What Freshers’ Week Is Like In The Middle Of A Pandemic

Freshers’ week. The first steps of freedom for students across the country. It has a reputation for providing some of the messiest, yet most memorable nights out, and marks the beginning of an undergraduate’s university career. 

Since I started watching ‘StudyTubers’ on Youtube from the grand old age of fourteen, when my biggest worry was what GCSEs I should choose, I had become inundated with education related content from various outlets. Growing up, I envisioned freshers’ as this big week of meeting people from across the country with whom I’d form a never ending bond.

Would University Be Worth It?

All my dreams came crashing down when an global pandemic shaped spanner was thrown into the works.

There was a part of me that considered taking a gap year. Besides, what was the point of paying in excess of nine grand just to see my lecturer through a laptop screen?

There was no way I could spend the year travelling. As travel restrictions persist to loom over various parts of the world and as an unemployment crisis holds steady the £26 I have to my name, the traditional gap year option is increasingly unviable. I mean, where was I going to ‘find myself’ anyway? Down the back of the sofa? In a game of Sims 3?

All it took was another week at home to realise there was no way I was going to spend another year cooped up with my family. Once my mini existential crisis had fizzled out it, it was time to accept the fact that my university experience was going to be anything but conventional.

A Freshers’ Week Like No Other

Before I knew it, the time had come. I was wearing a surgical mask and moving my stuff into the flat that I would call home for the next year.

My freshers’ experience was unlike anything I’ve heard of before. For starters, I only went out on one night, and that was to the local pub. The rest of the nights were spent in our flat playing card games and comparing experiences of life back home.

In some ways it was almost refreshing. I’m no party animal, so chilled evenings spent in the flat seemed far more appealing.

Yet, in a world where we had relied on our phones for company for six months, it felt alien to spark conversation with people I had just met. Because what do you ask them? “What did you do this summer?” “Oh nothing” and eventually comfortable silence becomes deafening. That’s not to say we spent this last week sitting in silence, there have been laughs, a lot of laughs, chilled evenings comparing music tastes, and some messier evenings spent on the bathroom floor.

Dealing With Loneliness

Though being limited to my flat has brought me closer to my flatmates, the combination of blended learning and social bubbles mean that the contact I have with other people is severely limited.

I feel somewhat lucky as only half of my course is online. Comparatively, I know somebody who has two seminars on campus before Christmas, while the rest is online. For her, and others in her situation, I worry that forming friendships is going to be extremely difficult. We all know that making friends is hard at the best of times.

As more and more restrictions are put in place, there slowly becomes less and less reasons to go out, and less and less reasons to see and meet new people. In this sense, the pandemic only amplifies the loneliness inherent to freshers’ week.

There’s also been added uncertainty this week as Matt Hancock implied that there’s a chance university students could be banned from travelling home for Christmas. A second wave scenario was already daunting, but the prospect of being unable to return home for comfort is adding even more anxiety to the situation. In times of need, we turn to those close to us. Preventing students from visiting their family during an unsettling time is a recipe for disaster.

Every Day Can’t Be The Best Day Of Your Life

People don’t tend to talk about the loneliness, the feeling of isolation in a building of two hundred odd people. It can feel difficult to approach these people you’ve known for a matter of days and unravel your deepest feelings and emotions, but in reality what we need more than anything is to put the brakes on and say, “actually, I’m not okay.” 

I remember watching a video several weeks ago and hearing YouTuber Jack Edwards explain that freshers won’t actually be the best week during your time in university. At the time I was reluctant to agree, to me it seemed odd that this highly coveted week was overrated. Having taken off the rose tinted glasses, I realise that for every good day, there’s been a down day too. All it takes is a main character moment walking through the new city I now call home, listening to Fine Line by Harry Styles, to know that the best bits are yet to come.

Words By Grace Nicholls

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