Countdown to freshers' week: A venture into the unknown

Preparing to boldly go where many have gone before?

Unfortunately not a subtitle of the third Star Trek movie but, for many, the potentially daunting experience of Freshers' Week. The first seven to 14 days of university are often the first time living away from home, while even those with the heady experience of a gap year will still be surrounded by strangers.

Once the car’s been unpacked and the tearful relatives waved off you’ll be an official university student, surrounded by unfamiliar buildings and new faces. Library inductions and staff talks will take up the day and planned evening activities will most likely revolve around clubbing. For some, this is the best opportunity they’ve ever had to stay drunk constantly for a week with the ability to loose insecurities and have fun. Others may not find partying till 4am five nights in a row an enticing option. It’s hard to hold a conversation in a noisy club for starters or if intoxicated, remember clearly who it was you were sweating next to for several hours. Pubs are arguably a better lit and friendlier alternative, and non-drinkers can easily join in over a J20 and the pool table.

The ideal way to handle the array of new and exciting opportunities which the fresher’s fair will bombard you with is to sample. Whether it’s a skill you’ve spent years perfecting, like journalism, or one you’ve never tried, such as debating, societies are the best ways to meet like-minded people and have something to instantly chat about and do together. But it’s also important not to feel obliged to carry on with something for the whole term, if you’re just not enjoying it or there are simply other things you’d like to do more. First-year courses are academically light - many don’t count at all towards your final degree result - so take advantage of the free time and experiment, treating it as a process of elimination from which you can only gain.

Introductory conversations can easily become repetitive, following the scripted questions of “What course do you do?”, “What A-levels did you study?” and “Where are you from?” While these are helpful, beyond the five-minute mark lies a realm of awkward silence to fill so it’s handy to reach for topics both universal but also full of opinions, such as music or sport.

Once the end of the week approaches, and you realise how empty your wallet is, one cheap group activity that’s also great for conversation is to stick a TV series on. Find iPlayer or someone with a Netflix subscription and play anything from Doctor Who to Breaking Bad. More social than a film, the regularity also allows you to easily plan to see the same people again the next night.

The worst thing you could do in those first few weeks is isolate yourself. If you’re homesick try not to travel back for a visit but instead phone your family, as sometimes a voice can be just as comforting as a hug. While it can also be tempting to invite old friends for reassurance, try to refrain. Sticking with an old social group will most likely prevent you from making new friends by either taking up time you could spend meeting new people or intimidating those you have met with the false impression that you already have a full social group at this college. Alternatively, if you’re shy and talking to so many new people can be scary, try and resist the urge to walk away from conversations. Even if you don’t want to contribute, simply hanging around a group of chatterboxes can be good. Listening can be a great basis for friendship and just showing your face in the common room or kitchen helps others learn to recognise you..

Lastly, if you’re still full of trepidation on that early morning car journey in September, reflect on how much you’ve achieved so far and how hard you worked to get there. Don’t worry if you don’t pick up everything or fit in immediately, just remember that these next three or four years promise to be some of the best of your life. Universities are meant to offer open forums for passionate debate and discussion and are a chance to learn about every aspect of life, both academic and social, so try to head off optimistically and explore!

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