One of the best parts about transitioning to university and moving to a brand new city is the opportunity to widen your friendship circle and meet people from all across the country - and even the globe. For lots of people, it can be daunting coming into a brand new environment with expectations created by the likes of social media, trashy teen movies, and older siblings.
But the uncertainty of who you will meet and spend at least the next three years with should be an exciting prospect. During Freshers’ Week, you will end up repeatedly telling people what you’re studying and the name of your childhood pet - and as frustrating as this may get, it will all be worth it, because eventually you will meet the people who you will share this entire experience with.
When settling into a new environment, university included, you have a very simple responsibility to respect everyone that you encounter, even if there is a difference of opinion - whether this is political or religious beliefs, interests and hobbies, attitudes towards drinking alcohol, or different cultural backgrounds. So, we have curated some dos and don’ts that you should keep in mind when you arrive in your new home and meet your new flatmates and friends…
DO: Engage in active listening
You may not share a specific belief with someone, and that's okay! But you should approach any conversation around this difference with consideration and understanding, by listening to and appreciating their point of view. Nobody is saying that you have to suddenly abandon your viewpoint, but you must remember that other people’s opinions are valid, too.
If someone is choosing to share their opinion with you, you should respect them by actively listening to what they have to say, waiting for your turn to speak, and acknowledging that you hear what they are saying. As well as within your living space and friendship groups, this also applies to your seminars and lectures as well, particularly for debate-based subjects such as humanities.
DO: Respect other people’s boundaries and decisions
Regardless of whether you are close friends with someone, or if you have never spoken to them before in your life, you shouldn’t push anyone to answer any questions about their own personal beliefs or decisions if they are not comfortable doing so. Some people may welcome a conversation about your different beliefs, but other people may not, and it’s vital that you respect their choice.
This also applies to drinking culture, too. Perhaps the biggest expectation that people have before arriving at university is that they will be consuming lots of alcohol, but this is no by means a necessity and you shouldn’t feel alone if you choose to remain sober during your university experience. If you do enjoy a drink responsibly, that’s fine too - but you shouldn’t take the autonomy of that decision away from anyone else.
DON’T: Be a bystander
A bystander is someone who stands by and doesn’t speak up when someone is making another person feel uncomfortable. In order to make your friends, flatmates, and coursemates feel supported, it is important that you don’t let hateful, discriminatory language slide if you hear people using it. The people who continually spread hate through this language are fuelled by the power that they feel they have over others, so try to diminish this power by having an honest and constructive conversation with them about how they are conducting themselves.
Remember that this doesn't have to lead to a big argument or conflict. You can call these things that could potentially contribute to creating a hostile environment out very calmly - it doesn’t have to be confrontational. Adopting this attitude is the best way to resolve situations like this, to ensure that people take accountability for their words and actions, and learn from them in the future.
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