Dear Freshers 2017
The first few days, weeks, and months at college are a heady mix of new experiences.
Not all experiences have to be had at once, though at times you’ll feel like you’re barely catching yourself coming back.
You’re going to be grand, but it’s not always easy.
I am currently the Deputy President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), which represents over 350,000 students across Ireland. I was also elected in my final year of college to be Vice President for Welfare & Equality with Maynooth Students’ Union.
Yet, in my first year at college I didn’t attend a single SU event for Freshers’ week at night. I was horrendously unsure of myself and thought the night time stuff wasn’t for me. I didn’t think anyone would hang out with a ginger from Longford who only drank limited amounts of West Coast Cooler or a sex on the beach cocktail if I was going all out.
The joys of streaming TV
Instead, I binged episodes of Fringe and Supernatural online (and being a rural child used only to horrendously crap broadband, I marveled at the new liberation of being able to ‘stream’ the Vampire Diaries from my campus apartment).
I found the person who would become my best friend because we stayed in and made cups of Barry’s and ate popcorn and worried at our lack of interest in playing kings or talking about sexual experiences we didn’t actually have or wearing heels.
Sexual health awareness?
I had never seen a condom before in my life before the Welfare Officer threw them out at us at the time, never mind thinking I was gonna be out to get the shift or go on a hardcore drinking session.
It didn’t really occur to me that there were loads of people NOT having sex, not because they couldn’t, but because they didn’t want to, or they weren’t ready for all that yet. I thought I was alone.
Working out what matters
So I didn’t go out, but I ended up joining Societies at Clubs & Socs Fairs Day and met some of the most amazing people I have ever been lucky enough to be acquainted with through them
Just showing up and awkwardly hoping someone might talk to me helped me gain so much confidence over time. There was no dramatic moment or flashes of light where everything fell into place.
What really happened was more that I worked on finding the things I could love (like debating, like the law society, like politics, the LGBT, or volunteering) and the people I could learn about those things with.
I didn’t need to be drinking and partying to do that, but lots of my friends did, really enjoyed Freshers and beyond, and they were also exceptional people who just socialised differently to the way I did.
You will find your people
Trust me, you will find your people. It might take time, but you will. Don’t get caught in the trap of comparing your life to the Facebook timelines or Instagram feeds of others, because they only tell the story they want the world to know. It doesn’t show the anxieties some of us can have about fitting in.
Meanwhile the ‘rents at home are hoping that you’re doing well and making friends, studying everything and cooking broccoli without burning the place down or becoming heavily dependent on alcohol or other crutches.
It’s OK feel a little unsure of yourself to be on uneven footing, to be anxious about your new housemates or how it’s all going to work out with modules and what’s for next week’s dinner and whether you’ve been granted SUSI this time and other things relating to….THE FUTURE.
Stepping out of your comfort zone
College is not like the sprint of the Leaving Cert, it’s more like an interesting cross-country course where you’ll build up stamina and you’ll do better at different bits than the people running beside you at any given time (I don’t run. I’m horribly unfit. But, you get what I mean). You’re going to be grand, even though it’s not always easy.
Stepping out of your comfort zone will be scary. Try not to isolate yourself by staying in and endlessly scrolling Tumblr. Trying new things is as much exciting as it is scary for so many of us.
Your college will become a home for you, because it’s an incredible place full to the brim with people who will challenge and inspire you. Like anything new, it will take time. You will figure things out about yourself that you hadn’t seen before or realised was part of you.
Ways of thinking about the world that had never occurred to you before. It’s kinda why you’re getting a University education – you don’t actually know everything.
Everyone’s entitled to their own ‘college experience’
Recognise that people have different experiences. If you’re reading this and you fully plan to be out every night of Freshers’ Week and have the absolute craic and still make it to lectures and talks, then you’re also a legend.
Just be aware of the people around you who might not be so comfortable for loads of reasons and try to include them. Respect others for their decisions or for what makes them tick.
Don’t make yourself fall in with a crowd automatically if what a group is doing isn’t for you, because you will find your place. We know you’re going to be great. Let it happen, and try to be yourself.
You’ve only just begun.
What can I do now?
- Read starting your college life
- Watch starting college, an animation based on a Louise O'Neill story written for us
- Locate your college counselling service