The run-up to the start of university is accompanied by the feeling that the world is gravitating towards you. Amongst your family you gain an importance for the fact that you are about to ascend to a new level of independence and social wherewithal, and amongst your peers, particularly those also going to university, you compare the benefits and drawbacks of your choices of courses, institutions and aspirations. In the months and weeks prior to your leaving, your view of the world narrows like the beam of a torch on this upcoming phase of your life, and your mind tends to race through the possibilities of student life.
But fresher’s week in many ways catches a lot of people by a surprising angle. For the majority of it, it feels as if everyone is caught between feeling as if they are settled in their surroundings and being so utterly up in the air that they cannot feel the ground beneath their feet. The disconcerting sensation of being untethered laps on you in waves, like the tide coming in and out of a beach. Losing the ballast of your home surroundings makes you feel vulnerable and uncharacterful, and you remember again that you are just a nameless entity with groundless aspirations and a harbour of recurring insecurities. But of course everyone feels the same way, and although you are up in the air, everyone else is flying with you.
By the first night my corridor of twelve had just about learnt all each other’s names and were happily pre-drinking in and out of each other’s rooms and talking loudly and confidently. The thing is that I think everyone was so keen to feign a degree of self-confidence that our apparent familiarity with each other was a little bit forced. This is the natural result of a collection of previously unacquainted people in a highly social atmosphere, and it has not yet fully worn off on us, though it will do. I am lucky in having been blessed with a corridor of extremely friendly, good-natured people, which is a thing inevitably not all students the world over will be able to say, though of course there are the unavoidable preliminary artificialities to wade through first. There is a certain pressure to appear at peace with oneself, and there are those who show the strain of this more than others. Why do we want to appear at peace with ourselves? Because self-confidence is attractive, and all we as humans want is to be as attractive as possible.
That is why it is so difficult to feel secure in fresher’s week, simply because we want to be wholesome, attractive and loveable human beings. In bar and nightclub situations, which is of course where the gravity of fresher’s week pulls you, it is difficult to communicate confidence without being very good at pretending. You make an effort with your new flatmates, you work at appearing fun and wise and attractive, but there will always be that prowling layer of fear, and it is only time that can wash that away.