My genuine first experience at university and the importance of "giving it some time"
|Date:||07 September 2021|
Hi! I am Andreea Dascalu from Brăila, Romania and I have just graduated from the Bachelor programme Arts, Culture and Media, as well as from the Honours College. I first came to Groningen in 2018 expecting to spend the following 3 years of my life there, with small breaks during the summer and wintertime. However, during my second year, the global pandemic emerged, and, needless to say, it changed my plans.
Now, I must admit that the beginning of my time at the university did not really start on the right foot. I remember the very first day of classes, after which I came back to my semi-furnished student room, sat on the inflatable mattress I had as a substitute for a bed, and called my mother crying, telling her I wanted to go back home. The reason for my breakdown was not the difficulty of the classes or the approach of the professors. In reality, I was crying because I felt I did not fit in with my classmates.
Before you say that I was jumping to conclusions, I can now assure you that I was indeed doing just that. Nonetheless, in my defense, it was for the first time in my life when the predominant language spoken by my colleagues was not one in which I was fluent. I felt overwhelmed by the Dutch language and too scared to pop in and introduce myself in English. It was as if I could already forecast a lonely university experience for me, especially seeing how other people seemed to make friends so easily and I barely spoke 3 phrases with 2 different people. As depressing as this moment might seem, it is perfectly normal and very common for first-year students, especially international ones. Looking back, I am so glad my mother did not cave in and bought me a plane ticket to Romania after that scary first day. Instead, she told me to ‘just give it some time.’ Needless to say, she was right (as moms usually are).
“A singular bad first experience definitely does not portray how the rest of them are going to be.”
In the following days, I had more classes and, for the first time, seminars. These are classes of 20-25 people, which are discussion-based and student-led, the professor having more of a moderator role. I walked into the room of my very first seminar with low expectations, thinking I will probably be once again one of the few non-Dutch speakers there and would end up feeling excluded. However, it was at the very beginning of the class when we did a round of introductions that I realized how wrong I had been. There were people from literally all around the world (from Mexico to Lithuania and from the UK to China), who were basically in the same boat with me: not really knowing anyone, feeling anxious to be there while equally excited to meet new people. During the break in-between sessions, I mustered up the courage to talk to the girls sitting next to me. I found out we had quite a lot in common and many mutual interests. And that was it. That was all it took to create the first connections with my classmates, which soon turned into friendships. A singular bad first experience definitely does not portray how the rest of them are going to be.
Being an international student brings you a wide variety of benefits. However, as much as being a great privilege, it comes with many hardships, unknown to domestic students. You move to another country, usually on your own, often on a tight budget, and, more often than not, you feel lonely for prolonged periods of time. Moreover, our minds are wonderful mechanisms that feed off the need of belonging to a group. As an international student, this need is more difficult to satisfy. Nonetheless, if we are to judge by my experience, it gets better if you just ‘give it more time’. Allow yourself time to readjust to a new environment, a different culture and a novel lifestyle. Do not beat yourself up if you come back from your first day of classes without already having found your new best friend (guilty!). Remind yourself that you are going through the same things as your fellow classmates and have the courage to make the first step, even if you are an introvert (trust me, I know how it feels). Although you do not have to put up with an environment in which you do not belong, you often cannot draw that conclusion after a day. Wait a couple of weeks, be kind to yourself and your mind, and see if you feel the same way then as in the beginning. Luckily, in most cases, you won’t.
A great tip is to join a student or study association (there are numerous ones in Groningen focused on a variety of activities, sports, etc.), where you can meet people with whom you would share at least one thing in common, namely your interest in that association. This aspect represents a great conversation starter and it is guaranteed to make the process of making friends easier. No matter how scary it may sound, try to put yourself out there as much as you can and you will see how your university experience will improve considerably.
This is my unfiltered rendition of my first experience at the university, sprinkled with genuine reflections and comments from a fresh graduate who trusted their gut feeling (and mom) and managed to exceed their own expectations in terms of university and student life. I hope you can find this comforting, if not helpful, and that it leaves you feeling a little less lonely. You’ve got this!
Questions regarding my story or the university? You can contact me via the contact form on my personal page:
About the author
I was born and raised in Romania, by the Danube River, and grew up in a very science-oriented environment, out of which, surprisingly, I developed a passion for art, due in part to the extracurriculars I have been attending since very young. In 2018, I graduated high school and was awarded the valedictorian title. In September of the same year, I started the Arts, Culture and Media bachelor degree programme at the University of Groningen and eventually joined the Honours College.