First impressions and second chances

The transition into university is destabilising, but full of opportunity.

The transition into university is destabilising. You let go of high school; the comfort of structured routine, the convenience of circumstantial friendships and the safety of being told what to do. You are finally set free, but you also have to start taking baby steps into the adult world. For some students, like myself, you might also leave the only place you’ve ever called home. 

I said my goodbyes and boarded my flight from Auckland to Sydney early last year. As I looked out the window of my plane and watched Auckland gradually disappear from view, I let my emotions wash over me — nostalgia, anticipation, homesickness, excitement, doubt — all tangled up in one. While I knew I would miss the way my dog followed me everywhere and the little beach that consoled me on bad days, I was also determined to leave behind the blandness of suburbia and the boredom that comes with living somewhere your whole life. In some ways, I never felt truly at home — I was a big city girl; destined for glittering skylines and streets with fast walkers and opportunities far beyond that which Auckland could offer.

So I left, and set out for university, a place where I would make lifelong friends and have the time of my life. It would be a whirlwind of spontaneous nights out and debating intellectual topics and falling in love with people, places and new ideas. I imagined myself gathering tales of my adventures that I could bring home to tell. 

Instead, my initial university experience looked more like constant re-introductions of myself: Josie. From Auckland. First year at Usyd studying English and Media Communications. Again and again, until those words lost their meaning and everyone else’s all blurred together. I bought tickets to ‘The O Week Sitdown Festival’ where we couldn’t leave our table due to covid restrictions (maybe we should’ve known from the name). As a friend so aptly put it: “why did we pay $30 to enter a bar we could’ve gone into for free?” In between those days, nights were spent alone in my room, scrolling through old photos and reminiscing the past, wallowing in what I could never get back. I wondered if I would ever find a sense of belonging in this new and lonely place. 

As it turns out, I did. Not all of the time, but in moments scattered throughout the year. I found it in screaming the lyrics to ‘Good 4 U’ while driving in a car with girls I had met in class, having just bonded over shared feelings of heartbreak. In the books I borrowed from a friend’s bookshelf, with new ones appearing each time I visited his place. And on the night I introduced some friends to each other, the five of us squeezing into my narrow dorm room, and we talked until sunrise because the night had taken on that magical quality where it passes by without you noticing.

Now, as a second-year student about to re-enter university once again, I’ve lost some of that wide-eyed enthusiasm from first year. The thought of another crowded room filled with strangers and small talk feels exhausting. Adding to an ever-growing list of acquaintances is no longer one of my priorities. And like I once had to let go of the past, I’ve learnt to let go of what uni is supposed to be. Instead of one grand narrative, perhaps it’s more like a collection of excerpts, found in the day by day, and made meaningful by transient experiences that come and go.

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