The Student's Guide to Everything

The Student's Guide to Everything: university student and graduate life from a New Zealand perspective

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

How to survive your (first) year in a catered hostel

So, you've finally finished high school and are about to start uni! You've been accepted into a hostel, moved all your stuff into your new room and said goodbye to your parents. You've met your new roommate, with some awkwardness all round. You're feeling a bit apprehensive, and finally "grown up". So how do you make the most out of the catered hostel experience?

Hostel food:

If you’re the sort of person who normally has dinner at 5pm and then goes to bed around 8 or 9 pm, you can ignore this bit. Everyone else: you will get hungry every single night. Hostels tend to serve dinner from 5 pm to 6.30pm, so that the catering staff can have a life, too.

And honestly, some days you really won’t want to eat what’s on offer. Hostels have limited budgets to feed a few hundred people each day, and they try their best. Generally. But there are off-days. "Cafe night" every Friday, anyone?

If all else fails and you really can’t just pick a few things to eat, pretend you're vegetarian. Often vegetarian meals are far nicer than the standard ones. But you have to do this enough to be believable, not just when you don’t feel like eating what’s on offer. (Which reminds me - be nice to the chef!)

Food for late nights:

So it’s likely you will either make many, many trips to the supermarket around 9pm (funny, that), or you will acquire a stash of food in your room big enough to survive a nuclear holocaust, or both. (Parental food parcels are good for the second.) You really don’t want to cook food in your room, apart from the fire hazard. Even rice. It will make things smelly and damp for everyone around you.

Enter the kitchenette: notice I didn’t say kitchen. It will most likely contain these three things: a kettle, a microwave, and a fridge. It may contain a toaster, if fortune shines upon you. It will also, under the strange laws of invented quantum physics, contain: a container of bulk instant coffee solidified into a lump; a bulk container of sugar with aforementioned coffee scattered through it; and a dirty sink full of smelly old cups and beer bottles. There will never be teaspoons. The tea towels will be greasy.

It’s harder to eat healthily when you only have a kitchenette. Here are some survival tips: 1.) Buy a noodle bowl from The Warehouse or other bargain shop. It should be reasonably large. 2.) Do not expect anything you put in the fridge to actually stay there, especially milk. 3.) Buy many packets of microwaveable or snack-able food. Popcorn is good. Noodles are good. Toast and instant rice risotto are better. Put them all in your noodle bowl. 4.) Chocolate is not a reasonable option, no matter how tempting the call of the vending machines. Some nights at 4am before an assignment is due, maybe.


The number one way to make friends with other people in your hostel: leave your door open when you are home. An open door says, “Come in and talk to me, I’m approachable.” A closed door says, “Leave me alone. Don’t even knock.” Use wisely.

Talk to as many different people as you can over dinner – it’s the best way to get to know someone. Get to know the friends of your friends. The friends you make in your hostel will last you at least through university, if not years later, and it’s much easier to network when you're in such close proximity to so many different people. It’s often harder to make friends once you go flatting, because you interact with fewer people.

Lastly, you are allowed to be anyone you want to be as a person – there will be very few, if any, people who knew you when you were dorky in high school. Enjoy your new popularity.


At some point, you will almost certainly have a relationship with someone you meet in your hostel. This can be both a good, and bad, thing. Because, as you will most likely hear from the hostel managers on the first day, 90% of all relationships started here will not last the year. Most catered hostels will refuse to put you in the same room as your pre-hostel girlfriend or boyfriend for that reason. Find a flat if you really need to share a room. It’s much easier to move out of should things turn sour.

Some relationships do last longer, though, so don’t let it put you off entirely. I met my husband at Weir House, and many of our friends who started relationships there are still together 5 years later. Remember: if you break up with someone here, you still have to see them nearly every single day at mealtimes and around the hostel. For months. And you have to handle all their friends. Can you deal with that? If you can, do it and have fun. And be safe.

Also, if you really want to study with your boyfriend / girlfriend, study with your backs turned from each other. They’re still close by, but this way you actually get some work done!

But what if I'm unhappy?

It's normal to experience a bit of homesickness or loneliness for the first few weeks or even months. Cut yourself some slack - you're adjusting to multiple new life changes, and it's only natural that it can take a while. Try your best to meet new people and go out, instead of staying in your room. Keep in touch with your old friends from high school, but not to the extent that you neglect making friends in your new hostel or in your classes. You'll get through this.

However, some people realise early on that the hostel life, or uni overall, isn't for them. That's OK too - give yourself at least one month before making any significant changes, such as moving into a flat or quitting uni. Talk to one of the RA's or someone else you trust, to get another perspective.

In summary:

Catered hostels are fantastic when you've just moved out of home - you don't need to cook, clean the bathroom, or worry about any of the adventures that come with flatting such as crazy power bills. It's a good transition. Enjoy!

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