“The advice that turned out to be the most useful? Get a bike as soon as you can”
Freshers’ events help new students feel at home, before they’ve even left their own homes. Could you get involved?
We all know someone who arrived at freshers’ week with everything sorted – who already knew everyone, had their timetable down and had apparently joined every society going. But for everyone else? Arriving at College for the first time can be terrifying.
To help calm the nerves, every year thousands of freshers are invited to events organised by Alumni Groups. From Dorset to Dortmund, Sussex to San Diego, and Bristol to Barcelona, all have the same aim: welcoming new students into the Cambridge community.
“Freshers’ events are an opportunity for new students to ask the questions they might naturally be too scared to ask,” says Janet Myers (Caius 1989), one of the team at the Cheshire and North Wales Alumni Association. “They can learn a little bit about life in Cambridge, network and start to make friends.”
Many events include the chance to hear from, and talk to, current or recent students. “Many of the questions are really straightforward – ‘How will I find my way round? What do I do about dinner? How do I join societies?’” says Myers. “Others arrive clearly a bit apprehensive that Cambridge will be posh and full of people who are so much cleverer than them. What they then see is a normal village hall full of normal people – and the students giving the talks are just normal teenagers. You can feel the anxiety leave the room.”
The events are also great for helping freshers make their first Cambridge friends. “The buzz of conversation always gets louder and louder as the event goes on,” says Myers. “By the end, everyone has their phones out and they’re all exchanging contact details. It’s nice for them to know other people when they get to Cambridge, whatever course they’re doing. And they also connect with Second and Third Years, so when they get to Cambridge they know someone who knows the ropes.”
Muhammed Alakitan (King’s 2020) found his freshers’ event an invaluable introduction to life in Cambridge – and the UK. “I live in Nigeria and had never studied in the UK before,” he says. “I began my course in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, so my freshers’ event was virtual, but I got so many excellent tips on how to adapt to Cambridge life. Being able to network immediately with other students, including others from Nigeria, before I’d started the course was extremely useful. After the event we immediately started a WhatsApp group.”
“But it wasn’t just the networking,” adds Alakitan, who returned to Cambridge this year to begin his PhD. “The freshers’ event cleared up some of my questions about how the College system worked, and I got some useful tips on what to bring to cope with the weather! But one of the first pieces of advice I received turned out to be the most useful – as soon as you can, get a bicycle, because it’s the best way to get to know the city. I arrived in September so I could observe my Covid quarantine for two weeks, and the first thing I did was get my bike!”
“It’s extremely satisfying,” says Myers reflecting on this year’s successful event. “When you see students relax during the course of the event you really do feel you’re making a difference. Some teenagers can get really worried about leaving home and going into this new chapter in their lives. We help them feel at home so that, before they even arrive in Cambridge, they feel they already belong.”
Find out more about how you could get involved and to find your nearest Alumni Group.