Why you can be teetotal and still have fun in Freshers’ Week
When confronted with the question ‘Is alcohol really a choice in Cambridge?’, I feel confident to answer yes.
So we’ve all finally arrived in Cambridge. Freshers' Week(ish) has flown by, and the alcohol almost certainly did too. This was, after all, a week renowned for people partying, going clubbing and making fools of themselves, all whilst getting obscenely drunk.
The reputation of Freshers' is a vile cocktail of truth and exaggeration. Every year there are stories of students getting into difficulties due to alcohol consumption. Take this article from York University, where a group of first years have been keeping a "Trips to A&E" chart. For sure, this was meant in good humour, but the fact we're supposed to laugh at people willingly risking their lives makes me feel a little nauseous. All the more so since I am teetotal.
Upon arriving in Cambridge I began dreading freshers’. I’d already been through two weeks’ worth of Snapchats from friends who were already at university, all showing ridiculous drinking games and often people drunkenly putting themselves in compromising positions (be sure to screenshot those ones for leverage in the future). As a result, I was expecting my first few days at Cambridge to be a miserable booze-fest. However, when my college released the Freshers’ timetable I was pleasantly surprised.
It is of course worth mentioning that the main reason I don’t drink is that I’m ridiculously fussy and don’t like the taste of almost every liquid out there other than water. There are other factors, such as a desire to save money and not hugely liking the environments in which a lot of alcohol is consumed, but it mainly comes down to my taste buds. I’m not trying to take some moral high ground and criticise the large majority of my fellow students. No doubt I’ll find some other opportunity to do that.
My college (Selwyn) seemed to be aware that there would be a group of people not up for going out clubbing and getting drunk, of which I have met far more than I expected. Washed away were my worries that Freshers’ Week would be spent alone in my room, being rudely awakened at 3am by drunk neighbours only just getting back from a wild night out.
Every day, activities were planned that didn’t involve drinking, though of course you were more than welcome to drink at them if you wanted to. Drinkers were far from excluded from these events, which goes against the sterile stereotype of an alcohol-free zone that is often offered up. Instead of a timetable filled with clubbing and parties (what I expected), I was faced with a timetable involving game nights, quizzes and film nights. Almost every night there was something for everyone.
It must be pointed out that there hasn’t become a divide between those who go out and those who don’t – someone who goes clubbing one night may well have a cosy night in the JCR the next and those who don't drink can still go out in the evening to bars and clubs stone cold sober – I’m sure there are many who have made fools of themselves at Life or Cindies without needing a drop of alcohol.
What has become clear though is that even though Cambridge may be seen as having a drinking culture, it is a very welcoming place for drinkers and non-drinkers alike. Online stories can all too often only represent stereotypes and extremes, and unnecessarily make people feel like they won't fit in. As it turns out, there was nothing to worry about.