I clearly remember my first days after moving to Derby. I’d never felt so scared and powerful at the same time. I was alone in a foreign country, having come from the Czech Republic, but I’d also just achieved a goal – I was alone in a foreign country! I always saw myself as a fairly shy person who would stay quiet when I wasn’t feeling comfortable. The people I know today know me as loud and sociable. The truth is, I am both. And I know that societies have helped me to develop, make new friends and grow my confidence.
What being part of a society means to me
It means that there is always someone I can message if I want to hang out. There will always be someone who will be down for a drink or just someone to share memes with. It also means that, by widening my social circles, I often meet people I know around campus – even if it’s just an exchange of few words with a friendly face – makes me feel more involved in the community, and university doesn’t feel like such a scary place all of a sudden.
Weekly society meetings also give me something to look forward to and I always enjoy my quidditch training, choir rehearsals or going for a drink after a session.
Societies offer what I like to call “instant friendships”. By this, I mean you get introduced into a group of people who like the same things as you, which gives you the advantage of easily finding a topic of conversation to talk about and frequent familiarity. You can instantly become friends. It is so much easier to get to know someone when you already have that stepping stone. You might not always get along with everyone, that is unfortunately the truth, but there will always be someone who you will click with. And, at the end of the day, you have the main society activity that brings you all together and makes the time enjoyable.
From Quidditch to Gospel Choir
I have tried multiple societies through my three years at uni and, even though I really only stuck with two, it was really good to try them all. My main society is Quidditch, which is an unusual mixed-gender sport that can be described as a mixture of dodgeball, netball and rugby. The game’s terminology is similar to its origins in the Harry Potter books. The chasers are trying to score hoops by throwing the quaffle through them but the game rules have been changed to create a realistic sport. For example, the beaters use dodgeballs to beat people out of the game, our brooms are just plastic pipes to increase safety, and the golden snitch is a volunteer running around in yellow shorts with a tennis ball attached to them, who can basically wrestle the seekers when they try to catch it.
Joining the Quidditch society changed my life so much – I know it sounds really cheesy but its true. I was very nervous when first approaching them during Fresher’s Week and I did it mainly to find out more about quidditch in general. At the trial session, everyone was really nice. They made so much effort to talk to me and made me feel welcome.
In my first year, I struggled with English a bit. The quidditch team were really nice about that and always explained things to me in various ways until I understood.
Another society I was part of was Gospel Choir. I joined them in January of my first year after hearing them sing in the atrium. I have always enjoyed singing and I used to be a part of a choir back home so joining Gospel helped me get back into my hobby and also tackle being homesick on occasions. I never realised how much I missed singing before I started again and it was amazing! We even got to go to a Gospel Choir competition in London.
Learning how to be myself
I came to the University of Derby as a fairly shy person who didn’t like speaking out in front of others. I found it difficult at times to make friends. Joining societies helped me work on that.
People I meet nowadays don’t believe me when I tell them I am quite shy. I learned how to be my authentic self. I opened up and stopped worrying about what people will think of me. The other students in the quidditch team made me see this. They accepted me for who I was.
I never thought I could be a leader, then I became quidditch captain and there I was running training session and leading the team. I was terrified but I had people who believed in me. I started feeling more comfortable and found my own voice.
I also know I can tackle all those awkward social situations that the world sometimes throws at me. As one of my friends says: it’s not awkward unless you say it is. Joining the quidditch team also opened doors for me to meet the UK quidditch community and be a part of something bigger. I also got to represent my country in the Quidditch World Cup last year. Who would’ve thought that all this can come from one interaction at Freshers and asking if I could come along!
My final advice on joining a society
Just go for it. Really, don’t be afraid. Go to events and meet-ups that you like the sound of. Don’t be afraid to show up on your own. There is nothing to lose in giving it a go. Every society will be happy to have you. And, if you feel like it isn’t the society for you, that doesn’t matter, there are plenty more to try!
Take a look at the Union of Students website to find out more.