relationships

Living Together Through the Years – Top Tips From Fresher to Finalist

How you experience living with others depends on what year you’re in at uni.

Everything changes each time you move somewhere new. Situations, workload, location, friendships.

Since it’s the start of another academic year, I’ll run through some tips and experiences for each year. Just when you think you’ve got communal living sussed, you’re thrown into a brand new set of circumstances.

photo by David Reece

photo by David Reece

Fresher Year

Support those not settling in so well

I wish I’d done this better. I was experiencing loads of new stuff myself, but I could have tried harder to help integrate those who were finding life away from home tough.

In my first year, one housemate was torn apart from being away from family and it seemed only a matter of time before they would leave. It didn’t take long. But in that short space of time, I could have done more to reach out and show a friendly face. I tried once or twice, but I wasn’t consistent, and that’s key.

Work as a team ESPECIALLY when one or two won’t pull their weight

You could easily adopt a ‘down tools’ attitude when one person isn’t willing to get involved in cleaning and other little jobs. But that makes it worse for everyone. Don’t choose to live with mess and muck as a matter of principle.

Start a conversation. Be kind when you speak to them about the situation. Anger will only make matters worse.

And don’t make it a five-against-one showdown either. Before having a house meeting to vent on that single subject, take a soft approach. One or two housemates could have a quiet word first to find out how things are and discuss the situation constructively. Gently does it.

If you’re lucky enough to have cleaners, you may not have these issues. But please spare a thought for whoever is making good your mess.

Prepare to learn a lot in a short space of time

If you’ve never lived with others, especially a bunch of strangers, you’ve got your work cut out. Some positive stuff, some negative.

Use this time as a learning experience, as you do with your degree work. You’ll face surprises, but don’t react too quickly (y’know, unless it’s a fire, in which case GET OUT!!!). Let each situation sink in and make a measured response.

Branch out beyond your own space

No matter what your living situation, university lets you find all sorts of new people. Now is the time to make new friends, connections and contacts. You don’t have to stick with the people you’ve been placed with in housing. While it helps to be on positive terms with them, there are many more opportunities to make new friends from the outset. Make the most of it.

Learn how to hack your life

Washing, cleaning, and admin. Delightful! It’s no surprise so many students ignore stuff like this until it’s crucial. If it’s not the end of the world, it can be left.

But now is the best time to learn how to make life work for you without resorting to professional help (i.e. Mum & Dad).

Take your laundry, for instance. Washing machines look daunting. They have loads of dials and buttons. But it’s not difficult. At all. I used to panic about temperatures, times, spin speeds, and all sorts of settings just to wash my clothes. In my first year, I only washed my own clothes in an emergency. Most of the time, I just got others to do it (yes, parents again).

This was a mistake. I should have taken responsibility much sooner. Five to ten minutes is all it takes to understand what’s going on. That includes looking up what all the cleaning symbols mean on clothes. You’re welcome. [What, that's not enough? You want a printable PDF of those symbols now? Oh, go on then!]

So long as the clothes get washed, it doesn’t really matter. Most stuff goes at 30 degrees (40 degrees is the norm, but uses more energy and often isn’t needed) and most stuff can have a good old spin session without worry. Those laundry symbols come in useful to find out those odd items that need special attention. Remember those ones and move on!

So this isn’t much about hacking, more about dealing with the issues from the outset. But it’s such a rare treat that your advanced work will seem like hacking to much of the world around you.

Just be aware that you’ll be in demand as the guru to go to…

Second Year

Typically the year when you branch out to private accommodation if you haven’t already.

If you’re living with more new people, the first year tips apply. Read those first.

For the following tips, I’ll assume you’re living mainly with people you know and that you’ve chosen to live with.

These are good times, but you still need to be mindful. Even friends can be difficult to live with when they’re under your feet 24/7.

photo by Ethan Moore

photo by Ethan Moore

Respect the place

This goes without saying, no matter where you live. But some student accommodation through a private landlord may look weathered and worn from heavy use by other students over the years.

That’s no reason to treat your place without care.

Also, inform the landlord of any problems. Don’t leave them to get worse. If the landlord isn’t helpful, try speaking to your Students’ Union or student services for more advice.

Walls are even thinner

Noise can be a problem. Why? Because you have different deadlines, you come in at different times (including very late at night), you have different tastes in music, you have various ‘romantic’ situations, and so on. Just remember that you’re not the only one in the house. The occasional lapse is forgiveable. Don’t make it more than that.

Have rotas

You’re unlikely to find a way to give each person the same responsibility for particular tasks, especially if they are unpleasant ones.

A rota helps everyone pull their weight and allows you to keep on top of the most important household tasks.

Little and often. That works magic. When you leave stuff, it piles up and gets worse. A few minutes here and there makes a big difference over time. So, little and often.

Understand extreme personality traits

Some people are more fussy about cleanliness than others. It’s not unusual to live with extremes. While one shrugs at massive mess, another gasps at a fleck of dust.

It’s a difficult road to travel, so prepare. And listen. And seek solution at the earliest possibility.

Failing that, seek compromise.

Whatever happens, try to steer away from outright household battles. They’re ugly. You don’t want them.

Pay bills on time

Especially ones where it’s in a single housemate’s name. If bills are all inclusive or you’re all responsible for your own shares, that’s wonderful. If not, please PLEASE do the right thing and pay when you’re meant to. Don’t be responsible for giving someone else financial grief.

Final Year

I was a Senior Student, so I went back to university accommodation. But being in my final year, the game changed and I was working on my dissertation among other things.

I didn’t hide away though. I went out a lot more.

Whatever your circumstances, a few things are different about your final year, because you’re closer to the end of your degree.

photo by _bernd_

photo by _bernd_

Be selfish

You need to knuckle down. If you haven’t already made changes, now is the time. Don’t be swayed to go out when you’ve got work to do. Make decisions for yourself and have clear reasons why that’s your choice.

You may need more of your own space. If you need to make your room off-limits, make it clear why. You’re not being anti-social, you’re being sensible. Of course you’d love to spend every waking moment having a laugh with your mates. But it’s not practical.

Have downtime

You may be busy and getting your selfish groove on, but you need to find some time with your housemates.

There’s something wrong when the people you’re living with forget you’re there…

Continue washing, tidying and organising

The odd jobs are the first to go when you’re trying to find time to fit everything in.

Bad move. You waste time living in a mess. It’s impossible to live when you can’t find anything, you’ve got nothing clean to wear, and everything is a general state.

I went to the laundrette on Sunday mornings, very early. I knew nobody would be around that way. I’d take some work to get on with while my clothes were being washed. The best way to avoid temptation is to leave your phone in your room. At a laundrette, it’s the only thing left in your way between work and procrastination.

With no phone to hand, the prospect of doing reading and coursework is (hopefully) better than staring at a spinning machine for an hour or two.

Final Thoughts

When you live with others, you have to take care of them. And yourself.

Sometimes it’ll be tough. You’re trying to work with the situation while it feels like others are messing you about.

Other times it’ll be brilliant. The group dynamic will work just right.

So you’re bound to go through all sorts of emotions, highs and lows. When things are good, cherish it and don’t take it for granted. When things go wrong, know that you will get through it.

For more tips, check out my 20 hints for living with others. Good luck!

The Meaning(s) of Internationalisation & Globalisation

Ask a number of students and academics how their university is engaging with internationalisation and you’ll probably get a bunch of different answers.

globe (photo by jorgencarling)

Alex Bols has written about the meaning(s) of internationalisation for universities. He brings up something he heard more than ten years’ ago:

“Just because a university has international students does not make it an international university.”

But what is globalisation? As Bols heard, globalisation goes far beyond geography. A good definition comes from a Guardian book, “Going Global: Key Questions for the 21st Century” by Michael Moynagh and Richard Worsley:

“We define globalisation as the world becoming more interdependent and integrated.” [p.1]

Moynagh and Worsley state that networks are multiplying, relationships are stretching, and human contact is intensifying.

The book was published in 2008. In the years since then, these three factors appear to hold true. Technology allows human connections to occur regardless of our location.

We have long been able to pick up a phone and call someone on the other side of the world. But the ease, casual nature, and low cost of contact is a much bigger driving force. For better or worse, our access to the world fits in our pocket, rests on our glasses, and may soon appear on a contact lens.

Back to Moynagh and Worsley:

“The important results is that spheres of life are emerging over and above geography. For part of their lives, people are beginning to inhabit a world that is not bound by territory.
[...]
“A world above the world is emerging, but people are still rooted in the world below. The interaction of the two is what counts.” [pp.2 & 4]

Be it a branch campus, an online course, or a virtual book-reading club, the possibilities are right before us and continuing to emerge. Welcome to the global digital tribe.

The buck doesn’t stop at connecting. Careful understanding of variables is necessary for the most effective engagement.

That’s not to say we have an easy time understanding these variables. If the meaning of terms like internationalisation and globalisation comes under much discussion and misunderstanding, there’s a long way to go before a collective confidence can be applied to communication. Indeed, communication on a local level can be enough to cause a headache.

No wonder Alex Bols feels that “internationalisation is a multi-faceted phenomenon”. We have always been diverse, but that diversity is ever more apparent. This is an opportunity to embrace and engage at a deeper level. As Bols states:

“To me, internationalisation evokes a near-infinite set of possibilities and opportunities for cross-pollination between people from different backgrounds.”

What do the terms internationalisation and globalisation mean to you?

Stay Close In Your Long Distance Relationship

Long-distance relationships (LDRs) require commitment and work. That’s the obvious bit. But how do you do it?

photo by Robby Ryke

photo by Robby Ryke

I had a great LDR, despite being at a uni with six or seven females for every one male. If I hadn’t been interested in my relationship working out, it definitely wouldn’t have worked out!

At times like these, you have to assess what you truly want. The moment you’re not 100% happy with the idea is the moment you will wander off. Be clear from the outset for your own sake as well as for everyone else.

Writing about LDRs for Norwich student paper The Tab, Rachel Moss has some great advice. With lots of Skype, FaceTime, and Facebook available, it’s easier than ever for you to contact loved ones. But, as Moss says, you have to both want the relationship to work. And it’s not worth constantly checking their social networks or freaking out the second you don’t hear from them when you expect it:

“Stop being a Facebook stalker. It’s easy to overanalyse photos/statuses and think that your partner is having more fun without you. Step away from the laptop and have some fun of your own!”

Paranoia is pointless and needy is unnecessary. Natural development is much smoother. And if things are sadly not working out, you’ll see other signs of it without having to seek them out and panic at every last word uttered. Sometimes the paranoia and constant contact can be the main cause of discomfort.

My LDR started when I went off to university. Moss says her relationship started at uni and her boyfriend graduated. However your LDR begins, it’s best to deal with the situation up front, rather than vaguely ‘see how it goes’.

Are you in a long-distance relationship? Here are a few more of my own tips:

  • Let life without you (and life without him/her) continue – You’re allowed to have fun. So is your partner. Just because you aren’t in each other’s pockets doesn’t mean you have to mope around until you next see them. And you shouldn’t expect that of your partner either. If they’re having an amazing time, that’s great. It’s nothing to do with you being somewhere else. Would you wish unhappiness on your other half? Of course not!
  • Don’t fix the same time to contact each day/week – Life is full of plans. If you’re expected to drop everything at a particular time no matter what, that’s a big ask. When one of you has other plans and has to get out of that contact, it can feel like a slap in the face, especially if the other one of you is at a loose end. Be flexible.
    And if you must have a fixed time for contact for some reason, discuss in advance how you’ll deal with things when you’re not both available at that time. Remember, it’s all about communication.
  • Focus on the relationship, not the distance – As I said above, it’s easier to contact than ever. You can now talk face to face, regardless of your location. Concentrate on the importance of your relationship and you might as well be in the same room.

You can blame distance when things go wrong; it’s an easy option, because distance is a challenge. But it’s not the only challenge. You don’t have to build up being apart as a problem in itself, even though it’s hard to be away from someone you care about that much. I was head-over-heels in love. Three years away at university didn’t stop that.

Like Moss explains, when you’re both “on the same page about giving it a go”, it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the other side of the world or in the house next door. You’ve already decided not to measure your relationship in miles.

What have I missed? Share your own long-distance experiences and tips in the comments below.

Worries that don’t go away…and how to make them go away

How different is it to be a student now compared to five years ago? Ten years? Twenty years?

The world continues to change. Your experiences are shaped by advances in technology. What you take for granted today may not have existed when you were born.

But how different are your worries compared to previous years?

Feeling anxious? (photo by jαγ △)

Feeling anxious? (photo by jαγ △)

A YouthInsight poll of more than 1,500 students has asked current students and this year’s uni applicants about their anxieties about campus life. Times Higher Education reports on the top five concerns as:

  1. Money (63%)
  2. Difficulties settling in (50%)
  3. Trouble making friends (48%)
  4. Getting on with flatmates (44%)
  5. Too much partying/drinking (22%)

There is nothing new in this list. And it’s understandable that you’d be worried about these things. For many, stepping on campus for the first time is also the first time away from the family home. The first time you’re fending for yourself in a major way.

If any of these matters are causing you anxiety, check out these links from the archives…

Money

Settling In

Making Friends

Getting Along

Partying/Alcohol

-

Many of your worries may be similar to others around you. The cliché goes that you’re all in the same boat when you start university. Cliché or not, that means you’re all trying to make sense of what’s new. And that’s not always easy.

Remember, you’re not getting it wrong. You’re exploring and discovering. The awesomeness can take time.

It’s worth the wait. :)