Things No One Will Tell You about What to Expect at University: Part I

Written By Rashi S.

Independent Living 

Depending on which country your university is located in or the university itself, you will either have on-campus accommodation or not or you may even continue to live with your parents. For those who are pursuing their further education away from home, it is common for universities to provide or guide first-year students to find accommodation. If you are living on-campus you will have dorms. Often this is a room-share with two or three students (including yourself); however, you will also have the option of living in a single dorm, which is convenient and thus more expensive. Furthermore, there will often be someone cleaning the common areas and meal plans that you can pick from the cafeteria.  

 On the other hand, in the Netherlands, for instance, there is no system of on-campus living. Although one can apply for university housing, it is separate from the university itself and there is no cafeteria or someone cleaning for you. This system is highly independent; you will have to learn basic cooking and house management skills. The struggle begins early as it is incredibly difficult to find housing in the Netherlands in the first place. It is suffering from a housing shortage. Nonetheless, when you do find one, you will most likely live in a flatshare (minimum with two people to a maximum around 10). This involves having a personal room but sharing the common spaces of the house such as the kitchen, bathroom/toilet, and dining/living room with your flatmates. Alternatively, you can apply for a studio, which is often an uncompartmentalized space of your own including your kitchenette and bathroom. However, this is again more expensive than cohabitation.  

 How to Deal with the New Environment 

The move to university away from home is a significant change for most students as they have to learn to do everything by themselves. For instance, they have to register at the town hall of the city they live in, do grocery shopping, open a bank account, and so on which their parents previously did for them. Therefore, the first few months are strenuous for most people. Nevertheless, do not be discouraged if in the beginning you are overwhelmed and are still figuring things out. Eventually, you will get habituated to independent living and after a point, it is a fulfiling experience as you would have learned how to take almost full responsibility for yourself.  

 Please note that most students have a decent relationship with their cohabitators. It is unfortunately not as rosy as shown in movies. Thus, I would like to strongly advise you to go with an open mind and keep your expectations low. Especially in the first few months of cohabitation, expect there to be considerable calling out by both you and your cohabitators. Try to be mindful and kind when critiquing and graceful when you are receiving the same. At least be respectful and polite to one another as it is most likely everyone’s first time cohabitating. Nonetheless, if you end up not getting along with your cohabitors, remind yourself that you do not have to live with them permanently and learn to let go of things for your peace of mind. That being said, although studios sound like a go-to option now, it comes with its own challenges. Many of those who lived in a studio told me how they often feel lonely and got too accustomed to doing things individually. It is common for students to move in with their friends in the second year of university and thus the transition from a studio to cohabitation may be initially somewhat rough. Although this was not my experience, those with big/joint families, a pet, or siblings may also feel lonely at first because they may miss its collectivistic orientation. However, similar to other situations, this feeling should fade away as you get accustomed to the new place, socialize and start to feel homely in the accommodation you are living at.  

 Adulting 

Depending on the teaching style of your university you will spend more time on-campus or self-studying. Nevertheless, university-level teaching will demand more independence from you than that of high school, requiring you to be responsible for your academics and decisions. After a certain point, you are expected to have figured out your learning style along with independent living. I would like to emphasize that time management is salient. Essentially, university treats you like adults. They will not tell you what to do and the university schedule tends to be quite flexible. It is up to you to decide how you use that time. Only studying? Part-time job? Volunteer work? Bunking lectures? These are all choices for you to make. Attendance in lectures is often not mandatory as well. However, of course, it is in your benefit to attend them to keep up with the course and to subsequently then perform well on your exams. I recommend that you keep your options open and look for or take opportunities to do extra-curricular when they arise, especially in the first year as that is when you will have the most time. Nonetheless, prioritizing your academics is crucial in the first year too as everything will be novel and thus you will be experimenting in various ways and taking some time to settle into the new environment.  

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