For many people, the next couple of weeks will be some of the busiest of the year, with presents to buy, places to be and work to finish off before the big day. For students, this can also mean socialising with new friends or the excitement of returning home, as well as additional financial pressures and the prospect of exams looming in the near distance. As a student, how can you ensure your safety, security and wellbeing over the festive period?
It is always a good idea to stay informed when it comes to your personal safety but at this time of year, which typically involves more nights out, it is especially important.
Many seasonal police campaigns remind us to drink responsibly, and that excessive alcohol consumption is not an excuse for sexual harassment. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, speak to friends, or to bar or security staff. In some university towns and cities, venue staff are trained to identify and support vulnerable individuals. At the University of Sheffield, the Students' Union are involved in the Ask for Angela campaign which allows you to discreetly ask for help, if needed. Staff will know how to respond, keep you safe and offer support.
Stick with your friends throughout the night; you might want to use a personal safety app, such as Circle of 6, to make this easier. Plan your journey home ahead of time and never take an unlicensed taxi or accept a lift from someone you do not know. A number of universities have a safe taxi scheme with a local firm; this allows you to book a taxi with confidence in your driver, and you can often use your student ID card as 'payment' if you have lost your wallet.
Leaving for the holidays
If you are going home for the holidays, or simply planning to stay elsewhere during this time, there are steps you can take to minimise the chances of your student accommodation being targeted by criminals.
Don't leave valuable items in places where they will be visible from the outside of the building. If a thief is able to view these items through a window or letter box, this will encourage them to try and break in. Keep these items hidden. As an extra precaution, you can register valuables with the national property register, Immobilise — this will make it easier for goods to be returned to you if they are recovered by the police.
Some criminals may specifically target student homes over the holidays, secure in the knowledge that no one will be home for a few weeks. They may look out for signs that a property is vacated, such as a build up of mail or a dark house, night after night. You can place a sign on the letterbox asking for no flyers to be posted, and invest in plug timers that will turn the lights on at night, or app-based lights that you can control remotely from your mobile phone.
Avoid using social media to announce your holiday plans, or any expensive new items or gifts that you have recently aquired. Criminals are known to scan public Facebook and Twitter profiles to target empty homes and locate high-value items.
Remaining on campus
Of course, some students will be staying at university for the festive break. There are many reasons why this may be the case; some students are dealing with estrangement and may not have a family home to return to. For international students, flights home can be very expensive, while others are keen to experience Christmas in a different culture. If you fall into the latter category, you may want to contact HOST UK — an organisation that links up international students with individuals and families in the UK. As part of the scheme, you can visit a host's home for the day, or for a weekend, including over Christmas. Contact your university, or HOST, to find out about the options in your area.
You can also ask if anyone from your course, or in your halls of residence, is staying on campus and use this as an opportunity to make new friends; you can pool resources and plan your own celebrations. If Christmas is not a day that you enjoy, you could always consider volunteering; there are plenty of charities that would be grateful for your help, and having a sense of purpose can help combat feelings of loneliness. If you do begin to struggle with low mood, support is available, including through charities such as Sane, Mind or the Samaritans. Your university website will also contain information on where you can find support over the next few weeks, as well as any events that are being arranged for students remaining on campus; for example, the University of Westminster is arranging a Christmas dinner for estranged students and care leavers.
After a long first semester, the Christmas holidays offer a welcome break. It is the perfect opportunity to put the books away for a short while and do some of the things you love; socialising with friends and family, watching your favourite films, and enjoying good food. It can be hard to relax when you know you have revision to do, but setting a few 'strictly no work' days aside is crucial. After Christmas, you can use your time wisely to draw up a study schedule and get organised. The little and often approach will help you to maintain some work-life balance; set aside fixed hours each day to do some studying, and reward yourself for keeping to the routine by doing something nice. You can also make use of the long journeys associated with this time of year by taking some work with you on the train or coach. Spreading your work out in manageable chunks across the holidays beats the panic of leaving everything to the last minute, and it lets you schedule in some of the nicer things in life too!