Social pressure can make university life frightening

Liam Heitman Rice says life at UEA can be socially scary, but it's best to just let friendships grow

Liam Heitman Rice says life at UEA can be socially scary, but it's best to just let friendships grow organically. Picture: Antony Kelly - Credit: Archant

On the face of it, university is the most exciting time in a person's life – the parties, the clubbing, the laughter, the chatter, the banter, the friends you make and the memories you share…

Staying up until some ungodly hour of the morning, chatting in the kitchen; sharing a bottle of vile wine over countless episodes of some obscure anime series; dancing your feet off in the campus club. This noise, colour and vitality – it is the Eden of the adolescent!

All around you, here are likeminded people who you can trust and confide in, whose mutual interests stand as a unifying factor in the relationships that flourish over three intense years. It is the best time of your life: the achievements, the experiences, the honing of your craft. Yet below the rose-bed linger the hidden challenges of university.

I am 20-years-old and nearing the end of my first year as a student of English Literature With Creative Writing at UEA. While I have had so many terrific literary opportunities opened to me, I must confess that university life can be frightening.

It is frightening to be amongst thousands of other students, to feel alone in a crowd. It is frightening to suddenly feel so small, to feel the difficulty of trying to shine one's own lamp in a field of spotlights wherein you feel a trespasser.

It is on campus that you are the centre of a dynamic, frenetic hive of activity and motion – all around you see groups of friends camped in the Square, cider in hand, or you see the quiet couple sitting so close their knees touch as they speak softly into each other's ears. I do not disparage these people their friendships, yet it is alarming to feel so isolated when taking your first wary steps into this new environment.

One of the heaviest anxieties I felt at the start of university was of being friendless. I did not have many contact hours in my course so I was not often in a classroom, which meant I had to push myself further out in order to meet people.

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I am not a shy person, but there is a limit to one's confidence… Of course there was the drunken madness of Freshers' Week, all of the society taster-sessions, but so much of the interaction within this was predicated upon the volume of alcohol consumed. There is the unspoken pressure placed on those who do not like to drink, the fear that they will be left behind in their sobriety.

And what it is, exactly, that they will have missed? The five-minute friends you made the night before? What guarantee is there that they will even recognise you the following morning? All of this clubbing and drinking, all of this fickle socialising, it all felt fake. Did these people actually like me? Was I actually interesting? Or was it just the beer goggles that made me appealing?

I resented these questions and began to feel terribly unsure of myself. I began to feel shy and hesitant, doubtful of my abilities. What I really found frightening about this is how little it reflected my true personality – I enjoy meeting new people, I like the exciting adventure of striking conversation with strangers, but I felt blinded by the brightness of all these new spotlights shining into my face.

It was madness and as such very unsettling… but I did have the eventual good fortune of meeting friends in class and in the societies I joined. It was through these avenues that I was at last enabled to feel most comfortable with the people around me, whose company I genuinely treasure and whose friendship nurtured any former anxiety.

It is all, in the end, a matter of patience – indeed, as my adviser told me, you must let these things grow organically. Friendships cannot be moulded to one's convenience.