A sense of belonging is deemed as necessary a requirement as food and shelter for human survival. Without it, you can feel that your daily life lacks value. You might feel unmotivated. Lost. As though you’re living with no purpose. This is especially true when making big transitions in life, just like the one from school to university. In addition to moving to a new place and starting a new course, you are also adapting to being self-sufficient, wrapping your head around an advanced subject matter, and meeting new people from across the globe. But for some people, the challenge of settling into a new environment is the hardest aspect of this transition. It can be difficult and often overwhelming. You can feel a sense of estrangement to your new home and not know who or where to turn for help.
Although this is a very common feeling, loneliness amongst students is often a taboo topic. It’s not talked about. University culture can breed states of isolation, unhappiness and incompetence, all of which could have been previously unfelt by many students. More than you think suffer in silence and have no clue that their friends, or even flatmate next door, are encountering the same issues. The prospect of a student feeling ‘out of place’ within a busy environment during one of the most ‘sociable’ chapters of their life can be a hard thought to comprehend. A possibility that even the sufferer can find distressing and inexplicable to process. Lonely? But I’m a sociable person! Why me?
In my experience, the onset of loneliness can be exacerbated by adjusting to a routine that is radically different from the one you knew before. My school promoted productivity. I thrived on the business of my academic work, drama classes, sports fixtures and friendships. Every aspect of co-curricular life was to be utilised and enjoyed. I loved the feeling of being productive during my day, which in turn, made me look forward to Sundays off school. In hindsight, I don’t think I had the time to stop and listen to my own thoughts. When I arrived at university and suddenly found myself with loads of free time, I didn’t know what to do with it. My ‘normal’ routine had been replaced; although I had asked for this change and even eagerly looked forward to it, I didn’t fully understand how it would impact me. I needed time to process this change in my life and cultivate an important balance between my social life and studies.
I lacked a sense of identity and ownership within my new home; a place, in later university years, I would call my ‘home away from home’. Ironically, now that I’m a recent graduate, I miss those three years of my life and university ‘home’ terribly! The good news is that it does get better. However, a sense of belonging within your new home isn’t just waiting for you, ready made; you have to create a new life for yourself and throw yourself into it. That’s what I ultimately learned to do. I want to share some tips I learned for fostering a sense of belonging:
I like to use the Headspace app to factor meditation into my daily routine. I found that after practicing mindfulness each day for fifteen minutes, it can help you establish a controlled burst of ‘me time.’ It became second nature for me and I began to feel incredibly odd if ever I missed a session – just like I had forgotten to put my shoes on before I hopped out the door. Remember, once you’ve put all your ducks in a row, it’s easier to prioritise what’s important.
Find your purpose. Only YOU can make a difference. Begin to immerse yourself in your new environment and start to make small changes to explore different avenues of university life. As you start to embed new commitments into your routine, like a society meeting or a mid-week sports practice, you’ll be motivated to cope with the challenges and embrace them.
- Develop a ‘Give it a Go’ Attitude
There is a place for you, but that doesn’t mean you have to get stuck in with only one thing. Explore different options. Join a society, volunteer on campus or within the community, attend a public lecture, try a team sport – the possibilities are endless! You could meet like minded people, so try something new and have a laugh!
- Try something that scares you…you could be pleasantly surprised!
I ventured out of my comfort zone when I volunteered on student radio in my second and third years. I co-presented The Ninety Minute Show every Thursday with a team of two fellow undergraduates. Whilst I enjoyed making friends with like-minded people, it was great fun to learn a new skill and have an affirmative release from academic work. Remember, you can’t grow as a person if you stay where you are comfortable – find the courage to explore the unknown.
Don’t be afraid of not enjoying everything. If something doesn’t work out, give something else a go. It’s a fallacy to think you have to be perfect or that everything has to go well all the time. The truth is, we’re all exploring what life has to offer and realizing our strengths and weaknesses as we go along. So, take every day as it comes; don’t get hung up on what you can’t control.