University welcome week around the world: UK

Olivier Guiberteau
Olivier Guiberteau

3 September 2020 • 6 min read

September and October can mean only one thing at universities across the UK. It’s time for university welcome week - or as it’s known in the UK, freshers week. A typical freshers’ week in Britain has always traditionally been a mix of social events, grand parties, hundreds if not thousands of people - and let’s be honest, plenty of alcohol. It is time to meet new people, make friends and join social groups. If your university course was a marathon, freshers’ week would be that moment when everyone is milling around together at the start - all a little nervous but excited nonetheless. This is where your university experience really begins. 

Here are five hallmarks of a university freshers’ week in the UK, and how things might be different this year: 

Parties

Now I could begin with something a little more academic, but I have to be perfectly honest. One of the most important aspects of a university freshers’ week is making new friends and partying together. When you are far from home and looking to feel more comfortable, a freshers’ event or party can be one of the easiest ways to let your hair down, grab a drink and start chatting away to those you meet. In previous years, universities often hosted bands or DJs and some of the parties during freshers’ week were among the biggest and most popular of the year. 

This year will, of course, be very different - but that doesn’t mean the fun will need to stop. Large gatherings with people crammed closely together will simply not happen anymore. Expect events to still go ahead but with social distancing measures put in place, with many universities looking to use outdoor space like never before. Many parties might likely limit the number of people coming in, which means you might need to buy a ticket early.  

Social groups and societies

Once you’ve found a few friends that you spent all night chatting with, it’s time to find a group or club that you might want to be part of during your time at university. Are you a budding photographer? Do you like nothing more than running miles and miles until you can run any further? Have you always liked the idea of acting on stage?

Many people choose freshers’ week to see what kind of clubs or groups they have around them, and what they might be interested in. This doesn’t need to be done in freshers’ week, but most find it a natural way to start something and many clubs will host their own fresher events to welcome the newbies.

The differences this year will often depend on the kind of club that you are looking to join. Unfortunately, some may not start this school year because of restrictions. While some activities may not be possible, most should be fine - but again, in a very different format than in previous years. Some events or meetings might be held virtually, with others using slimmed-down numbers that make social distancing much easier.  

Large scale events and freshers’ fair  

A freshers’ fair has traditionally been a large event where you can wander aimlessly around and most likely signing up for far too many societies or clubs, which, let’s be honest, you probably won’t do half of. But that’s always been part of the fun. We all start off brilliantly, yet hopelessly ambitious, and over time we narrow it down to what is important to us. It’s a fun time when everything seems possible. 

Just as with large parties, it’s unlikely that a large-scale event like a freshers’ fair will be quite the same this year. You can expect slimmed down versions with a number of restrictions, and more and more events held online. Forums and message boards have become a huge part of our world already, but we are probably going to see a further increase in their use. It seems like registering beforehand and organising your time well will be more important than ever this year.  

Exploration

You’ve finally escaped from mum and dad! I’m sure your parents are lovely people, but the excitement of being on your own for the first time and being responsible for yourself is a thrilling emotion that most freshers have in the first weeks. Part of this is the thrill of exploring a place that is going to be your new home for the next three or more years. 

If you’ve come from a small town and now find yourself in a large city it can be a wonderful, yet scary, experience. In the middle of the parties and events, you will have a chance to explore the area around you. Where is your local shop or takeaway? How do you get to that campus across the city? Where the hell am I!?

In many ways, this experience might not be too different than in previous years. Yes, there will be restrictions, and some places will have remained closed, but most areas won’t have changed too much. This is a good way to get a feel of a place, and with things constantly changing it’s your best chance to explore an area before your lectures properly begin. 

Meeting people 

Freshers’ week is all about people. It’s about making friends, meeting club leaders and introducing yourself. In many ways, it is the people you meet at university that will define your experience. It’s no coincidence that so many great friendships made in university go on to last a lifetime. 

There’s no denying that things will be different this year. Large-scale events and close contact with others won’t be possible, so expect some creative solutions to socialising that might even centre around staying in your flat. 

The official government guidance is pretty clear, with social distancing a part of our lives for the foreseeable future. Some might feel more comfortable than others with this, while some may feel nervous around larger crowds. These are dilemmas that no other generation has ever had to focus on at university, and it’s not always going to be easy. The natural ways that freshers have always bonded during freshers’ week will be different now, and students and universities will need to be more flexible and more adaptable than ever. 

Freshers’ week 2020, might be the most different we have ever seen, but that doesn’t mean it has to be negative. This is really just the beginning. Your marathon awaits.

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Olivier Guiberteau
Written By
Olivier Guiberteau

Oli lives in London and is a writer and photographer.


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