Survival of the Freshest

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Freshers of 2012, take a bow. Before even crossing the campus threshold, you’ve traversed the media furore surrounding your fees, the civil disobedience of your peers, your projected debt, your future job prospects and, most recently, your academic credentials. Well, having made it thus far, you can now heave a sigh of relief and concentrate on getting stuck into the first week of undergraduate life. Welcome to Freshers’ Week!

Having arrived, unpacked (your duvet, as a token gesture) and exchanged names, majors and A Level subjects with your new flatmates, you may be feeling no small amount of trepidation about what is to come over the ensuing weeks and months. The following is a compilation of advice, garnered with hindsight since my arrival at Lancaster all those essays ago, for surviving both that first week of finding your feet and the year as a whole.

During Freshers’ Week:

• Carefully read the information given to you by your college and department.

• Register with a GP as soon as possible. Bailrigg Health Centre is an obvious choice if you’re in campus accommodation.

• Stockpile Alka-Seltzer.

• Be considerate of others’ sleeping habits. Not everyone in your flat may be a night owl, though it’s reasonable to allow that many students work (and play) well into the night. If you are an early-to-bed-early-to-rise type then don’t be too surprised if you find yourself investing in a good pair of earplugs for use during the occasional midnight soirees on the floor above.

• Get involved with as much as possible by taking advantage of free taster-sessions and introductory talks. Wander round the Freshers’ Fair and sign up to at least one thing that you’ve never tried before.

More generally:

• Don’t neglect the washing-up, or general kitchen hygiene. Though students inevitably have to tolerate a more-than-nominal amount of mess during their time in halls, nobody should have to open the fridge to find cultures of new life-forms in residence.

• Whilst the occasional plea for a dash of your flatmate’s milk when you unexpectedly find yourself in lack is unlikely to be refused, helping yourself without asking is bad form and doesn’t foster an amiable ‘flatmosphere’.

• In seminars, try not to be intimidated by those whose confidence is greater than their genuine understanding. Likewise, even if you don’t have 1001 amusing anecdotes of what you did during a gap year with which to regale your peers, you’ll still find plenty of interesting things to share about yourself and your background (if you wish to). University is a melting pot of experiences and personalities; diversity is what opens our minds to the possibilities that await us beyond the campus bubble.

• Make use of the library. You don’t have to panic-buy every item on your reading list at the start of term. Familiarise yourself with the library, its layout, the location of your subject-area and the online catalogue. Pace your reading throughout the year, and if your find that it’s all getting too much for you then be discerning in your choices: are there texts which can be skim-read? Or omitted altogether? There’s a subtle difference between under-preparing for lectures and seminars, and being pragmatic about your time-management. The library is also a sensible place to settle with your laptop or notebook if you need silence to induce productivity. Remember that there is no ‘right’ way to learn, and an invaluable aspect of university is discovering how your own brain best functions. If you find silence oppressive, or prefer collaborative learning with your friends, then try batting ideas about in the Learning Zone, which is a more relaxed environment and one in which you can chow down on a sarnie at the same time as perusing your books.

• Do at least some preparation for seminars so that you can contribute to the discussion. There’s nothing more awkward than fifty minutes of barely-punctuated silence as students resolutely avoid looking their tutor in the eye. Similarly, try not to miss lectures unless you have a legitimate reason (such as having been paralytic on daiquiris the previous night, having developed acute pneumonia, or being dead). After all, you’re paying enough for the privilege of studying here, so you may as well benefit from your lecturers’ insights.

• Visits from parents and relatives, whilst taking up valuable time that could otherwise be spent in bed or in the bar, are nevertheless an excellent opportunity to get your food cupboard re-stocked at no cost to yourself. Also, by careful emotional blackmail, you gain an opportunity to be wined and dined at food emporia not usually on the fresher’s radar.

• Finally, university provides you with tools for life and learning which will serve you well for the future. However, study does not have supremacy over your health and wellbeing. If anything starts to affect your health and happiness then be sure to talk to someone and get help to sort it out. Problems, be they academic or personal, are much easier to tackle before they’ve had chance to fester and overwhelm you. You’re here to learn, to benefit from academic and extra-curricular opportunities, to make friends, to broaden your perspective on the world and, above all, to enjoy the process.

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