In coming weeks, thousands of students will get their first taste of life on a university campus as they participate in Orientation Week—an opportunity to connect with fellow students and find their bearings before their studies officially begin.

‘O-Week’ can be exciting and unsettling, often for the same reasons. The feeling of being in a new place and beginning a new adventure is both exhilarating and disorienting. Fortunately, if you’re one of these ‘newbies’, you won't be alone in trying to find your feet. Getting connected is key to settling in and thriving on campus.

What to expect on campus

Shawn Mitchell, 20, is studying a Bachelor of Law and International Studies at Deakin, and he says that during his first days on campus, he felt this same mixed feeling.

‘University is wonderfully different to school. The potential for learning, for friendships, for joy, for wonder has been, in my experience, much higher,’ he says, also admitting it’s ‘hard to adjust and find one’s feet, at least initially.’ New students coming onto campus for the first time should expect to feel both ‘surprised’ and ‘confused’.

Cecilia Clark, 20, is studying a Bachelor of Laws and Criminology, and she clearly remembers the buzz of being on campus for the first time. ‘There’s such a rush of energy,’ she says. ‘Campus is bustling with people and new activities and opportunities.’

I remember my first O-Week—it was good fun! The very first person I met, she’s now one of my close friends.

‘The highlight for me was visiting the Catholics Society stall. I gave the President a hug and felt very welcome,’ she says. ‘My biggest advice would be: don’t be afraid to say hi to new people. No one is judging, and when you are yourself, you will find your tribe. Sign up to all those clubs that stir excitement in your heart!’

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Getting connected

Finding those connections is key to setting yourself up for success, especially when being a Catholic can sometimes bring challenges of its own.

Cecilia admits to finding some class discussions ‘confronting’ in terms of how they diverged from, or engaged with, her own convictions. ‘It can feel overwhelming at times when we feel like we’re swimming against the tide,’ she says. ‘What has helped me has been having a deep respect for people, no matter their views, and remembering that we are never alone in our faith.’

She also recognises that ‘Studying at university is a beautiful chance for us to use the gifts and talents God has given each of us to explore an area we love, that we are looking forward to giving back to others in.’

Shawn had a similar experience with being a Catholic on campus, admitting it ‘makes one feel lonely’ at times. Getting involved in Catholic societies can be a vital tool for coming to grips with things. At Deakin, Shawn says, ‘joining the Our Lady of Fatima Catholics Society introduced me to people who are now some of my greatest and truest friends. It gives a place where, at least on a weekly basis, you can receive the sacraments and pray together as well as hang out socially afterwards.’

‘Your Catholic society is the best place to go. We are not autonomous individuals; you cannot live out your faith completely alone,’ he says.

The Catholic societies also provide a great opportunity to branch out and connect with other events and activities, meeting like-minded uni students across Melbourne.

Although the Our Lady of Fatima Catholics Society at Deakin has experienced some tough times, especially throughout the pandemic, Shawn is positive about the year ahead. ‘Through our patron’s intercession, we have seen wonderful things begin to happen.’

‘There have been one or two conversions to the faith recently at Deakin,’ he says, and ‘the return of international students brings with it many Catholics who are keen to participate in society events.’

The Catholic stall is also the best way of connecting with your chaplain in O-Week.

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Pursuing excellence

The Catholic faith has a long history of valuing, promoting and pursuing excellence in academic studies. Pursuing excellence in your own studies can be a great way of witnessing to the harmony of faith and reason.

While the course load might seem unmanageable at times, there are a few things you can do to not only survive the volume of work but thrive in it.

Cecilia says, ‘Find your purpose and passion behind every single task that you do.’ Even with assignments that are a slog, ‘if you reframe the task to your future, seeing the essay as how you will help a future client one day with the problem in the essay, the tasks become more purposeful, and motivation flows from that.’

She also recommends people ‘break down each big assignment into the smallest of tasks’ so they don’t seem so overwhelming.

‘Find your own balance,’ she says. ‘Everyone is different, and just because something works for one person does not mean it works for you, and that’s okay … Build a life and routine that you love; this excitement will flow to your studies and help you to excel.’

Shawn recommends keeping your mobile device away from you when studying and always trying to find some of the quietest spaces on campus. ‘The library or law building are my favourites,’ he says. Keeping on top of the weekly readings is a mighty task, and ‘the possibility of falling very far behind is high!’ Nevertheless, with good time management, you can stay afloat.

Above all, ‘prayer is absolutely necessary,’ he says. ‘Ask for the intercession of saints, St Thomas Aquinas (patron of students), for example. Does your course have a patron saint? Ask for their prayers! For example, if you are studying journalism, ask for the intercession of St Francis De Sales. Ask and converse with our Lord directly as well—this is very important.’

The joy of being Catholic

Despite the challenges that may arise in your studies, the most important way to live the faith on campus is through joy, Cecilia says. ‘When people witness your joy and hope in all situations, they will see the love and joy of God radiating out.’

My greatest advice for how a Catholic student can live their faith on campus is to try to live out the way you think Jesus would live if he was on campus. You can spread love through your actions and conversations, being kind and respectful, serving and helping others.

‘When the Holy Spirit moves you and the time is right, you can also share your faith with people,’ she says.

Receiving the sacraments is a good way to keep your faith and studies integrated, Shawn says. For him, the key is always ‘Pray, pray, pray.’

For more information and advice on how to connect to a Catholic community and grow in your faith on campus, visit the UDisciple website.