By Sinéad Walsh
It’s difficult for me to believe; my first year of college is already over. After endless hours of study and stress to get to where I wanted to be, the past year in Galway seems to have flown by in the blink of an eye. A whirlwind of cherished memories, of good and bad days, of learning new things and the life lessons that inevitably come along with my introduction to freedom.
Living Away from Home
I always expected to have this one down to a tee. Since my sister moved out three years ago, I’d imagined what it would be like having my own apartment, housemates and total independence. The idea always excited me, so I fell into step with this quite quickly, ushering my family out on the first day, with the promise that I could manage everything on my own. As apprehensive as I was the first few weeks, preparing myself for some conflict within the walls of 158, it fortunately never arose (despite a few passive aggressive comments about dirty dishes) and I am lucky enough to have found two incredible and lifelong friends.
But living away from home has its own challenges and lessons; there is no one to pick you up from town when you get caught in the rain and are soaked to the skin, there’s no parent to console you when you leave an exam disappointed and deflated, and there’s no dish of steaming curry on the table waiting to warm you from the inside out after a long day. You must remember to pack your own umbrella, to take your own dinner out of the freezer and be your own comforter. Providing for yourself and relying on your own routine can be incredibly liberating, but there can be bad days too.
College Friends are Friends for Life
I recall being told this growing up, that those I would befriend in college would (hopefully) be the ones to someday be at my wedding, the ones who would see me through the very worst and very best and the ones with whom I would make the fondest memories. I found this to be so true, and although I have been fortunate enough to make great friends at home also, there is something strikingly different about those friends I’ve made in college. Suddenly, friendships require much more responsibility, they no longer rely on the convenience of sitting next to someone in the classroom but finding the time to meet up and laugh even when you’re both drowning in assignments. College friendships are built on drunken chats and late-night cups of tea, on long walks in the dark and feverish early mornings. They’re sometimes found in the most unexpected places; the girl you asked for directions from on the first day, chance meetings, mutual friends and sometimes, the sheer good luck of sharing the same apartment.
In a large college such as NUI Galway, its every square foot brimming with diverse and interesting people, there are often times when you meet and connect with someone one day and may not bump into them again for several weeks. So, I began to learn early on that if I found someone I wanted to stick with, I had to get their Snapchat that first meeting, or risk losing them in the sea of other bubbling freshers’ faces not to re-encounter them for months to come.
For the first time, and possibly only time in your life, you’re surrounded by dozens of people who all have a vested interest in the very same things you do, whether in your course or in clubs and societies; whoever you surround yourself with is likely a reflection of your own interests and this provides you with endless opportunities to connect with people and make friends, you merely have to assemble the courage to strike up that initial conversation.
Balancing college life is less of a two-way struggle and more of a five or six-sided one with each element of your life fighting for your attention; assignments, study, keeping fit, work, friends, family, socialising… it can all be very difficult to manage. Everyone else always seems to have their life more together, more organised than you do, adding increased pressure to your already overflowing agenda. But lesson learned; no one has it completely together. Even those who appear to have their heads firmly wedged in the books year-round can be found drowning their sorrows with a few pints.
I won’t pretend to have mastered this practice even slightly. In fact, I’m probably at the bottom of the league table on this one. But having spent two strenuous years abiding by rigid schedules and crippling workloads, I allowed myself to tip the balance in the other direction this time.
I’m still learning how to get it all right, and probably never will, but hopefully the next few years will bring as precious lessons as this year has and I will continue to grow and use the mistakes of the past as a benchmark.