I am aware that university means different things to different people, and that it is almost impossible to generalise the student experience outside of a few broad strokes.
This became clear to me when I read an article recently where the writer described how they felt much happier after they moved from university in rainy Galway City to a university in a sunnier climate.
While I don’t begrudge the writer their happiness, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed – mainly because I had such a positive experience in Galway and I was sad that not everyone felt that way about the place.
For sure, I had my misgivings at first when I arrived in NUI Galway. While I had no misgivings about whether it was the best university for me, I was afraid about whether I could “fit in” and not just spend my time alone and friendless.
I rationalised that, out of 17,000 students, there had to be a few people I could get on with. However I was never the most socially outgoing of people, so I was still unsure as to whether I could really meet people who were not all about just stocking up on cheap drink and going out to nightclubs.
Not that I disapprove of people doing that, but to me, it seemed as if that was all some students cared about. Seeing as I couldn’t care less about either, I thought that making friends would be very difficult.
However when I came to Galway, I decided that I no longer wanted to be that person who was never really close to anyone and spent their time dwelling alone.
I did that a lot in secondary school, and although I grew out of it slightly in my final years, I wanted a clean break from the past and to make the effort to see if I could actually form or join a social circle by myself.
I was sick of being alone and there was no way I was going to continue on that road while in university.
So, what did I do? I sat beside people in my lectures and tutorials and tried to start conversations with them before the class commenced. I joined and tried out several of NUI Galway’s societies and clubs, and I worked in NUI Galway’s student newspaper, S.I.N.
I used to hesitate from starting conversations or getting involved in things due to my own insecurities, but in Galway I decided that since no-one really knew me there, I could just burn my bridges without consequences.
I only ever really managed to get to know a couple of people via talking to them at lectures and it didn’t help that I was an Arts student, which meant that most of my lectures would have a couple of hundred students attending.
Even accounting for lackluster attendance, forming a strong bond with people was hard to do within the few minutes before class started.
However, my decision to try out societies hit the jackpot. Out of all the people I got to know within the last year, the vast majority of them were people I meet regularly in societies – especially the Literary & Debating society (known as Lit & Deb), as well as the Journalism society.
Also, working with S.I.N. allowed me to meet people in the weekly editorial meetings – whenever I could make them – and also inspired me to start my own blog, which also helped me to get to know more people.
Before I knew it, I actually had the option of sitting next to people I knew in some of my lectures and have lunch with others, as opposed to doing both as a solitary individual.
Despite my initial fears and tactless mistakes, I also managed to get myself deeply involved with Lit & Deb, where, for some strange reason, people didn’t mind me turning up and occasionally making some absolutely rubbish speeches.
At the end of the year, the newly-elected Auditor even appointed me as an Ordinary Committee Member.
In the Journalism Society I am the Vice Auditor and I’m now involved in making some big plans for next year.
For some people, the weather makes or breaks their university experience. For others, it’s about the academic side of life. However, for me it was the people I have met in the last year.
I entered university, expecting to maybe just meet a couple of people to talk to now and again and for that to be the extent of my social life.
In the last year I far exceeded what I imagined to be possible. I managed to meet intelligent people, who for some reason, decided that there was a place for me in their social circles.
It was hard for me to leave Galway this summer, and I have made several return trips since – staying overnight on floors, couches and (occasionally) beds that my new friends kindly let me crash on for the night.
For me, summer can’t end quickly enough.