What is Freshers' Week?
In the UK, a 'fresher' is a new undergraduate student at college or university. (You might have heard the term 'freshman', which is less commonly used in the UK.)
Freshers’ week, or ‘welcome week’ as it’s sometimes known, is held at the start of the academic year. It is different at each institution. In some places it could be up to two weeks of fun events and parties; in others, the ‘week’ is in fact three or four days of fun and then a quick reality check with the announcement of two essay deadlines and several reading lists.
In most universities and colleges, however, it is precisely one week with lots of events that will help you get to know other students, make friends, find your way around your town or campus, and start to get used to living in the UK.
What will I be doing?
Generally, you will be asked to attend orientation meetings to introduce you to the campus, your halls of residence, the academic department where you’ll be studying, and your library.
You will also have to attend registration, so make sure you bring all the important documents you need to register – your university or college will send you an e-mail before freshers' week telling you what to bring. It’s always a good idea to carry around a diary in your first two weeks, as well as lots of passport-size photographs for your new student ID cards.
Many events during freshers' week are run by your student union. Every student union works differently, but most will have put together a long list of events – some free and some for a small fee, but you can often get a discount by signing up for all of them at the beginning of the week. You might get a card or bracelet that shows you’re allowed into every event.
You don’t need to buy the whole package, however – halfway through the week you might want to do something else (how about taking a tour of the town to see the local sights?) and you’ll most probably find other students who want to take a break from the festivities as well!
Chances are, you will find at least one activity each day that you like, as some universities and colleges have over 400 events during freshers’ week! You might go on pub, coffee or tea crawls (a ‘crawl’ is an event where a group of students goes from venue to venue to discover all the best pubs, coffee and tea places in town), enjoy a barbecue in the park, go to a ‘silent disco’ (where you wear headphones and dance to your own music), go to a comedy night or see a student play.
(Photo credit ©Silent Events Inc: Photos courtesy of Liana Bandziulis)
Many universities and colleges also have events specifically for international students, where you will get to meet other new students from all over the world.
At some point during freshers' week, you will also be invited to attend a societies fair or ‘freshers' fair’. This is usually held in the middle or end of the week, and it's a chance for new and current students to find out about all the student societies at your institution.
A society is a group of people who get together to do an activity they enjoy. They can have as few as just two or three members, but the larger ones can have hundreds. If you join a society, you can participate as much or as little as you like – most hold weekly meetings or social events, but you're not required to attend them all (in fact, some students join a dozen societies during freshers' week, and pick their favourite after the first few meetings).
The fair often takes place in a large building on campus and it can be quite an event, as societies compete with each other to attract new members. Expect to see people dressed in full sports gear manning their exhibition stands, films or live displays of drama or dance, and lots of 'freebies' – ranging from stationery to bowls, mugs and home-baked cakes!
There will be representatives from every imaginable society – from the traditional sports societies (football, swimming, rowing…) to charity, political and religious societies, debating societies, film and music societies. And then there are those you’ve probably never heard of, like The Assassins' Guild, tiddlywinks and KiguSoc… to find out more, read Weird and wonderful societies!
Although you’ll be busy meeting people and exploring your new home, make sure you attend all scheduled meetings with tutors and administration. They will not be impressed if you forget to turn up because you overslept! Freshers’ week is a good chance to get to know the staff and lecturers as well, so don’t just save your smiles for the other students!
What support will there be?
In most cases, you will have arrived in the UK a little before freshers’ week and hopefully have already settled into your accommodation. However, when everybody is out and about, it might start to feel a little overwhelming. Just remember, everybody is just as nervous as you!
Your student union and international officers will usually be easy to spot walking around campus, offering help to anyone who’s looking lost or has questions. There are also student welfare officers and sometimes a ‘hall warden’ in your halls of residence – their job is to give advice when you need it.
Many universities and colleges offer a ‘parenting’ system or mentor programme for the first couple of weeks. Older students who have volunteered to be ‘parents’ will be responsible for showing you around, explaining things and sometimes even cooking you a nice homemade meal on your first couple of nights.
It’s also a good idea to team up with other students from your course or halls of residence and organise outings together.
What if I don’t drink alcohol?
Don’t worry – all social events offer non-alcoholic drinks too, and you will find lots of like-minded people. There is a very wide variety of events going on, and it is normal for everybody to pick and choose those they prefer. See our Finding your feet article to get a taste of all the different types of events you can do.
Is it safe to go out at night?
The UK is a very safe country, but like everywhere else in the world, it is important to be careful. Read the top safety tips for going out at night, and the British Council’s Creating confidence guide for more information about student safety in the UK.
What if I’m tired and want to stay in my room?
Although it’s a good idea to try and attend at least a couple of events, most people get tired at some point. Just ask around – chances are you’ll find other people who want to chill out and watch a movie for the night.
(Photo credit ©Wonderlane on Flickr)
If you want a relaxed afternoon but still want to be kept in the loop, get online: during freshers' week, companies publicise hundreds of student offers and you can get some great deals on anything from clothes to concert tickets, to impress all your new friends!
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