Don’t get me wrong, I was excited for fresher’s week. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited. Like others, I’d spent the most part of the last ditch attempt to do summer reading trawling through my friends’ photos online; sizing up their new ‘pals’, laughing at the – ‘of course we were being ironic’ – fruits of club photography, and simply trying to imagine how painful, or not, it was all going to be.
So what was it like? Well, I had some of the typical experiences: drinking copious amounts; going to the saddest paint party since Tweenies ‘messy time’ got slightly risqué, and wearing a college t-shirt to feel part of something (I didn’t quite know what). I also had a taste of the Oxford fresher’s experience: copious drinking (with tutors); hiding from someone I’d met four years ago at Latin camp behind a slime cannon; and proudly wearing said college t-shirt to make sure people knew what exact organisation I was funding for my three-year library subscription. I even played chess drunk (highly don’t recommend).
But, all in all, it wasn’t actually that bad. Shun the non-believers in the power of jäger. Freshers can be fun, if you (+ scheduled inebriation) can convince yourself so. So why the hate-speech then, if even the ‘clubbing’ itself doesn’t actually have to be that painful? Well, hopefully the following innocent, sweet and perfectly harmless conversation, endemic to Michaelmas 0th week, will help explain…
‘How are you finding your first week here?’ a girl brightly asked me from across the JCR.
I’d just sat through a fire safety talk and been told I was going to endure all sorts of disasters. I didn’t want to be rude, but genuinely didn’t think I could look up without suffering from whiplash. I wasn’t just hung-over, it was day four; I was plain exhausted, had just received my first essay, and felt a little homesick. I just wanted to be left alone, by this lovely girl, to admire the hash browns on my plate – they did look a rather fetching shade of burnt orange – and evaluate my life in peace. But, I didn’t.
I looked up. ‘Really good thanks. A bit full on at times, but loads of fun’ I replied, smiling through the pain of someone playing Bopit! With all parts of my brain, all at once.
‘A bit full on’? What was I thinking? Perhaps she thinks I can’t hack this freshers week thing? Am I being boring? I sound boring. Come on, show a scrap of enthusiasm for life.
‘Yeah. Me too! Everyone’s been so welcoming, and the freshers fair today was great! I’m guessing you went out last night?’ she said, grinning, staring at my under-eye shadow.
Well, she bought the ‘fun’ (how the hell did that happen?). But she’s laughing at me, isn’t she? Oh god she is. A couple of days in and I’m already a mess. FRESHERS FAIR? I’d almost forgotten – I said I’d go with the historians I met the other day.
‘Aha yeah, it was rather a good night actually. Hence the current state of affairs…’
Good I made a joke. SHE LAUGHED! Yes – points for being (sort of) amusing. She thinks I’m funny – I’m a potential friend. Okay, I’ve got this.
‘Yeah. Other people seemed to say so too!’ she said.
Who are these people. Show them to me.
‘A bunch of us are just going for a chill walk around Oxford this afternoon, and get some stuff for the bop, if you wanted to join us?’
I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do less. I needed sleep. I needed duvet. But she seemed nice.
‘Sounds great – Yeah I’d love come.’ I said, half wincing into a smile.
To say that I hated freshers because everyone seemed too ‘nice’ would not only seem unfair, but heartless. Yet, to deny the existence of a pressure to act with an ‘inflated level of agreeability’ and as if you’re having the time of your life – even if, as the above conversation shows, you aren’t – is a lie.
The context of freshers week itself creates an atmosphere of relentless optimism. It seems we are inflicted with an unnerving desire to both locate and befriend our pals for the next three or four years. Plus, Oxford plays its part by bringing added intensity to the bargain – there’s insufficient time to do everything, unless you can split yourself into seven pieces.
So, whilst we perhaps may have thought freshers was all a bit stressful and shit, most of us didn’t dare show it. The idea of expressing dissent, and saying what you we felt, crafted a chasm of loneliness and isolation. Fresher’s week had one unwritten rule: don’t contradict fresher’s week. This really wasn’t my vibe; an ambiance of enforced goodwill and cooperation meant that I felt as furthest from myself than I had for quite a while.
Plus, as a sufferer of scepticism and overthinking things, conversations sometimes felt rather constructed; it was rather hard to tell whether people were genuinely interested in what you were saying, or just being polite. We all were all houses and trying to sell ourselves to one another or something. And for people who are awful at self-promo, but still stupid enough to worry about it, this was a problem.
Because of these reasons, it’s fair to say that you can hate freshers. But, you can also like it too; it’s your choice. Writing this article has made me realise – apart from how I’m still an angst ridden teenager – that despite what you think at the time, Freshers really doesn’t matter. It’s the weeks after, where you make your real friends and just relax, that actually do. I took freshers far too seriously, and as much as I hated the advertise-yourself atmosphere, I shouldn’t have felt so trapped and unable to step out of it. It doesn’t stick around for that long anyway; prolonging your bitterness only means that you’ll end up writing an article in the Cherwell all about it under the pretense of ‘journalism’.