Being a fresher sucks

JOE GOODMAN lends some advice to all those freshers not feeling at home quite yet.

Cindies downing Drama Freshers Life sidney arts fair xmas

I was overwhelmed when I arrived to Cambridge back in the heady mists of 2012.

I didn’t know what to expect from university except that it would be fucking fantastic. Everyone knows that. University is the time of your lives, the mad days of youth, the forge of characters and the sceptre of love (damn I’m good).

With that in mind, freshers’ week was a disaster. I decided not to get drunk at any of our events. I figured I wanted to make a good impression and I wanted to remember people, and for some reason I thought sobriety might help that.

Oh how I was wrong. The only thing worse than the drunken incompetent is the awkward sober. Most of the time I came across stonily aloof and the rest of the time stone-cold boring. Meanwhile the girl who smashed her face in down the stairs of Life made 4 friends just in the ambulance.

Having a wild one on the first night of freshers’ week

Even with alcohol, the rest of term continued pretty much the same. Despite being on the friendliest course in the world, I just couldn’t manage to connect with people; and college life consisted of a lot of time napping and pretending to be out when someone knocked on my door.

Just before Xmas, I made my first friend. I thought she was one of the most sociable people in college, but turned out she had the same feeling of alienation as me. The same inability to really connect.

So I went away over Michaelmas having had an amazing term full of intense learning, incredible tradition and exotic events. But I wasn’t sure if I would return. I remember thinking more than once that maybe it had all just been a mistake. Cambridge just wasn’t the place for me.

But I decided to give it another chance and I returned after Christmas resolute to be in a play. I hadn’t done drama since GCSE but the theatre scene was one of the things I’d been most excited about when I applied to Cambridge and I wasn’t going to quit this place without giving it a shot.

After a couple of weeks of auditions, I got a small part in a play put on by the Downing Drama Society. I was delighted.

Without exaggeration, doing that play was the turning point in my Cambridge career. Being on stage gave me a confidence that hadn’t existed before, and the one or two times someone recognised me in Cindies made me feel like George Clooney on the red carpet.

Curtain call in the packed out Howard theatre

In exam term I played Bottom in A Midsomer’s Night Dream. I loved it. I’m sure it mucked up my exams a bit but I loved being busy and not just sitting in the library all day.

And it was that term, alongside all that supposed stress of exams, that I really started making friends. Not intentionally though. It kind of just happened. Probably because I wasn’t thinking about it too much. I wasn’t stressing about what people said or did, my social life just became another part of my busy schedule.

For the first time I had the friends I’d waited a year for. I went on a swap, I had a house party, I stayed up all night chatting. I had the Uni experience I’d expected of fresher’s week, not the end of my first year.

Sometimes when I look back, I hate myself for wasting that first year. I could have gotten so much more out of three years here if I hadn’t been so lazy at the time. But mostly I’m just grateful it wasn’t longer.

Being a fresher really can suck – it certainly did for me – the trick is not to worry too much. The truth is it will get better, even if that takes some time.

Keeping busy was maybe one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt in my life and if I hadn’t made myself come back after Christmas and audition for that play I might never have learnt it at all.

Don’t worry, it gets better

That was the lesson I needed to learn to settle in here, but for someone else it might be keeping some time to yourself, or getting out of college every once in a while, or learning to love that mole on the back of your neck you’ve always hated.

That’s what University is really all about, not learning about Neolithic subsistence patterns or 19th century philosophers. It’s about the little lessons that make you who you are.

For all the stresses of essays and lectures and supervisions and readings, every single one of us will come out the backside of this system a changed person.

And sure, change can be hard, and right now it might seem easier to quit.

But just hang in there; it will all be worth it. I promise.