- Manage your expectations
You might get lucky and make best friends for life with your flatmates, but, equally, you may not. Halls is a complete lottery, and the best you can do is just go with it. Given that university presents multiple opportunities to form friendships, it is nothing to worry about if you don’t end up being particularly close to your flatmates; many people find themselves in the same situation and end up having a great first year.
- Be nice
Whether or not they turn out to be your friends, you do have to live with these people for a year, and being friendly towards them is the best way to maximise your chances of having a good experience in halls. You might not be best mates with someone, but it doesn’t take much effort to say hi to them when you find yourselves in the kitchen together, or to ask how their day has been. You may have a flatmate who (inadvertently or not) proves problematic – who blasts drum and bass at 4am or clutters up the kitchen with a week’s worth of washing up. The best way to deal with grievances of this kind is to be civil and reasonable, because, if nothing else, bearing a grudge for an entire year will get exhausting. Most importantly, make sure that that problematic flatmate isn’t you.
- Give it time
For the first week or so, living in halls can be extremely challenging: you’re away from home, in a place you can’t imagine ever feeling entirely comfortable, surrounded by people who you can’t imagine ever being really good friends. Initially, it might be an effort even to summon the courage to go into the kitchen while other people are in there, but however unpleasant, that feeling is a completely normal one for a fresher to have. Give it a few weeks, because the likelihood is that you will become comfortable, and you will become close to people. It just takes a bit of time.
- Be yourself
You have probably been told this so many times that it seems condescending. However, I include it in the list because the importance of not changing yourself for the sake of other people can never be emphasised enough, and halls is the kind of pressurised setting when it is most likely to be forgotten.
- Prepare for the disadvantages
Whether or not halls turns out to be socially rewarding for you, it carries some disadvantages that everyone has to cope with. The first is that the only space you have in your first year at university that really counts as yours is a pokey little room. Maybe that sounds perfectly alright to you, but if you do start finding it slightly oppressive then you are not alone. What’s more, it quickly becomes apparent that that tiny little space isn’t properly yours at all: if there is one thing I am not going to miss about halls it is the onslaught of people – cleaners and fire safety people and maintenance men – who come knocking on your door without warning. Your instinct might be to panic and refuse to let them in until you’ve changed out of your pyjamas or tidied your room, but not to worry. As a fire safety inspector told me last year while he good-humouredly surveyed my appallingly messy room, they’ve seen worse.
- Savour the advantages
As your first taste of freedom, the halls experience is amazing: You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, with absolutely no judgement. If you want to stay in your dressing gown until 7pm or eat peanut butter out of the jar for dinner or make a stir-fry at 2am on a weekday, then there is literally nothing stopping you. In fact, another great thing about halls is that if you venture into the kitchen at 2am the chances of finding another flatmate in there doing something equally bizarre are pretty high, and neither of you will bat an eyelid. In fact, you can have a nice chat while you fry up some noodles.
It is also worth celebrating the fact that as well as being a place without judgement, halls is also a place of inspiration, particularly in terms of food. I had never considered putting bread, cheese and pasta sauce under the grill to make improvised pizza until I saw a flatmate doing it, and the discovery changed my life (I also didn’t learn how to use the grill until I saw another flatmate doing it, so communal living is full of culinary bonuses).
Another advantage (and the upside of the maintenance people coming knocking all the time) is that when something in your flat stops working, like your shower stops draining or your kettle breaks, it is never your responsibility to try and fix it. You only need to spend two minutes reporting it online and someone will drop by and deal with it for you with what I must admit is admirable efficiency.
- Don’t let your room swallow you
Because your room is the only space that is really yours, it becomes easy (especially for those of us with low contact hour degrees) to spend an unhealthy amount of time cooped up in there. Whether the root of the problem is anxiety or work stress or simply not having anywhere else to go, you should try and address it, even if that just means walking into town or meeting up with a friend in Courtyard, because your room in halls can soon become a very lonely place to be.
- Equally, give yourself time alone
You might be on the opposite end of the spectrum with an endless capacity to be sociable and a fear of being left out of things. Although the constant company of other people is what can make halls so much fun, it can be good to face the FOMO and make some time for yourself – missing one night out with your flat, for example, is not going to have any impact on those friendships.
- Do not worry about second year accommodation
You will hear frantic rumours telling you it is imperative to have fixed up who you’re living with by halfway through the first term, or that you need to start latching onto some potential housemates as soon as possible. Ignore every single one of these rumours, because as anyone sensible will tell you, there is heaps of time to sort out a house for next year, and at this point, you have no idea how your relationships with people will evolve. So just sit back, nurture some relationships, and enjoy it – it’s going to be a fun year.