Freshers’ Week and Term One: What NOT To Worry About

Written by Emma MA Creativity: Innovation and Business Strategy student

The days leading up to your first week of university can be emotional. I remember feeling a bizarre mixture of excitement and anxiety. My mum grew tearful over nearly everything I did, and I was permanently torn over how much I should take with me. I’m now a postgraduate student at the University of Exeter and I’ve moved five times since moving into halls nearly four academic years ago. I found that adapting to change became easier with that first step of attending Freshers’ week. To remedy those Freshers’ fears, I’ve compiled this list of things NOT to worry about as a new undergraduate.

1. Halls: Moving out of my family home and into halls was the biggest hurdle I encountered during Freshers’ week and for a long time after. I had expected to meet my best friends for life in my new accommodation. I didn’t. I hadn’t expected to miss my family a lot. I did. If you’ve never lived away from home then this is probably the trickiest bit for you, but it is by no means something that needs worrying about. Yes, sometimes I felt a little lonely, but I truly believe that those first few months of university made me into the independent individual I am today. I stuck it out, I met life-altering personalities, I spent time getting to know the people in my block and the people in my lectures and seminars. I made a lot of amazing acquaintances, a few amazing friends, and three amazing best friends. By my second year of university I was itching to return and found over the summer break that I missed being on campus where everyone knew my name. So, don’t worry about moving or feeling alienated by your home away from home because you really will be settled down in no time without even realising it. I promise.

2. Making a good first impression: Social anxiety has been a close companion of mine for a few years now. Some days I find myself over-analysing the tiniest of things. These feelings especially acted up during Freshers’ week. I wanted my lecturers to like me, I wanted my new hall mates to like me and I wanted my course mates to like me. However, what you’ll soon come to realise is that every Fresher feels the same way. Make that effort to introduce yourself to everyone but don’t panic about being the most memorable person in the room. The friends I made in the flat below during my first few weeks of university I never kept in contact with after my second term. Not because I didn’t want to but simply because I settled with different company in the end. You might not find your more permanent social group right away, and that’s okay.

3. Getting top grades: Congratulations! You made it to the University of Exeter and you absolutely smashed your A-Levels. Now it’s time to dial it up a notch. I was immensely disheartened by my first few essay grades. How could I go from being top of the class at college to scrapping a 2:1 with a 60? University level study is hard. I adored the overwhelming intake of information in my lectures. I lived for the buzz in the room during an impassioned seminar debate. I also found myself permanently exhausted. The good news is that your first year doesn’t count towards your final grade. Spend the year finding a comfortable balance between all the new components in your life and before you know it, you’ll be floating back up to First Class territory.

4. Picking the best societies: I joined only one society in my first year: Creative Writing Society. I attended two workshops and never went again. The society was inspiring and immensely fun but I was too preoccupied with adjusting to my new environment to devote myself to it. By my second year of university I was involved in two societies: Archery (which I went into never having tried the sport before) and Xpression FM (of which I became the Arts and Literature Senior Correspondent for the News Team). In my case, I found that I was more able to give my absolute attention to societies and society socials by my second year when I’d found my footing. Here’s the secret: Freshers’ fair isn’t just for Freshers! It’s for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in university life at any point of their degree. I’ve attended the Freshers’ Fair every year I’ve spent at university and not just for all the freebies but for the electricity right at my fingertips. Go to the fair, enjoy the free snacks, pens, and pizza vouchers and don’t feel pressured to sign up to a single thing.

5. Time management: This one is a fine art that is perfected throughout one’s life. I remember feeling incredibly overwhelmed during my first year of university. Information came at me from all angles through several different channels that I wasn’t yet accustomed to using. I was being invited to society socials, to nights out clubbing with course mates, to dinners in my accommodation block, to parties in a friend’s friend’s halls, to additional lectures, to non-compulsory workshops, to poetry slams and art exhibitions, all alongside completing suffocating masses of reading in time for my seminars. I found time management easier when I purchased my first academic diary. I used to schedule everything in my day from waking up and writing emails to relaxing with a bottle of wine in the evening. I can’t remember at what point I stopped consulting it religiously, but it must have been the point in which I’d found a sense of routine. I still buy myself an academic diary every year and I still find myself writing in it every day (even when I’m searching for things to keep myself occupied with during the summer break). My top tip would be to invest in an academic diary yourself. Use it as a crutch until you no longer entirely depend on it. It’ll be the best tenner you’ve spent that year and you’ll have one less thing to worry about.

6. Freshers’ Flu: For some reason I lost the ability to hear out of my left ear entirely during my second and third week of university which really didn’t help my nervous fears surrounding my ability to keep on top of all my coursework. I went to the Student Health Centre with possibly the worst flu I’d ever experienced. I felt ran-down, lethargic, and bunged-up. The nurse recommended plenty of rest and explained to me that Freshers’ Flu wasn’t in fact a myth. I also developed a milder strain of the flu in my second year of university. Don’t panic, watch your lectures at home from your bed, eat well, and cut back on the partying (at least for a couple of nights). You’ll feel better once your body has built a resistance to your full and hectic lifestyle.

Despite my undergraduate years being some of the toughest of my life they were also the best years of my life to date. University is full of extreme emotions which make it a hell of a thrilling and unforgettable time. Just remember to keep your cool and everything will find its place. There really is nothing to worry about.

Inspirational women: our Humanities showcase

Last month we celebrated International Women’s Day. Each day in March, the University website featured the achievements of a different woman on its homepage.

As April begins, we put the spotlight on some incredible women from the College of Humanities and discover which women inspire them…

Francesca Stavrakopoulou

On the face of it, Francesca Stavrakopoulou is something of an anomaly. Despite being a well-documented atheist, she is the Head of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter, and conducts research specialising in ancient Israelite and Judahite religions. Yet despite working in a field that is traditionally the domain of men of the cloth, Francesca is leading a quiet revolution into our relationship with religion. Her work not only challenges existing preconceptions, but also encourages us all to look below the surface of religion towards the rich tapestry of tradition, history and culture that lies beneath.

Francesca said that she is inspired by “strong women” in her life, a fact reflected in the advice that she would offer to others. She said: “Inspiration for me has come from the strong women in my life, especially my mother. She taught me through example not to believe in stereotypes and prejudice, and that’s shaped my professional life as much as my personal life. It is a belief that I also try and inspire in others. My advice is always not to let the things that make you feel different from the rest marginalise you. Being different is the biggest skill you have!”

Find out more about how Francesca turned a marginal position into a professional strength on The Exeter Blog.

Helen Taylor

Helen Taylor is a Professor of English and the University’s Humanities Arts and Culture Fellow. In the academic community she is best known for her expertise in the field of American Studies where she has added to the body of research for almost four decades. In 2011, she was elected as an Honorary Fellow of the British Association of American Studies. In her Fellowship role, Helen devised and has helped implement a major new Arts and Culture Strategy for the University.

Helen’s work has been inspired by a variety of people and events such as the Second Wave Women’s Movement and the work of feminist theorists such as Sheila Rowbotham, Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan, as well as feminist critics such as Ellen Moers, Elaine Showalter, Toni Morrison and Cora Kaplan, who taught her about women’s history and literary culture. More recently, the campaigns of young feminists such as Malala Yousafzai for girls’ education and Fahma Mohamed against female genital mutilation have given her great hope for the future.

Gabriella Giannachi

Gabriella Giannachi, FRSA, is Professor in Performance and New Media, and Director of the Centre for Intermedia at the University of Exeter. One of Gabriella’s current projects is Art Maps, a collaboration with Tate and the University of Nottingham funded by RCUK. Art Maps has visualised the entire Tate collection on an interactive map that can be perfected and annotated by users wherever they may be in the world. Her PhD student Cristina Locatelli has shown how the Migrant Resource Centre in London can use Art Maps to aid familiarisation with British culture. This project won this year’s University of Exeter Impact Award for the Arts and Culture category.

Gabriella has been lucky enough to have been inspired by many others in her life and career, she says: “I have been taught by some wonderful individuals, such as Gianni Vattimo in Turin, my home town, and Tony Tanner in Cambridge, where I did my PhD. I was also fortunate to be able to work for Goffredo Fofi at Linea D’Ombra, who published my first ever article, and to be working for the publishing company Einaudi where I met some of the most brilliant intellectuals of our times, like Eric Hobsbawm, Primo Levi and Norberto Bobbio. I still feel very privileged to be working with exceptional individuals, such as my colleagues in English at Exeter and in Computer Science at Nottingham, artists like Lynn Hershman Leeson, and the company Blast Theory, teachers in a number of Exeter schools, and staff at Tate, RAMM, and the Met Office. Their dedication to the pursuit of knowledge and innovation, mutual support and understanding, commitment to learning and research, and dissemination among different publics are a constant source of inspiration.”

Marie Notermans

Marie Notermans is testament to what can be achieved through determination, dedication and drive. The English and Spanish student was named as the Arts and Humanities Undergraduate of the Year in 2013, beating off fierce nationwide competition from her peers. The awards, with 12 different categories, are designed to identify and celebrate the UK’s best undergraduates in specific areas. The shortlisting process mirrors a graduate recruitment selection procedure, and includes online tests, interviews and assessments.

Marie said that she draws inspiration from people who show perseverance, whether in their work or private life. She said: “I’m inspired by anyone who has made a decision to do something with their life, and made a success of it by sticking with it. My family are a huge inspiration to me to keep going, as well as some of the great people I’ve had the fortune to work with and be taught by, in the UK, Chile and in Spain.”

Jennifer Watling

By looking at fossilised plant remains in the Amazon rainforest, Jennifer Watling hopes to answer questions about how ‘man made’ the Amazon is and how humans have affected current biodiversity. Her research led to Jennifer winning the prestigious UK Scopus Young Researcher Award 2013, recognition that she describes as her proudest moment to date.

Jennifer said that main theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, inspiring change, should motivate women to have the confidence to achieve their potential. She said: “International Women’s Day is about inspiring women to have the confidence to push for whatever it is they want to achieve in life. I believe that society still makes this harder for women than for men, and that confidence in women is a big step towards absolute gender equality. For me, my colleagues are my greatest source of inspiration. Most of my work is inter-disciplinary and I am lucky enough to be part of a network of enthusiastic people, many of them women, with whom I can discuss my work and share new ideas.