Freshers’ Week: What I wish I’d known

Worried about Freshers’ Week? Don’t panic! Our panel of uni experts are here to share with you their pearls of wisdom. Joy Molan caught up with six University of Bristol women to chat about their experiences.

Freshers’ Week is an exciting, hectic and daunting time. My memories of it all blur into a sleep-deprived haze of Whiteladies pub crawls, DIY fancy-dress outfits and ill-advised late night Donnervans’.

At the time, I was so busy trying to remember everyone’s names, navigate a new city and find the Number 16 bus stops, that I rarely stopped to reflect on things. With a new intake of students set to have similarly fun yet disorientating experiences this week, I decided to ask six women at the University to share with us their pearls of wisdom.

I spoke to students, alumni and staff who’ve all been there, done the awkward organised nights out and probably got the Freshers’ t-shirt too. And they gave me their honest accounts and personal memories of that time; telling me what they wish they had known then.

What these accounts show is the variety of experiences. It’s clear there is no right or wrong way to do Freshers’: the friends you make during this week don’t have to be your friends for life, there probably isn’t some fantastic party you’re missing out on, and it’s ok to feel a bit blue. You don’t HAVE to click with everyone, go out every night or be ashamed of your sexuality. All you have to do this Freshers’ Week is: enjoy the little things, don’t panic and don’t forget to give yourself a break.

Rowena Salmon, Vice-President of the Feminist Society

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I lived a Freshers cliché and therefore that’s pretty defining of the week that followed for me: I had P in V sex for the first time on the night I moved to University. It wasn’t defining in that it was an earth-shifting event; it wasn’t disastrous and it wasn’t perfect. What was defining was the fact I did something people always used to talk about, mostly in a negative way, and it was totally unexpected, and I feel good about it.

What advice would you give your Freshers self?

Don’t have any expectations: things happen that you never really thought about, and things don’t happen that you think are going to. THIS IS OK. Freshers’ Week, and the few weeks that follow are all about one thing: you discovering what the fuck you’re doing. Change is weird and uni is weird, and that’s ok and going with the flow is the only way to get on with things.

Embrace the clichés (if they do happen to come true). Apart from lighting my v card on fire the second I was out of the nest, other clichés I lived include throwing up in a club toilet whilst wearing a toga. You wouldn’t think it but I have great memories of both of these nights!

What advice would you give new Freshers?

Your new friendships are important – even if they don’t last. I can’t remember the last time I had a real conversation with the girl who was my BFF in the first term of my first year. We were an unlikely pairing, and the friendship wasn’t for life, but she was there for me when things came up and helped me to process them. And we spent many hours together laughing, and napping on each other’s beds, which is important too.

Don’t worry what people think. I’m a very sexual person and I knew that University was going to give me opportunities to explore that, but I also worried about being slut-shamed by my new peers. Deciding not to care allowed me to lift that pressure from myself and be able to focus on the things that count in sexual activity: safety and fun.

Flora Donald, President of the Bristol Revunions

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What do you remember most about Freshers’ Week?

The 3 B’s. Banter, Booze and Birds. But actually probably Berroca. Replace birds with Berroca. I have a fear of birds. And cheese. OR maybe B for Boots instead- I wore a lot of ankle boots. I never wear ankle boots anymore. I should get more ankle boots. How things change. Sartorially anyway.

What was the happiest moment of Freshers’ week?

I was still buzzing from the result of the Scottish Independence Referendum. Really pleased. Fresher’s was a bit of a blur in comparison.

What was the biggest challenge of Freshers’ Week?

Waking up in time to get the Churchill Hall breakfast. How did I deal with it you ask? I didn’t. But I had a free burger at the church on Woodland Road every single day, so I think I’m still a winner.

Oh and I guess that meeting new people is scary but I talk a lot when I’m nervous so I imagine it was a lot worse for the people I was meeting.

What piece of advice would you give your Freshers self?

If someone is being sick in a toilet don’t lean in too close to make sure they are alright. It WILL bounce off the toilet bowl and hit you in the face. Also don’t buy pens. Just steal all the free pens at Freshers’ Fair. It’s all about the little things.

What do you wish you had known then?

Freshers’ Week often seems daunting but to be fair, nothing about it is really that new. You have almost certainly met new people before and you’ve probably had a drink before. Just never so many people or so many drinks.

To be honest the things that happened during my Freshers’ Week and the stories I have are no more exciting than anything I’d done before or since then. Overall, Freshers’ Week is slightly anticlimactic, which is actually quite relieving. Once you stop worrying about trying to have the best time, that’s when you start having it.

I had a great time and I made great friends. All of my housemates are the seven people I happened to pre-drink with on my first night. I accidentally met all of my best friends at university on my first night. But if that doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t matter. I have made lots of great friends since and I imagine that going into my third year I will continue to do so. Freshers’ week isn’t as scary as you think. Also back to the pens, I can’t stress how many free pens you’ll get. It really is a magical time in your life.

Dr. Josie Gill, Lecturer in Black British Writing of the 20th and 21st Centuries

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I was a fresher at the University of Sheffield in September 1999. One thing that I remember about Freshers’ Week is a trip to the peak district which had been organised by some people in my hall of residence. Amongst all the parties and nights out, pub crawls and society fairs, I remember this trip because it gave me a real sense of the place I had arrived in and was a welcome break from all the hustle and bustle of the welcome events.

What do you remember most?

I remember being in the bar at my halls of residence, with all the people in my block, and we were all singing along together to a cheesy pop song (I think it was something by Robbie Williams or S Club 7!) before we went out. It was great to feel part of a new community and I think we were all really excited about what university life had in store.

What was the biggest challenge of Freshers’?

One of the biggest challenges was how to avoid blowing my student loan! I had decided to set myself a strict budget of £35 a week (my food was included in my halls) but this would have been impossible to stick to in Freshers’ Week. So I decided just to forget about money for that week and take up all the opportunities to try new activities, go to new places and do new things that were on offer. It was great.

What do you wish you had known?

I wish I’d worried less about not immediately ‘clicking’ with everyone that I met and hung out with during those first couple of weeks. I met some of my best friends from university later that year and not all of them were in my halls. I also wish I’d known that the loose combat trousers and choker necklace I wore on my first day in Sheffield would become fashionable retro 90s clothing in 2016!

Maddie Burton, President of the Feminist Society

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Looking back at Freshers’ Week, what memories do you have?

Going out a lot in a kind of manic way. I was determined that getting drunk was my only way of making friends so I proceeded to do that, a lot. And it does work…to an extent.

What was the happiest moment of Freshers’ Week?

My happiest moment was definitely the first night when I found a really great friend. We had a white t-shirt party, so I just wrote ‘Free the Nipple’ on everyone’s shirts (if you’ve got one, it was me!). After much searching she eventually she found me and we’ve been friends since.

What do you wish you had known then?

A) It’s actually really important to take care of your health while at uni, things can get incredibly strenuous, and B) not everyone who you think is your friend in Freshers is actually your friend. I’m thinking of a couple of guys who clearly had other intentions but I was too poor a judge of character to really realise it.

What piece of advice would you give your Freshers self?

CHILL THE HELL OUT. Go to the things that interest you and do the things you genuinely like, you’ll find friends much more easily when you’re in a place of common interest. Try a load of things from Freshers’ Fair (e.g. FemSoc), then pick a few you want to commit to and actually commit to them.

And decorate your room when you first arrive, you’ll feel way more settled once you’ve sorted out your own environment.

Clara Vlessing, Senior Editor of TWSS (2015-2016)

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What do you remember most about Freshers’ Week?

Panic and the completely unshakable fear there was a massive and amazingly cool party happening somewhere and I was missing out on it and would never ever make a single friend, ever. (That sounds bad, I did make friends.)

What was the happiest moment?

Freshers is such a blur! I have a vague memory of lying in the sun on the Downs with people from my halls and feeling very content and relaxed – which was a much needed antidote to the panic mentioned above. You meet so many people in so few days and it’s completely exhausting, that was challenging.

What piece of advice would you give your Freshers self?

Don’t panic! Freshers doesn’t last long, it doesn’t have to be the best week of your life and it isn’t going to be the sum total of your university experience. I think if I’d known that I would have been able to approach the whole thing in a more easy-going way and had an even better time!

Chloe Tingle, ex-Bristol student and Founder of No More Taboo

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What is your defining memory of Freshers’ Week?

Mayhem! Meeting a different person every 10 minutes, trying to figure out how lectures work, whilst making friends and going to every social event you can imagine. I don’t really remember much to be honest it was all a blurrrr. But I do remember lots of fancy dress! Which I love; hours of making outfits.

I was happiest drinking tea (even though I don’t drink tea) in a coursemate’s kitchen and meeting his two female flatmates and just clicking. I was so excited to make some female friends being a girl on an engineering course. Seven years later and we’re all still close friends and even go on holiday together.

What was the hardest part of Freshers’ Week?

Getting sick, I guess technically the week after Freshers, really knocked me back. Your immune system suddenly can’t cope with all these new bugs from all over the country and trying to battle on through Freshers’ flu is not a good idea. I think it’s important to just take some nights off and get some proper rest. Listen when people tell you it’s more than a nasty hangover. Keep up your vitamins and veg intake especially during that first week. Don’t worry about your time spent recuperating, you have the rest of your uni life to make new friends; you’re not missing out.

What do you wish you had known then?

How many amazing opportunities there are at Bristol Uni in terms of societies and extra curricular stuff. Some of them like Basecamp and FemSoc I only discovered after finishing five years at the uni! It might not feel like it but you have the most amount of spare time on your hands in first year so use it productively.

To find out more about the societies and groups mentioned in this article, please visit:

Basecamp: http://www.businessbasecamp.co.uk/

Feminist Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/bristolfeminists/

No More Taboo: http://www.nomoretaboo.org/

Bristol Revunions: http://www.bristolrevunions.com/

If you have any concerns during Freshers’ Week, please contact your Warden, Senior Resident, Personal Tutor or the following services: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/students/services/mental-health/

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