"Disasters can be good bonding experiences"

Whatever happens, freshers’ week will be full of memorable incidents
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The Independent Online

Freshers’ week can be fun for many students – or it can be traumatic. Some undergraduates find that although the initial experience of university may contain a few horrors, they end up settling down and enjoying it.

Kate Starks, 20, remembers an incident from her first week in halls of residence when studying marine biology at Southampton.

“When we all moved in to the student halls in the first week of term, there was one boy who was very quiet and shy. He didn’t really talk to anyone, and like a lot of people seemed to be a bit nervous about starting university.

He started off cooking in the communal kitchen with everyone else, but after a few days, he stopped keeping his food in the kitchen, and stopped cooking his food in there, too.

Late one night in the second week, I was just getting ready to go to bed when suddenly the fire alarm went off. The warden staff evacuated the whole building. Everyone gathered outside, mostly in their pyjamas.

There was this horrible smell, and finally the wardens brought out a burnt pot and said that a little Trangia camping stove had been found in one of the rooms. They said that whoever had been cooking in their room had to own up, which this boy did.

It was a bit of a strange experience, being out in the middle of the night with lots of people I didn’t really know in pyjamas! Everyone laughed when the warden came out with the camping stove – the penny dropped, and I think everyone was just relieved it hadn’t been a real fire.”

Oliver Bridgewood, now 25 and studying for a PhD in chemistry at the University of Manchester, remembers pranks that backfired during his first year at Loughborough University.

“There’s a little bit of a wannabe anarchist in me – not enough to blow up Parliament or anything, just little things, small victories against the system.

As freshers, we had a tyrannical warden in our halls. There were loads of things I did that he never found out about.

One thing I used to do was steal spoons from the canteen of one of the halls in Loughborough every day. I eventually got about 90 per cent of them, but I gave them all back after a few months. I just took about four spoons and put them back day by day.

But I ended up getting framed for something I didn’t do. There was one guy in my halls whose door got glued shut while he was inside. Then there was a fire drill and he couldn’t get out. Someone had to kick his door down.

The warden said that I’d done it. He chucked me out of halls, so I spent the rest of my first year living with some guys in a house. I didn’t do it, but I thought: ‘Well, I might as well take the credit for it.’”

Charlotte Haines, now 23 and a writer, thinks back to her first experience of Cambridge nightlife: the accident and emergency ward of the local hospital.

“The second night of freshers’ week, I managed to lose part of my contact lens in my eye – and so began a search to find a taxi, the nearest hospital and, most importantly, somebody who would come with me to accident and emergency at midnight. Pretty tricky, seeing as I’d only met everyone the day before. I chose somebody based on the fact she had amazing shoes.

When I finally did get to see a doctor, he decided that he’d try to get the fragment out of my eye with a needle. I almost bolted.

Five failed attempts later, he put the needle down and declared he was going in ‘manually’, which didn’t actually sound that much better than the needle option. But at least this time, my eye got an anaesthetic before he stuck his fingers in and fished around.

To round the night off, when we eventually got back to college, a well-meaning night porter decided to give us a pep talk. Great in theory, but this talk centred on any future crises of sexuality we may have. (We didn’t.)

I decided I wasn’t really enjoying the university experience. But on the plus side, I chose my A&E buddy well. Five years later, she’s my best friend and is still the person I’d phone in a crisis. Disasters are at least good bonding experiences.”

HOW TO GET THROUGH THOSE FIRST FEW DAYS

* Prop open your door while you’re unpacking, so people can pop in and say ‘Hi’. You’ll meet the other students living on your floor much more quickly.

* Don’t worry if you seem to be the only one not enjoying yourself. Despite appearances, many people will be feeling nervous and unsure of themselves – something they’ll probably |confess once they develop stronger friendships.

* Join a club at the freshers’ fair: it’s a good way to meet people and to try something new, and there will be no hard feelings if you decide ultimate frisbee or origami is not for you.

* If you’re lost or need advice, look out for fresher helpers – second- and third-year students wearing distinctive T-shirts – who are there to help.

* Pack any fancy-dress items you own. They’re sure to come in useful for a costume party.

* If you’re a keen sports player, watch out for team trials early on in term. They are often advertised on the team’s Facebook group. It can be harder to get into teams once the initial trials are over.

* There can be a lot of admin tasks when you arrive. Write a to-do list, and try not to leave handing in forms till the |last minute.

* If your loan doesn’t come on time, or you can’t pay your fees, talk to the finance office as soon as possible. They’re much more likely to let you off late fees if you address the issue early.

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