Meeting New People at University - Everyone Needs a 'Hedydd'
Last weekend saw what was, for me at least, one of the most bittersweet experiences of living through COVID-19. No, it was not getting absolutely drenched in the rain whilst doing my weekly shop, or watching Glasgow lose to Connacht in the rugby on an (I stress legal) malfunctioning streaming service, but my friend Hedydd got married.
One of the things that I say to new students is that I am actually jealous of the position that they are in. I can’t think of many of us who, if we could have our time again, would decline that offer – the opportunity to go back and live the experience again, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, is an idea which is particularly appealing.
The undergraduate degree was one where you threw yourself into new challenges. You were learning new things about (hopefully) interesting topics. You had the opportunity to have conversations and debates with experts in their field. You became more independent (even if my parents were just over an hour away on the train, and very gracious to give me a lift home from the station if I sent them a text when I was leaving Severn Tunnel Junction). But you also met people who would have a lasting impact on your life. Hedydd is one of those people.
One of the silver linings of the way that Hedydd’s wedding played out was that she and her (now husband) Alun did not have to cope with my gin soaked tearful speech about how happy I was for them, and how much I love them both dearly. It would undoubtedly have ended up with me locking myself in a toilet, passing out, and having someone climb over/crawl under a door to let me out and call me a taxi to where I was staying. And don’t worry, this post won’t be at that level.
At the moment a lot of our new students will be desperate to ‘find their flock’, and in the current circumstances, maybe feel like they won’t have that experience long-term. Our students might be living in halls of residence, and only a couple of weeks in to living with a new group of people, who become their social circle. This can create a lot of pressure to feel like you aren’t fitting in/settling on the course specifically. My point is that over time, it does happen – you just can’t predict who will have that impact and when. I’m focusing on Hedydd here, purely because she got married (just in case anyone else I met/know gets offended).
Romantic comedies and TV shows where there are flashbacks to how characters first became friends often feature a ‘meet cute’, a notable incident where the people first meet, whether that is colliding with each other in the street (Notting Hill) or having someone suddenly appear as a flat mate (Scrubs, New Girl). Someone important can’t just be introduced in an innocuous way.
That is, of course fiction, and whilst I’d love to say I specifically remember meeting Hedydd (Hedydd remembers meeting me. The way that story has been told to me seems to be accurate. More on that shortly). However, I honestly don’t recall meeting her, which is unusual for someone who I frequently describe as having “pope like levels of infallibility” and “the best person I know”.
What I can say is that I would have met Hedydd 13 years ago – we both studied Law and French at Cardiff University – yes, she is first language welsh, and her name translates as ‘skylark’ in Welsh. That often meant that you had to navigate/cope with the administration from two departments (law and language), and occasionally, a compulsory class would be scheduled by one school at a time which, on paper, clashed with a compulsory class in another school. According to Hedydd, we met on the stairs outside of an office in the language school, when we were both queuing up to speak to the relevant member of staff and resolve the problem. I was with another student on the course, and Hedydd came in enthusiastically introducing herself to us. I, apparently, grunted/was quite monosyllabic – essentially, came across (entirely unintentionally) as incredibly rude. Not a great start.
The timetabling, though, meant that all of the law and French students could only really be put into certain tutorial groups/language classes. So whilst early lectures may have been you not seeing anyone you recognised, over time, you kept seeing the same people in a smaller setting, and that was where you were bold enough to go up to them before the lecture and sit next to them. They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but thankfully that didn’t happen.
I’ll skip forward a lot from that point, but suffice to say that over the time that I have known Hedydd, she has become one of my closest friends, and in all honesty, I know that I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without her being a part of my life. She has seen me at my best, but has put up with me at my absolute worst with the patience of a saint, saving me an absolute fortune in private counselling fees. She's someone who will tell me off when I'm being an idiot about something, but will still, somehow, find it endearing that I made the mistake in the first place.
We studied together, We did our Erasmus year together. We have spent New Year’s Eve taking it in turns to host each other in our extended group of friends. I visited her when she was working in Brussels. We had one of the greatest road trips when driving to our friend’s wedding (it involved the Les Mis soundtrack and some frankly stunning off key renditions). And we still phone each other every few weeks just to check in.
Everyone should have a Hedydd in their life. And you will. If you’re a student reading this, the chances are that you’ll meet them during your degree. It’s just that you won’t realise it for quite a while. I’ve had umpteen different flatmates in my time (over 60, I think). I’ve had coursemates, and friends of friends. I can only think of one thing I can remember from any ‘icebreaker’ session in a classroom, or in a flat, and that was someone spectacularly misjudging the room in a game of ‘never have I ever’. So relax, speak up, get involved in things on offer, even online. And try not to pretty much grunt at someone – they might turn out to be your Hedydd.
I should say that Hedydd was originally supposed to get married in April. I’d also been asked to drive her to the church if it had rained. I know how much it hurt Hedydd and Alun to have to postpone the wedding. And this is why them getting married with an attendance of 15 people was bittersweet – ultimately, it isn’t about the guests, it’s a day for the two of them. But if anyone deserved a celebration with all of their friends and family in attendance, it was them. So I’m happy, but you can be certain that once all this pesky pandemic stuff is over, I’m going to give Hedydd and Alun a bear hug (that’s non-negotiable).