It was a warm day in October when I first flew to London to begin my studies at university. I have been to the UK a couple of times before but never for anything longer than a few weeks and without a specific touristy goal in mind, but to be honest, I was very keen on this new experience. I have been a big fan of travelling around for a few years then, mostly finding cheap tickets and generally just adventuring about from countries in Europe, seeing new places and getting valuable life lessons. Since most of these trips were only with a few of my friends, I learned to be independent and quickly take care of myself. So for me, starting university here was the next big adventure where I could learn new things in my studies and by just living for a more extended period in a different country. Alas, even though I was excited about it all, I still would feel nervous in my first few weeks here, but I believe that every student has when they first go to university.
As I reflect on the first few months of the university in London, it was a whole new environment to learn new things. But also, with lockdowns stricter than I had ever had, there is one thing I got from all this that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world: Experience. So I decided to write this as a guide for readers who might feel lost in this new academic environment. Hopefully, some of you will find my helpful advice for your beginnings in university, or at least interesting enough to read through.
The first thing I would always say to first-year students is, don’t be shy! University has a lot of new people for you to meet. I can readily attest that studying is way easier and enjoyable when you have people to discuss topics with or at least vent to if some tutor gave you too much coursework to manage in a single week. I know it might be hard for some people to start talking to random people and making connections, but, especially in your course, most students there came to that module because they are to at least some extent interested in the same topic as you. There are also so many different university societies to join through the students union website, where you can easily find people to interact with. These friendships are not only beneficial for your mental health but also for practical reasons as well.
If you want to rent a house, do some group research projects, having close friends you trust gives you opportunities to make your stay in London more exciting and meaningful.
The second thing which I find extremely important to address is just studies. There might be times when you feel overwhelmed or don’t see the meaning of what you are doing for coursework. I sometimes had that feeling when I was doing readings during the lockdown period where you had a disconnect between the coursework and the meetings where you could not connect the dots in your head to see the purpose of what you just read. But it all comes together further on as you read, and it’s alright if you do not understand everything from the reading the first time you do it; that is what studying is for. It is also relatively easy to get the feeling that you are falling behind or that you procrastinate too much, but the thing is, everybody does their studying differently. Some people like to do all their work as soon as it is assigned, and others want to do them at the last minute. So all ways of studying and doing your work are pleasing if you learn from it and do what you came here to do: learn.
The third and most important thing that everybody should keep in mind is being productive with your time in university. We all worked hard and paid money to get into these academic institutions, so you need to grasp each possible thread that could lead you to do other exciting things during your time here. Of course, I know that it is easier said than done, but it is just a thing you have to attempt, even if you fail sometimes. I would certainly consider myself an average blog writer at best, but from my personal experience, just forcing myself to get up and participate in something has given me some of the best memories and knowledge of my time here. By participating in many different activities, even if they were outside the university, I have experience in volunteering work, researched various organisations, and even landed an internship at LATO, a sub-organisation for NATO, an organisation I would love to do work in. And of course, it also leads me to DEN, which is the organisation you can read this blog. You have so many opportunities to do many exciting things; you need to participate and show everyone what you can do!.
Karlis Starks, Year 2, BA (Hons) Politics and International Relations.