Jennifer Bowey takes a look back at the difficulties and disappointments of Freshers Week
It’s all you’ve been thinking about for months. You’ve bought your Freshers' pass, decided which of the week’s events you absolutely must attend, and spent countless nights fantasising about what your future flatmates might be like. You’ve imagined meeting your new best friends and spending the entire week catching up on years of gossip and stories. Freshers will be a week of lifelong friends and memories – you know this, because that’s what Freshers is for everyone.
It probably hasn’t even crossed your mind that this might not end up being the case.
I don’t blame you for such boundless optimism because I was exactly the same. Upon meeting my grade requirements in June 2015, my excitement snowballed until I moved into my new flat in September and was met with a reality that juxtaposed everything I’d been led to expect. After staying at home for a year with nothing to do but study, I watched longingly as most of my friends went off to university and appeared to have the time of their lives. I visited these friends a few times throughout the year and experienced, however briefly, what it might be like to be a Fresher. Everything was new and exhilarating; there were parties with no fear of parental intervention; crowds of interesting new people to meet and the ability to do whatever, whenever. Based on these experiences, I’d successfully constructed a detailed idea of what my new life was going to be like.
It’s worth noting that you may not identify with this article at all. You may have started university and immediately had an amazing experience - if you have, that’s fantastic and I wish it were the case for everyone. Not feeling instantly at home, however, is also common, and I personally could have benefitted from hearing that myself when I was a first year.
There can be innumerable reasons why you may not feel confident that you made the right decision in coming to university during your first week, semester, or year. You may be suffering from homesickness, which can be an all-encompassing and debilitating feeling, especially if you’re far removed from family. Perhaps you suffer from mental health problems and the upheaval aggravated your condition. It could even be as simple as not having bonded with your flatmates as much as you’d hoped, or that your course doesn’t seem to be quite what you expected. All of these experiences are normal, but in all the exaggerated hype of Freshers' Week and it's daunting legacy, we don’t talk about them enough.
It’s natural to feel excited about starting a new chapter of your life, but the hype packaged with Freshers' Week can leave new students with unrealistic, larger-than-life expectations that are often impossible to live up to. So is enough done to support students who struggle with moving away from home and starting university? Plenty of time and money is spent on allowing students the opportunity to drink copious amounts of alcohol and party at concerts for the whole week, but a thought could be spared for those less able to enjoy these events.
Something that affects a lot of people starting university, but probably wouldn’t be the first topic of conversation you’d choose when speaking to people you’d just met, is mental health. Students are notorious for drinking excesses of alcohol and - whether or not that is “just what young people do” - some students are using it as a coping mechanism. Many students suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions that can socially inhibit them and stop them from enjoying not only Freshers' Week, but every aspect of university life. Sometimes, alcohol can become a bandage used to rectify this struggle and very little is put in place to help students that might succumb to mild substance abuse.
Personally, I found that my mental health suffered due to the massive upheaval of leaving home and beginning a new life. I’d spent the previous year socially isolated and focusing all my energy on looking forward to what was to come. Of course, nothing could live up to the perfection that I’d built in my head, and the consequent disappointment was difficult to handle, especially when so many people around me were enjoying themselves.
The thing is, once Freshers' Week and an emotionally challenging first semester ended, I managed to establish some structure in my life, make friends outside of student halls and become accustomed to my course and its demands. Waking up halfway through Freshers' Week and realising that you aren’t actually having the time of your life is perfectly normal: it’s just another week with an unusually large amount of stressors and alcohol. Believe me, you’re far from the only one feeling this way and I really could have done with hearing that back in 2015.
So, if Freshers Week feels more like the worst week ever than the best week ever, hang in there because, more than likely, things will only improve. It did for me.