I know Freshers’ Week can be miserable. I cried my way through it – but I still had a brilliant time at university

This generation of freshers are the first to have spent their entire adolescence exposed to social media. Online sharing culture and the 'fear of missing out' can make it seem like everyone else is having more fun

Charlotte Mason
Thursday 15 September 2016 11:29 BST
Images posted on social media can make university newcomers feel like everyone else is settling in easily
Images posted on social media can make university newcomers feel like everyone else is settling in easily (PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images)

As I was unpacking my clothes in my new room in student halls, I had a moment – I can’t remember exactly what I was holding or folding – when the realisation hit me like a ton of bricks: I was alone. Boxes brought up, nervous hellos with my flatmates done, my Mum and Dad had left me to settle into a new life at university. And it was horrible.

The week that followed was a blur as a tried to navigate a huge, unfamiliar campus and made small talk in crowded kitchens, punctuated only by pub crawls and awkward dancing with people I didn’t know. I also cried. A lot.

Every student’s expectations of Freshers’ Week are set before they even arrive at university: drinking games, icebreakers, parties and, if you’re lucky, sex. You’re going to celebrate your new-found freedom breezily, making loads of friends and having fun getting plastered every night.

But for me, like many others, the chaotic interlude between arriving at university and starting classes was less of a drunken adventure and more a cold, sober reality check at the imminent and inescapable arrival of early adulthood.

Pressure to form a social circle quickly meant I spent most of Freshers’ Week masking homesickness behind my best smiley, approachable, friend-making face when all I really wanted to do was curl up in my room and hide. I was excited to start university, of course, but coping with a never-ending stream of new people, new environments and new situations was overwhelming. I longed for the familiarity of home.

Freshers fear is an issue seldom talked about. It’s just not cool to get homesick. Being miserable won’t make you any friends. And in the wise words of Emma Thompson in Love Actually: “No one’s ever gonna shag you if you cry all the time.”

But this is a serious issue. With academics and mental health charities speaking out about the loneliness and anxiety commonly experienced by students, it’s not a surprise that some (if not most) young people struggle a little with the transition to university life. A recent study into student mental health, carried out by academics at the University of Southampton, found that starting university could be a particularly stressful and daunting time.

Although universities and student unions can provide support, admitting you’re having a tough time isn’t easy. Freshers’ worries are more likely to be confined to anonymous corners of the internet than discussed around the kitchen table in a new shared house.

A quick search for freshers threads published on The Student Room chatroom reveals posts such entitled ‘Not drinking during Freshers’ Week?’, ‘How to make friends during Freshers’ Week’ and ‘Should I be worried about going to university a virgin?’ Another user asked simply, ‘is Freshers’ [Week] avoidable?’

Critics may scoff at mollycoddled millennials who need to grow up fast, but growing pressures on young people can make Freshers’ Week a tricky time. Students starting university this September are one of the first generations who have spent their entire adolescence exposed to social media and the idealism that it breeds. Online sharing culture and FOMO – the ‘fear of missing out’ – can contribute to university newcomers feeling that everyone else is having more fun, fitting in more quickly or making more friends than they are.

Pressure to succeed in every aspect of life, socially to academically, can create a toxic environment for bright-eyed, backpack-clutching 18-year-olds arriving on campus. Universities must reach out to those in need and create a culture where asking for help isn’t something to be embarrassed about.

As I remember all too clearly, Fresherhood can pose a challenge even for the most confident of new students. My advice? Put yourself out there as much as possible and don’t be afraid to admit if you’re not having the time of your life. Endure the endless pre-drinks and sweaty discos if you can. Find people who love your adorable accent and share your passion for My Mad Fat Diary. Talk to your family, make an effort to create a comfortable living space and bond with your flatmates over your mutual homesickness.

Perhaps you will adore Freshers’ Week, perhaps you will hate it – but you’ll only have this experience once.

Is Freshers’ Week avoidable?’ Yes it is. But skipping it would be like missing out on your first kiss – nerve-racking, potentially unpleasant and fraught with worry about whether you’re doing OK. But once you’ve done it, things will only get better. It’s Refreshers’ Week in January where the real fun starts.

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