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May 14, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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Halls: Lonely but Not Alone

There are probably some people in this world who breeze through the end of high school and into university; people who seamlessly transition from living at home to sharing a home with hundreds of strangers. I’m going to hazard a guess and say that these people make up, at most, about 3% of your hall population.

I have many colourful memories of my year-long stay in a hall of residence. Let me paint you a picture of a typical night in the hall for me: sitting alone in my slightly-too-small, slightly-too-dark room, dipping a variety of foods into peanut butter, while the sounds of my peers drinking outside reverberated off the walls. Okay, I thought, so this is what “the best year of my life” looks like? I still hadn’t met any soulmates or life-long friends, I liked sleeping in far more than the hall chant competition, and I found the evening ritual of going down to eat dinner with a group of 20 “friends”, honestly, very strange.

When you first go into halls there is undeniable pressure. First, there’s the anticipation that builds months in advance: visiting the University on open day, choosing which hall to apply for, the countless stories shared by older friends and family — you know, the anecdotes of crazy/ fun/ amazing times in the hostel, and the repetitive assurances that it will be the BEST time of your LIFE. Suddenly O-Week events start popping up on Facebook, people are messaging you asking which hall you got into, and you’ve already managed to Facebook stalk most of the people you’ll be living with.

Perhaps it was only me that felt this way, but it certainly felt like the world had my head in a vice grip and was ordering me to HAVE A REALLY FUN TIME. Maybe this sounds kind of nice, even a little exciting, but it also makes for a pretty intense amount of pressure. And so, off I went, primed to have a “life-changing experience”, with only a small and quiet part of myself wondering what would happen if I didn’t.

Now don’t get me wrong, the halls didn’t absolutely suck. I didn’t find myself frustrated or angry or lonely or sad on a concerningly regular basis. I made some great and lasting friendships, and had some truly wonderful and fun experiences. I can appreciate my year in the halls for what it was, an interesting and challenging part of my life. But, that doesn’t mean living in close proximity with 300 other people wasn’t really hard sometimes. That’s what they don’t tell you about halls: they can be intense, stressful, and anxiety-inducing.

It took me a while to hit my stride in halls. I spent a lot of O-Week feeling awkwardly terrible at navigating introductions and small-talk. I’d walk down to breakfast praying that I would have a friend down there so I wouldn’t have to sit alone. In my spare time I’d weigh up the least uncomfortable way of greeting people (I settled on a casual, not at all forced little wave). For a while I felt seriously-deficient in the friend-making department, like I’d somehow missed out on the part of life where everyone finds out how be good at basic human interaction.

I couldn’t shake the isolating sensation that I was standing on the outside looking in, at a group of people whose friendship seemed warm and glowing, who all seemed to be getting exactly what we were all supposed to get from the halls. Except there I was standing on the periphery, a quiet observer, alone in my thoughts.

And that’s what made it harder than it needed to be: feeling like I was the only who felt this way, like I’d managed, through my own ineptitude, to fail at something everyone else found easy. Except that wasn’t true, isn’t true, and once I realised this, things got significantly better.

To cut to the chase, life improved when I realised two things: 1) placing so much value on other people’s perception of halls was not only unfair on myself, but also utterly pointless, and 2) that there were a countless number of people in my hall who (I realised once I talked to them) felt exactly the same. Accepting that I am the way I am, and sometimes that means being a little awkward, made my life better. So did realising that eating dinner alone without caring what others think is actually kind of awesome. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any quick, surefire ways of making your hall life easier. But I can say that talking to others can really help, because if you’re feeling some kind of way, it’s almost a certainty that others in your hall are too.

At the end of the day, the only hall experience you are capable of having is your own. It’s 100% okay and normal to find it all kinds of shitty. If this applies to you, I hope you have found some comfort in knowing I struggled through it just as awkwardly. I will now leave you with one life-changing piece of information: taking your breakfast up to your room instead of eating it downstairs is totally all good!! You’ll never have to engage in half-asleep, 8am small talk again.

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