When I set foot in Heathrow Airport for the very first time in September 2018, I was down with a terrible sore throat and a cough. And even though I had my parents with me, I was terrified and anxious. After they dropped me off in my room at Alcuin College, hugged and said their goodbyes, I sobbed into my bare bed and its coverless pillows. My first day in York was overwhelming and I felt lost, alone and out of my element. I was surrounded by unfamiliar faces in an unfamiliar city.
Flash forward to May 2021, as I near the end of my undergraduate degree, I look back on my university experience and realise how far I’ve come. Student societies at York and other student groups have made me feel welcome and not alienated. I’ve been able to branch out of my comfort zone instead of retreating further into my shell. Joining student groups have made my university experience worthwhile. Here are some of the ones I’ve been a part of!
During my first week in York, before classes started, the Malaysian Society invited everyone to a welcome meal at Akbar’s. Akbar’s serves South Asian food like naan and an assorted selection of curries. Hearing English spoken with a distinctly Malaysian accent gave me a sense of warmth and familiarity, reminding me of home. It made me feel much less homesick!
Throughout my time at York, the society has organised annual BBQs and meals as well as board game nights and bowling nights. This offers Malaysians at York opportunities to connect and bond in our home away from home. In my view, it’s one of the best student societies at York.
Being in the UK without any family meant that I have spent the past few years celebrating Chinese New Year on my own. With the pandemic ongoing, it made a holiday that normally involved family gatherings, food and togetherness even more lonely.
The Malaysian Society ended up giving out homemade care packages to everyone who was staying in York last Spring Term over Chinese New Year. This included savoury sweet and sour chicken with rice, as well as a personalised message.
In a time where many of us are isolated in our homes and over 6000 miles away from family, I’m grateful to the Malaysian Society for reminding me of home comforts.
Being someone who doesn’t drink much and is overwhelmed when it comes to nightclubs, I was anxious about the drinking culture in the UK. When my parents first helped me move in they jokingly remarked that they didn’t teach me how to drink. I was also worried about potential peer pressure due to how introverted I was. Fortunately, someone made a Messenger group chat with freshers who weren’t big drinkers. This eventually evolved into what is now known as the Sober Society. Student societies at York are easy to set up, and anyone can found one.
From traversing York’s independent bookshops and cafes to craft socials to axe throwing, Sober Society has put on a variety of events, welcoming both drinkers and non-drinkers alike. The society has provided a welcoming and safe environment for students like me to meet new people and enjoy what York has to offer. It has remained continuously active over lockdown. We’ve put on film nights, game nights, crafternoons and relaxed chat events.
I’ve been a member of the committee since its conception and have since made close friends who share common interests. They’ve even given me the opportunity to take part in my first Secret Santa (we did it among ourselves as a small committee)! My family back home doesn’t celebrate Christmas so it was a first for me. We’ve done it two years in a row now. It feels lovely to exchange gifts and see the way everyone’s eyes light up when they see their presents.
Theatre in Schools
One thing I wanted to do when I came to York was volunteer. I’ve gotten involved in many different volunteering activities since coming here, like taking part in the Jorvik Viking Festival. It’s being a part of Theatre in Schools is something I will remember after I graduate though.
Theatre in Schools is a volunteering project run by the Students’ Union (YUSU). It puts on interactive drama workshops on-campus for students with children, and off-campus in local York primary schools. These workshops typically involve crafts, drama games, storytelling and improvisation segments with the children. The off-campus workshops vary depending on the school. The ones on campus typically revolve around international fairy tales from countries like the Philippines and Iceland.
Theatre in Schools provides a supportive environment. It welcomes everyone (both undergrads and postgrads, home and international) regardless of experience. Being a volunteer has made me able to become less timid. While I’m still quite introverted, I’ve had the opportunity to plan, organize and lead workshops centred around Malaysian stories, as well as one on the Chinese tale Journey to the West. Though it was terrifying at first, seeing children also come out of their shells and eagerly tell stories they’ve come up with in the improvisation sessions has been immensely rewarding.
As a Theatre in Schools volunteer, I’ve also had the chance to take part in the Roses Festival and the YUSU Christmas Market in my second year. In the former, I did face painting for children, and in the latter, I sold handmade Christmas cards. Both activities made me feel like a part of the university community, contributing to student life in my own small way.
Try societies for yourself
All in all, student societies at York have been an integral part of my university experience. Being from a small heritage city in Malaysia and feeling out of place in my first few weeks, I have now come to call York a second home. A home I will miss dearly when I leave.
If you’re anxious about making friends and finding your people at university, I highly recommend joining student groups. You could join one related to your cultural background or even one related to your special interests. There are over 200+ societies covering even the most niche of interests! If you’re hesitant about joining, many of these groups hold taster sessions so you can try them out and see if they’re for you!
Read more blogs about student societies