Freshers’ Week: do a few years make a difference?

Alice Spiers, Graduate 

There is a particular breed of fresher roaming the streets of Oxford this October. One that often gets overlooked in the maelstrom of Freshers’ Week t-shirts, VKs, and third years trying to work out if it’s okay to go home with someone the same age as their younger sibling. The graduate fresher.

We, like the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed eighteen year olds, have been thrown in among the spires and libraries to fend for ourselves. We too are suddenly reliant on Google Maps, a little bit homesick, and worried that everyone else can tell that we’re not entirely sure how we ended up here. Having conquered undergrad, being completely new and untethered again is very disorientating.

However, the lovely thing about being a grad fresher is discovering how far you have come since you were a ‘real’ fresher. The worst pyjamas and horrendous early morning hair is no longer an embarrassment among flatmates, it’s almost a competition. We’re older, wiser, and (most of us) have learned that leaving the dishes to ‘soak’ is a lie.

The most wonderful discovery of all is that if you’ve applied to do a post-grad in something, everyone else on your course is as interested and invested as you are. No grad student will ever use ‘nerd’ as a real insult – we’re literally paying an extortionate amount to hang out with people who sign up for extra classes and read optional course material for fun.

Being a grad fresher is getting to start again, but with the confidence in ourselves and our abilities that comes from having survived a degree already. But this doesn’t mean we won’t block our showers, sleep through lectures, or kiss the wrong people. As a pair of very drunk third year boys, merrily swinging their maccies, cried in disbelief when they met me on High Street at 1am: “you’re just like a fresher, but you’re so old!” Never a truer word was said.

Emma-Jane Hampshire-Gill, Graduate

Coming to Oxford as an undergraduate fresher is very different to the graduate fresher experience. As an undergraduate, Oxford moulds and forms your friendships and your work – and it’s what you come to expect, quirks and all. Graduates arriving at Oxford from elsewhere, however, can struggle to acclimatise to the term structure, subfusc, and libraries scattered seemingly randomly across the city.

Balancing new friends with old during Fresher’s Week is a particular challenge, keeping everyone updated whilst moving breathlessly between social events. Even returning to Oxford as a refresher is never the same – whilst the buildings don’t change, it’s odd catching yourself thinking you recognise someone, only to remind yourself that they’re no longer at Oxford but in the ‘adult world’ now with a nine to five and a salary (which you’re avoiding, of course, for at least another year).

Wherever you’ve come from though, being a taught graduate is strangely closer to being a first year than a finalist, with classes, seminars and lectures leaving humanities students hyperventilating from the unexpected level of contact time. There’s also the compulsory fresher’s flu which refuses to discriminate between JCR and MCR members, leaving everyone snuffling through their endless fresher’s inductions. Yet, as much as we groan as we sit through them, this is when the friendships are forged which will carry us through this year and beyond.

So whilst graduate freshers may be older than school leavers, for one week we all feel 18 again. Far from being an old hat, being a graduate fresher is a time of a discovery much like at undergraduate level – just in a whole new range of directions.

Matthew Proctor, Undergraduate

Busy, busy, busy. Simply put, this best describes my experience of freshers’ week. Everything moved incredibly quickly and there was a myriad of new experiences available. I desperately attempted to remember names; for every one name I learnt, I forgot another two.

The JCR and Welfare committees endeavoured to ensure every day was filled to the brim with introductions, social events and seemingly vast amounts of tea, complete with various prefixes (welfare tea, staircase tea, etc). As the protagonist of the otherwise utterly unrepresentative of Oxford film The Riot Club so adequately puts it: “being at Oxford is like being invited to a hundred parities at once”.

Whilst Tories and Trotskyists stood opposite each other competing for custom, I felt rude if I didn’t accept virtually everything on offer in the exam schools that afternoon (my sincere apologies to incredibly enthusiastic Oxford University Octopush Club in particular).

Indeed, after a hard day’s socialising, nights out were available in abundance. For many freshers (I unashamedly include myself in this category), Oxford social cornerstones including Bridge, Park End and Emporium had acquired a mystical status akin to UNESCO World Heritage sites. Enjoying these renowned institutions felt long overdue. As the somewhat overused idiom states, variety is indeed the spice of life.

In addition to the new blend of backgrounds and stories I encountered from other freshers, the freshers’ fair had no shortfalls where variety was concerned. The crowning jewel of freshers’ week, I’d never had so many interesting societies bid for my membership at once. Whilst Tories and Trotskyists stood opposite each other competing for custom, I felt rude if I didn’t accept virtually everything on offer in the exam schools that afternoon (my sincere apologies to incredibly enthusiastic Oxford University Octopush Club in particular).

Whilst freshers flu and essay deadlines eventually dragged me kicking and screaming back into the realms of reality, I’d definitely say that freshers’ week was an exhausting but thoroughly satisfying experience.

Joanna Lonergan, Undergraduate

I’m calling it. Freshers’ week (sorry, ‘0th Week’) was horrendous. Maybe you disagree – you instantly found people you ‘click’ with, avoided freshers’ flu, and revelled in your new independence. I’m happy for you, but for many of us it wasn’t like this, and admitting that isn’t easy.

Before I arrived, I had big expectations. I thought, I just knew, it was going to be amazing. I don’t know why exactly, but during the unpacking of the copious amounts of rubbish I’d brought, it hit me. It hit me that I was alone to fend for myself in an unfamiliar place.

The pressure to form a social ‘group’ meant I hid my feelings behind a smile. I was extroverted, and then spent my evenings overthinking everything – ‘they didn’t invite me because they think I’m weird’. I was trying to be friends with everyone, and ‘FOMO’ had a huge impact on me.

But my week wasn’t a complete bust. Not by any means. I met some lovely people and tried a variety of new things (pole dancing anyone?). All it took was five seconds of bravery, and I soon realised that I wasn’t the only one feeling low. Once I took some of the pressure off myself, it got a little easier.

So what will I take away from fresher’s week, besides how to function on little or no sleep, ‘beer before liquor, never been sicker’, and that coughing in the library is a sin? I’ll take away that it’s okay to admit you’re not enjoying every minute. I’ll take away that, underneath it all, most people feel the same way. And I’ll take away that soon I’ll have settled into a routine, and all the stress of freshers’ will just be a funny memory.