Advice for First Years: Halls of Residence

For those that didn’t know, I live in New Zealand and here (and in Australia), mid-late February means the start of the university year. So over the next couple of weeks is the time when first year students move into Halls of Residence, go through Orientation (O-Week) and begin study. My university (Victoria University of Wellington) is quite late and our timetabled classes don’t actually start until the 2nd of March.

I thought it was a good opportunity to share my advice for first years, as this time last year I was counting down the days until I moved into Weir House (my hall of residence) and probably could have done with someone older and “wiser” telling me this stuff. I have broken my words of wisdom down into two halves; advice for students in halls of residence/residential colleges/whatever you want to call them and general advice for any first years at university. The second part will be posted next Tuesday.

Halls of residence

The Fresher five is real

Starting off harsh I know but the Fresher Five (gaining 5kg, Kiwi version of Freshman Fifteen) is something I denied…until it happened. O-Week was so hectic and busy that I felt like I lost weight and started bad habits of eating everything on offer including dessert every night and toast at most meals. Once classes started I became a lot less active and lazy; I prioritised socialising over exercise and gorged on hall food (which was often meat covered in carbs with carb salad) and the weight piled on. All I’m saying is be aware, it’s not just a myth.

Make it your home

In my mind one of the crucial parts of settling in to a hall is to treat it like your home. If you don’t act like it is, it’ll never feel like it is – you’ve got to fake it til you make it. Put up photos/posters/things that make you happy and make your room feel homely and comfortable, not just like you’re a guest in a hotel.

Socialise outside of your floor

When first in a hall it’s really easy to only socialise with the people living close to you but I think it’s really worthwhile extending your field a bit and meeting people from other floors/buildings. This is an especially good way of finding study buddies. In my case it’s actually how I found my flatmates!

Try to meet lots of new people before settling on a group

Following on from what I said above I recommend meeting a lot of different people before settling on your main social group. Whilst some people click instantly or groups form of people who knew each other from school, it’s a good idea to explore options before finding your niche.

Remember that your friends change

Even once you’ve found your niche it might shift. Your O-Week best buddies might be people you barely talk to by the end of the year and that’s fine. It’s gonna take time to settle in and get to know everyone properly, and your group of friends will most likely change – don’t stress about it.

It’s ok to miss home – talk about it

There are gonna be days where you do miss home, but remember everyone else is in the same boat. Let someone know you’re not feeling too flash and I can almost guarantee they’ll be able to empathise. Call/skype home but also occupy yourself by doing fun things in your new city.

Find people in your courses

During O-Week try and find people at your hall in your classes. Going to your first lecture with friends makes it a bit less scary.

Find a balance of old friends and new friends

If you’re lucky enough to have school friends in your hall/at the same university (I didn’t), don’t spend all your time with them, find a balance of old and new friends. Otherwise people like me wouldn’t get to know anyone! Starting uni is also a good time for change and spending time with old friends could hinder this.

Don’t get a job too soon

Being away from home and in a new environment can be tough at first and I think it takes a good 6 weeks to settle into the new routine. I suggest not rushing to get a job at this time unless you absolutely have to, it can cause un-needed stress and mean you miss out on the crucial early social interactions. I got my job in May but only worked about 5 hours a week so I still had plenty of time to focus on my studies and social life.

Don’t screw the crew

Whilst I know of people that have ended up dating their neighbour long term I also know of a break up that completely split a friend group and made things awkward as they were force to see each other every day. If you’re going to be in a relationship with someone who lives close to you I advise you consider what the consequences would be if you were to break up (I guess this goes for any relationship, not just floorcest). As goes for all things in life; don’t do things you think you’ll regret.

be prepared for illness

When living in close proximity to a lot of other people you are going to be exposed to a lot more germs. Last year I probably had a cold or sniffle once a month and there wasn’t a time over winter where none of my friends had runny noses. Be prepared by getting a flu vaccination (should be free through your university) and keeping vitamin C and echinacea on hand. Let your friends and hall staff know if you’re bed ridden and they generally can arrange for food to be brought to your room.

Talk to the kitchen staff

Whilst I’m talking only from my own experience, if you’re unhappy with the food on offer talk to your kitchen staff! My hall had a feedback book; if you really liked something you wrote it in the book and they cooked it again and if you didn’t they tried to change things. Of course they’re never going to please 300 teenagers but they do try and deserve to be respected.

make the most of it

Whilst this all may seem very daunting right now my biggest piece of advice for halls students is enjoy every minute of it. It’ll be one of the best years of your life and will be over far too soon.

I hope you have found my advice useful if you’re moving away to a hall of residence and any other advice is most welcome in the comments!

Disclaimer: These are all my personal opinions, please take them with a grain of salt as they may not apply perfectly to your situation.

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  • Some great advice! I went flatting instead of living in the dorms, and now I kind of regret it because it seems like so much fun. Reminds me a bit of boarding school!

    • Thanks Meagan! Flatting this year is so different and parts of me wishes I could go back to living with so many of my friends. But at the same time I definitely don’t miss the carbs wrapped in carbs served with carb salad.