The Social Mechanics of Freshers’ Week

Starting university is something that nobody can truly tell you about. It’s an entirely different experience for everyone: some will travel across the world to attend their dream school, whereas some will pick one that’s closer to home. Regardless of whether you’re starting anew or not, beginning university is most likely one of the strangest things that you’ll ever do – purely because it is so exciting and scary at the same time.

Moving away from home is an incredibly big step to take. It’s not something that you’ll ever forget, and, for the lucky ones, it’s an amazing experience. Luckily, there’s something there for you move in to distract you from any worries or fears you might have: freshers’ week. It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? A week designed specifically so that you can meet as many people and have as much fun as is humanly possible in a very short space of time. Surely it’s the perfect way to begin a venture that requires you to leave everything you know and love behind.

But it is so, so much more than that. It is indeed an experience like no other – but it’s perhaps not as perfect as it is made out to be. Whilst meeting new people, going to new places and trying new things certainly play a massive part in freshers’ week – there’s also far more going on behind the scenes.

What I found particularly remarkable is the way that, as soon as the alcohol gets pumping through people’s veins, the social rules that govern normal, civilised society no longer seem to apply. Some of this adds to the overall experience: it’s overwhelmingly refreshing to be able to walk up to a stranger, introduce yourself and walk away having made a friend. There’s nothing quite like dancing with somebody you’ve just met or the joy of realising that that the person you’ve lived next door to for a day is probably going to be your friend for the rest of your life.

Apparently, though, this means it’s perfectly okay for us to treat each other like objects. Freshers’ week is hyped up to be filled with freebies, new places, new people, alcohol, and sex. And sex is something that seems to be on the back of everyone’s drunken minds at freshers’ week.

For the single girls and guys who are looking to have a little fun – it’s great. But for those who are already in a relationship or aren’t looking for anything, it’s entirely frustrating. Where student clubbing is involved, there seems to be a universal assumption that everybody is single, and that everybody is looking for the guy or girl of their dreams to whisk them away – if only for a night. Having somebody assume that you are single and interested could either be a lot of fun, or a recipe for disaster.

Consent is something that is discussed a lot where sex is involved – but what about what comes before? Because I am not okay with somebody grabbing my waist and assuming that I want to dance with them. I am not okay with somebody touching me intimately at all – whether it’s holding my hand or squeezing my bum. It is not okay for anybody to assume that touching a stranger like that is acceptable, whether you’re a guy or a girl.

And maybe I’m being a party pooper here – but really, am I asking for much if I expect somebody to ask before they take me for a dance?

One giant leap

A week or two ago, I finally moved to the city of my dreams: London. So far it has been rather like a whirlwind experience: I have met so many new people I am struggling to remember who is who within a minute of meeting them. Maybe that’s my memory, though. I’ve been to cheap student bars and clubs that you can see all the glory of the Thames from (including the London eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament). I’ve started a course that I am absolutely in love with and I am well on my way to becoming a fully fledged student.

I am now living with seven complete strangers, all from different parts of the world and studying different things. It’s an experience to say the least – we have not yet become accustomed to washing up everything after eating, and it seems as though our kitchen is perpetually covered with dirty dishes. My bedroom walls are yellow – a shade that almost looks green in bad light – which I am slowly growing to hate, and I live five floors up from a busy road. At the moment, I’m sealing my ears up with ear plugs every night to save me from being woken up by police sirens or drunken lunatics at the pub just over the road.

So, so far there are ups and downs to my London experience. I had my first bout of homesickness today. I’d been trying to start my first essay of the academic year all day (it’s surprisingly difficult to work out where to begin, let alone to actually write it) and I started to feel tired and a little sick. All I wanted in that moment was my nice, big, cosy bed back home to cuddle up in – preferably with my boyfriend there, too. Unfortunately going home wasn’t an option, so, instead, I had a little cry and took a nap. It worked like a charm. I’ll give my mum a ring tomorrow and catch up on the happenings of life without me, and hopefully I’ll nip the homesick thing in the bud.

I’m trying to get into the habit of writing more often, so (fingers crossed) I should be devoting a lot more time to this little blog. I apologise that there is a startling lack of anything beauty or book wise here – but I’ll try update again soon! So far, university life has not left me with much time to get dolled up or do some leisurely reading. But if anyone wants a review of a linguistics textbook, let me know and I’ll be happy to deliver!

I will leave you with one little nugget of joy I found in one such textbook:

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble but not you
On hiccough, thorough, lough and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word,
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead –
For goodness sake don’t call it “deed”!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt)
– T.S.W. quoted in Mackay (1970)