With a Little Help from Our Friends

isolation-300x300 1Feeling isolated isn’t just about having little contact with people.

I felt isolated through some of my first year at university and I was surrounded by lots of people. For me it wasn’t so much the numbers, but more to do with feeling little value or like you didn’t share a connection with them.

Maybe the way I felt was linked to a superficial understanding of what Freshers would be like: people who I would instantly bond, share good times and ultimately be friends with forever.

For those international students who feel isolated, it’s something I can empathise with. Moving from one way of life with certain norms and traditions to another different one, perhaps entirely different, can understandably feel like a shock.

Not only are you expected to adapt to the new surroundings in such a short space of time, but you have to do it on top of finding your feet in your degree and everything else you plan to get involved in. And you may have to do all this by yourself.

Last week, I met with the president of the Graduate Students Association, Jelena Horvatic. In her manifesto for election, she said one thing Masters’ students complain about is feeling culturally isolated.

“If elected,” she wrote, “my aim would be to build cross­cultural networks through activities such as film nights, pub quizzes and fun sporting events in which anyone can take part.”
One thing about cultural isolation is that it affects both domestic and international students for a range of reasons. Some may feel a shock because of their background. Some may feel a shock because of different foods or different popularities in drink.

Others may not experience cultural isolation and may just feel lonely and desolate. Friendship may be a key factor. Have you made friends? Do you feel like everybody else has? I certainly did.

Encouraging friendship between domestic and international students for those who feel isolated or to prevent isolation should be a priority. Building social bridges between students, by encouraging participation in sports clubs and societies, will increase inclusiveness and happiness.

What is essential is not making anybody change. Instead, we must promote ways to make individuals feel included as part of a community by encouraging their active involvement and forming bonds. This is something Jelena is driving forward. A range of events, where anyone can get involved, will reduce feelings of loneliness and allow students the time to
make friends.

I’m now in my second year of university. The choice of coming to university in the first place was not something everybody in my family had the chance to consider.

But I don’t regret making that choice. In fact, in doing so I have met many great people and will hopefully make many friends, many of whom I probably wouldn’t have the joy of meeting without. And this is the good thing about university. You get to meet, socialise and make friends with people from different backgrounds and cultures, experiencing new ideas for the first time.

These ideas will shape us as individuals, and go on to form our characters, personalities and the way we make decisions. Many of us will feel lonely and desolate at some point in our life. For many, the key will not be in having lots of people surround us, but in having the chance to make friendships and form bonds so you feel included and part of the university experience.