Ellie Rowe gives a personal account of her Freshers’ Week and discusses why you might want to dial down your expectations for the first few weeks of university.
Dirt. Stress. Rum. Someone passing out in our halls kitchen and having to call emergency services only four days into university. Being lost. Homesickness… of all the things that come to my mind when I think about Freshers’ Week, ‘best week of my life’ is not one them, and after completing my first year at the University of Bristol, I finally understand why that’s okay.
Leading up to uni, I was repeatedly told that Fresher’s Week is meant to be the Best Week of Your Life™. It’s set up to be something like this: you make ALL your best friends, have an amazing time exploring the city, meeting people, going clubbing, getting drunk and generally living your best life…
My week, however, wasn’t like that at all. For someone who suffers from anxiety, which often makes clubbing extremely difficult, Freshers’ Week was a major challenge, and not enjoying it as much as I had expected made me feel as if I’d already ‘done uni wrong’ before I had even really started. Although I was very lucky in that I managed to bond with my flatmates, in the first week I came down with the inevitable ‘freshers’ flu’, could barely stand clubbing and often left early, and felt very overwhelmed by the number of people I had met whose names I couldn’t remember. It felt like my entire year was going to be a constant disappointment: if the very first week of university couldn’t live up to the image I had in my head, how could the rest of the year?
Looking back now, these overwhelmingly high expectations I had set myself for Freshers’ Week were totally unrealistic. It absolutely does NOT set the tone for the rest of your time at university, and really it is almost universally acknowledged by those in the know, (i.e. second and third years), as a bit of a disappointment. My first year has been absolutely amazing – even though my Freshers’ Week wasn’t.
What I learnt from not having the best ever first week at university was that I didn’t need all those first clubbing nights to be the ‘best nights ever!!!!’, because all the things I wanted from those nights – drinking with friends, bonding, seeing Bristol – I would come to experience almost every OTHER week of the year. In fact, time only improved these activities. The moments where I stayed in and made dinner on weeknights with my flatmates, or went for coffee after lectures with people from my tutorials, or learned that a friend of a friend of a friend had ended up in Bristol too, and turned out to have an incredibly interesting flat themselves, have been the moments I most fondly look back on, ALL of which happened many weeks into the year.
Placing so much emphasis on a single week can also be really damaging to your mental health – especially when you are as vulnerable as freshers are. It’s hard to spend every waking moment trying to figure out whether the people surrounding you are people you want to be friends with. It’s hard to navigate an entirely new city. It’s hard to look after yourself. It’s hard to know what societies to join, what to eat, how to separate whites and colours, and it’s hard to do ALL these things whilst the overwhelming pressure of ‘having a good time’ is looming over you.
From my experience, homesickness, anxiety and fear generated by this extraordinarily new world, was not ‘solved’ by one week of intense drinking, clubbing, waking up at 1pm and examining my tonsils: in fact, it had quite the opposite effect, and it was the start of the official term that eventually alleviated these negative feelings. My advice to freshers who have been disappointed or feel ‘let-down’ by how they ‘didn’t make the most of it’ is simply: don’t sweat it. As much as you may feel like you’re constantly hearing about how amazing all the events were, and as much as it may look to you like everyone has made all their best friends already, I can assure you that there are much, much better weeks to come. You will find friends with whom you have more in common than a just corridor. It’s okay to feel disappointed, or bored, or leave a club night early to come home because you’re cold and tired and the thought of that Jason Donervan’s at 4am makes you feel sick. Each and every one of us needs time to breathe, adjust and relax when going through a change as major as starting university.
Look after yourselves, look after your friends, new and old, and remember that it’s okay if this week hasn’t been as good as you were expecting, because there are much better ones to come.
Illustration by Robin Tait.