19th September 2011

What could possibly go wrong?

It may seem incredibly important to get everything right in Welcome Week, but university is about trial and error. You shouldn’t worry about making silly mistakes.

If you’re feeling a bit nervous right now, there is really no need to be. In fact, you should be feeling pretty smug. You’re at a fantastic University, you’ve moved to a vibrant and exciting city and, unlike the year behind you, your entire financial life won’t be forever undermined by the monstrous £9,000 annual debt. You will love the time you spend here, rain or shine. Mostly rain admittedly.

But for those of you still a little anxious about the coming days, weeks and months, I’m going to try and ease those nerves with some advice drawn from my own calamitous experiences. The point is: whatever could go wrong is never as bad as it seems at the time.

To start this, let me take you back a year with one embarrassing story of mine that took place during Freshe- sorry, ‘Welcome Week’.

On my second day at Manchester, having noted down the wrong room for an induction, I attended a post-grad sociology seminar. I managed to arrive at this wrong seminar late. So, the tutor had already started when I sat down and I slowly realised my mistake. But with my stupidity matched only by pride, I just sat frozen, unable to leave and beginning to feel like Mr. Bean.

I desperately looked around for a way out- a fire exit or an open window maybe. Time passed and all rationality left me. It was the worst thing that had happened to anyone ever. My now frantic eyes caught those of the tutor. Shit. She asked me, in front of everyone, to rate the supervisor I’d been allocated the previous year. What could I do? She had seen me nodding along to what she was saying. I was in too deep. I cleared my throat and pondered over the performance of my imaginary supervisor. I gave him a 4 out of 5.

But she wasn’t done. Then she asked what it was about him that impressed me. “Organised and approachable” I blurted out. Well, you can’t argue with that. There aren’t many jobs that prefer disorganisation and hostility. Ok, so I blagged that. But then the tutor split us into groups to collect ideas. It had finally gone to far. 15 minutes too late, with three smiling sociologists staring wide-eyed and waiting for my thoughts on their discussion, I stood up and simply walked out with my head held high. Ok, it may have been a brisk walk. With a hint of a short run. And I don’t even do sociology.

There is a point to that humiliating story. While this edition of The Mancunion will be filled with some great advice on how to make the most of everything, I don’t feel I am any expert on getting it right. So my initial concept, to tell you about cool places to go and the importance of being yourself etc. etc. is now being thrown away in favour of a “it really doesn’t matter if you screw things up” theme inspired by some of my own mistakes.

Control the purse strings

Avoid rash purchases. When I got all that cash suddenly in my student account, I spent £80 on a pair of Adidas limited edition Chewbacca trainers, complete with wookie fur… Ok that’s a bad example for a rash purchase; everyone knows those things are an obvious babe magnet.

For most of us though, the student loan will be the first time you will have access to that much free (sort of…) money in one go. But student loans do have to go a long way. Save money pre-drinking. Make your own lunch instead of going for the ever-enticing £5 Dominos deal. Or share stuff with your flatmates. And by ‘share’ I mean mooch off. You won’t need 6 sets of pots and pans, so see what you can get away with using. And I know it’s tempting, with all that money now available, to go straight to and convince yourself that, because its been reduced from £150 to £100, you are actually up £50. But you’re not. Believe me, you’re not. Overdrafts can only be extended so much.

Keep it all organised

Make sure your stuff is well coordinated and safe. I thought I didn’t need a keychain, which was just plain stupid.  I quickly lost it at a club and spent £40 replacing it the next day. Of course being a massive idiot, I decided I still didn’t need a keychain and went to Squirrels bar that night, where I lost it for a second time in 2 days. With the one available replacement gone, I spent the week with an unlocked room, where my flatmates hilariously turned every single thing upside down. An unlocked room seems translate into “group space to play FIFA and Call of Duty”, where you come home to find your Kettle chips raided (not a sustainable choice of crisps on a student loan even without theft) by a man with a seemingly endless appetite. This advice goes for your notes too. I can tell you from experience, losing all your lecture notes two weeks before an exam makes revision a complete bitch.

Life and soul of the party, not live entertainment.

Get completely ‘MC hammered’ by all means but just try not to be the worst, or unshakable nicknames may be bestowed upon you. Residents in my halls were quick to do this last year with one exceptionally drunk girl, resulting in her being given an almost mythical status for drinking. Show signs of losing self-control before everyone else and you will be targeted during drinking games. Stand back a bit until others are beyond the point of return and you won’t end up having to explain, like a peckish friend of mine did, why you’re buttering a folded tea towel for a post-nightout sandwich.  But, if you are one of the ‘usual suspects’ back home: relax, most people will make idiots of themselves and as such, no one is judged. Just mocked profusely.

Ignore your old reservations

For example, I’ve always been a fan of the football game Pro Evolution Soccer. But in university halls, everyone seems to play FIFA. People assume Pro Evo players are a socially odd breed who skype their cats. I guess everyone just tired of playing Merseyside Blue Vs Teesside and playing Roberto Larcos at the back for Brazil. I took the plunge, moved to FIFA and never looked back. Put aside misgivings and be open to anything. You may be raising your eyebrows to that inane example, but jumping ship was a painful decision.

Other bits of info

Ok, the advice I’ve dished out is probably a bit of a given to more sensible, organised folk. But there are some other small ways in which you will find yourself re-thinking a few assumptions, finding a few new habits and taking a fresh approach.

For instance, when it comes to clubs this week try and buy your tickets in advance and get to the desired venue by 11 at the absolute latest to avoid ‘one-in-one-out’ queuing.

Also, check out the city early on by having a wander, it makes it seem far less daunting once you get to know the place. Stagecoach bus passes are worth investing in, too. Anyone that tells you, “I’m just going to walk, it’s better for you” has obviously never lived in Manchester in January and God will reward their healthy smugness accordingly.

Finally, lecturers will tell you time and time again this week that Wikipedia is the root of all evil, the web-spawn of Satan. It isn’t. While I would never reference it in an essay, Wikipedia can usually give you a decent overview and often gives some good links to other, more respected sources. Lets be honest, Wikipedia has taken us all this far. Don’t let lecturers panic you into thinking you’re now on your own.

Hopefully, you can see that if a buffoon who pretends to be a sociology post-grad can get used to the overwhelming surroundings and tricky essays, then you will have no problem. The important thing to remember when reading this is that, despite feeling like I was making endless calamities, I’m still here. You’re unlikely to make or break lifelong friendships or ruin your degree in week one.

On second thoughts, the only real way of avoiding a shallow and lonely university experience is to come and write with me for the features section. Best unbiased piece of advice I can give you. So get in touch.

Richard Crook

Richard Crook

Editor-in-chief at The Mancunion. E-mail me at [email protected].

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