There is no atmosphere quite like Freshers’ Week, especially at a university like St Andrews. It’s a week when you get plucked from one life, and whisked into another. It’s a week that will see you meet friends, make choices, and have experiences that will stay with you for the rest of your life. It could, however, also be a week where you get lost four times in a town that consists of three streets, accidentally get fabric softener all over your phone, and accidentally punch a fourth year in what you mistakenly thought was a mosh pit – but enough about me.
As a result, there’s been plenty of ink spilled by students and graduates alike about how to make a success of Freshers’ Week. You’ll probably have read quite a lot of this stuff yourself; I know I did. Most of these articles will be by people much smarter, and much more qualified than I am, to offer advice, but be wary of them. Every article, every blog post, hell, even every email from your older relatives, tries to give you advice that states or implies that there’s a way of doing Freshers’ properly, that there’s a formula you can tap into to avoid screwing up. But beware, they’re lying to you.
During Freshers’ Week (and, probably the next couple of weeks after that), if you feel like uni life is hard to keep up with, it’s because it is. If it seems like nothing you’ve done so far has prepared you for this, it’s because it hasn’t. If it seems like you’re being overwhelmed, it’s because you are. This does not make you a failure, or a bad person. It just means that you’re struggling with something that is, by its very nature, a struggle. Now, of course, some mistakes are avoidable (I got St Andrews public library mixed up with the University Library on my first day, and couldn’t work out why they had so many copies of 50 Shades), but many are just a natural part of the huge adjustment that university life requires. It’s unrealistic to expect that taking this or that bit of advice will stop you making them.
The really important thing, then, is to make sure that you don’t make this any harder on yourself than it has to be. Relax, and try not to judge yourself too hard. But, I hear you asking, how do you do this when you don’t know what you’re doing and it seems like everyone else does?
Now, I obviously don’t know much about your life, so let me answer that question with reference to something I do know about: writing. What you are reading right now is (I hope) a competently written article. But when you read it, you don’t see me pacing around my room swearing under my breath as I try to come up with ideas, or the three of four drafts I half-start and then delete, or the half-a-dozen primary school level spelling and grammar mistakes I make that my editors cut out. The point is that the shiny façade that most people present to the world is just that – a façade. No matter how heavily you prepare for university, no matter how brave a face you put on, the beginning is always a struggle.
And that’s fine.
The only important thing you have to remember is this: Just because your Freshers’ experience is not as good as the literature makes you expect (and it probably won’t be), that does not mean that you’ve failed.
I remember hanging about in the Union during Fresher’ Week, painfully sober, trying and failing to start conversations with those around me for about an hour until, convinced I was the only person there not enjoying themselves (well, apart from the guy I’d punched), I went home. Once I was back in my room, I drafted an email to my parents, telling them I wanted to drop out. As you’ve probably guessed, I never sent it, but I’ve still got it saved in my drafts as a reminder to myself that faltering is not failing. And if a mess like me can make it to third year, there’s hope for all of you.