In Ireland a dorm set-up is rare. Generally we have little apartments or houses that we share with a few others. I wish I'd had a first-year dorm experience like I've seen and heard about from friends in the US and UK. However we have some positives to our little apartments.. Privacy is great post first semester. (Well, arguably.)
Also just to avoid confusion for our UK friends: "College" as we refer to it in Ireland is actually third-level or university education, I believe there's a difference between college and university in the UK.
First off, know that you will essentially live your next three-six (or more!) years out of a suitcase. This may not be applicable for out-of-Ireland-ers who do not go home most weekends.
Great intentions of unpacking Sunday night after your tumultuous bus journey back to college will dissolve when one of your housemates regales you with the tales of her weekend, namely the antics of her best friend's cousin. (She shifted A in the club, then his best friend, B. immediately after while she and B were in the smoking area... OMG and then A. bought her chips... He still doesn't know about her and B.)
No, Monday night isn't an option, you've got to catch up on that hungover black day you last Friday. (Read: blackboard opened, while watching clips of Ellen de Generes, drinking tea and eating Pot Noodle).
Tuesday? No, you'll be feeling guilty from all that junk food you ate on Monday night- it's a time for a "brisk power walk" with the girl that lives across the hall (turning in to an impromptu night of gossip and bants at a random girl's house who you will exchange awkward salutes with for the remainder of the college year, only to be ignored by for the remaining few years).
Wednesday? Nah, got to go on the lock. You're too busy back-combing the girls' hair, keeping up with power hour (hello, Aldi's finest Vodka) and kissing that hot guy in your tutorial group (more awkward exchanges, always occurring at times when; you've just been for a run/ you fall over that jut in the pavement/ are in the process of having your friend take a bizarre photo of you).
Thursday? Well, there's no point packing now, you're going home tomorrow, may as well just take out the clean clothes, leave them on the bed and bring your washing home. Oh, you need to sleep in that bed? Put them in a tidy pile on the ground with the rest and k.o. listening to some inane top 40 track you have unfortunately come to love that week while cramming the work for tomorrow's mandatory tutorial.
Next- understand that drinking from a jam jar and buttering your toast with a plastic teaspoon are just inevitable things during college years, especially first year.
Those mates of yours made off with all the cutlery (the tree across the road is looking very jazzy) and broke every item which one can drink from in the house. There's an inexplicable trail of glasses and mugs leading from the taxi rank to your front door (how did those get there?!) and you'll be too ashamed/disgusted to collect any of them. They'll disappear quickly though, there's people around the following night in need of a glass to knock back their captain and coke, and your pals have just provided them with a worthy chalice.
You'll be amazed at how dependent you are on mundane household aids, largely because your kitchen will inevitably lack something at some stage. You'll also be amazed at how "resourceful" you'll become in order to improvise said household object's purpose. I recall my first ever night in college with my housemate's friend digging my bottle of wine open with a knife as we had no corkscrew.
Random items from the street or campus will decorate your first year house.
We had a lot of fun with that sign. It ended up at a friend's house (he did "rightfully" steal it) after we worriedly considered campus security may catch us trying to conceal the giant glowing sign under my scarf. Though I never found out where that sign went to afterward...
Expect your friends and housemates (never you, you know stealing is wrong) to decorate the place with an assortment of traffic cones, signs from neighboring areas, "discarded" license plates, nightclub promotion fliers and shopping trolleys. You'll come to learn that there either isn't enough or too much explanation into the origins of these items, so it's better not to ask. There was brief stint in first year where one of my housemates had found a bright orange bike abandoned in a ditch (a ditch in the city, because that sounds legitimate) and harbored it in our kitchen. He did look a picture cycling around on a luminous orange women's bike.
Don't be too surprised if you arrive back from a lecture to be greeted with this:
(Yes, that is bread.)
Don't follow the crowd.
This sounds incredibly trite, but college/university is your one chance to overhaul and express yourself. Have you suppressed a secret love for Charmed and playing Black Ops these past years throughout secondary school? (Yes) In college you can embrace it! People don't judge as swiftly in college as they did in secondary school, in actuality, you'll often find someone who enjoys the same things. (Just during the last month or so I discovered one of my friends also loves Charmed, it just made me love her more.) Your quirks in college are often the things that lead you to finding amazing friends that last you a lifetime or pretty close to it. If you've ever wanted to join the ultimate frisbee club or think that playing intense Pokémon card games during lunch (I seriously do see this) is viable pastime you will certainly have the opportunity to do so in college. What's even better is that if you don't find such a club, you can just set one up!
Looking back, I wish I had involved myself a little more in extracurricular groups and organisations in college, bar writing a bit for the fashion section in my college newspaper, I wasn't one of those people who stayed on campus all day. Maybe this was because I was living on campus for my first two years. Ironically, I spend much more time on campus now than I did in my first two years, and I actually enjoy college a lot more because of it. It led to me meeting and making even more friends, which isn't easy when you're in a very big course (my year has about 1500 students!)
You'll need to budget.
One subject I haven't touched on yet is being a student on a budget. In Ireland we're truly blessed that our tuition fees are paid by the government. We still do have to pay for things like books, rent, food, transport and fun. My eyes have been opened since spending the summer in America where my friends there are graduating with $100,000+ in debt, it really makes me appreciate that I don't have to take out a student loan (let's be real here, if that was the case in Ireland, the interest rate would be that of a mortgage).
However, you do still have to budget. You will have weeks where that night out has led you to face a cupboard with only microwave popcorn and gravy to suffice as food options for the last two days (actual example here!), so learning to cut costs is essential. After a few weeks of living away from home, you'll learn to sniff out a bargain in shops. Places like Aldi, Lidl and so on will become your haven. You feel quite aristocratic if you browse in M&S. (Though one of my friends used to all of her college food shopping in there!) You'll dismiss the brand name if the generic version is giving you 200g more for 25 cent more. Much and all as budgeting can be a pain when you're not used to it, it becomes pretty second nature to you after a while. (Though I was known to live off of tinned spaghetti and cereal for the week if it meant that I could buy that dress I had my eye one). Being skint and budgeting is a key part of college life. Now I combine expenses with my housemates, like doing the food shop together means we don't waste any food, and cooking for each other one to two nights a week makes things cheaper (and a lot healthier!) It means then that you can afford to go to the cinema, have a night out, go for dinner or do a spot of shopping.
Don't worry too much about money, everyone else in college is broke, you're not going to have a glamorous life just yet, nor are the majority of your college friends. If you're really feeling the pinch, many colleges have a student assistance fund, or else try to pick up a part time job (I know, recession and all that, but it's worth a good effort).
You're much freer now.
This sounds amazing, especially when your mum is nagging at you to study for your Leaving Cert/ A-Levels/ SATS and you just want to be rid of it. Some people take to the freedom well, others don't. Just know that it's OK to be homesick for a while, also know that it's OK to not be homesick at all. In college you can eat what you want, take as many days off as you'd like (not without their consequences) and spend your time as you choose. If you want to stay up until 4 in the morning talking about your favourite bands with your friend, that's perfectly acceptable. Some people adjust well and thrive with their new found freedom, some can react negatively and become dependent on others, or fall into the drugs trap. However you react, you'll soon see that your parents are right in saying that there's consequences for every action you take (though you'll never admit to them that they're right).
But... Keep an eye on your grades.
Sometimes with all this freedom comes the issue of slacking in studies. I've had a huge drop in my GPA last year from some issues that happened, and now I'm suffering through enormous amounts of study to bring it up. Know that, yes it's great you passed that class, but that it actually kind of affects you when you apply for postgraduate courses or jobs when you don't have the best grades you can get. I say this as I'm cramming for an exam in two days. Oh, hindsight.
Work your timetable, girl!
I'm lucky in my college and course that I am free to chose my modules and the times my tutorials are offered at, last year I always had Fridays off and I didn't start any earlier than 10 o'clock in the morning. Last semester I had Fridays off, and the upcoming and final semester is my holy grail of semesters, having both Mondays and Fridays off! I will still be spending a lengthy amount of time studying and writing essays, but it's nice to know I'm free to do so at home rather than to trek in to college every morning. If you have this option to chose your timetable, do it! Move your tutorials to afternoons, as it's more likely you'll attend them and contribute in them as opposed to sleeping in and missing one, or showing up and be mute for the entire tutorial.
If you're a morning person and feel you operate best earlier in the day, then switching classes to early mornings will be great for you, plus it means you're finished early! One of my housemates is finished most days at 12. (Though she does come home and nap for a few hours everyday, maybe she isn't the best example of a morning person!)
I'm not suggesting you don your best suit and schmooze in functions (though that isn't a bad idea either) but try to expand your horizons beyond the barriers of your friends from home. Meet and talk to as many people as you can. Remember that you're going to college to get a good head start in your career, you'll never know who will become what or which people will be able to direct you to someone with a perfect opportunity.
Make the best decisions for you.
If you don't like your course, decide whether it really is right for you. Some people stick with the logic that they should keep it up so they have something to fall back on, some go with the idea to drop out and change courses. Maybe you have a horrible housemate who is getting you down, or your tutor is unhelpful. Now is the time of your life where a vast majority of things suddenly become your responsibility to act upon. Everything is a gamble, but try to decide what suits you best, and not what friends and family think you should do.
Love and hugs,