By Molly Byford
A lot of people will give the same old advice to prep you for university and lots of it is true. One thing is for sure: don’t worry, you will make friends extremely quickly! However, here are some thoughts and more St John’s specific advice from a former fresher.
Firstly, plenty of people will say they’re nothing but excited to start university. But, for lots of people (like me) Durham is, and can feel, very far away from home. Being nervous before you turn up is completely normal. To lessen any nerves, do make sure you give yourself ample time to pack and prepare yourself. It can be good not to build up too many expectations. Keep calm and embrace the excitement if you can.
On arrival, there is going to be a lot to take in. As soon as you drive up the Bailey and you arrive outside St. John’s, its supportive community is blindingly obvious. With a team of second year students ready to make unpacking the car as swift as possible, hopefully you will feel at least partly at home. Most people have family helping unpack and saying their goodbyes, so don’t feel like you must rush your parents away. I know that I found having them there to help me settle in was extremely comforting. It can be helpful to bring things to share on your first day whether that’s cake, drinks or to just lend a helping hand – this adds to the friendly John’s community and aids friendship making. Nonetheless, remember that it’s okay to take time adjusting and it can be nice to slowly unpack your room to let it all sink in. And, if meeting lots of new people seems too intense that’s okay. But, please remember there are a team of John’s students there to chat to you if you don’t want to be alone. There are always people around to help you on Fresher’s Sunday.
Freshers’ week is a different experience for everyone; you can do it sober and club, stay in with a drink, club every night or chill in college all week. No one can judge you for the way you wish to spend the week. The most important thing is to acquaint yourself with the college, staff and students. Some friendly tips: introduce yourself to everyone you meet and make an effort even if it’s just the one time you talk to them (impossible in John’s), use fancy dress occasions as an excuse to make friends and knock on doors, and bring a doorstop so that when you’re unpacking your room people can pop their head in. At the end of Freshers’ we have a Mega Party to introduce you to the other years, so use it to mingle with everyone. The one academic note to make which some people may miss is checking the Durham blackboard Duo – I may have missed tutorial sign up deadlines due to thoroughly enjoying Freshers’. Spend Freshers’ how you want to, try something new through societies and you won’t regret a thing. The week can seem the be all and end all of your first year experience, but it doesn’t need that pressure. Just enjoy it!
There are a couple of ways to expand your network of friends: college families, other accommodation and societies. Using your college family as a support network, if you really click with them, is fabulous. There’s also potential for academic advice from them. Also, don’t limit yourself to your corridor; the more friends you make the more people you can talk to. Small groups can be great until you need an outside perspective. Dive into every sport and society you’re even vaguely interested in – try football, rugby, frisbee, vegan cheese, netball and everything else. Gaining friends inside and outside of college through societies is a great way to feel part of the college and university. It will take you longer to get to know friends from university socities, but it will be so worth it.
It may be daunting to already look towards the rest of your first year. However, if I look at it with one point in mind, it is taking ‘you’ time. You’ll be in a complex of rooms and buildings that can sometimes feel demanding in terms of social time; it’s perfectly okay to take some alone time. Have a night in or travel to a different city to explore and escape the ‘Durham bubble’. Also don’t put pressure on the idea that Freshers’ friends are the ultimate group for you. Sometimes the people you meet in the first few weeks aren’t going to be lifelong friends and if you gravitate to another set of people don’t deny that shift; the ways that you spend freshers and the people you spend it with may not translate to the rest of your year. University is often a time of massive change, but if that change becomes worrying please use college support. So many people in John’s are there for your wellbeing so embrace it. The most important thing is to prioritise yourself; do what makes you happiest and enjoy being a fresher.