It might be a cliché but there’s no doubt that university is life changing. Leaving home for the first time forces you to grow up quickly. Suddenly there is no one cooking for you or doing your laundry, no one to make sure you get up on time for class. Perhaps for the first time in your life, all those responsibilities are yours.

Before coming to university, I thought I was already an adult. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Moving in day was awful, I cried the moment my family left and sat in a room that wasn’t mine in a place miles away from home and wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake. I was terrified to talk to anyone and if it hadn’t been for my flatmate I probably wouldn’t have made a single friend that day.

Those first few weeks were probably some of the most difficult of my life, it forces you to grow up quickly in ways you didn’t expect. There’s a pressure to have the most amazing fresher’s week of your life, to make new friends and get drunk at every opportunity and while for a lot of people that’s exactly what that first week of university means, but for many others that is a daunting prospect.

Looking back then, at those first couple of months I can hardly believe how much myself and everyone around me has changed. I look at myself now and it’s like looking at someone else’s reflection. There are still hiccups, times when I want nothing more than my family and to be home. But over these last few months I’ve come to realise that university and the people I’ve met here are becoming a new home.

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When I’ve spoken to other students and asked what the biggest change they have seen in themselves since moving to university, the common answer is “I’m much more independent” whether this was in terms of making your own dentist appointment instead of asking your mum to do it, or being able to make more than beans on toast for dinner. For most people it all boiled down to being away from home for the first time and having to do things for themselves.

But there’s more to leaving home than just having to clean your own bathroom, another first year student at Surrey said, “it sounds weird but I’ve never had friends that were religious before, religion was never really a part of my life back home. It’s been interesting meeting people with different lifestyles and ideas about the world”.

For a lot of us, university is the first chance we get to interact and befriend people who aren’t from similar backgrounds to our own, forcing us to act outside the bubble we’ve been living in for the first eighteen years of our lives. You’re exposed to new things, different opinions and you start to really find yourself, and what you stand for.

“I’ve realised my potential more and gotten a lot more serious about my future” was another comment made by a student and it rings true. It’s scary but the reality is that our futures are invested in these years at university, but everyone I have spoken to on the subject has been excited to learn, to have new experiences and become the person they dreamt of being when they were young.

Coming to university is a chance to reinvent yourself. You choose how you want to be seen by the world, who you want to be, what you want to wear and everything that comes with it. There are no limits, leaving home gives you a freedom many of us have never had before. It’s terrifying at times, but at the end of that day you’re likely to only get one shot at this experience. One chance to make it one of the best things you ever do. Take every opportunity thrown your way and be the person you want to be, whoever that is.

Text and photos by Holly Butteriss