First Year Uni: What I really learnt.

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Last Thursday at 10.30am, I completed my first year at university. While it carried with it a sense of relief, The End docked with much less triumph than I imagined it would. It felt indefinite, unsure if this was the destination, if we’d even boarded the right ship.

For weeks now, people have been filtering out of the halls. I’ve fought with final days, with wind, rain and Descartes theories condensed on an A4 piece of paper.

And despite how it couldn’t have come sooner, the end of first year has given rise to an oddly unattached emotion. I imagine retiring will be the same: just not as alleviating as the idea of nothingness assures. For even with nothingness, comes the task of entertaining ourselves. In this world, such can only mean one thing: finding ourselves the object of spectacle, and in turn, a subject in waiting to become less and less intelligent. 

Thank God for second year, am I right?

Until then, I’m occupying my days as I please. It’s 6.20pm on a Sunday evening and I can be found on the bar of Five Boroughs sipping on an old-fashioned lemonade. I’ve pulled paper from my tan leather satchel; it now rests at the rim of my stool. For my phone is broken and I have no other form of communication, I’m feeling relaxed. I’m wearing a boy’s watch and yet, the time is mine. Amongst the hustle of diners and cocktail-mixers, I’m finally in the mood to reflect on the year. Finally, granted with the time to write it all down.

So here goes. This is what I’ve really learnt from my first year at uni. It turns out the most significant lessons haven’t actually been taught by the institution at all – but by everything which has surrounded it.


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It makes sense to begin with the subject I’m most confident: drinking. Don’t fret – it’s not entirely what you’re expecting. Okay, in some ways, it is. In the case you already drink, uni shall only promote your ways. A newbie, and you too ought to prepare yourself for a stumble down drunken lane. Be warned, the journey is absolutely as tacky as it sounds – yet somehow, and at some stage, one we’ll all find ourselves on. Fear not, parents, caregivers and Christians of the world, we do (eventually) opt for the alternate route. There’s something they don’t tell you about drinking at uni, and it’s that you’ll damn have enough. Saying yes for so long (despite how we’re assured peer pressure is perpetuating) actually does get boring. Developing a backbone for once becomes more appealing.

Most of us will reach a stage – granted the case sounds unlikely – where we’ll just be done with it. I don’t mean conclusively (come on, how many BYO invites are we going to turn down), but definitely temporarily. Drinking, partying and “losing ours minds” in any such manner won’t seem as important, even intriguing for a while. The excitement of drinking (and dancing) – as much as it shall be realised – will also be superseded by other things like health and study and fun without alcohol on occasions. Sometimes, we’ll even realise the importance of sleep.

More than the making of many independent decisions, I found it was those I didn’t make to which I probably owed more attention during first year uni. It was the times I didn’t say no when I should have. Words out: your Mum was right. You need sleep. We can’t and we won’t go on forever. The sooner we learn, and act on this, the better. Save yourself the time, worse, the inconvenient and inevitable crash – get an early night. 

Try to go to bed at 9pm, even if it’s just once a week. Easy as it may sound, it’ll prove an impossible task whilst living in halls. Pulling yourself away at 12pm is most difficult when you’re constantly surrounded by a) friends and b) the constant potential for late night memory-making. There’s two things we should realise: DMC’s aren’t characterised by regularity (in fact, they survive on irregularity) and late nights aren’t always overly interesting. At times, one ought to take a risk, and just hit the sack. If still, you can’t do it, just think of that Eric Thomas line. The one about sleeping and missing out on the opportunity to be successful. While you’re planning a Maccas run, just think about the success you’re becoming.


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I’ll tell you now, the whole thought that counts motto is not best taken with exercise and eating well. This actually – as sad as the news may come – needs to be executed. It won’t go as planned all the time, but know this, it’ll be worth the continued effort. Initially, you’ll eat reasonably badly. You’ll probably put on some weight. You’ll make bean wraps (add feta) and bean nachos (corn chips and some melted vintage cheddar over kidney beans… mmm) for a good seven months. Your time, money, skills and creativity will offer little else. Don’t worry, things will fall into place eventually. It’s just going to take some time. You’ll realise your parents fed you vegetables each night for a reason. On the realisation, you should react accordingly. Remember you’re at your prime. Don’t let that pass you. Stay active, stay energetic, and eat foods which will promote an ability to do so. 

On the subject of food, let’s talk brunch – or more specifically, it’s equal importance to our wellbeing. Hungover sundays are just not the same if you can’t afford a big cook-up in town. So move out of home (or don’t), go to uni, and then, get a damn job. It’s not cool to bludgeon off your friends. It’s not even your place to bludgeon off your parents anymore. It’s mature to be able to fend for yourself; when it’s due, to pick up the bill for others. Grow up a bit, get employed, and where you can, offer to pay for your education. Don’t talk a big game if you’re simply going to live in a new city at someone else’s expense. You’ve got spare time. You owe it to yourself and others to use it.

It’s at work where I learnt – or perhaps validated my belief – that age doesn’t matter unless it matters to you. If you get along with someone who has lived on this universe a few more years, then so be the case. It is in your eyes and your eyes only to note an issue. Beware of society for it tends to encourage our social positioning solely with people of a similar stage. Benefits aside, this can hinder our growth too.

The point is, if you find people whom you connect with, age shouldn’t hinder that. Where diversity in experience exists, we should utilise it, and learn from each other. Stop letting the fact your number begins with a 1 stop you from being confident with your own achievements. A short life is not insignificant. It’s as worthy of it’s title as any. So share yours confidently and share it with people of all ages.

Many have asked about my experience having entered halls at 17. It was never really a consideration of mine to do otherwise. I’ve always liked to focus on the positive of being young. I wasn’t prepared to delay my tertiary education, nor the chance to experience uni like others in light of such a small fact as being underage. I would have to be tactful, and I’d have to push some boundaries. Both concepts were and are hardly foreign to me anyway. What’s more, engaging in them led to the creation of some pretty good memories.


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My advice: just don’t push the boundaries too far. Remember that rules are there to be broken, but rules are also there because they’re the law. On second reading, this sounds like I did something terrible – not the case. Be mindful, anyway. Trust your ability to socialise without alcohol. Remember that drinking isn’t everything. Being able to interact well without drink is a valuable skill. In fact, it’s one I made sure was developed before I even touched the stuff.

The aspect I found most frustrating about being young in a hall was not being unable to drink. It was feeling a lot older than others who nonetheless held the title. When my own ‘adult’ label arrived in June, I made certain that it held at least some validity beside my name. Honestly though, to be 17 is only a hinderance granted you make it one – and also, you don’t like weaselling your way out of trouble when necessary. The point is, have fun, take risks, but also have respect.

What else to respect? Your relationships. I’m not saying your boyfriend – though, respect him too. I’m talking about those with your friends and family. While you’re away from home, there becomes less distinction between the two groups. Keep your friends close for they will create a most diverse second family. Your Mum can no longer be your port of call. The role is unknowingly taken over by friends when we move away from home. Treat them well, and don’t take their care for granted. It’s important to know you have fall-backs – individuals prepared to drop their own things for yours in a time of need. Offer them the same sense of security in return. Check in with them. Don’t be a mother, but do be a true friend.

In terms of family, don’t forget about them. Call them, keep in touch and try with all your might to make them feel close. I’ll tell you first-hand, to feel distant from them, or to discover they feel such a way, is heart-breaking. You’ll learn freedom in it’s entirety is not something you actually want – not from the people you love. Freedom is only freedom if we have somewhere to go at the end of the day. Otherwise, it’s called being alone. Appreciate effort made by family members. In struggling times, remind yourself that their keeping tabs stems from care and love – not nosiness. Don’t make them feel two worlds away (even in the case you are this far). Take time off work, pay money to return to see them and make that time valuable. Remind them they’re a forever priority.

These things, these lessons, I can recount so honestly on the basis I’ve made every mistake. I’ve learnt I’m not as smart as I thought I was. Where I am book-smart, the three people alongside me are also. On me, they also have common sense. They lack a stubborn nature. I’ve learnt not belittle myself with this information and give up, but to accept it and keep going.


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I’ve learnt not all my instincts are accurate. That I should avoid making assumptions of people. They’ll more often than not prove us wrong. People are intelligent in different ways; we shouldn’t write them off for not excelling in the way we do. Everyone has a thing – something they know, or something they know how to be. We should treat people in a manner that recognises this. We might even learn something.

I’m not mad about the mistakes I’ve made. Everything I’ve learnt outside uni is everything I’ve become in the capacities of my life. The most important lesson I’ve learnt, however, has to do with the construction of it. I’ve learnt – by way of putting my intentions to action – that the way we spend our days indeed extends to the way we spend our lives. For this is true, we ought to involve each day with the contents of something we love. If you’re not enjoying your course, do: get the fuck out of it. But leave only driven by the best of intentions. Don’t leave because you’re lazy. Leave because it doesn’t make you motivated to get up and speak everyday. 

Don’t sit contently with doing something you love, though. Keep going: do something you’re proud of. Each and every day – no matter the size – complete something which makes you happy to have been you. Friends ask me how I have the motivation to wake up at 6am and run almost 7 days a week. It’s because I have the power to make myself proud by 7.30am. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of that? If the rest of the day goes sideways, then at least for my determination, I can be glad. 

As you take control over the reigns of your life during this next year – whether you are beginning first year uni or embarking on a second – take a little time out to be self-aware. Establish acceptance with the idea of things in flux. They will be for a while. It’s been a year, and still, my life continues just as changeably. What’s important is that we guide this change. Do as Ghandi and be the kind you wish to see in the world. Remember that such will come only from a look at your own. 

McKenzie xx

Wearing: Topshop leather jacket and pants, Lula + Rose top, The Leather Satchel Company bag (use the code MCKENZIE20 for 20% off!), Wildpair shoes

Image Credit: Annie Strachan (taken in Melbourne)


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