When I finished high school, I went straight to university. I was excited by the prospect of pursuing my dreams and stepping into adulthood. I felt I was more than prepared for this next chapter of my life.
I find it funny to look back on now: the hopeful young woman who thought she was so ready to leave the comforts of a close-knit secondary school and explore the big, wild world. I was incredibly thrilled yet daunted by the prospect of it all. Truthfully, I was blissfully ignorant and thought only of the positive experiences I was bound to have, picturing life at university to be filled with new friends and new adventures.
But soon after I had commenced my first year, reality hit me like a semi-truck barrelling down the freeway. In my hopeful naivety, I was unprepared for one very simple but important fact: university can be an extremely lonely experience.
In the span of a few months, I had gone from the familiarities and comforts of being around the same cohort at my private all-girls school for six years of my life to being surrounded by thousands of strangers. I went from having classes filled with friends and familiar faces to tutorials at university with strangers. All of a sudden, I was spending copious amounts of time by myself. I was getting on the train alone, sitting in class alone, eating lunch alone, studying alone and travelling home alone. Even when I did manage to make a university friend one semester, I was lucky if I ever saw them again the next. It was just luck of the draw in terms of subjects and schedules. Add in the prospect of being able to watch lectures from home and I could go all day not speaking to anyone.
Very quickly, this isolation began to wear on me. As the poets say, nothing is worse than feeling alone in a crowded room. I was constantly surrounded by new people but I had never felt smaller or lonelier in my life. For me, there was the added layer of my introversion. I think the loneliness hit me particularly hard because I was under the impression at the time that I was an introvert who loved and was very comfortable being alone. It turns out even I, the Queen of Introverts, have my limits.
University, like a lot of other institutions and businesses in our western world, rewards extroversion. American author Susan Cain wrote the non-fiction book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which showcases the way we have come to perhaps over-value extroversion in our modern society. Cain writes “Nowadays we tend to think that becoming more extroverted not only makes us more successful, but also makes us better people.” If you find it easy to walk up to a group of strangers, join a club or go to events and parties alone with the hopes of meeting people, then university can be a wonderful social experience. But the social scene runs by the rule that you get out what you’re willing to put in. In other words, you’ve got to put yourself out there and be willing to approach new people, which is something I’ve never been any good at.
The one silver lining during this time was the knowledge that I was not alone with these intense feelings of loneliness. At the time, I was part of a group chat with old high school peers that was aptly titled ‘I’m so lonely.’ In our own ways, we were each wading through this transitional period, fighting the long hours we were spending alone and trying to find our footing in a very new and foreign environment.
So, despite how at times I truly felt that I was the only one struggling to find my way, I knew deep down that wasn’t the truth. The funny thing about loneliness is that you are not alone in it.
To some extent, the loneliness during the transitional phase into university makes some sense. Adulthood is inherently a lot more focused on independence than childhood. As commencing university is the beginning of adulthood for many people, it is likely that many of us are caught between a rock and a hard place as we try to adjust to so many new things at once. If you are reading this and nodding along, I can promise you that almost every single one of my peers experienced feelings of loneliness during their university days.
You are not alone and everything you are feeling is normal.
The truth is that university can be hard and the transition into adulthood is a rollercoaster of emotions and new experiences. I found it did get easier once I gave myself time to adjust. I found I had to lower my expectations of the quintessential “college experience” and just enjoy my time at uni for what it was – a period of growth and learning.
My advice to new students is to give yourself time. Be compassionate, remain resilient and take care of your mental health. Don’t expect for it to all come easy right away and know that every single one of your peers is likely experiencing moments of loneliness, self -doubt and turbulence as they adjust too.
I also highly recommend that you make the most of O-weeks, joining clubs that interest you or utilising peer-to-peer study sessions – especially if you are in a large general degree like arts or science. You will have thousands of people in your course which can sometimes make it hard to keep track of people as you move through the semesters.
Also, I hope you think of The Graduate’s Guide as a place of comfort. We are here to guide all new students and provide insight and support as many of our team have been right where you are now. If you want to learn more about joining our community or contributing your own ideas, be sure to send us a message here!