What have I learned from my freshman year at university?

University can be and will be difficult at some point in every student’s life – that’s not a secret. However, I believe most of us would agree that freshman year is the most challenging period of student life, especially if you are going to study abroad. New environment, mentality, and culture, being thousands of miles away from your home with constant anxiety and loneliness. I hit the spot, right? That’s because I have encountered the same experience during my first year at the university. I was lost and homesick and even fainted right after arriving at the dormitory on my first day in Pècs (but that is a story for next time). However, I am here not to startle anyone but rather to reassure and support with lessons and tips extracted from me as a first-year international student in Pècs.

  1. The sooner you realize you are not alone in this position – the better.

By “this” position, I imply being alone in a new, multicultural environment. Sooner or later after arrival, you are going to feel homesick, miserable, or sometimes angry for not adapting at the flick of the fingers. And I assure you that it is the natural response of your brain; you should not blame yourself for feeling this way. While slowly accepting your current physical and emotional state, try to acknowledge that you are not the only international student studying here. This advice may sound somehow toxic but think about it in a way that every new student experiences the same feeling that you do right now. In other words, every one of you has the same start, with different backgrounds, that could help to create a strong bond in a short time since you have concerns to share, stories to tell and advice to give. 

During my first year I lived in the dormitory, so having roommates who were also first-year students was a blessing. Whenever homesickness or anxiety struck my body, we sat down and talked about our inner conflicts out loud. If I did not feel like talking to someone, I started to journal how I am feeling, why, what can I do to prevent this next time and many other journaling prompts (you can also find suggestive questions online that will help you to organize your thoughts). To conclude, all you need to do is to recognize and accept your state, realize that you have thousands of other students nearby, that experience the same, and talk to them if needed. 

  1. Do not be afraid to seek help from the university staff or other students.

Being in an unfamiliar environment and asking dozens of questions about your every step may seem a bit embarrassing or annoying for some students, at least for me, that was the biggest problem during my first semester. Please, do not think like me. The university administration and student office are more than happy to explain everything and give answers to your questions. Moreover, our university offers the Mentorship Program for every admitted student for the whole academic year. Mentorship opportunity was so beneficial during my first year since my mentors were senior students at the university who had the same struggles and who could relate to new students. I felt like a mentor is a bridge between students and the university, so I recommend registering for this program for all new students. 

If you seek psychological support or want to share your feelings with someone professional, the University of Pècs offers free consultations with a psychologist. Remember that there is nothing wrong with asking for help from others – you should be encouraged to do it.

  1. Start building a strong and positive community around yourself.

Once you have adapted to your surroundings, I advise you to befriend people with similar interests, values, and goals. A man is known by the company he keeps, so try to find a group that will support you through your whole college life journey. By leading each other and striving for success, you will likely notice how your well-being and habits have changed since the beginning of the semester. When I say that our surroundings are our everything, I mean it. I have found amazing and inspiring friends within the university by joining student clubs and initiatives. I am a member of the AIESEC in Pecs team, with people who not only share the same professional interests as me but also create a safe space for me. The University of Pècs offers dozens of activity clubs and electives for international students, so once you have decided what to pursue, go ahead and make some new connections!

Student life abroad is about ups and downs: Today is your happiest day, but on the next day, you are drowning in tears because of homesickness. That is okay, you have got this. However, always keep in mind that turning your back on new people, discoveries, and environments may result in social isolation and you being unhappy. Try to be open to the world – it will surely open up to you too.