20 Sep 2023

Freshers' Pressures

It’s the time of year when new students set out on their university adventure starting, inevitably, with Freshers’ Week. This ritual initiation into university life, when new students meet their contemporaries and explore all the social possibilities ­– clubs, societies, theatre, sports – that the university has to offer can be very challenging. It is frequently depicted as a sybaritic week of excess, when new students party from dusk to dawn, form unsuitable attachments and generally let rip. But for many students it is a time of deep anxiety when they are beset by feelings of homesickness and inadequacy, and the certainty that they will never, ever survive this new world.

Freshers’ Week is by no means a make-or-break initiation and students who find it daunting and exclusive should never panic that they are going to spend their entire university career feeling lonely and disregarded. For that matter, many of the students who hit the ground running and party like there’s no tomorrow during Fresher’s Week may spend the first few weeks of terms extricating themselves from embarrassing relationships and arduous commitments and seeking more suitable friendships. Remind yourself that it is not inevitably the most confident, gregarious and voluble students who will enjoy the most successful university career.

Freshers’ Week lasts just a few days at the beginning of term and offers a tantalising glimpse of the possibilities that lie ahead. Don’t approach it with unrealistic expectations: making dozens of new friends and turning into a social sensation is a very unlikely outcome of these first few days. The real business of university living is a much quieter affair, a matter of forming friendships with people who share your interests and passions, of meeting compatible companions in the canteen, shop, bar or library, of bonding with your contemporaries over pints of watery beer or endless cups of coffee. Concentrate on sorting yourself out – fixing your room, locating the best places for food, finding the library and lecture halls, sorting out your timetable – and friendships will inevitably come your way.

Above all, remember that everyone is in the same boat. They are all trying to find their feet and carve out a new, independent life. Some people will approach this challenge with verve and confidence, which may well mask deep-seated feelings of anxiety, but that is not the only way to proceed. If you’re a shy and reserved person, don’t pretend to be something you’re not; stay true to yourself and you will inevitably find kindred spirits.

Make the Most of University

•Be there
Don’t react to the new challenges by withdrawing, shutting yourself in your room, and communing with your laptop – sharing your woes on social media is only going to make you feel worse.  Remember that university is a lived experience and force yourself to get out and about on the campus: go to lectures, hang around in the student buttery, stop off at the bar.

•Be a good host
Concentrate in the first few weeks on making your room comfortable and inviting and equip yourself with a kettle, mugs, coffee, tea, biscuits, drinks etc. You will find that friendships develop fast if you operate an open-door policy and show yourself to be ever-willing to invite in fellow students for a drink and a chat.

•Learn to cook
Even if you can only manage half a dozen “signature” dishes, it is a really good idea to have some sort of culinary repertoire before you start university. Cooking for yourself might well be cheaper than university food, and more delicious. More importantly, if you can turn out a competent, edible meal you always have the option of asking new friends round for supper. Getting some new acquaintances around a table with wine and food is a great way of consolidating friendships. It also means you’ll receive invitations in return and will start to build up a social network.

•Learn to say no
Freshers’ Week is just the beginning of the bombardment of possibilities that university offers. You may find yourself signing up for an eccentric and impractical array of clubs and societies, which have little or no relation to your interest or capacities. This is normal, and many students find themselves spending their first few weeks reviewing the aftermath of their initial enthusiasm and disentangling themselves from over-enthusiastic commitments. You will need to get to know yourself and establish what interests or excites you, and part of that process is learning to be selective about how you spend your precious time.

•Think about time management
You’re going to have to juggle lots of new things at university: academic work, organised leisure activities, socialising. This can all be a bit overwhelming when you’ve just left home and you’re experimenting with your new-found independence. The important thing is to try and be objective about your capacities, your energy, your time available, and to make judgments based on these insights. It is a bad idea to take on an array of time-consuming social activities when you’ve got a challenging term academically; understanding how damaging these conflicts can be, and learning how to prioritise, is all part of growing up and running our own life.

•Stay polite and positive
Whoever you are interacting with, whether it is librarians, canteen assistants, lecturers, department secretaries, cleaners, or fellow students, you will find that a positive demeanour and good manners will go a long way. Remember the basic codes: smile as much as possible; always say “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” when you encounter people on campus; if you’re making an enquiry, preface it with “Excuse me”; litter your conversations with “please” and “thank you” where appropriate. You will make the discovery that good manners really do improve social interactions. Other people will be impressed by your politeness and more willing to be patient and helpful, which can only be a good thing when you are finding your feet as an independent young adult.


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