Monday 12th October 2015
It’s strange to think I’ve only been here two weeks. In some ways it feels like it’s been forever since we all moved in, and in others, I don’t seem to have stopped since arriving. It won’t be long before this way of living is totally ordinary, but for now I’m enjoying the newness of everything.
During my first week of classes I was introduced to York’s main teaching styles: lectures, seminars and workshops. Each of my modules has a one-hour lecture every week, and two of them either have a two-hour seminar or workshop, alternating each week. In workshops, two seminar groups merge to allow for wider discussion. Most universities teach in similar ways, though scientists and medics also have practicals and lab sessions.
Ordinarily I’ll have seven contact hours per week. This is in contrast to more scientific subjects which often have five-hour days, five days a week. This is because of the amount of independent learning expected of us English students; to prepare for each seminar and workshop I need to read the set text, the required critical reading and anything else that I find interesting, and be able to talk about it all in class. As such, the few contact hours I have become incredibly valuable – and that value will only increase as time goes on.
However, the first week was not ordinary; introductory lectures on top of my normal ones added three extra contact hours. I thought it might be a bit of a chore, but it was actually quite useful – the English faculty doesn’t have its own building here, so my classes are scattered all across campus; having so many different rooms to find meant I soon felt more confident getting around.
It was clear that we weren’t going to be eased in – for my first seminar on Tuesday I had three critical essays and articles to read, with another three for my workshop on Wednesday. York has short terms – only ten weeks – so there’s no time to waste. This was the case across the board: all subjects were thrown straight in with reading, presentations, practical work and assignments.
On top of this were initial society meetings. Many students preach about the importance of joining societies, and I can already see how influential they can be to one’s university experience. Societies allow you to not only improve or learn existing or new skills, but also introduce you to new people, opportunities and ideas. Universities tend to hold a Freshers’ Fair where you can sign up to clubs and societies as a fully paid-up member or just to the mailing list so you’re aware of what’s going on.
Alongside the departmental society I was really keen to continue playing my violin so joined one of the university’s orchestras, as well as looking into the various student journalism opportunities. I also scheduled all the introductory meetings of various musical and political societies into my diary. In the end though I realised that as crucial as getting involved with as much as possible is, the key is not over-involving oneself. It’s critical to find a balance between work, social life and time to oneself. It’s not worth committing to lots of things that you might end up dropping out of later – much better to sign up only to what you’re absolutely sure you want to get involved in, and then add things as and when you feel you can commit the time and energy.
Just like Freshers’ Week, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the first week of proper work at university; even some second- and third-years spoke of struggling to get back into the swing of things straight away. It’s also perfectly normal to feel out of your depth academically – in fact, it ought to be expected after a four-month minimum break away from education.
It can feel like you’ve been thrown in at the deep end without a life-ring, but it really isn’t the case. Chances are many others on your course are feeling the same way, but if you’re not comfortable talking with them there are plenty of options. Firstly (although some people might tell you otherwise) it’s totally fine to call home if you’re in need of some comfort or a pep-talk. Your university might have a mentor scheme where you’re linked with an upper-year student studying the same course, or you might have a supervisor in your department. These are all great first lines of support.
If you’re struggling emotionally or with your mental health, don’t hesitate to make an appointment at the doctors or get in touch with the Samaritans. York is linked with a scheme called Nightline which supports 1.5 million students at over 90 universities and colleges in the UK and Ireland. Your uni might be one of them, but if not chances are it will have something similar in place. Just don’t suffer in silence – and don’t give up. Very few people settle in straight away, so be sure to give university a real chance.
Finally, be sure to take some time out by yourself or with your new friends to just chill out. Order a pizza and watch a film (or the Bake Off finale, in our case!) together. You’ll feel closer, happier, and more relaxed; it’s only the first week, so there’s really no need to overwork yourself.
It strikes me now, one week in, that perhaps the most helpful thing one can do is structure routines as fast as possible. I’ll write more on this in a few weeks, but in the meantime I’m off to do yet more reading. Wish me luck!