Meeting people and being yourself

"Just be yourself!" is so much easier to say than do. 

Aren't I edgy? Train tracks near Hinksey Park

I had taken a gap year so I thought I knew who I was and felt quite confident in that. When it actually came to meeting people I was not as confident as I had thought. In the first term I presented a version of myself that wasn't fully myself. I poshed-up my accent and didn't always say what I really thought for fear of being "caught out". I'm not sure what I was afraid of being caught out from, but I definitely wanted to fit in and Oxford is very posh. I am posh too, to some extent. I would identity as middle class and I've had lots' of opportunities but I still wasn't on the level of some of the people in my year or at college. I found first term really exhausting because I was playing a role all the time and trying to please people when I should've been focusing on just being myself and finding people who liked that about me. 

I also felt like I had to hide my state school origins because at least half my year went to private school and I suppose I felt embarrassed. There were other people from state schools and I would say they make up the bulk of my friendship group now because I feel more comfortable and safer expressing myself. We all have similar school experiences like knife threats, drugs, disruptive classes etc. My old school recently had a mysterious bomb threat recently - very exciting  These are all thing I can laugh about now but in Michaelmas of first year I wouldn't have even whispered about them and I look back with sadness at those feelings. 

My friends and I have discussed state school and our experiences and I think it's brought us closer together. I think as well it's also enabled me to say I don't like the vibe with so and so, and get up and walkaway to hang out with other people. There's no shame in not getting on with some groups of people as long as you hold your head up high and go and find people you prefer. You'll certainly have a nicer time than if you stick around and put on an act. Some of my most enjoyable evenings have been with half my housemates, secreted away in the kitchen whilst my other housemates do something with their non-college friends in the living room who, simply put, are the chalk to my cheese. It's also given me the confidence to speak more openly about my own experience to other people and do so with a twinkle in my eye and a sense of humour. 

Some difficulties I encountered was not knowing how to meet people outside of college and network or try new things. Other people seemed to know how to do this and it made me feel massively inadequate. As it turns out, these people were not as confident as I'd first given them credit to be. Lot's of these people they were connecting with, they already knew from school so they weren't really leaping out of their comfort zone but moving the zone parameters to a new city. I think that's definitely a myth I wish had been busted for me, it might have mitigated some feelings of imposter syndrome. 

In short, it took me a little while to settle into myself and how I wanted to present myself. I think that's a massive shame. Fresher Poppy missed out on opportunities and wasted her time on people that didn't deserve it, in pursuit of an Oxford experience that didn't really exist and that I'm not even sure she would've wanted. 

When I came back for 2nd year I decided to be completely myself. Over lockdown, I grew my hair out, I had had my braces taken off, and wore exactly the clothes I wanted to in the way I wanted to. I felt  better immediately. I was much happier and I made stronger, pre-existing friendships as well as forging new ones that bolster my sense of self and make me feel good, valued, welcomed - always. And that's what your friends should do. A lot of my friends are state schooled. Our shared experiences of school and of Oxford I think were an initial foundation, but the friendship has grown out of that. I do have lots of privately educated friends as well. When I started to be more myself, I realised that I should prioritise friendships with people I really like rather than with whom I thought I ought to be friends with. It sounds silly to conclude out loud but that's what a year of growth has taught me. 

Whilst its definitely easier said than done, its important to figure out who you want to be at university. It's a lot easier in the long run to be yourself but that doesn't mean that initially it might seem more enticing to pretend to be someone else. I would advise against giving in to that. There's simply no point pretending to be someone else and having friends that you don't really like. It'll certainly dampen your experiences and give you major FOMO. 

Merry Christmas ya filthy animal


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