Diary of a Fresher: 'We eat together and discuss the evils of investment banking'

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The Independent Online

Freshers' week has a lot riding on it. It's a celebration of our hard-fought independence and, more important, our ability to drink legally. It has a major influence on what our lives will be for the next three years: who we'll know, who we'll like, who'll like us, how high we'll be in the university food chain. We'll spend our days making tonnes of new friends, all the while indulging in liver-frying quantities of lager and hardly sleeping. We'll have the time of our lives. At least, we're meant to.

I'm trying not to worry too much. Friends in the year above have warned me that freshers' week is never as good as people think it's going to be. Fair enough, but what if it goes wrong? Really wrong? Every year there are a few people for whom the system just doesn't work. They tend to leave quietly, or just hide away in their rooms, never to be seen again. More than anything, I don't want that to be me. The last time I was thrown in with a completely new set of people, I was 11 years old and had a bowl cut. Suffice to say, it could have gone better. Luckily, things have changed a bit since then. I think. I know I'll probably be fine, but even the slightest chance I won't establish myself is terrifying.

By the time I arrive, my genuine excitement is doing a good job of concealing my anxiety. My parents and I celebrated my departure with a Chinese takeaway and sparkling wine (mum's saving the champagne for when I return). It seemed an appropriate ending, so I'm not too bothered about "leaving home". Homesickness, I hope, won't be a problem, although I do occasionally wonder how my parents will cope without me.

I quickly locate my sparsely furnished room, which has a quaint, prison-cell-esque charm. I meet my "shower buddy", with whom I'll be sharing facilities. We have lunch together in our college's Hogwartsian dining hall, where we discuss the evils of investment banking. It almost feels like home. Over the next couple of days I shake hands with more people than I can count, but it's surprisingly tough getting into a proper conversation when each and every chat begins with finding out each other's names, subjects and home town. There's only so many conversations you can have about "everyone being from London...".

It's very easy to slip into loneliness here. One moment you're exploring the freshers' fair with a big group, trying to escape from the over-enthusiastic sales patter of the live action role-playing society representative, then the next you're alone in your room. The fact I'm writing this now means that I've found myself at a loss. It's disconcerting. I mention this to mum when she calls. She thinks it's something to do with the way the colleges themselves are designed, all courtyards and quads. It makes it easy to feel as if you're always on the outskirts, and that the real party's going on somewhere just around the corner, if only you could find it. The feeling's an illusion, of course, but that doesn't stop it being potent.

When dinnertime comes I decide to throw caution to the wind and sit with a completely new bunch of people. It's hardly like I've got anything to lose. We get talking, and I find that two of the guys I'm sitting with are guitarists. After the meal, it only feels natural that we all go back to my room for a jam. Life, suddenly, seems bright.

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