Being abruptly left in a place where you’ve never been before and don’t yet know anyone would be seen as abandonment in any other walk of life. And yet it is de rigeur at university, and anyone who dares to express discontent at this order of things is normally met with surprise and a vague air of condescension. Amongst the general hype of how amazing it’s all going to be, it’s easy to forget that it can be overwhelming. I was mainly just confused, I think. And remained so for most of first year. But lesson number one, children, is that it’s OK to be terrified. I still am, almost.
Second on my list of advice for you latest batch of bright young things: join a society. If you’re on an arts course with approximately zero contact hours a week, you need to find something to do with your time (even iPlayer and 4OD lose their charms after the seventh repeat of ‘Grand Designs’). It’s a cliché, but societies really are your best bet of finding like-minded people and most people make their best friends at university through them. Plus, if you stick around long enough, you’ll probably get a nice society hoody with your name written on it. Acceptance and belonging in the form of comfortable clothes, who could ask for anything else?
Bizarre as it may seem, people watching in the library is definitely under-rated as a form of entertainment. Many an hour have I wasted theorising on who was sleeping with who, or who was on for a first and who was only studying in an attempt to impress their latest squeeze. This is not exactly what the library’s designed for, but at least you’ll get use out of it – rare indeed for a first year. I have a friend who didn’t even know where the library was until summer term, and my industrious MUSE Editor claims she didn’t know what a reading list was until term two. Neither is particularly sensible. If you just sit there, intelligence and enlightenment will perhaps arrive via some kind of osmosis. We hope.
People from YUSU and the like tend to think they’re “campus celebrities” (as shown by gratuitous strutting around Gallery’s VIP section, and the wanton flashing of completely unnecessary gold cards). They’re not celebrities. No one really cares. Only through writing for Nouse did I learn the vital knowledge of who or what a Student Activities Officer is. I still don’t think I care too much.
People will be nice for a bit, but the “oh look I’m in Derwent when I’m meant to be in Alcuin, isn’t this hilarious” situation is a bit old in Week 7. And the “let’s make friends with everyone” thing fades very quickly. Come February when it’s snowing and you’re by yourself and you slip over on a piece of ice and fall over on the walkway up to the library, no-one will laugh and then strike up a conversation about how embarrassed you must be and oh dear isn’t it hard being a fresher and not knowing anyone and getting lost? No, the opportunity for randomly making friends will go. They will just laugh.
It doesn’t matter what you wear. Last year we were all amazed by the amount of effort the freshers seemed to put into every day outfits. There’s nothing more depressing than sitting in the Courtyard when hungover, and seeing some lithe beautiful fresher with giant hair showcasing all the expensive bits of Topshop’s A/W collection. Deviating from the standard student uniform (hoody, joggers, basically anything you can a) fall asleep in and b) be sick on) will bring attention – not particularly helpful if it’s 9am after Ziggy’s.
Every college tries to claim they are the best one. This is a huge lie. It’s pretty obvious which ones are the best. Clue: if you’re living in en-suite accommodation or about three miles away from campus, you didn’t make it. And everyone who did randomly get allocated to the “best college in the world” will spend the next year going on about how amazing it is. This is also a massive lie. They’re not that different. Basically, if you can enjoy living with a bunch of strangers in dilapidated accommodation while being either so drunk or so hungover that you have no idea what’s going on, you will love university. Everyone else, pretend to.
Do not become the person who does something so horrendous in freshers’ week that this becomes your nickname for the rest of the three years. There is a guy in Halifax who shat in a sink. We’re still talking about it. Do not, repeat, do not be that guy.
If you like the people you live with, great. Everyone loves everyone – at first. Don’t be surprised if cracks start to appear, however. This is natural, and you can work through it. But do make an effort to find other people. There comes a point when “this person hangs around all the time and I can’t get rid of them” actually becomes “my friend”. This can be handy. But equally, “my friend” can become “this person who always hangs around and I’m just sort of stuck with them”. There’s less of a distinction than you might think.
Fire alarms are an unanticipated annoyance. In summer term of my first year, I got up early to do an essay. There was a fire alarm at about 10am. We all had to traipse out. I was the only one in the entire court who was dressed. Still not sure whether to be proud of this or not. And there’ll always be someone in the shower when the alarm goes off. Quick in and out, that’s my advice. You snooze, you lose.
But, overall, first year is when you think you can do anything. Take it from a jaded and not at all patronising third year. And in fact, do do everything. In second year you realise that you cannot, in fact, expect to do well in that essay or not throw up in a seminar if you haven’t missed a Gallery all term. So enjoy it while you can: that pesky thing called a degree will rear its ugly head sooner than you think.
But most of all, you’re here now. You may as well just get on with it.