Moving to University can be an exciting and scary time, full of possibilities and the unknown. It marks the end of one era and initiates the start of a brand new chapter in our lives. It can be a daunting and overwhelming experience as many first year students will find themselves moving far away from home, probably or the first time, where they don’t know anybody and are starting completely anew. The anticipation of going to your chosen institution to study your passion is extremely intriguing as first years embark on this new experience, but one anticipation generally trumps this, the anticipation of meeting new people. As your friends disperse around the country to pursue their passions and future career aspects there is a new pressure to fit in and find new friends that you will be spending the next three years of your life with.
Usually first year students, or “freshers”, move into their onsite or close-to-campus student halls were they meet their hall/flatmates and subsequently their first friends in this strange new place. This can be a comfort for these freshers who have moved from far away and don’t know anyone. It’s an easy way to make friends in the first weeks while you settle in. However, this isn’t the case for some of us, and this wasn’t the case for me.
During the room application process I was denied the opportunity to live in onsite student halls and was instead drafted to a student studio flat on my own, an hour and a half walk from the University campus I would be studying at, to live out my first year at University. This was not ideal for a large number of reasons. Firstly, I have no flatmates. Therefore I had no easy way to meet people. The student building that I’m in is also mainly for second and third year students so there are very few first years like me living here (not that I would know actually how many freshers there are living in the building as I haven’t had an opportunity to meet them, or anyone else in the building). There is a common room located in the building but upon my arrival for moving day I found out that the common room was (well, still is) under construction so I had no opportunity to find the other first years. I’ve been living here for two weeks now, and the common room is still not complete and I still know nobody living around me.
The next issue is the distance. I have four different options to get to my campus each day.
Option one: I take a train then walk to the campus, which takes about half an hour.
Option two: I take a train and then a bus which also takes about half an hour depending on the times of the bus.
Option three: I walk and then take a bus which takes about forty minutes in totally with time doing each being evenly spread.
Option four: I walk for an hour and a half (and as I’m sure you can imagine, I’m not a fan of option four).
This has forced me to buy a travel card which I must say is seeing a lot of use and will definitely save me money in the long run. Obviously, this distance isn’t particularly practical, especially when I have gaps between lectures as I don’t always have time to go home but don’t have anywhere else to really go while I wait for the next lecture to begin, which has already happened to me.
The studio room is also rather pricey, and not an amount that I expected to be spending on a room in my first year.
It is safe to say that this isn’t what I expected my freshers experience to be like. I was looking forward to meeting my flatmates and spending time with them in our shared kitchen. I was looking forward to being about to wake up merely half an hour before my lectures where I could just stroll out of the front door and be on campus. Yet, none of this was meant for me apparently. In all honesty, these two weeks have been challenging. Fortunately I’ve managed to make some friends on my course at University but unfortunately this is another set of issues. I’m not as readily available as those who live in the onsite halls, which is where all the people that I have met live. This runs the risk of being left out of things and missing out on vital jokes and incidents that will haunt people forever as they are constantly reminded about it for the next three years and beyond.
As I mentioned before, gaps between lectures are also a problem. I had an incident this week where I had a three hour gap between the end of my first lecture and the start of my second. I had hoped that I would be able to hang around with my course friends but they all dispersed back to their hall rooms, leaving me stranded with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Fortunately this gap was big enough and set in good times with the trains and I was able to travel back to my accommodation, have some lunch and then travel back to the University again, although this was still not an ideal scenario. Another recent occurrence left me with two hours between lectures at an awkward time for the trains, when I was once again left to aimlessly wander the campus alone. It would be easy to blame the people who left me alone but I can see their trains of thought. All they most likely want to do after the lecture was go back to the comfort of their rooms, relax with their flatmates or even just be alone for a while and have something to eat. Sadly for me, I am not spared a second thought in the process but I can’t be upset, as I legitimately was not even considered in the thought despite the subtle hints that I made.
I’m very much isolated in my accommodation and it is probably very lucky that being on my own for lengths of time doesn’t bother me as much as it would the next person. I know some people who would be going full blown crazy by now (whereas I’m only a quarter of the way there ;) ) being alone so much. I also rarely even see other people who live in the building, besides crossing someone on the stairs or in the lobby or seeing someone’s shadow disappear down the hall every once in a while. I often hear bursts of conversation coming from somewhere down the large hall ways, but that’s sometimes the only sign of life I get from the world outside of my studio. It truly is a shame that I have had these extra problems on top of all the other overwhelming changes that have happened very quickly, but I’ll survive.
It’s not all doom and gloom however as honestly, besides the whole isolation and distance issue, the studio room itself is great! It’s very spacious in both the bathroom and the main room and I even have my own balcony. I have my own kitchen so there is no risk of anyone else eating my food and I can leave as much mess as I want without someone moaning at me (although that also means that there’s no one around that will get annoyed enough by the mess to clean it up for me instead). I’ll also admit that I do like having my own washing machine and that I don’t have to go to the laundry room to do my washing. I am a fan of space and was able to bring as much of my stuff from home here as I could want, since I have the room to put it considering the nice size of the room.
Even so, this whole experience leaves me strongly questioning whether studio room options should even be made available to first year students. I’m sure that there are some freshers who really find the idea of halls outlandish and would rather not live in them so I believe that it is a good idea to have them as an option for those who want to go into them, but they definitely shouldn’t just draft first year students into them because they don’t have enough space in the onsite or nearby student halls. Of course, there will always been more students than there are rooms but then there should at least be a prioritising system in place. Disability should of course always be the first thing to consider in prioritising but then, with accommodation placement, the next consideration should be the distance from which the students have come from to get here. Students from further away are less able to see people from the previous chapter of their life than those who haven’t had to travel very far. I experienced a six hour drive to get to my University (and I get travel sickness which is not fun) whereas I’ve met someone who lives an hours drive away, but they were placed in the onsite halls.
Most places have a first come first serve basis, which may have been the process for this University’s accommodation, I don’t know, and if this was the case then I was also out of luck here too, as I was ready in front of my computer two minutes before the accommodation applications were to open and quickly discovered that I could not login to apply because I had not yet been given my username and password for the accommodation website. I had frantically tried all the other usernames and passwords that I had been issued from the University for various other things that I had been required to log into and none of them were correct. The day after the opening of accommodation I was sent my login details and when I was finally able to access the website everything was gone, except for the studio rooms. I remember thinking that the website must’ve been broken and quickly contacted the accommodation team at the University, but the website wasn’t broken, they had just closed all the other room applications because of the enormous number of applications they had received in the first day. I’d explained what had happened with my login but it was no use and I spent the next few months mentally preparing for and changing the previous ideas of my new first year at University. Even with that preparation, I still wasn’t entirely expecting this.
I had hoped to try and find others, either random freshers or others on my course, in my building who were in the same boat as me, but I came up empty. It appears no one on my course is in my accommodation and I have been unable to discover the other freshers living here. It would’ve been nice if there was an official website that first years could post their course and accommodation on so that they could find people or if first years were assigned mentors who also lived in the accommodation who could help unveil the other first years living around them but unfortunately neither of these exists. At the University we are assigned student mentors who are in their second year on the same course that we are, which are greatly appreciated and very useful in regards to the course, but it would’ve been good if there were mentors for offsite student accommodations.
For my course at University, which is Press and Editorial Photography (or Photojournalism in summary), we students are required to write blogs and of course they must have a link to our subject of study even though they can be about anything that we want. With this in mind I wanted to capture some images of my accommodation that showed the isolated feeling that I find radiating around me. I decided to take some inspiration from the landscape and portrait photographer Amy Haslehurst. She aims to portray the internals of the human mind using various landscapes and placing her subjects within them to create a physical manifestation of internal thoughts and human emotions.
One of her projects entitled ‘Hel’ inspired the image that I took from by balcony attached to this post which depicts a person walking away from the building (on the left). With the dreariness of the day and the lone figure who is turned walking away from the camera I intended to display the dark feeling of loneliness as I often sense from Haslehurst’s images where she captures a hooded figure walking away from the camera (although her landscapes are much more interesting). I took the image from the balcony because I wanted to create the added air of looking at other people’s lives whilst not being involved in the affairs.
Additionally, I wanted to depict the isolation from inside the building, particularly the halls from which no natural light shines and where I sometimes glimpse other people, indicating that I am not the only one on the floor level. My intentions with the image of the hall with the toy dog placed on the floor (on the right) was to capture the isolation of the building with the teddy representing the alone freshers. This particular teddy is a very old, childhood possession which I thought fitted in nicely with what I have been talking about with beginning a new chapter, yet the added difficulties involved with adjusting, have an affect that causes the previous chapter of one’s life to be in constant thought. Using depth of field to keep the teddy in focus while the hallway is in less focus also intends to put emphasis on the individual while what lies beyond the doors and the hall is a mystery.
This post wasn’t intended to be a pity essay, but rather I believe that the issue of first years in studios needed to addressed. I don’t believe that it is a good idea to place first years into studio rooms unless they specifically want to be there as this, on top of all the other changes, is certainly overwhelming. I’m sure over time, I will barely notice how far away I am from the uni and how isolated my accommodation is as the common room eventually opens and I may meet some more people (given that they haven’t already solidified a friendship group that doesn’t want any new members) and as I make better bonds with the people on my course but for now, I’ll just have to deal with it. The struggle of offsite studio University accommodation is real, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Hopefully, my next post will be much smaller and less serious.