni is, it’s easy to let doing things that actually make you happy slip by the wayside. I really think that filling more of your time with things that make you happy and finding people to share these things with can help, though if your course is seriously making you unhappy, definitely talk to someone higher up about what steps you can take transferring course!

The term didn’t get off to a great start- when I told my supervisor that I was struggling to make friends on my course she ‘reassured’ me by saying “don’t worry, you probably won’t make many course friends until next year when you can choose your own modules”. Hmm… admittedly, it is a lot more difficult to make friends on a humanities course, when your contact hours are so few. On York’s English course, our seminar groups change every term, so I’d just about learned everyone’s names when things got switched up again. But going into any degree and expecting not to make course mates in the first year isn’t exactly a healthy attitude.

For those having similar issues, attempting to forge friendships while waiting for lectures may be the way to go, as whoever attends those isn’t going to change. And while I haven’t done this myself, subject societies can also be useful if the events appeal to you. Thankfully, I’ve managed to prove my supervisor wrong and meet some wonderful new people.

Of course, approaching anyone in an academic setting can feel awkward and a bit nerve-wracking, and it can be easier to find your scene elsewhere. No matter what university you’re at, there are so many different and, crucially, affordable, societies you can join. Some people come to uni ready to carry on with things they’ve done for years like say, drama or a sport, but it’s equally a great time to start something completely new that you’ve always wanted to try.

Last term, I wasn’t fully committed to SwingSoc: they have double lessons every week, sandwiched with a social dance- I often found myself leaving after the first lesson because I was terrified of social dancing- everyone was already at such a high standard, how could I possibly jump in? So I made it this term’s challenge to get over myself and start joining in. The catalyst? Whip-ma-whop-ma-hop 2019.

This is a huge event put on by the University of York Swing Dance Society, which is attended by students from across the country. The weekender involves full-on days of workshops with pro teachers to help you brush up on your moves, followed by social dances every night. It sounds exhausting, and it was. But it was also really fun!

As much as I love a funky night out at Flares, social dancing felt like such a wholesome and welcoming contrast. There’s something really cool about two strangers coming together and freestyling a dance. I’d recommend swing to anyone looking to meet some lovely, kind people, and keep themselves fit on top of that. To top it all off, two hours of lessons sets me back just £2 a week. Who needs a gym membership?

We are given so many opportunities at uni to try out new experiences. If you’re hesitating over joining a new society, I’d urge you to give it a go, because you never know who you’re going to meet and whether said activity might become a lifelong passion.

I’m not suggesting that extra curricular are a fix-all solution to finding purpose, but especially in first year when the work doesn’t count towards your degree, I think it’s a great place to start.

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