THE IMPRESSIONS FRESHERS’ CRADLE.
Bridget O’Sullivan explores the pressures of trying to make your mark as a Fresher at Royal Holloway University.
About six pm on Saturday evening, my roommate and I emerged from the second floor of our Reid complex. We had not known each other for six hours as we clinked our wine glasses in her room and made our way to the kitchen. An onslaught of small talk hit us. Answering the same three questions on repeat. At this point, if this interaction is not as drilled into you as ‘Don’t leave your room without your college card’ is, maybe Royal Holloway is not the place for you.
I do not know about you, but I answer these questions like no one has ever asked me a question before. I grin uncontrollably, mimicking the Joker as I shout ‘Reid Halls’ five times over the music. I roll my eyes internally at my stupid level of enthusiasm. The interrogator nods politely feigns intrigue and forgets the answer to the first question by the time they ask the third. I sm also guilty of this; I went so far as to invite someone whose number I took in an Introduction Seminar over to my flat for coffee. That was how desperate I was in Freshers’ Week. I was going to meet her outside the library but had to ask her to make her own way to Reid. I would not have been able to pick her out of the crowd. It is plausible that I could have approached another stranger and led them back to Reid instead. The bottom line is unless they fancy you, the chances are that the first time you meet someone they will not retain any information about you other than that you are a student at Royal Holloway. Yes, good start. Very good.
So that begs the question: how do you make an impression? How do you get people to want to get to know you? You either have sociopathic tendencies or you are lying if you do not admit you obsessed over the answer to this question during the summer preceding Freshers’. There are the obvious answers, like when you live with someone. It is in everyone’s best interests to stay on reasonable terms with the random bunch you live with in the first year. So, you get to know each other. Over tea, you chat gap years and past relationships. When stumbling back after three or four in a row at the SU, you laugh hysterically at something that should not be funny. What is important is that you are bonding. You may be bonding for life. Just like that, these random people become not so random. Then friends. Then close friends. But that is the easy way to make an impression: it is an impression of necessity.
During Week One (which kind of should be Week Zero, but that is a whole other conversation), you are introduced to your course. This usually happens over poorly orchestrated games and Tesco digestives. There are two things to hope for in such a situation: that you meet your best friend of all time and that the digestives are lathered in milk chocolate. The pressure here is immense. For all of us who were reared on the likes of How I Met Your Mother and Friends, we know the weight that the impression you make in University carries. It can be life-altering or, if you get unlucky, and some of us do, life-shattering. That is how significant the first few weeks of university are; they have the potential to shape our adult lives.
Think about it, some of you have literally met the person you are going to marry since starting Uni. You may have met your best man or your maid of honour. You have met your Chandler. (I was going to say Ross, but I feel like Chandler is the guy we would all prefer to meet.) My point is that most of us have these thoughts in the first few weeks, and we hope it will be as exciting and wonderful as we have been led to believe. But we have got to meet these people by putting ourselves out there and showing up for the chocolate digestives fiasco. It is worth it in the long-term, but it is hard in the short-term. It is scary. It feels like nearly everyone is looking through you, but then you make someone laugh. They notice you, and you take their snapchat. You take the same modules as them. You sit beside them in class. Then you get chatting to this other student in your core module, and they are funny. You arrange to meet at the SU, at the Boiler House. They tell you that they have not been finding it easy to get to know people. You read into that as ‘you are the person who could change all that’. A little intense, but you run with it. Suddenly, but it felt agonisingly slow at the time, you have several people you consider friends. Whom you feel comfortable with. It is week four or five at this point. You are sitting at your kitchen table, waiting for your roommate/best mate, and you realise you are going to be fine. ‘Mum, I think I am going to be okay’. She texts back three smiley faces and a cow emoji.