Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

What I would tell my first-year self

As every academic year starts, campus is full of new students about to embark on a new adventure. We all have an idea of what university will be like, shaped no doubt through film and TV, open days, and lots of online research, but the real thing is something different. In many ways, good and bad, it’s a brand-new experience, and one best understood by diving in. Next year, it’ll be my tenth year at Warwick, and so it got me thinking back to my own first year. What advice would I give myself, knowing what I know now about how the experience panned out?

Let’s start on a practical level. I came to campus laden with belongings – boxes full of new crockery, countless books, clothes, bedding – and I barely used that much of it. You’re going to have a kitchen full of stuff, because everyone will turn up with about six pans and a whole dinner set – it’s a pain to transport, and a waste of space when it’s here. I would be very stern with my younger self – do you really need so many plates? What I should have brought, though, is food for the arrivals weekend. I was naïve, I went to Tesco and it was carnage – bare shelves, and queues for miles. You don’t need much food, but spare yourself that. (On the food front as well, don’t be the selfish person who decides the fridge and freezer space is theirs – stake a reasonable claim, and be firm with it, or you’ll have no space like me.)

Now, I’ve come to realise that asking questions and trying out ideas is exactly what university is about.

I think I was, in classes, a typical first-year student – I was happy to chat and offer some thoughts in classes when I knew answers, but I’d otherwise sit quiet and let the room fester in awkward silence if not. If you’re a new student, you’re bound to experience a class like this, where people would rather say nothing than say something wrong. With hindsight, it would have been brilliant to ask all the questions, to fire off answers I wasn’t sure about – I didn’t truly learn to do this until the confidence boost that came with a year abroad, but it made those final-year classes so much better, and I got more out of them.

Everyone rocks up to uni, top of their class, and is then afraid to look stupid by asking something wrong, or by coming out with an idea that doesn’t quite work – this was my experience. But now, I’ve come to realise that asking questions and trying out ideas is exactly what university is about, and the questions I’d have in my mind were probably the ones that everyone else was thinking too, but too scared to ask. If I had my time again, I wouldn’t be sitting there in silence, I know that much – I’d test out thoughts, and if I misunderstood something or got something completely wrong, so what? Learning things, becoming a better thinker and reasoner, often means not knowing things.

I urge you to properly explore the selections of societies and sports and events on offer at Warwick.

When I started at Warwick, there wasn’t a freshers’ week – events such as the societies and sports fairs, and all the welcome sessions, were all crammed into a busy fortnight. I’d done a lot of research beforehand, and thus I knew what I wanted to go to, what societies I wanted to join, etc. Research is good, but now, I wouldn’t have been quite so close-minded to other experiences – I’d urge myself (and I urge you) to properly explore the selections of societies and sports and events on offer at Warwick. Try things out, and don’t immediately say ‘no’ to an experience because you think it may not be your thing – uni is a space to try new things, engage in activities you’d never even imagine. I knew I’d be going to quizzes and joining the cinema, but I’d never have seen myself hitchhiking to Spain, hot-air ballooning, performing live piano shows, learning another language, and so many other experiences that have made me grow.

That, ultimately, is the takeaway. I know that I’m a different person to the one that started Warwick in 2013, and a better one, and that’s because of all the experiences and lessons I learnt along the way. So, I would tell my younger self, expect to challenge yourself, and to change in ways you never thought possible. And although everyone’s going to offer you advice and tips, it’s on you to go and make this experience a good one.



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