Freshers Week is legendary for carnage.
It’s the first week of the rest of your life – no parents, no responsibilities and (almost) no rules. You swash down all your teenage anxieties about flying the nest and being away from home in favour of spur-of-the-moment plans and talking to complete strangers that (let’s be honest) you’ll barely see again and at most, awkwardly nod to when you pass each other on campus.
When people told me about Freshers Week before I started uni, well-meaning but painful icebreakers, campus fairs, and a million flyers pressed into my hand is what sprung to mind. However, it was clear from the second I entered the ‘Welcome Party’ on my first night away that I would have to rethink my approach to both Freshers Week and the uni lifestyle as a whole.
Here are some top tips to get you through freshers’ week:
1. Before you even leave your parents’ house, pack a first night bag – Make sure everything you think you’ll need is close to hand and easy to access so, if you’re a chronic procrastinator like me, you’ll have enough to last you the first day or so. Chuck in a change of clothes and underwear, your essential toiletries, a towel, obviously a toothbrush, some makeup (if you use it!), any chargers and a snack or two.
2. Offer your new flatmates a snack when you first introduce yourself – Food is a great, relatively non-offensive icebreaker. I went around the other rooms in my flat with a box of Cadbury Roses my mum had snuck into my bag, one of my flatmates left a jumbo packet of biscuits on the kitchen table. This is a good one if you feel a little bit nervous as well because your brain thinks: Oh, I’m eating, we must be safe!
3. Exchange contact details ASAP (including your emergency contact) – You never know when somebody might need to contact you and vice versa. Taking note of everybody’s emergency contact isn’t a bad idea either as you never know what could happen and when. A key example of this being when my flatmate, who is allergic to peanuts, (drunkenly) ate a handful of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, then took too many out-of-date antihistamines and we had to call an ambulance. Luckily, she didn’t need to be taken to hospital, and I didn’t actually need to call her mum but if we needed to, we could reach her family – she was fine btw.
4. Tell your parents when their work is done – We all know parents are doing their job when they (inevitably, and through no fault of their own) hang around a bit too long after they drop you off and help lug all your stuff to your room. It’s better to tell them right off the bat what you need help with and what you don’t, then agree to call them in a couple of days.
5. The quicker you unpack, the more at home you’ll feel – When you first move into your room, you get the overwhelming sense that it hasn’t always been your room and it was, up until very recently, filled up with somebody else’s things. By unpacking and decorating, it’s like you put your stamp on the place and claim it as yours as a pose to just another room in halls. Plus, it gives you something nice to come back to and relax after days of socialising and nights of clubbing.
At least make your bed before you go out for the first time!
6. Make sure your ID and your student ID is valid and keep it in your wallet at all times – This may seem obvious to some but not to me when I rocked up at Oceana in Southampton with my two months out of date passport. I reasoned that because it had worked in pubs and bars, it would work in clubs. I was wrong and had to argue my way in (which put a real dampener on the rest of my night!). Needless to say, I sent off for my provisional license the next day as a proper form of ID, and it has stayed snug in my wallet ever since. It’s also a good idea to keep your student ID in here because, again, you never know when you might need it.
7. Then make sure you don’t lose your wallet – This happened to my flatmate within hours of arriving at uni. It put a spanner in his plans the following weeks until the wallet was mysteriously sent back to his home address. Obviously, there’s not a lot you can do if you’re pickpocketed but just be super carefully during Freshers. You’re young and naïve and maybe new to the area which makes you a prime target, so keep it hidden and zipped away at all times.
8. Do a ‘trial run’ to your campus/building – Take it from me, it is really embarrassing to get lost on the way to a campus which should only be a fifteen-minute walk away. Take a stroll down there to memorise the route and always double-check the room and building before you leave. I walked in the complete wrong direction, my introductory lecture about to start in ten minutes when I was half an hour away and was soaking wet from the rain. Having an Uber come to my rescue minutes before was definitely not my finest moment.
9. Eat before you go on a night out and drink some strong coffee – You’ve heard this one before: food soaks up the alcohol blah blah blah. No matter how tempting it is to skip dinner so you ‘get drunker faster’, this is a terrible idea. If it’s bloating you’re worried about, then just have a smaller plate and a glass of water. As for the coffee, before you go out, I absolutely swear by it because (rather embarrassingly) I fall asleep really quickly, anytime and anywhere, so I find that a coffee alongside my pre-drinks keeps me awake and dancing all night.
10. Don’t be the guy who chunders on the bus to the club – Please don’t do it. Just don’t. It’s grim, it smells, nobody will be very happy if your dinner gets in their hair. On my second night, I had to pull my boyfriend out of the way of another guy who was just about to puke EVERYWHERE. We got off the bus at the next stop and I’m forever haunted by the possibility of what could’ve happened had he thrown up just a second or two early. Disgusting. Please don’t chunder on the bus.
11. But tactical chunder (preferably in the bathroom) if you feel ill – The cure to any drunken nausea is a quick vomit in the toilet or sink. You’ll (hopefully) bounce back in no time, ready to party and no longer a puke risk. Bonus points if you don’t have to get someone to wash it out of your hair!
12. Spend the first night with your flatmates – Stay in or go out with them but the faster you get to know them, the better. Again, you live in the same (probably small) space and will inevitably run into each other in the hallway half-dressed at some point. The year will be less than ideal if you never do more than awkwardly say hi in the hallway. It’s on all of you to make an effort and first night of Freshers is an ideal time to bond.
13. Have a designated pair of clubbing shoes – Two words: Jesters, Southampton. This is the club that DEMANDS you keep your good shoes away from the dancefloor. My clubbing shoes are my old, battered Nike trainers which are (reasonably) drink and dancefloor proof. Plus, nothing’s worse than wearing a pair of shiny new shoes that rub your feet raw and are ruined by the end of the night.
14. Don’t drink anything given to you by somebody you wouldn’t trust to help you home – This is a basic but extremely important safety tip. As important as it is to go into Freshers with an open mind and you want to believe that everyone means well, a healthy dose of caution is recommended, especially during Freshers and your first weeks at uni. The rule I use is this: if you wouldn’t trust this person to help you home safely when you’re blackout drunk, then you probably shouldn’t let them pour you a drink / go get it from somewhere else.
15. Try some different hangover cures/avoidance tricks – This probably isn’t something you can master in the first week, but it’s good to get a head start. I chug water and a couple of paracetamol before bed. One of my flatmates stays awake playing Lego Star Wars until he doesn’t feel drunk anymore. Fishfingers and scrambled egg on toast is also an unbeatable hangover cure, in my opinion, but whatever works.
16. Make time for yourself at some point during the week – Freshers Week will be one of the most chaotic, exhausting, emotional and action-packed weeks of your life. Some time to take a breath and check-in with yourself will do some good.
Make a cup of tea, catch up on some YouTube videos, read a couple chapters of a book, draw something, put on a facemask (not the corona kind!). You’ll feel refreshed and ready to bounce back into the social scene in no time.
17. For the love of God, make a shopping list before you first go to the supermarket – The first time you go shopping during Freshers will be overwhelming because it feels like there is so much to get and so much you haven’t tried. Before you leave, figure out what you want to eat for dinner that week, something to eat for your breakfast, a non-alcoholic drink that isn’t water (Vimto squash is one of my favourites) and some snacks to keep around just in case. This will make your first shop more manageable and keep you on budget.
18. Always keep a bag for life in your bag / scrunched up in your pocket – This one could be chalked down to common sense, but the amount of time we’ve gone shopping, got to the checkout and thought: ‘shoot! My bags for life!’. I have one or two sturdy tote bags I always chuck into my backpack just in case. There’s a lot of things in my backpack that is there ‘just in case’.
19. Play board games with your flatmates – If you want to see your flatmates’ true colours, break out the monopoly, pour yourself a large glass of whatever you feel like and settle in for one of the most intense games of your life. During Freshers, my flat and the flat below met up for a board game night, and it was the beginning of many. We now all live together in a nine-bedroom house which maybe never would have happened without board games.
20. Embarrass yourself! – Everyone is nervous, everyone is eager to fit in and find their place as fast as possible. If you spend the entirety of Freshers Week worried that you’re going to embarrass yourself then how will you learn to enjoy yourself? Cringing when you look back on Freshers means you’ve grown, you’ve overcome all those pre-uni insecurities, and you’re on the way to become a new and more mature person. Maybe one day you’ll look back and laugh at the whole thing!