Coming to Lancaster

By Antoni Konieczny

The day before

A market square in the old town area of Warsaw

Warsaw old town

My best friend had just left his Warsaw flat after our farewell sleepover. I grabbed the phone to look over my journey from Manchester Airport to the campus. I had procrastinated until the last minute to plan out the route. I suppose it was a defensive mechanism to fend off the unknown future ahead of me.

If not for a ton of luck, I would have been in for a miserable uni kick-off. All it took to upset my plans was a plane delay and the fact that the last trains to Lancaster or Preston had been cancelled. I thought that I wasn't going to make it.

Or at least, so I thought. I do not recommend relying on Google Maps regarding English trains. There are plenty of apps – Northern, Trainline, etc. – where the tickets are not only cheaper than those purchased at a station but also take into account cancellations. Cancellations are rather frequent in the UK.

In the UK, waiting until the last minute to get your tickets could mean you will need to sell a kidney to afford them. As such, the University's Shuttle Service could be an attractive alternative for everyone arriving from major airports in the country.

Back to my journey – I boarded the delayed plane, searched for other transport options, and prepared to reinstall Couchsurfing.

The flight

Before getting on the plane, I saw two Poles who appeared to be students. You see, Lancaster's term dates are rather unusual. Courses will have started in many other universities while you are yet to begin your Welcome Week. Should you run into any students on your international flight, they could be heading in the same direction.

In the meantime, I admired the distinctive English accents that engulfed the cabin. They prompted me to rethink the extent to which I was a fluent English speaker!

After landing in Manchester, I spotted the two Poles I had noticed back in Warsaw. They were, indeed, Lancaster students. They quickly offered that I tag along. They knew of a service that did not appear on the timetables I had been checking.

The train

On the train to Preston, I asked for every possible piece of advice on life as a Lancaster student they could offer. Having people to joke with distracted me from the anxiety I would have otherwise been experiencing. Not everything went according to plan, though: our second train, from Preston to Lancaster, got – you guessed it – cancelled.

We were accompanied by good-natured guys who expressed their fondness for Poles based on my countrymen's exploits during World War II. Having reached Lancaster, the driver dropped me off at the university underpass. From there, I made my way to the campus guestrooms. It was 01:30 am, and I had made it.

My first day at Lancaster

Students welcome new arrivals with banners and signs

Grizedale students welcome new arrivals

In the morning, I set off for my new home – Cartmel College. Crossing the campus, I was not expecting the welcome I was in for. College reps greeting new students with banners and laughter gave the university energy and cheerfulness.

Cartmel was no different – filled with students, parents, and reps, the place was brimming with life. Entire families helping kids transport their possessions and unpack their cardboard boxes was something out of American movies. The frenzy I walked into was wonderfully uplifting after the long journey.

Likely noticing my dazed expression, one of the Cartmel reps approached me and pointed me to Barkers – a charming social and dining venue you will become very familiar with should you pick Cartmel as your home.

Inside the building, College reps and other members of staff made sure everyone felt welcome, offering snacks, accessories, and, most importantly, wide smiles and words of comfort for the more agitated among us. Having collected my keys and a bedding pack, finding my accommodation was quite effortless – one of the reps offered to show me right to my door.

Once I climbed the stairs, my first interaction with a flatmate was rather embarrassing – he pointed out to me that the lock on my room had been placed upside down as I fumbled with the door. It was a good enough icebreaker, though.

On that day, I would meet most of my other flatmates. We would bond over persistent attempts to acquire free food across different venues on campus - it's perfectly doable throughout the Freshers Week! We also talked about an alleged haunting and a Zac Efron poster.

I also met our wonderful flat reps, Kieran and Asha (big shoutout to that duo), who made these first hours feel so easy. So many new faces and spaces – everything was falling into place.