Skimming through this week's softer news, I realise with a start that a magical time of year is once more upon us. By now parents will either have trundled or be in the process of trundling to different points across the UK, motoring vehicle crammed to the brim with bedding, suitcases, weird cooking contraptions and copies of The Student Budget Cookbook. One of their biggest missions as parents is now complete and their precious little darling is flying the nest in the most cradled of ways.
This momentous time of year is accompanied by countless articles, blogs, special editions and programmes all designed to advise these ducklings as to how to 'survive' and 'get the most out of' their first few weeks at university: handy hints for not getting scurvy, surviving a night of Sambuca shots mixed with wine, or avoiding the acquisition of a slutty reputation.
I remember consuming pretty much the exact same material back in 2009, just before my own Freshers' Week, and becoming increasingly anxious as my departure date approached.
Rewind the clock six years and I see is a lanky girl sitting at a bus stop waiting for her life to begin. She's into prog rock and her diary is covered with pictures of her three main crushes; the Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, T-Rex's Marc Bolan and Daniel Radcliffe. Something to cater for all moods.
She likes to make it perfectly clear that she's not British but European, you can tell by the way she ties her scarf. She's also really, really deep. You can tell by the way she pretends to read Sartre at said bus stop. She doesn't want a boyfriend, although all she thinks about are passionate snogs with Gael or heated conversations (and lovemaking) with the Moroccan standup Gad Elmaleh.
On the rare occasions that she is dragged to the pub, she opts for a cheap yet sophisticated house red, despite its peculiar acidic tang, much like warm vinegar, and tendency to stain her lips and teeth.
As useful and comforting as the aforementioned handy hints can be, they do conjure up very stereotypical images of what it means to be a student. For example, according these a student is someone who is emotionally and intellectually immature and who has at least a couple of years of partying under their belt. A student is someone who has a healthy stock of stories about sexual escapades, fake IDs and a hedonistic gap year, who has no idea how to cook or the first clue about household hygiene.
However, what percentage of us were, hand on heart, actually like that in our formative years?
For instance, reading this sort of stuff back in 2009 I felt I was weird because I liked to drink only in moderation. I wasn't a teetotal, religious or abstaining for health reasons, I just never saw the appeal of drinking to the point that I, like, chundered everywhere. Whilst I was an old soul in many ways (e.g. moderate drinking habits, level-headed approach to drugs, impossibly sensible study tactics), I was also immature in others (read into that sex and body confidence).
I was the same as every other person my age. I was someone in the process of becoming.
I know that all stereotypes have a kernel of truth. Nevertheless, my issue with student stereotypes is that we are making incredibly complex human beings out to be one and the same. The articles I read in the run-up to starting university made me feel that I was not actually a 'normal' student and would, therefore, never have fun or find people I would click with, which simply was not the case.
So, future first-years or recently inaugurated first years: there are so many handy Freshers' Week hints out there for you to digest that 5 more won't make much difference...
1) Never judge someone on a first impression. During Freshers' Week everyone is either an exaggerated form of themselves or of who they think they should be, from the posh, horsy girl to the hipster and the quiet mouse. Remember that university is about shattering cliques and not starting new ones. Embrace it and give people the benefit of the doubt.
2) Challenge yourself to try new things without compromising who you are. My Freshers' Week bête noire was a thing called pub crawls. The very thought of them made my skin...crawl. However, I took a deep breath, allowed my hands to be tied and deigned to go on one. Next to me was my soon-to-be friend Oli. We ended up ditching everyone after the first drink and doing our very own pub crawl. Oh the treasures you can unearth in the direst of situations!
3) Look for friends in unexpected places. I met Lois in a class which served as an 'Introduction to Russian Grammar'. There wasn't enough room for us all to sit down so I had her sitting on my lap (or was I on hers?). Sometimes the best of friendships a right under your nose (or sat on your lap).
4) Quiet people rock the most. Trust me, they so do.
5) Freshers' Week is only a week. We all act like this weird suspension of reality will define us and our entire university experience. It doesn't. Everything settles down and everyone starts to settle into themselves come week three, and that's when the magic happens.