Think ‘Freshers’ Week’. What comes to mind? I’m getting a blind, endless mix of alcohol, hangovers, and club nights with stupid fancy dress themes, not to mention a healthy dose of anxiety, stress and homesickness. When I was preparing for my own Freshers’ Week this time last year I was absolutely terrified; although I enjoy drinks and parties with friends, the idea of a full week of clubbing and exhaustion was, simply, abhorrent. I understand that for many students this really is their idea of great fun, but to me it seemed like this great big hurdle I had to get over before I could actually start uni. In the end, I actually enjoyed my Freshers’ Week – and if you’re feeling like I was last September, read on to find out how you can too.
Plan in advance
Work out what your priorities for Freshers’ Week are. Do you want to get to know your campus better, or spend time in your new city during the daytime? Are you dedicating a day to decorating your new bedroom? Your university should release an agenda or timetable for your Freshers’ Week, so have a look and see what events are going on. Most universities hold alternative evening activities for people who don’t want to drink or club, and these are naturally a great place to meet people with similar priorities to you. Check to see if any societies you’re interested in are holding taster sessions or welcome meetings. If you’re in touch with your future flat- or course-mates, ask them what they’re planning on doing during the week; if there’s something you’d like to join, just ask! Most people will be really pleased to have somebody else tagging along, and it will give you things to look forward to.
Work out your boundaries
Perhaps you’re happy to drink a glass of wine but don’t want to down two-for-one jagerbombs all night long, or maybe you’re keen to go out for an evening but don’t want to drink anything alcoholic. Work out where you stand and let the people you’re likely to spend time with know, too. In my experience people are rarely unhappy or judgemental about others’ boundaries in this way (and if they are, you probably don’t want to spend a lot of time with them). Make it clear where the line is for you – but be sure to respect other people’s choices, too, even if they are different to yours.
If you can’t find much going on that interests you, or if there aren’t many activities for non-drinkers or clubbers, you always have the option of putting something together yourself. It might be a picnic in a nearby park, a meal or a movie night in your halls – nothing too expensive or difficult to plan. Reach out on your social networks, whether it’s your flatmates, people on your course or anyone else you’ve happened to strike up a conversation with. Most people will be really glad someone else has made the effort to put something social together, and you can use it as an opportunity to get to know each other without the need for a game of ‘Never Have I Ever…’.
Give yourself time out
This is important for everyone during Freshers’ Week, whether you drink or not. It’s an incredibly intense week; more information is thrown at you than you could ever hope to remember, and you’re thrust into a brand-new city and way of life. You can’t be expected to deal with it all at once, so it’s not just acceptable to take some time out for yourself: it’s necessary. Spend an afternoon putting up posters and pictures from home, or have a quiet night in with Netflix or a Skype session with your family, friend(s) or partner back home. Give yourself as much space as you need to settle into this new lifestyle – but don’t hide yourself away in your bedroom for hours or days on end!
Be open to new people and experiences
By the end of day three of Freshers’ you’ll be saying your name, where you’re from and what you’re studying in your sleep thanks to tens of times you’ll answer each question. You will meet so many people in your first week, so don’t despair if you can’t remember any names – just ask again (or find them on Facebook through mutual friends…)! Remember that each person you meet is an individual with a story, and that they’re probably nervous and keen to make a positive impression, just like you. Think of questions to ask beyond the obvious, and if you meet people separately who you think might get on, don’t hesitate to introduce them – most people are always looking to make new friends, and you might create a pretty special friendship group. Above all, uni is a time for experimentation and new experiences, so be open-minded and willing to try new things out.
I wrote after my own Freshers’ Week last year that this system has three main aims: keeping you so busy you don’t have time to get homesick; guiding you around your new campus and city; and helping you to gel with your new flat- and course-mates. I still think that its main aim is to enable you to feel settled in and part of your new university community. Sadly, it doesn’t always succeed in these aims. If by the end of the week you’re feeling homesick, displaced or not sure you’ve made the right decision, get help straight away. Contact your Student Support Centre, or see if there’s a Nightline listening service in your university area you can chat things through with.