Roleplaying adulthood

Danielle Briody reflects on the new chapters that come with the beginning of college

Everybody tells you how fast the last year of secondary school slips through your fingers, but you don’t fully understand them until you open your emails on CAO offer day. There, in capital letters, the automated email informs you where you are going to spend the next three or four years of your life. The code invites you into a course and you have to scramble through your notes app to confirm that yes, those five digits are what you think they are. And suddenly, after months of deliberation and anxiety over the future, your answer to everybody’s “so, what are your plans after school?” becomes tangible. It isn’t long before your inbox becomes inundated with notifications from your college and you realise that you are entirely responsible for registering, declaring and submitting. Everything sounds really important and also really should-not-be-trusted-to-someone-who-only-learned-how-to-create-a-spreadhseet-last-June.

“The transition into university is unique because it is never just one single change”

Within a matter of days, “college next year” turns into “college next week” and despite feeling like you’re only packing for a holiday, people begin calling in to wish you good luck. And goodbye. Your grandmother’s hug grips you tighter than before and your aunts are asking you to promise them you’ll keep safe. The transition into university is unique because it is never just one single change. It is moving to a different school, but also moving to a different educational climate. It is moving to a new city but also moving out of my childhood home for the first time. It is becoming more responsible for myself than ever but also waiting for my eighteenth birthday. It sort of feels like how I would expect my wedding day to go: a momentous occasion that serves to remind you of what a milestone the short space of time is, whilst overwhelming you with so much pressure to take it all in that you cannot actually be present. 

Before you can even process everything, you’re squashed in the back of a car filled to the brim with shopping bags of sheets and clothes (and pasta). The presence of urban streetlights proves extremely useful and you’re beginning to wonder how you have come to own so much “stuff” as you haul everything up the narrow staircase of your home for the foreseeable future. You’ve picked your playlist for the commute to college, you’ve double-checked Google Maps a million times, and you’ve practised your introductory smile in front of the mirror longer than you’d care to admit.

“Everything is non-stop and ever-changing, yet you’re also very aware of the fact that you are completely on your own for the first time in your life”

Freshers’ Week is… intense. It’s forcing yourself to make small talk every time you catch someone’s eye and it’s laughing with someone whose name you’re not completely sure of. It’s reassuring in ways when you meet someone who seems to be a little bit like you, and nobody minds if you take a seat at a crowded table. You begin to scroll through new contacts and try in vain to put names to faces (or at least courses). You’re making new friends and learning new skills (thank you by the way, to the Belfast girls who taught me how to make toast in an oven). You figure out the best entrance to walk in depending on which building you’re going for and you even scope out the gym. You join a million different societies because you’re easily influenced when tote bags come into the picture, and you’re already bombarded with emails from every single department in the college (I’m not even sure if I’m supposed to be on some of these mailing lists, to be honest). Everything is non-stop and ever-changing, yet you’re also very aware of the fact that you are completely on your own for the first time in your life.

And then, of course, there’s the first weekend back home. Your bedroom looks a little eerie and family conversations feel a little different. You’re smacked in the face with the reminders of everything you’ve left behind – waiting for your dad to get home from work, the smell of your mum’s perfume, your grandmother’s scones. There are hugs and there are catch-ups and then very quickly, there’s the plans to drive back to the bus stop. 

If you thought Freshers’ Week flew, the first week of lectures (you know, what you actually signed up for) goes by even faster. Your timetable fills up with classes and reading time (and unnecessary lunches out that your wallet really regrets now). Keeping yourself sane while trying to achieve your absolutely best is a challenge. After lectures, you’re forced to rely on your own self-discipline to keep updated (whilst figuring out what the subject of your course actually is). Of course, after each week, things start to grow a little steadier. It slows down, and walking into a lecture hall feels less daunting. Faces become recognisable – you actually use some of the contact details you took tentatively in the beginning. The novelty wears off of going to the library, but you also feel a lot more comfortable there than the first time you walked in. 

As we approach Reading Week, and look towards the rest of the year, everything still feels a little ambiguous. Who knows where you’ll celebrate New Year’s Eve or who you’ll text before coming back to school in January. Everything is still very much up in the air – maybe you’ll fall in love with your course. Maybe you’ll decide that it’s not for you. Perhaps you’ll grow unimaginably close to the classmate who smiles at you when they pass or maybe the long Christmas break at home will make up for the homesickness and uncertainty. Regardless of what happens within the next four years, I’d argue that the most daunting part is over. From here on out, there is a comfort in having (somewhat) an idea of where we are.