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Practical advice for freshers: learning, stress management, independence

2021-09-01 12:19:28

Expert article with Student Support Services staff.
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As fun and interesting as it can be, freshers’ life can also be difficult and painful. Somewhat disconnected from the past, but looking for a future that is just beginning to emerge, we can fall under the bench between two chairs. We asked Lilla Török, a learning methodology trainer from Student Support Services staff, about the most common difficulties and how to deal with them.

Author: Lilla Török, Anna Kovács, Sára Sipos Professional reviewer: Boglárka Szatmáry-Czégényi

All beginnings are difficult: this cliché is not a scientific statement, but it holds great truth. Moreover, we can add to the saying that this is normal. So trying something new, moving up a level, getting into new situations, is a challenging task. It’s like when an athlete changes age in competition: suddenly everyone seems big and strong compared to them.

Of course, some people are not afraid at all, but the majority have mixed feelings. This is often where we first encounter learning difficulties. This may be the first failure, but a high school student used to the excellent marks will see even a lower grade as a failure.

Many of the learning strategies used in the past turn out to no longer work successfully, and new goals may emerge in relation to grades (“just get a B”).

For many, this is the first time they are confronted with the need to learn: you can’t go on “living” with just the knowledge you have acquired in class. Many people will want to learn in a different way, say Student Support Services staff members. “At university, in general, the emphasis should be on knowledge of logical connections rather than perfectionism. If we are too thorough and try to get perfect in every subject, it leads to a series of learning problems.”

This comes as a surprise to many students, as the “learn everything in every subject” strategy in high school was a straightforward and achievable route to a good report card. Those who are used to being the best at everything in secondary school may find that they are no longer at the top in all subjects at university, and they have to be able to cope with this.

The autonomy given to fresh students can also lead to procrastination. We often make the mistake of leaving a huge amount of learning for the last day: this is a very short-term, less effective strategy. What we remember until the next morning’s test is not stored in our long-term memory. “The brain is like a muscle and the exam is like a weightlifting competition: you can’t prepare for it in a day. In addition, little sleep, constant high stress levels and immense amounts of energy drinks or coffee can – if not now – hit you twice as hard years later. We encourage you to review your learning strategies after the first failures, to rethink and adapt them to the new and possibly larger amount of learning material,” say the Student Support Services staff members.

Starting university studies, challenging tasks and a new lifestyle can bring a lot of stress. Stress is a side effect of our lives, which, contrary to popular belief, is not always, or even fundamentally, a bad thing. Its physiological impact depends on what we think of it: it destroys us or it makes us act. The willingness to take action that comes with increased tasks is necessary and good, it prepares the body for the fight.

– experts highlight the positive effects of stress. “Let’s harness this determination; if we can’t turn it into productivity, let’s sport it out of ourselves! Furthermore, the human stress response seeks peer

support: ask for help from people close to you! Connecting with others is one of the best ways to manage stress.”

Being away from family is not always easy, you can feel lonely at first, and getting to know people in a new environment can be more difficult, which is where freshers’ camps and outreach programmes can help. In addition to offline programmes, it is also worth taking advantage of online opportunities. “They don’t necessarily have to be university-related, it is also possible to look for online groups based on leisure interests. You can join Facebook groups about fashion or music, for example, and attract people with similar interests,” adds the Student Support Services team.

The separation and letting go is also difficult for parents, although it is not an overnight process: starting university is a milestone. In the beginning, students make more frequent phone calls and visits home, but this becomes less frequent. It also takes time for the family to get used to the new situation, and the period of rebalancing may be marked by conflict.

According to the specialised psychologist, empathy and understanding towards parents is important. It’s not at all embarrassing to call them and tell them about new events in your life. If we pay more attention to this, we can specifically help the separation process. When parents scold someone for “how ungrateful they are that the child doesn’t call them”, what they are really trying to say is that they miss them. This is a good time to let them know that I understand that you miss me, but it’s a new situation. It’s important to stay in touch, but you need to develop a new framework for life. If you share real information with your parents, they will not feel excluded.

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Unfortunately, it is also easy to become estranged from friends who are studying at another university or in another city. “At such times we often feel that we live in a world that is too different, that our reality is too different to be shared, and that an intense connection like the one we had before is impossible. This is especially a problem if the old friend did not meet new people in the meantime, but stayed in the old environment,” said Lilla Török and Boglárka Szatmáry-Czégényi. Be sure to keep an open mind and get to know each other, which can be facilitated by joint studies.

Let’s not forget the other side of the coin: students from Budapest or the surrounding area often live at home during their university years. It can’t be an easy situation, as they want to become independent, but they have no compelling option. This can even cause conflict in the family. According to Student Support Services, the solution could be “to create new rules that both the new

student and the parents can agree on. E.g., avoid telling them when you’ll be home and who you’re with, but have lunch with the family at the weekend.”

Getting to know each other is an important part of integrating into university life, but the new environment is also a challenge. In the first few weeks, they have to introduce themselves all the time, and for many this causes anxiety, they don’t know what to say about themselves. According to experts, this situation could be seen as a positive development opportunity: 

Every time we introduce ourselves, we can try to say things about ourselves that we haven’t said before. Even we ourselves are surprised at how many new aspects of our knowledge of ourselves we can discover.

This will avoid that the umpteenth time become boring. We can also try letting the other person introduce themselves first, and connecting with them along similarities.

Of course, settling into a new community is not just for undergraduate students. “Master’s degree students have been to university before, and it is those who are transferring from another university who are in a more difficult situation. They may feel lonely, lost, they may think they don’t fit in, they don’t belong at Corvinus. This is why it is important to find an online alternative to socialising, for example by creating Corvinus Facebook groups,” added the Student Support Services staff members.

It is also important to remember that we are all constantly evolving. It is worth setting a goal to have as much knowledge as possible and to become skilled professionals. If you have a difficulty at any time, please contact Student Support Services at the e-mail address studentsupport@uni-corvinus.hu.

On behalf of the Student Support Services and Közgazdász Online, we wish the new students good luck and knowledge!

The original article was published on the Közgazdász Online student blog on 9 September 2020, and was updated on 16 August 2021 to reflect the current situation.

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GEN.:2024.05.20. - 15:30:04