Conjure up an image of university life in your mind. If your perception of university is the same as mine was as a sixth form student, you've probably just imagined some kind of cross between a Hollywood teen movie and an advert for a Ministry of Sound album. Horrifying, I know. Being an introvert and with this perception in my mind, I remember adamantly saying that university was not the place for me. My teachers thought I was being stubborn. I saw it as self-protection. Thankfully, I had a few amazing teachers who took the time to change my mind, and I can't begin to tell you how glad I am that they did!
Having now completed my degree at Lancaster University (best three years of my life, by the way), I want to tell you about my experiences of being an introverted university student in the hope that it will dispel some of the fears that you may have regarding life at university. I'm going to focus on the two things that worried me most - the first week of university and adapting to a new style of teaching and learning.
Fresher's Week (also called Welcome Week), is the name given to your first week as a university student. There is typically a large range of social activities planned throughout the week to give you plenty of opportunities to settle in and get to know people. To be honest, the thought of a week of what appeared to be forced fun terrified me. Yet somehow, I have nothing but good memories of my own Fresher's Week. I think it's necessary to go in with an open mind. I'm not suggesting throwing yourself into activities that you're just not interested in, but I am saying that this is a good time to push yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit and get involved.
Have a look at your Fresher's Week timetable. Many universities offer a range of activities to reflect different interests and not all are focused around nightlife. The ghost walk and BBQ were always popular options at my university. Looking back, these activities also had a major positive over a night out...they gave you the opportunity to talk to people. I remember worrying about this as I'm not great with getting to know new people, but the thing to remember is that everyone is in exactly the same situation as you. Nobody knows anybody and everyone is trying to make friends.
For me, being an introvert meant that taking that step out of my comfort zone and spending a lot of time talking to new people was exhausting (worthwhile, but exhausting). So, it's important that you also spend time recuperating......cue film night! Socialising without having to leave the house or be too energetic - great news! My friends and I used to organise regular film nights throughout the year as a way to spend time together while having a quiet evening in. This is also a perfect time to use the take away voucher's you've gathered over the first few days.
Universities are great places to find people who share the same interests as you, and many students use Fresher's Week as the perfect opportunity to sign up for various clubs and societies. To be honest, taking the first step and speaking to the societies that interested me was nerve-racking, but this was outweighed by the positives associated with establishing a network of friends across the university who all shared the same interests as me. Most universities have a large and eclectic mix of clubs and societies available meaning there is quite literally something to interest everyone.
Teaching and Learning Styles:
As I mentioned earlier, the second thing that worried me most about university was adapting to a new style of teaching and learning. Yet, despite what you may have imagined student life to be like, study at degree level can be perfect for students who consider themselves to be introverts.
Degree level study focuses heavily on independent learning which can suit both introverts and extroverts equally. In lectures, you will largely be required to pay attention to the speaker, taking notes that will further your learning later in the week. Students can ask questions if they wish, but it is not required. How students then choose to learn the content of their modules is up to them, enabling all students to learn in a way that suits their personality best.
Students will also attend sessions that rely on group work or discussion. These could be seminars or practical workshops for students who study a science based subject. I remember being a little nervous about seminars as I wasn't comfortable leading group discussions, but it quickly became obvious that students were able to benefit from seminars in different ways. You might gain as much from listening to the group discussion and choosing to contribute just one or two things of particular importance as another student who chooses to lead the discussion.
I can now also recognise how seminars helped me to understand the multitude of ways people learn and communicate with each other which has proved to be just one among many vital skills for the workplace which I developed at university. My current role at Lancaster University as an Outreach Learning Mentor on the East Lancashire Scholars Programme (in partnership with Villiers Park Educational Trust) - a programme that works with highly capable students from less advantaged backgrounds to ensure they develop the necessary personal and academic skills needed to achieve to the best of their ability - requires me to adopt many different mentoring styles. It is the skills gained from attending seminars at university that allows me to recognise when I should take a step back and allow the student to lead the mentoring session, and when a student would rather listen and reflect quietly on the topics discussed. As a sixth form student, I probably would have laughed in disbelief if someone had suggested that this would be my job after university and that I would be enjoying it as much as I am.
With hindsight I can see that I had little to worry about regarding Fresher's Week and adapting to university style learning. But as a sixth form student with no family who had been to university, my fears surrounding how I would fit in grew considerably. If you happen to be in a similar situation, I hope that this article goes at least a small way to minimising your concerns.
For anyone interested in seeing real students comment on their plans for a 'nightlife light' Fresher's Week you could check out the 'Lancaster Non Drinkers' forum on the student room