First-year students are starting an exciting chapter of their lives with the quintessential British university orientation known as Freshers’ Week. It’s normal to have uncertainties about this time, especially in light of pandemic guidelines and the many stories about students downing half a litre of vodka in just 20 minutes — but you can still kick things off on the right note.
As an international fresher, Freshers’ Week tends to pan out a little differently compared to British peeps. That doesn’t mean you can’t make it any less interesting, fun or just plain peaceful to catch up on sleep after getting over the gruelling jet lag. Here are some tips from international students and graduates to help you make the most of your first week at university.
Prepare for the sniffles
No, we’re not just talking about holding back tears at the airport. When Vishal Bhaskaran arrived at the University of Manchester for his Masters in Mechanical Engineering back in 2010, he discovered “Freshers’ flu” was a real thing. “You’re going to meet people from all over the world carrying things that you have no immunity from, and you will possibly be down with a runny nose and cough for a few days,” he says. It’s not great, but he assures it’s nothing to worry too much about.
You can try to offset these by getting enough immunity-boosting foods and getting sufficient sleep every night. Pandemic healthcare measures also go a long way this week. For example, avoid shaking hands and wear a mask in crowded spaces.
Explore your new surroundings
Geoffrey Alexander, a first-year Product Design student at the University of Loughborough took the time to explore his surroundings both on and off-campus during Freshers’ Week. “Look around for essential places like supermarkets, pharmacies, and study spots. Use your phone as your guide around town,” he advises. Plus, independently adapting to your new surroundings helps develop time management skills and confidence.
Bachelors of Laws graduate Lee Ann Kong recommends checking out tourist attractions in your new city. She recalls enjoying the occasional hike or trip to Clifton Bridge during her time at the University of the West of England in Bristol. “It was my way of disconnecting and relieving stress for a bit,” she shares.
Seek out facilities and amenities — and use them
Alexander encourages using university facilities such as study spaces, software, and computer suites as much as possible. Plus, find out when the library opens and closes, where you can get administrative and resource support.
Ask questions about online learning
Your programme would likely include online learning, as most universities are now opting for a hybrid model. “Find a quiet and comfortable workspace to carry out your studies, and ask as many questions as possible to support your learning,” Alexander suggests. Kong adds, “Check out the online learning portals to find out where the modules are filed and ask the tutors or peers if you are unsure of anything.”
Diversify your interests with clubs and societies
“The first year is the year to do all the things, including getting active in clubs and societies. Now’s the time to test what you like, then narrow down in the second year,” Bhaskaran says. “When you find your thing, get into a committee or leadership position, as this is something you can put on your CV.”
Kong recommends joining clubs with varying interests from your course. Alexander relates that this is an important part of embracing the university experience; “the sooner you get acclimatised to your university, the better it will be for your academics.”
Don’t fall into student lifestyle cliches
Forget every UK uni stereotype you’ve heard. “Keep active physically and mentally. Do not allow yourself to become too comfortable and lazy,” Alexander advises. Instead of eating instant meals, pick up simple new recipes. Use downtime to broaden your skillset and horizons.
As Bhaskaran says, “If you’re going to skip classes, at least do something productive like hit the gym or learn a language. Don’t play computer games all day — 300 hours of Dota is not helpful unless you become a professional player.”
Mingle (safely) and become part of the community
If you’re living on campus, hang out around the halls. Sure, the carpet’s old and some spaces smell funny, but this is where you’ll most likely get to meet people from all around the world. “Socialising begins in student accommodation halls,” Bhaskaran says, “so go to common areas and make friends.” Alexander concurs, “Form friendships and find like-minded people to share experiences with, so you won’t feel like you’re in it alone.”
If you stay off-campus, pop over the local pub. Have a pint, and get a feel of the neighbourhood vibes — there will usually be notices for upcoming events you can pick one to find like-minded souls, always the best ways to make new friends. “When staying off-campus, try to assimilate to the community you’re staying in,” Kong advises. She suggests joining events with your neighbours such as the local pub quiz, live music gigs, or stand up comedy shows.
Try to earn extra income
Student life can get busy, but if you have the opportunity, find part-time work. Extra money means you’ll be able to do more (especially true in an expensive city like London) and travel more without relying on your parents. “This doesn’t have to be part-time employment at a fast food joint or pub,” Bhaskaran clarifies. “Look online for paid writing gigs and translation work or participate in PhD studies — they usually pay you for your time. None of this will make you rich, but any extra spending money is a bonus!”
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