In the summer of 2014, no two words struck more dread into my heart than those of “Freshers’ Week”. As a socially anxious, hugely introverted non–drinker, I could imagine nothing worse than a week of constant introductions and alcohol-fuelled gatherings. But I soon learned that the nightlife was the least of my worries: the university-run activities were where the real dread should be felt.
For those who don’t know, Freshers’ Week is the first week of university, with ‘fun’ and ‘exciting’ orientation activities run for first years. These include: riveting two-hour introduction lectures (often run by the head of your school, will leave you feeling very deflated), well-organised picnics and barbecues from your halls and school (compulsory and reminiscent of Abby Lee Miller’s ‘we’re all gonna go and we’re gonna have FUN.’), a Freshers’ Fair to introduce you to the clubs and societies where you will make most of your real friends (I can’t even bring myself to be sarcastic about this one. It’s actually kinda fun), and, of course, countless overpriced and slightly rubbish themed nights out (no one even dresses up).
So here is my guide for people, like me, who don’t like to consume huge amounts of alcohol and wake up in the morning with a headache and regret™. Hopefully people have a similar experience to what I did in terms of flatmates and community.
1. Prepare yourself for three questions
“Where are you from” (“where’s that?”)
“What do you study” (if you study Psychology, like I did, it is followed by “so what am I thinking” or “wow, so you can read minds”. Usually the best response to this is just say “yes” and stare them down until they feel uncomfortable and leave)
“What A-Levels did you do”
The question most people wait for. The culmination of two years’ hard work, the very thing that got you into the university in the first place. Some people will even give you their UMS. Avoid them.
The thing is, when people ask you about what A-Levels you did after Freshers’ Week, it’ll usually take about five minutes to answer. What did I do? Those heady days were long ago and I have since repressed the anguish caused by them. Best to leave them buried deep in the sub-conscious where they belong.
In Freshers’ Week, you will be asked these three questions perhaps hundreds of times. When you meet flatmates, people in your halls, and others on your course. It’s a chore, no one likes it, and you probably won’t see the people that you spent 20 minutes explaining exactly *where* your obscure hometown is again. Stick to just saying the closest big city to avoid confusion.
2. Peer pressure isn’t really a thing.
At school, two words are drummed into you almost every assembly and Personal Health lesson: Peer Pressure. Enough to strike fear into even the most robust of students, we are told that everybody at university will be force-feeding us alcohol and drugs like a foie gras goose.
This is not the case.
I never felt pressured into drinking at university. Most people mind their own business and accept if you don’t want to drink. Anyway, most halls of residence have doors which you can lock on your bedroom, so you can just barricade yourself in your room if need be. Usually, it is a good idea to mingle in Freshers’ Week. Go to some flat parties if you’re comfortable doing that, but most people you speak to in Freshers’ you’ll never speak to again.
People don’t really care if you don’t want to go out, because you need to stay and “unpack”. No one asked me at parties why I wasn’t drinking. I’d just take along a mixer and drink that and most people wouldn’t even question it. We live in an age where most people understand and appreciate the reasons for not drinking enough to not ask further than “why don’t you drink?” “Personal reasons”.
My personal reasons were, in fact, being on several different medications because I was dropped on my head and suffered concussion for a year after, but they didn’t need to know that. Sometimes I would just tell them to make it awkward, though.
(Want an excuse? Some of the best reasons include: “my pet duck has a drinking problem”, “I haven’t had a drink since an incident in the Gobi Desert in 2011”, and my favourite, “none of your business”)
3. Use a fake number at the Freshers’ Fair. Unless it’s Domino’s.
Most things at the fair seem free to begin with, until you get to December and realise you sold both your soul and your first-born son for a pencil because you didn’t read the T&Cs.
After the fair, you will receive a barrage of texts and emails from people you don’t know, and wonder how they got your contact details. You probably gave them to several companies at the Freshers’ Fair, who then sold them on to several more. The only company who can be trusted with your details is Domino’s, as they’re likely handing out free pizza, which is definitely worth breaching data security for.
Take a look at the societies you have your eye on, and speak to as many people as you can. You might find that there’s a society you’d never heard of – an obscure sport or knitting group – that sounds perfect for you. Don’t try and stick with friends at this point, as often they’re interested in different things and you’ll feel compelled to walk straight past the Book Society that you want to join.
4. Eat before you go to lectures.
They’re long. They’re quiet. Nothing worse than your stomach screeching in the middle of it. Especially in the first week.
Try to get to lectures 15 minutes early, so you can mingle with people on your course before heading in. This way, you’ll feel more comfortable going into lectures at the start of the first week with the knowledge you have someone to sit with.
5. Keep Busy
Go out for lunch with people from your course, cook dinner with your housemates, and go out and explore the city together. Don’t let yourself spend too much time by yourself (especially in the evenings), as this can often lead to overthinking and homesickness.
The week will feel like a constant attack on the senses, and you will need some time for yourself, but this can be achieved through unpacking your bags, a walk by yourself to the shops, or watching a programme in your room.
Friends are the people who will help you most at uni: they become your family. You don’t want to alienate yourself by becoming “the flatmate who never leaves their room”. Just head to bed early if you’re feeling drained, but try to spend at least a few evenings with your new pals.
Let me know if there’s anything else you’re particularly worried about! I was so nervous going into Freshers’ Week, but shouldn’t have been. Fill yourself with positive thoughts about your new, exciting life at university and all the things you can achieve when you’re there. You’ll be settled in no time.