Getting through university can be tough. Whether you spend four years here or choose to continue with additional studies, you will certainly encounter challenges along the way. From disputes with flatmates, heavy workloads, pressure to do well or trying to find yourself, it is a time in life that can be undoubtedly strenuous. You spend hours looking through set readings, editing essays and drowning in flashcards, and may often feel run-down from the number of extracurricular commitments or social events you engage with — if we can all agree on one thing, it is that going for a night out on a weekday and returning home the following morning at 4am in order to attend an early morning tutorial isn’t exactly enjoyable.
While St Andrews offers us a brilliant spectrum of academic and social enjoyment, it is often hard to navigate these ups and downs. Within this, students are often pulled together into one orderly group and given identical advice. We are both encouraged to be social and to work hard. We may be told to participate in group projects to aid tutorial engagement, or be invited to multiple events a week in order to build social and academic connections. But among this often confusing advice, it is sometimes forgotten that we are all separate, individual people. Those of us who are shy may be given advice only suitable for the bold, or the anxious may be given advice for a budding social butterfly. It may be compulsory to give a presentation as part of our grade, when in reality many of us flinch at the idea. Today, however, I choose to focus on a group I believe to be widely misunderstood among students — introverts.
A term often misunderstood, being introverted generally entails a preference for solitude. Introverts, such as myself, are less likely to spend time in groups and instead savour private reflection time alone — like an internal power bank, I choose to charge my battery through time spent by myself and find it heavily depleted after prolonged social interaction with others.
Moreover, trust is highly important to introverts and we may only have a select group of close friends. We may prefer to observe situations before engaging, and often analyse internally our train of thought before speaking. Social situations involving small talk can also be difficult, with one-to-one meaningful conversation being preferred — as expected, events such as nights out at the Union or group projects can be highly challenging and completely draining. In light of this, I want to off er some personal tips I’ve picked up along the way to ease the university process. You should not have to merely survive as an introvert at St Andrews, but instead thrive.
Firstly, focus on setting simple goals. One thing I have learned through my introvertedness is to stop criticising myself for being the way I am – if going to three events a week is too difficult, I opt for one and try to enjoy it the best I can. Set a goal of attending a certain number of events or talking to a certain number of people a week and enjoy the process of development that comes alongside it. While at first talking to someone in your tutorial may be difficult, a month later you may feel happy bumping into them for a chat in the library. For me, focussing on slow, accumulative progress is better than throwing yourself in the deep end — just like learning to swim, achieving these small goals may at first seem slow, but the eventual result is very rewarding.
Secondly, if, like myself, you enjoy interesting and sincere one-toone conversations, join a society or attend a social event that facilitates this. Whether you join a university publication and enjoy meeting with a small group of writers or editors to talk about the next issue, or attend debate nights in Parliament Hall with the goal of concentrated, focused discussion, try to immerse yourself in a group that celebrates rather than shuns this preference. You never know, you may meet a few like-minded individuals who over time become people you’re comfortable spending quality time with.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, balance is key. While I love being alone with a book and my music, I know that doing so six out of seven days a week would be detrimental to my health. Similarly, forcing myself to attend an event every other day or to speak to five new people everyday would over-stimulate me. The solution? Balance your movements in and out of your personal comfort zones. Instead of shutting yourself away for the weekend just to re-emerge on Saturday to see friends, try getting into the routine of engaging in small amounts of social contact a few times a week. Whether this is simply sitting with a flatmate and talking about something you both love or going out to dinner with your best friend, normalising social engagement makes the hustle and bustle of St Andrews all the bit easier. While it would be simple for me to ignore messages from friends and stay home alone all weekend, I know that occasionally stepping outside of my comfort zone to study or go for a drink with them will ultimately make everything a bit easier.
In conclusion, accepting your introvertedness is key. It doesn’t mean you are weird, it simply means you cherish positive time alone to think. While university may seem highly challenging for the introverted student, I promise it isn’t impossible. By setting small goals and not forcing yourself into anything too stress-inducing, you’ll soon find a healthy way to balance alone time and social time. Figuring out when it’s time to leave that party or, conversely, leave your room may be difficult, but it should hopefully become a less taxing feat. For me? While I enjoy being alone, I’ve also now grown to love and appreciate spending time with others – while it may not always be easy, it is most definitely worth it.