When I came for my interview day at Manchester, the student giving my tour was so enthusiastic about all of the different societies you could join at UoM, it really stuck with me. On my train home, I envisaged myself joining Labour Students, Debate Union and taking up childhood hobbies like drama, gymnastics and swimming again. Basically, I forgot about actually having to do the whole studying part of university for a while.
September soon rolled around, and I found myself absolutely overwhelmed at the number of societies on offer. Hundreds of people crammed into every academy venue asking if I wanted to join clubs for sports I’d never heard of or take up hobbies like knitting or board games. The adventurous side in me truly won out as I collected stacks of leaflets and signed up for several mailing lists. In the end, I think I was registered for 15 different societies in my first year. Yikes.
I was bombarded with emails and Facebook event invites over the coming weeks. Unfortunately, between health issues, getting used to living alone and attending classes, I lost all track of time. It was suddenly post-reading week, and I gave up on the thought of attending any of these societies. I had convinced myself everyone would already be close friends and I would just be some strange latecomer that wouldn’t get the inside jokes about Fresher’s Week and the first socials. So, 15 went to 0 real fast.
Then came second year, where I was prepared to tackle this whole society thing properly. I picked two societies, Gymnastics and Open Mind, and decided to dedicate my time to those. Gymnastics was quite pricey, around £75 to sign up, plus a few quid every session, so it quickly racked up. Eventually, I stopped going to Gym when I realised I wasn’t that great at it and I didn’t really have the money to spare. That left the mental health and positivity society, Open Mind. I’m pleased to report I actually managed to stick with this one.
In third year, after contributing to Open Mind’s blog the previous semester, I was welcomed into the society’s Committee. It was great to feel like an integral part of a society that was awarded a Making a Difference Award and Best New Society. I wanted to make sure that we continued getting bigger and better every year, constantly striving to help more and more people with our events and our blog. I also met some really lovely people through my involvement with the society, and it helped me feel like I wasn’t alone in my own mental health struggles. I helped organise events, and worked on booking venues and sorting catering. I even got to host a mental health poetry night which was definitely a highlight! These opportunities are something I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to do without the society.
There were challenges involved in being on a committee too. People have varying amounts of time they want to dedicate to society tasks, which can be frustrating. You might wish that other people were doing more to help out, or you might be getting annoyed at people for nagging you whilst you have coursework due. I was definitely on both sides of that. Ultimately, being part of a committee taught me a lot about teamwork and I think it’s something that will genuinely help me when it comes to getting a job after uni.
Now I’m in my final year and I’m President of Open Mind. The new role comes with another wave of new challenges, as well as a whole group of new people I’ve had to get to know since most of last year’s committee graduated. There were a whole host of things I’ve had to learn, from getting FundIt money to holding meetings, I wouldn’t say any of it has been particularly easy. But I’m really grateful to have this opportunity to improve my leadership skills at the same time as supporting a cause I’m incredibly passionate about.
University societies give you the unique opportunity to build useful skills for the future whilst doing something that you really enjoy. I’d encourage anyone, at any stage of their degree, to get involved in a society whilst you can. If there’s nothing currently available that catches your eye, you can always create your own society!