Returning to university and the groups of friends we so hastily and painfully left behind during the height of COVID was a comforting and exciting thought. I am sure I am not the only one when I say that the prospect of returning to a routine and increased human interaction after months of experiencing the polar opposite would be welcomed with open arms. Getting back into the groove of our education and social lives (limited and abnormal as they both may be) has proved to be a fairly smooth and natural transition. However, for freshers it has not been so easy.
As their university halls clamp down on COVID rules, St Andrews’ newbies are struggling to find space to socialise. Most halls lack communal spaces for students to socialise in, outside of mealtimes. The exception to the rule being DRA, where a student can reside with up to four other persons in a private flat. As a consequence, freshers are sitting along their hall corridors in order to talk to their neighbours. Fresher Sophie Turner and her fellow peers in St Regulus Hall call themselves “the little hermits”, as it is hard for them to make friends outside their residence. However, Ms Turner said that “people are making more effort to make friends because they have to. My hall is like a small family”.
Unfortunately, not all freshers are having such a positive experience. With nowhere else to go, flocks of freshers wander the town at night and resort to lingering on the beaches, awaiting other “lost first years” with whom they can make friends. In an interview with first-year english literature student, Samantha Insall, she stated, “I’m lucky I have school friends here from Glasgow. We don’t know how to meet new people, as it’s pretty much impossible and I don’t know where I am allowed to go”. It appears that despite the University’s best efforts a lot of freshers are finding it difficult to establish themselves. There have been reports of inconsistencies in social distancing rules between the university halls leaving freshers confused. Another first year, Audrey Herrin, who is currently quarantined in her dorm room, expressed that, “it is virtually impossible for me to meet many people considering my circumstances. I am somewhat disappointed, but I don’t think there was a way it could have gone much better.”
Compared to previous years, the quiet and anticlimactic Freshers’ Week of 2020 has inevitably disappointed new students across the country. However, most freshers count themselves lucky to even be here at all. “I didn’t really have any expectations, I never expected to actually be in St Andrews in time for Freshers’ Week in the first place due to delays in getting my study visa because of the pandemic. I was too focused on the process of getting to the University to think about Freshers’ Week as I would have under different circumstances,” said Ms Herrin. Despite low hopes and expectations, freshers were pleasantly surprised by the number of online events organised for their benefit. Ms Herrin added that it is important to recognise the “great job [St Andrews] has done with coming up with many substitutes for normally in-person activities”. The virtual Freshers’ Fayre and Sports Fayre have received nothing but praise. With the online forum being extremely accessible and easy to navigate, both first years and older students have found it to be a more efficient way to present their clubs and societies.
As downcast as Freshers’ Week and university life may seem, I urge you to maintain a positive attitude and to practise a little “carpe diem”. Although we may not see a university event for quite some time, and our ballgowns or tuxedos may gather a little dust, as so wisely put by Ms Turner, “it’s not that bad, we just need to be proactive and make our own fun!”