Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Top tips for an enjoyable first year

Have a cheap, happy and sociable first year

Before this whole university chapter of your life started, you were used to a certain routine.

That routine involved living with your parents, and studying and socialising with your contemporaries.

The former probably involved its fair share of bickering, foot-stamping, money-borrowing and lift-demanding. The latter probably involved its fair share of note-swapping, gossip-exchanging and elastic band-flicking. All change! Soon, you will be living and working with your contemporaries and spending just the odd weekend back home with the folks.

Hurray, we hear you cry. Hurray indeed. But beware: the bickering, foot-stamping, money-borrowing and lift-demanding must stop immediately. You will be surrounded by other students 24/7, so you need to feel comfortable, confident and liked by them. Don't ask for so much as a fiver – wars have begun this way. And don't cadge a ride to the supermarket unless you're invited; very few students own a car, and those who do soon tire of fair-weather lift-seekers. It's time you grew out of the elastic band-flicking, too. But on a more positive note, long live the note-sharing and gossip-exchanging!

Enough of the warnings, though – university life is all about having fun. Or half about having fun, half about working hard to get a good degree. Let's talk about the fun half and suss out a few dos and don'ts for the novice undergraduate.

There's loads to do and see on campus or in your student town or city, and your students' union (SU) will lay on no end of parties for your entertainment. Every new student should locate the SU office as soon as they can and check the noticeboards. Next up, join at least one university club or society. Don't go crazy and join 15, because there simply aren't enough hours in the day – but university societies (in moderation) are a great way to make friends and keep active. Sports clubs bring obvious health benefits, but there are many different types of club out there, from debating teams to wine-tasting societies. Sign up.

Another tip is to take some time when you first arrive at uni to familiarise yourself with your new environment. Where is the campus bar? Where are the nearest shops? Which are the best clubs? Find out, and investigate all the other useful places too, such as the supermarket, lecture theatre and library. Take a walk and figure everything out.

Socialising is a main occupation for many a student. This often involves alcohol (which should be consumed in moderation), and frequently involves music (which needn't be). Throw in, too, a little dancing and some chatting very fast and with little regard for breathing, such is your excitement. Of course, there are a few don'ts, too. Don't play your music really loud in halls because your neighbours might come over all "parent" on you. Don't make a mess of the shared kitchens and bathrooms for the same reason. And generally try not to do anything that might antagonise your course-mates or flatmates.

In fact, it pays to do quite the opposite. If you're making a cup of tea, offer one to your neighbour. If you're buying a ticket to the freshers' ball, see if you can pick one up for anyone else too. This will also mean you have someone to go with. (Get the cash up front, though. We've already agreed not to borrow money off your fellow students. Likewise, don't lend.)

Above all, the key to a happy student social life is the "yes" philosophy. Throw yourself into your new environment and welcome everything positively. Say "yes" a lot. Smile a lot. Go out, talk to new people, try new things. If there's an Eighties night and everyone's going, join in, even if Duran Duran make you want to weep. It's not about the music on this occasion, it's about joining in. Grit your teeth for the first few months. By Christmas, you'll have found a little group of friends with whom you can revel in your mutual disliking for all things puffball and shoulder-padded.

PERKS & DISCOUNTS

Students inhabit their own world. For many, the day starts at noon and ends somewhere around 4am. And for many, a washing machine is an irrelevance and an asymmetric haircut is the epitome of fashion. For all, life is cheap.

Sure, there are costs involved in student life – but most of these are paid for in the short term by loans, and need to be paid back only after you graduate and earn more than £15,000. In the meantime, dig deep in those pockets and find a precious tenner to spend on your NUS Extra card. You will reap the rewards. Flash this little baby and you can get cash off clothes, books, meals and all sorts of useful retailers. Visit nus.org.uk/NUS-Extra to get yours.

There’s more. Aside from the discounts, consider the perks of your new student status. Universities are music-loving places, and your students’ union will invite all sorts of artists in to perform cheap or even free gigs. Big names often play on big nights, such as the freshers’ balls, and local bands might be brought in to entertain you on less special occasions. Gigs at venues in uni towns nationwide may offer student discounts too.

Student life can be cheap as chips. You need to leave your shame at your parents’ place, be bold and just ask. It’s amazing how many times the question “Is there a student discount?” receives the answer “Yes”.

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