I recently received an email with a link to a survey that (unlike the majority of questionnaires sent to students) had only one question:

‘What has most surprised you about your time at university?’

As someone who often finds themselves wandering down memory lane, I would usually spend a considerable amount of time contemplating vast questions such as this, so I surprised myself when I instantly typed my reply:

“The thing that has most surprised me about my time at university is my ability to feel at home in a place I never thought possible.”

It’s taken me a long time to feel less sad about admitting that I spent a lot of my first year at university feeling restricted by anxiety and unable to embrace student life like so many of my peers seemed to do. As human connection forms a large percentage of our happiness, I’m fairly sure that feeling alone in a new place (along with worries about long-term academic success) were the biggest contributors towards my anxiousness.

Despite these initial struggles, I no longer view my experiences during first year as mostly negative because it has taught me so much about positive thinking, self-investment, hard work and the importance of being empathetic towards others. Taking the time to find out about someone’s day, or even offering something as simple as a smile, can make the world of difference to someone who is struggling. I’ve also learnt that kind gestures are often the starting point to long and happy friendships, which was a key factor in my own journey to happiness in a new place.

Whilst it took me longer than I anticipated to get used to living and studying in a new place, I am incredibly lucky to have since enjoyed many rewarding experiences as a student. Now I am approaching my graduation ceremony, I feel really proud to have made a second home, and a happy life, for myself in Sheffield. In fact, after a tricky start, Sheffield and the people I have met there have completely captured my heart – so much so, it really does feel like home now.

For anyone who may experience feelings of angst or unhappiness about being in a new place, I can promise you that you won’t be alone in that feeling, but I can also assure you that it won’t necessarily always feel that way. You can achieve, feel successful and make friends in places you may never have thought possible. More importantly, you can also help many others in their journey to do the same.


Hannah Thornton