If you have ever had the delight of gracing the internet, then you’ll undoubtedly be aware of, and have possibly internalised, some of the endless university advice it produces. Whether that be in the form of relatively useless but incredibly aesthetic TikToks, or mere anecdotes from others about their crazy freshers’ experience, we’ve all seen it. It incessantly reinforces the fact that we must enjoy our freshers’ week and possibly hold it as the pinnacle of our entire existence. But what happens when that isn’t quite possible?
Like so many other students who began university in 2020, arriving in the midst of a global pandemic did push the ordinary experience far from my grasp. And so, rather than dancing the night away, or most likely embarrassing myself in front of my entire college, I found myself trapped in a little household, confused as to why I was even there, or how I could begin truly ‘living’ my university fantasy.
If I’m being completely honest, my dream was the unattainable one I’m sure many of you also possess – the blur of nightclubs, the never-ending adventures, and, for the sake of any of my lecturers who stumble across this piece, an enthralling start in academia. It was a dream I’d nurtured since my somewhat turbulent time in high school, the concept of that ‘something better’ awaiting me at university. A phrase I’d always heard, and often repeated, was “just wait until uni!” I seemed to have forgotten to account for the possibility of a deadly pandemic in all my years of careful planning. And so, I was utterly crestfallen when it seemed as though this hope had slipped through my fingers. How was I supposed to get through my first year when my first week wasn’t picture perfect?
As I’m sure you’ll realise, reading that back, that question is ridiculous. One week does not determine an entire experience, nor does it make or break your journey into university life. The truth is that, while our fantasy may seem enticing, it is the unexpected moments that truly build your experience. There is no ‘correct’ way to experience university and, just because your journey may not be identical to others, that does not necessarily mean that you are missing out. To put it simply, your year does not need to be Instagram worthy to be meaningful.
The ‘Instagrammable’ freshers’ expectations aside, there is one more eventuality a fresher may need to prepare for: not immediately fitting in. As a working-class student arriving from Manchester, it is a slight understatement to claim that I felt a little out of place upon moving to this quaint university town, especially during freshers’ week. Undeniably, the stereotypes of this University precede themselves and, often, fuel a great deal of fear for students that do not fit the archetypal mould of such an institution. I must confess that I cannot tell you that you will not experience moments of imposter syndrome, or that you will simply adjust to this life with ease. But, for those students who feel out of place, I can only give the advice a tutor gave to me: sometimes, students from low-income backgrounds find themselves existing between two plains, no longer truly belonging at home, nor immediately fitting into university life. Instead, we often find ourselves in a middle ground whereby we must create our own sense of belonging by finding our own people and starting our lives anew.
Ultimately, freshers’ week is nothing more than a time reminiscent of your first residential school trip. And by that, I mean that it most certainly will not live up to the overhyped expectations we hold, but nevertheless, it will hold moments of absolute joy, if you simply allow yourself to alleviate the pressure of it being perfect. Try to embrace everything you can and, if you have to, accept its terribleness as a memory and set your sights on the years ahead. There’s still time to enjoy university once this week ends.
Image: Charles Asselin via Unsplash