Esther at the beginning of her Freshers' Week journeyEsther Arthurson

Dear Freshers-To-Be,

A little advice from a recently retired fresher.

There are few times in life when you get a completely clean slate. This is one of them; use it wisely.

Freshers’ continues long after its designated week comes to an end. There’s no rush to do everything and meet everyone, at least not at once. Opportunities won’t suddenly cease to arise once lectures start — instead, brace yourself for an entire year of new experiences that begins rather than ends with the Freshers’ Fair.

Personally, I was the keen bean queen who signed up for every activity under the sun, from surfing to salsa to science fiction. “Did I actually attend any of these taster sessions? I hear you ask. Not even close to all of them. I only turned up to a few, and even fewer actually stuck. But my naïve enthusiasm led to subsequent involvement in sports and societies I would never have dreamed of participating in without the audacity unique to Fresherdom.

For example, from an outside perspective, I had always viewed rowing as a cult composed of people with massive arms — and I stand by this. But, being a vertically challenged individual (five foot three and three quarters, to be specific) with a rather loud voice, someone suggested I give coxing a go. For context, coxing is the only non-sporty role available within the rowing cult and involves steering, sporting a jazzy life jacket and shouting instructions into a microphone. It sounded perfect: you have a literal captive audience. You can practise your Footlights sketches on them, tell them about your life, give impromptu motivational speeches — the possibilities seemed endless. Coxing became a significant and completely unexpected part of my year, catapulting me into the paths of people I’d never otherwise have met (AKA athletic individuals).

This is a roundabout way of saying that I really want to encourage you to try as many new things over the coming weeks as possible, because there is no better way to learn about yourself and discover things and people you’ll love than throwing yourself into Cambridge life like a little, Fresher-shaped missile.

I’d say there are three organic methods of meeting people in your first year: in your college, on your course, or through societies. If you’re willing to invest in at least two of these “catchment areas”, if you will, you can let the befriending process take care of itself. All you have to do is say yes to things, be yourself (unless you’re an awful person, in which case maybe hold on to the reins on this for at least the first fortnight), and have the courage to be proactive and put yourself out there when it feels right. By doing the above, I have (often unintentionally) found myself glued to the most unexpected people, some of whom I was in awe of in Freshers’ Week and others who at first I avoided like Covid-19.

'There’s no expiry date on making new friends'

Esther and a surprise friendEsther Arthurson

Then again, it feels like everyone here has some strange hidden talent or identity twist waiting to take you by surprise during Week Four. (For example, my two flatmates thought I was the weird one for not being a regular juggler.) It may also help to remember that there’s no expiry date on making new friends – I only got to know my closest friend in second term (shoutout to Laura). It’s not like some supermarket dash with quirky nerds lining the shelves instead of out-of-date dairy products.

The best experiences, and the best people, are so often the unexpected ones. Hopefully remembering this will help you hold plans and preconceptions of what your days at university will be like a little more lightly. Looking back, nothing in my first year was exactly as I expected it to be going in. But there’s nothing I’d go back and change if I could do it all again.

Best of luck,

A Retired Fresher