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What is the first week of university like?

If you’re heading to university soon, take comfort in these students’ stories that no matter how terrifying it all seems, things will work out in the end 

Charlie Pullen


Holly Plews


Warren Stanislaus


Jeny Jose


Anees Malik

August 30 2019
What is the first week of university like?


Everyone experiences the first week of university differently. Some students dive right in like a duck to water, while others dip a cautious toe in, taking their time to explore university life. 

However, the first feelings of heading to university are the same all over the world – excitement and apprehension.

I collected stories from some university students sharing their experiences of their first weeks of university. 

Holly Plews, University of York, UK

From awkward encounters, intense homesickness and a myriad bizarre moments, my freshers’ week (first week of university) experience was rough at the time but rather amusing in hindsight.

Hailed as “the best week of your life”, freshers’ week is your initiation into university life; a week full of binge drinking, social events and copious amounts of freebies. The somewhat infamous rite of passage sounds excellent to many but, for me, it really wasn’t.

I had left behind my former life in Birmingham; a supportive family, a great network of friends and the security of my comfort zone for this new phase of life, and I wasn’t quite ready.

I began my induction surrounded by my Big Supermarket Shop, after saying the final goodbye to my family, staring at a bottle of vodka that still had its security tag on (no, it was not stolen). 

After plucking up the courage to go and meet my flatmates, one of them decided to light his hand on fire as an ice-breaker. Worse still, the pyromaniac was going to be living next door to me. The night hit its crescendo when our college was invited to a quiz night (an attempt at inducing “mingling”). All was well (if a tad awkward) until I spilled my drink over our answer sheet and a housemate.

As the days rolled on, however, socialising became easier and I began to feel more comfortable. The events of the first night redeemed themselves; the shared struggle of opening the vodka bottle, my next-door neighbour curbed his enthusiasm for fire and turned out to be lovely, and the cider-covered housemate became, in time, my closest friend.

Yet, during that week – and truthfully, some that followed – I missed home and was afraid of what this new venture had in store. But, if I had known then that it would have all turned out fine, I think I would have savoured the experience more.

Freshers’ week is not necessarily going to be the time of your life, but remember that good things are to come.

Jeny Jose, Szent István University, Hungary

Starting university in a foreign land comes with a lot of anxiety. Last September I landed in Budapest from India to start studying there. 

One thing that gave a sense of relief was Hungary’s welcoming attitude as evident from the long queue of international students at airport immigration. The lady scrutinising everybody at the airport counter smiled and in her broken English asked me my name and said, “Welcome to Hungary, little girl”. For a foreign student away from home, smiles are comforting but I realised that language was going to be an obstacle I needed to overcome.

At that point I wasn’t really sure what I was feeling. I constantly had to remind myself that cars drive on the right-hand side of the road and was in awe of how few people there were in comparison to my home in India.The architecture was immaculate.

I met a Kenyan girl on my way to the campus and we struck up a conversation about how a third country was uniting two countries.

During my first week I grew more independent – from buying groceries to networking.

Unlike in India, I stood out and that was a chance to create an impact. As scary as the first class was, it was also one of the most informative, as a gathering of students from several countries with a willingness to learn about each other and contribute their knowledge. I was sure that I wasn’t going to return the same person that I was when I arrived. I’m sure no student ever does.

Warren Stanislaus, International Christian University, Japan, and the University of Oxford, UK

When I decided to go to university in Japan as a full-time undergraduate student, I only knew conversational Japanese, which limited the depth of interaction I could have with non-English speakers. Additionally, I became dependent on native speakers for basic things such as opening a bank account or buying a phone. It was important to surround myself with other international students that were similarly trying to navigate a new country so as not to become isolated.

During the first few weeks I was flooded with information at orientations and my diary was packed with opportunities to socialise. Everything was moving so fast and it was a little overwhelming. But this was, I'm sure, how all the other first-years felt. 

With that in mind, I saw it as as an opportunity to participate in as many social activities as possible to establish my core group of friends and expand my broader network of contacts. Whether it was a campus tour or a group shopping run, I just went along. A morning tour led to lunch, an afternoon tour led to a dinner invite.

I previously believed that university would be an environment where I could find myself. On the contrary, at university it’s easy to lose yourself. Whether related to academic achievements, extracurricular activities, summer internships at prestigious firms or hunting for grad schemes, I initially fell into the trap of constantly comparing myself to others.

Especially during the first week of university when I talked to so many multitalented people and felt like an imposter. I’ve since realised that there is something only I can bring to the table.

I now encourage other British students to seek out the growing number of opportunities to study overseas at little or no cost, even just for a short period.

Anees Malik, University of Leeds, UK

My first week at university was quite daunting, as I imagine it is for every new student. While generally I was quite excited, I was also nervous walking through the entrance and turning up for my registration as a new student. I did not want to go by myself, so my sister accompanied meon my first day because she had been to the same university to study law.

I remember my first week very clearly. I am studying German and international business and my parent school is the languages side of my degree, which meant that the introduction was hosted by the German department. After the introductory lecture they took us to a small area where we could have coffee and cake, mingle and get to know fellow students studying the same language.

I was worried that I would not make friends and would have to go through university all by myself. However, that thought immediately went down the drain on my first day.

One girl was walking among the students and asking everyone if they were studying the same course as her. And lo and behold, I was. From that day onwards we stuck together like glue as many of our lectures and seminars were the same. 

During freshers’ week I have never wanted to do so many different things when I saw all the different societies available. There are so many opportunities at university – you must utilise them all.

I realised that university is nothing to be frightened of. While it is absolutely normal to worry about making new friends, the number of new people you meet daily is incredible.

Charlie Pullen, Queen Mary University of London, UK

My first week at university was going to be the beginning of my new life. Unlike many of my peers at school and college, I didn’t take a gap year because I was too impatient to get started with being a university student. I hoped university would be the place where I became a different person: sophisticated, cultured, cool. It couldn’t come soon enough.

So I left home in Brighton to study English at Queen Mary University of London. My parents’ car was packed with stuff, mostly books, which I planned to display proudly in my flat. I had brought far too much. Students had to help us carry boxes of Nietzsche and Sartre and Virginia Woolf up to my little room.

Once my parents had gone, I set about trying to act like a student. I sat in my room playing Bob Dylan in an effort to impress my flatmates. I wasted money on a wristband to go to some bad and expensive clubs in town. I was on the search for the love of my life and the friends for life that everyone said you found at university.

Luckily, I met some great friends who were slightly older than me and could see through all the pressurising myths about what you were supposed to do as a fresher. Eventually, I relaxed a bit and started enjoying things that I actually wanted to do, like working on the student newspaper.

I look back on those days embarrassed by how cliched I was. But I was not comfortable in my own skin and I was the first person in my family to go to university: my only idea of what it was like to be a student came from books, film, and TV. It took time for me to be confident enough to do what I liked and go where I liked. Seven years on, my advice would be to live experimentally: to try things out and see what works for you.

Read more: Being the first person in your family to go to university


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