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Monday, 25 September, 2000, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Best years of your life?
emma treanor montage
Some words of wisdom for those just beginning university life from English student Emma Treanor, who was in the same position a year ago at the University of Southampton.

"Your years at university will be the best years of your life" seems to be the favourite saying of even those who haven't been.

This wistful little phrase scared me somewhat. So: I've got three years to have fun, after which nothing will ever be as good again. Great.

The thing is, I really enjoyed my first year. But I had to learn to like it.

There are a few things you might want to bear in mind for your first month at uni.

Freshers' week can be great for some and pretty scary for others. That depends very much on the people you meet on your first day in your corridor/flat, from whom you will be inseparable for the first few days as they are the only people you know.

The only thing is, just as you can't choose your relatives you can't choose your flat mates.

Hang in there

Universities do try to help by asking you to state your religion/race/ethnic background on your accommodation application, whereby you will most likely end up living with at least one like-minded person.

I can vouch, however, that this does not always happen. In this event, the only option is to grit your teeth, smile, and continue to hang around with them as they are still the only people you know.

This does not last and you will find in the end your closest friends could be those you would least expect - maybe from entirely different echelons of the sixth form social sphere from the one you inhabited.

The golden rule for freshers' week is that you must chat as much as you can.

Even if you are pathologically shy this is an ideal opportunity to reinvent yourself as the loudest person in the bar.

Key questions

You will, in the course of the week, ask and answer these three questions 100 times over:

  1. where do you come from?
  2. what course are you doing?
  3. what A-levels did you do?
If at any stage the conversation veers from these three points onto something more interesting you know you may be onto a winner.

There will also be one person you will speak to several times during freshers' week then never again. You will wave to this person - whose name you have forgotten - every time you see them for the next year without exchanging any more words.

The thing is, you don't know who'll be the friends you are looking for so talking to everyone increases the chances of meeting them.

Social focus

Taking a TV isn't necessarily a bad idea, but never automatically choose your favourite programme ahead of going to the bar.

Make sacrifices: record ER/Sex and the City or turn it into a social gathering as we did.

Don't let people invade your room for the late night repeat of Top of the Pops when you have a 9 o'clock lecture, but having a TV can certainly be a popularity boost.

Computer geeks are also suddenly catapulted into a whole new situation where reading PC World actually finds you friends as computers crash before important deadlines.

If you are sharing a kitchen, never be the last one to be still locking your food cupboard. This "don't even think about it" message gives the impression of a distinct lack of trust in your flat mates which won't go down well - unless someone is stealing stuff under the guise of "borrowing", which also doesn't go down well.

Always do your washing up if everyone else does - if they don't, then just leave it. Meal times can be great social times of the day: it's much nicer to make the effort to eat with other people.

The bottom line

On the practical side of things, money will, for most people, end up being a problem. The banks do not hand out 700 interest-free overdrafts for nothing, but console yourself with the fact that you are a student and as such are meant to be in debt.

Unless you are very rich you will have a loan, 1,000 of which will be your fees and the rest will probably just cover your accommodation.

Here's where parents come in. Most students I know have 30 - 50 to live on a week from family or savings.

And it's where the overdraft comes in. Don't worry, you will have learnt by the end of the year where the student nights are each night of the week and 5 will get you quite a long way in the union bar.

It probably won't however get you very far on the train home so take advantage of the free railcard offered by some banks so you can take your washing home cheaply!

It is fun, it is exciting, it is different and you may love it straight away.

But if you don't, give it a chance. (I hate to say it but...) your university years could be some of the best of your life.

The views expressed here are personal.
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