How finding a community at university is usually a step we all forget about

Student living. It’s a new phenomenon for first years and a unique phase of one’s life, arguably one where you have the most freedom. For the first time, you can make your own choices. You have control over your finances, you can have that 7th cup of coffee without your mum ranting about the cons of caffeine, and you can go out clubbing without actually having to go to that 9am lecture, no longer subjected to the dreaded school register. It’s a time before you actually have to pay that council tax, get a (full-time, at least) job you have to turn up to, and a period of your life where people will judge you for not hitting the town. You could even say your time at uni is where you’re held least accountable. The phrases “independent learning” and “fending for yourself” become synonymous with last minute cramming and substituting toast and jam for two-thirds of your daily meals and actively ignoring your bank account until your card is rejected.

However, university life does have a flipside. This can include working far more hours than the 15 recommended per week, with both your uni work and regular work both having to be attended to, and your mates are stumbling in at 4am, making far too much noise, while you have labs from 9-5. The stress of all this can lead to serious mental health issues. An estimated two-thirds of students have experienced problems with their mental health at one point in their life.

What do these two stark versions of student living have in common, as well as all the versions in between? They revolve around you. Student life is about you – this is not to say your life is not about you after university, but this phase of life punishes you the least for its dangerous ‘self-centeredness.’ You work for your own money – most of which you get to keep since you’re not taxed properly yet – you study for a degree you chose, and your social life is finally not people you were stuck with from school or will be from work.

With the risk of sounding like the clichéd version of a gap year student, it is a time to ‘find yourself,’ and self-care is important. But there is more than one way to do this and there are multiple ways that do not involve destroying your liver and bank account simultaneously.

The endless liberty offered can become an unattainable image for many students. The reality is that we often find ourselves constantly unsatisfied because there is always someone else who has more, more friends, more party invitations, and is generally just doing better at this whole thing. There is also the lack of accountability, once given by your parents, school, or the wider community that is no longer there and can be detrimental and unproductive when presented with so much freedom. Basic yet fundamentally important activities such as cooking, gardening, or even eating together as a flat or friends group are so important as they are activities that keep you grounded about what’s really important and prevent you from getting lost in the drains of the student underground.

Community is the key word here. With most of us away from parents, the next best thing is your community. This can be anyone, your friends (not the ones who deliberately make you have FOMO), flatmates, course-mates, as well as those in the wider university and Edinburgh communities. Try volunteering, for example of the Project Guardians Food Waste project which aims to open a food waste project. Even going onto the Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s volunteer section on their website can connect you to a whole range of volunteer options across Edinburgh, whether it’s helping homeless people or giving music lessons to those who cannot afford it. It gets you away from the bubble of university life along with contributing to society.

Be it volunteering or getting involved at a society or just making dates to see friends, activities such as these set your tone and rhythm in a similar way your parents once did, and hopefully a job or family in the future will do. It ensures a level of accountability that can be unexpectedly welcome when so much of our daily lives and routines are left up to us. So, whether it’s cooking and eating with your friends or gardening with the sustainability and development society, try going back to the stuff your Mum once nagged you to do. The worst you’ll feel is a bit tired, which is never worse than a hangover. 

Image: Vaibhav Sharan via Flickr 

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