Freshers’ Week bashing has become almost as ingrained into the undergraduate mentality as pretentiousness and uncleanliness. Instead of expecting the most carnage-filled week of ‘down-it-fresha’ banter ever, incoming freshers are now increasingly warned of the anxiety of leaving home, the awkward first encounter with your peers, the monotony of ring of fire, and the onset of freshers’ flu.
Everyone knows Freshers’ Week is a bit shit. You’re probably going to have some tedious and repetitive conversations and some questionable sexual encounters. You’re going to embarrass yourself on several occasions (I got drunk and divulged details of people I barely knew that I’d gathered from intensive Facebook stalking). As a survivor of a Junction Paint Party, I can assure you that you’re going to go to some of the worst club nights of your life.
That said, Freshers’ Week also presents some unprecedented opportunities. It is the great leveller: everyone wears the same shit t-shirt customized with unfunny jokes, everyone has to pretend to enjoy the same tragic stock nights and organized fun. Everyone is equally earnest, nervous and uncool. Nothing dismantles the kind of social hierarchies that reigned at school like the universal lameness of the anything-but-clothes night.
Also, everyone is legally bound to be outrageously nice because they’re just as desperate for mates as you are. Make the most of inhabiting such an atmosphere of enforced goodwill and co-operation. It won’t be long before freshers’ solidarity is dispersed into groups, and 5th week turf wars and mutual loathing set in.
And from the uniformity of your starting-place obviously comes the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Nobody knows you here (unless you went to one of Britain’s elite boarding schools, in which case you probably know everyone) and so you can pursue whatever dream you have been nursing entirely free from inhibitions. You can finally make the transition from bedroom DJ to actual DJ. You can join the Live Action Role Play society. You can become a Union hack or a hardline revolutionary; Freshers’ Week gives you the opportunity to consciously decide who you want to be.
Freshers’ Week is also a particularly unique time for Oxford students. It’s pretty much the only time in your three or four years here where you’re a comfortable distance from a double essay crisis, a hallowed week where you can have leisurely five hour pre-drinks before heading out and then nurse a guilt-free hangover in bed.
Also, despite agonizing awkwardness at the time, Freshers’ Week is retrospectively the funniest thing ever. You’re going to have untold amounts of fun looking back through pictures of yourself looking about 10 years younger and talking to people you have never spoken to again. Freshers’ is prime time for gathering blackmail material for your future friends (and enemies).
Freshers’ Week is the most debauched of times and the most tragic of times. If you make 24 new best friends on the first night, you’ll probably retain at least a couple: for every conversation about A-levels there will be some actual meaningful social interaction.
Don’t worry about social faux pas in front of cool second years; don’t worry if you end up weeping into a JaÌˆgerbomb once or twice, and enjoy the weird, surreal blur, because it’ll be over before you know it.
Stirling University’s Student Union, in its pitch to incoming students for their drunken patronage of its half-baked parties, makes two pretty bold claims. They contend not only that they have “some amazing nights lined up” but also that, “Freshers’ Week 2014 is set to be the best week of your life!” Whilst it is easy to laugh at the former, the nights in question being a ‘Back 2 Skool’ party and “the famous Freshers Foam party”, it is the second claim that I intend to rebuff. I sincerely hope for everyone’s sakes, whether they are from Stirling, Oxford or any other place, that Freshers’ Week is not the best week of their life. That would be, well, just plain sad.
Freshers’ Week consists simply of superficial drunken bonding with complete strangers and crippling hangovers the following morning. And all this is intensified by the embarrassment of hazily remembered episodes from the night before.
Indeed, when you actually look at what freshers are trying to achieve when they arrive at university, Freshers’ Week seems singularly unsuitable. It is akin to our octogenarian Queen celebrating her diamond jubilee with a pop concert and a chilly boat ride. Freshers primarily want to make friends and meet people when they arrive at university. They are lost lambs desperately looking to find the right flock.
However, to do this requires time and some sober, admittedly as well as some drunken, conversation. It does not come as the greatest surprise that this is very difficult to achieve in such a setting as Freshers’ Week and, even if you think you have achieved it, you probably haven’t. There is a reason for the oft-repeated stereotype of the “best friend” from freshers week whom you spend the rest of your degree trying to avoid. So, perhaps the most important myth to dispel is that Freshers’ Week is not some friend-making nirvana, but more a first world nightmare, alleviated only by the inebriation. You will only really find out which people you genuinely like and want to spend time with later on, when you have shared more than a couple of embarrassing moments together.
Not only does Freshers’ Week not fulfil any long time goals you might have for university, but frankly it is also an unpleasant experience. Sure, meeting new people is fun, exciting, and much better than sitting at home watching the entirety of Arrested Development in a week. However, Freshers’ Week is more than that: it is a time when your whole world is in flux, your roots nonexistent, with old friends far away, forging their own futures. Many freshers feel alone and scared, a problem not helped by the fact that, for the vast majority, this is the first substantive time that they have spent away from home. To top all this off, many irrationally feel that if this week does not go well for them, nor will the rest of their time at university. This is obviously utter rubbish. Most of the university friends I have now were people I either did not know or people I did not get along with in Freshers’ Week. Nonetheless, it is a very common emotion and, when put together with everything else, it can lead to a very rotten week indeed.
The important thing to remember is that Freshers’ Week is an aside to the rest of your degree; granted, one which everyone has to go through, but also one which equally everyone exits, mostly unbruised except for a few painful memories.
It can be shitty and pressurizing, but the great news is that it doesn’t really matter. It is the weeks after that will make or break your degree.