In the aftermath of Freshers’ Week mayhem, Emily Mears takes stock of student life
The chaos of Freshers’ Week is well-documented. It is a drunken whirl of activity, within which it is impossible to hang onto one’s inhibitions for more than a few moments at a time, often with regrettable consequences. The droves of newly initiated students seen sprawling and vomiting between the jugglers and flamethrowers at ‘Fresh’ must, one assumes, have woken the next morning to face not only a killer hangover, but also a crushing sense of humiliation. At no other time will so many exhausted people willingly participate in such vigorous activity. During the day, crumpled hang-over victims charge about campus, cycle over bridges, and dart between ducks, sustained only by caffeine, kebabs, and the vitamin C tablets proffered by concerned parents. The campus map, torn at the edges and scribbled on in red biro, becomes the most studied text, read and re-read by troops of bewildered students searching for lecture halls, libraries and bars. During the first week, we freshers are to be seen wandering forlornly all over campus; mooching dutifully between library tours and fire safety talks, and searching for friends in the corridors of our accommodation blocks.
A few weeks into term, and the mayhem is dwindling. The flu epidemic has passed, and more substantial friendships are replacing the transient, drink-fuelled variety. Perhaps, then, the time has come to pause and reflect upon the first seven days. Was the constant sleeplessness and perpetual hangover worthwhile? Was the enticing hype of a week dedicated to partying matched by the reality? Did we freshers emerge from the tide of hedonism invigorated, or were we left miserable, tired and homesick? Of course, the replies to this question are varied.
For my part, now that the frenzy of Freshers’ Week has passed, I’m finding that I prefer the aftermath. The mandatory repetition of banal questions – “what’s your name and where do you come from?” – was beginning to take its toll, and it’s a relief to be able to let down my guard in more genuine conversations.
I do rather miss the hoards of rowdy ‘STYCS’ (just one of the mystical acronyms I’m yet to decipher) who frequented our kitchen with offerings of sound advice, friendly chit-chat, and litres of Vodkat. And, naturally, the absence of lectures and academic work during the first week was a bonus, too. But finding firm friendship, relaxing in each other’s bedrooms, and learning to navigate the campus bars; surely these are the things which make university life worth living?
However, relieved as I am to have escaped the hyperactivity of Freshers’ Week, I have found that the ensuing days can be uncomfortably punctuated with gaps, which are too often filled with loneliness and introspection. Though lectures are inspiring and stimulate debate between coursemates, they only take up small fragments of the day, the rest of which can be left quite blank. If your house is busy and other people have joined you to rustle up lunch, it is easy to immerse yourself in the moment, but when it’s only you, sitting at a table, staring down at an unappetising mound of your own creation, it’s difficult not to pine for the warmth and comfort of home.
Once one has munched one’s way through the parental provisions and the cupboards are bare, hall-mates are left to brave the ravages of hunger, or the logistical nightmare of online shopping, together. When my housemates and I made our first foray into the virtual world of Tesco’s, our attempts at shopping were laughably unsuccessful. We managed to buy one carrot instead of a bag, a single courgette, and six one litre bottles of water as opposed to small handy-sized ones to take to lectures. Irritating as these practical mishaps are, they do engender a pleasant sort of blitz spirit among hall-mates. Everyone is in the same boat, attempting to live independently for the first time, so having a good laugh at your collective ineptitude turns out to be a great way of bonding with new friends.
Observations surrounding cooking, the ability to cook, and choice of ingredients are a good way of sizing up your neighbours. For example, living a few doors down from me is a Michelin-starred chef. He dabbles in the mysterious art of meatballs, thinly chopped coriander, and parsley sauces. I, on the other hand, am culinarily reliant upon Lloyd Grossman. Our neighbours will thus be able to deduce that I am lazy and inept, and know to raid the chef’s fridge, not mine, when they roll in drunk from Ziggy’s.
It is only possible to start fathoming the true nature of your housemates once the freshers’ hype has died down. It is a strange feeling, having been plucked from the intimacy of family life, to be plunged into the depths of anonymity: you know nothing about anyone, and they know nothing about you. But, after hours spent sitting together, wrapped in a haze of shared exhaustion, talking about rubbish, and surrounded by pizza boxes, you slowly begin to feel close to people.
Despite the realisation that not every day can be packed with exciting encounters or stress-free activities, I’m not down-heartened. There is at least a dash of humour to be found in every situation – in the lecturers’ outfits, the burnt roast chickens, and the unwitting confessions of drunken housemates. Settling in, making things comfortable, and laughing with friends gets easier as the weeks progress. You can’t expect a whole life to fall into place at a click of the fingers, but perseverance brings its rewards, and hopefully if we hang in there together, it will be possible to live happily ever after.