By Rob Edwards
Forgive any hyperbole in the following statement but I must be frank: going to university was the most significant choice I had made in my life up to that point. Many far more knowledgeable writers would be up able to sum up the pros and cons of a university education from a mildly objective point of view. The educational benefits of university are the most publicised, but I want to talk more about its social benefits (and drawbacks) when it comes to the very first week of your time at university: Freshers’ Week.
Freshers’ Week is a hectic jumble of first times, massive personal upheaval and self-discovery. You’ve travelled possibly hundreds of miles away from home and been left in unfamiliar surroundings, filled with hundreds of other new people all in the same position as you, yet somehow all looking more confident and self-assured than you do. The move into halls is chaotic enough before going through the bureaucratic rigmarole of registering. Your parents might be around long enough to help you get settled, but they have to leave at some point, leaving you on your own, and I do mean truly alone. You’ll have a few moments to yourself in your new room, trying to work out what the hell is happening. You’ll never feel more lonely as you do in that moment.
The first night of my Freshers’ week was a gig at the Student Union bar by a band called the Rizzle Kicks. To this day I’m unsure what a Rizzle Kick is, but the music was fine and everyone seemed to be having a decent enough time. Now I don’t know what your feelings are about alcohol but at the age of 18 and alone for the first time I was incredibly nervous about drinking. Yes, I’d been drunk before but always when I was just one phone call away from a grumpy dad who’d begrudgingly pick me up. Here at the SU it was just me, 300 strangers and a pint of poorly chilled Carlsberg. I did what I could to make friends, even meeting two people I’d live with for a year. By the end of the night I’d drunk too much, had a cheeky snog with a girl in my halls, and retired to bed feeling really happy.
For all the crazy fun of Freshers’ week, there is a nastier side that is sadly overlooked: how lonely many of the more insulated people can feel. In my first and third year at university I lived in halls. By my third year I wasn’t particularly interested in going out to all the Freshers’ events and parties because everyone was a lot younger than me and I was recovering from minor surgery at the time. On the second night there I could hear crying coming from the room opposite mine. I knocked on the door and it was opened by a girl crying her eyes out. We’ll call her Jane. Jane was homesick, pure and simple. She’d never been away from home and the idea of being away from her parents for more than an night was too much. I did what I could to reassure her, telling her not to pack in her studies and to give university a chance. To my eternal pride, Jane did and she flourished, very quickly finding a whole group of friends.
There is unfortunately another aspect of Freshers’ week which is far more dangerous and one you need to be prepared for, and that is crime. From drug-taking and theft to a troubling amount of sexual assault, all of which can be found on the typical campus. Now you’ll have your own views on drugs, me – I’m a “Maybe smoke it, but don’t snort it or inject it” type of guy. If you’re sharing a joint with mates then you’re probably fine; if there is a bloke with three teeth offering you a needle I’d advise getting out quickly. Most theft can be prevented by simply being careful and locking doors and not flashing your money or phone about. Simple things which people forget after they’ve had a few.
Rape on campuses is a massive problem that all Freshers need to understand and that goes for guys as well as girls. First off, make sure your friends know who you’re with if you decide to sneak off alone with that hottie from the bar. Send them a full name and a picture if you can. If he suggests his place, why not suggest yours instead? Try to control as much as you can and the minute you feel you are losing it for whatever reason, it could be time to make your excuses and start calling friends quick. As for guys, all I’ll say is “NO MEANS NO”. If you’re flirting with a girl and suddenly she goes cold on you, accept it with a smile and give her some space. Yes, it sucks that you didn’t get lucky but she can feel safer now and that’s more important. As innocent as you may think you are, you’re probably bigger and stronger than the girl and she knows it. To my everlasting shame I know I’ve made women feel uncomfortable because I was too horny to read the signals. Don’t be 20 year old Rob, be better than that.
Two years after graduating I remember walking through my old university town and a girl walked past me. She was a student in her final year and she was holding hands with a very handsome guy. It was Jane. She’d survived, and thrived, at university. She didn’t recognise me at all and that made me so incredibly happy. That dark night almost three years ago was so far behind her that she didn’t even remember who it was who’d talked her down from leaving. I hope that those about to go to university this year will have a fantastic time. University is where you grow into the man or woman you may be for your whole life, so enjoy it.