I Relived Freshers' Week A Decade On And This Is What Happened
"I'm too old for this shit." – me, every single day
It's nine years since I was a fresher at the University of Sussex. It was a time when I met people who are now my best friends, went out almost every night, and experienced living away from home for the very first time.
As freshers' week happens again all over the country, what it would be like if I went back, almost a decade later? How would I cope as a "responsible" adult?
My idea of a night out is a steak dinner with the BFF and a bottle of wine, certainly not vodka shots in big clubs where I can't hear anything. I'm a bit of a granny, so the idea of going back to university and immersing myself in the life of the typical 18-year-old fresher scares me senseless. But I'm interested to see how uni life has changed since I went all those many years ago, as well as wanting to know if my body can cope.
I want to relive all of those wonderful, yet hazy, memories.
I headed to Sussex wondering if I had lost my damn mind. But as soon as I stepped on campus, I was hit by an intense wave of nostalgia.
Feeling a bit sad and very strange, I headed over to the freshers' fair, where I joined a few societies and started the daunting task of making friends.
The experience was overwhelming. I remember the fair feeling this way nine years ago too, but for some reason I think I was more confident back then, maybe because I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent myself. Nine years ago I never actually stuck with any societies, due to getting pissed and sleeping it off instead, but I signed up for Ultimate Frisbee, Cheerleading, and Quidditch (yes, Quidditch!) regardless.
After the fair I went to the student union bar, and despite some rusty social skills, I approached a group of freshers having lunch. Fortunately, they were open and friendly, and told me they were planning a house party at their halls. Feeling like a creepy old lady, I invited myself along and we swapped Facebook details – and, weirdly, those of Instagram, which didn't exist when I was a student. They told me that they usually swap Snapchat and Twitter details too.
If I didn't already feel old as fuck, I certainly did now.
While taking a walk after the fair, I met two freshers, Lewis and Ben, who both lived in Park Village – my old uni halls.
Lewis was more shy, but he did tell me his plan for the evening – cooking a meal for himself for the first time ever.
Later that evening, on the way to the house party, I met a girl named Su who was finding life on Sussex campus difficult because "there are too many trees".
Even though her comment made me burst out laughing, as a fellow Londoner I knew exactly what she meant. Sussex is gorgeous, nestled in beautiful countryside, but it can be quite a shock for the urbanite.
Su also told me that she was finding it difficult to bond with her housemates, most of whom weren't from London and seemed to have completely different views to hers. It all felt very familiar, as my uni house was exactly the same. I told her that was exactly what was great about it – meeting people that weren't like you, and learning from each other.
Another thing that hadn't changed was just how flaky students are. The next few hours were spent jumping from one fresher house party to another, because students can't seem to stick to plans.
But I suddenly felt so old, and the idea of waiting for two hours to go to a party at 4am seemed ridiculous. All I wanted to do was eat some chips and go to bed, and so that's exactly what I did.
The next morning I woke up at 10.30am feeling like the world had done a massive shit on my head. But I had plans to make, so I eagerly started texting all of the fresher contacts I had made the night before.
Having forgotten that no real student would be up before midday, I was disappointed that by lunch, I still hadn't received a single reply. I headed to campus anyway, where I was pleasantly surprised to find a street food fair.
We never had food fairs in 2006. My delicious wrap and brownie cost me a total of around seven quid, and although it felt great to eat something a bit more wholesome (well, apart from the brownie), it did make me wonder: What student could afford to eat like this?
Pleased to have finally eaten something that wasn't completely beige, I went in search of my old uni house.
Standing on my own at the Pier bar, I decided to risk looking like a cougar and chat to a guy ordering a pitcher of a bright red cocktail. Before I knew it, I was sitting with his entire house at their table playing drinking games.
It wasn’t long before I'd spilt wine all over myself, and of course the freshers wouldn't let me leave to go and change, so it was straight on to the club.
We spent the night dancing around like complete maniacs to "Trap Queen", "House Every Weekend", and "Shutdown", songs the freshers don't yet know will become so nostalgic to them years later, the way that "Rudebox", "SexyBack", and "Put Your Hands Up For Detroit" are for me every single time I hear them.
From that point on, I don't remember much, except that I lost my passport and made out with a 24-year-old in the smoking area because he had giant arm muscles.
Shots, clubbing, getting off with a man wearing the tightest T-shirt in T-shirt history – these were all things I hadn't done since I was on the "right" side of 25. Being among the freshers, I found myself willing to making a tit of myself in order to bond with them, and I had a great night because of it. It actually felt good being so carefree and in the moment, having the confidence to chat to everyone and anyone with such reckless abandon.
For the first time I didn't feel like a twentysomething constantly worrying about edging closer to 30. I was 27 going on 18 and it felt good.
The next morning, although I felt like complete and utter shit again, I woke up knowing I now had a new squad and a place to hang: Flat 25, Swanborough.
When I turned up to the flat, deep in my pit of despair, they were all eating their lunch without a care in the world.
The only other person suffering after last night's craziness was Tiff, a postgrad who, like me, looked like she wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
When I asked the freshers why they were so chipper, they all had the same response: "I never get hangovers." To which I just laughed. Maniacally. I told them how it would all soon change and that hangovers would get consistently worse for the rest of their lives.
Of course they didn't believe me, but then again neither would I had some 27-year-old grumpy grandma told me my during my freshers' week that hangovers would become three-day affairs.
I hung out with Tiff and Georgia for the rest of day, snuggling in the "duvet nest" they had made on the sofa. Time flew by so fast that I ended up missing an important event in my freshers' calendar — the Ultimate Frisbee trial.
After dinner, Flat 25 received a message from the WhatsApp group the gang share with another flat below, saying that they were going to play the drinking game Centurion.
I had to drink 100 shots of beer or cider in 100 minutes. Even though I still had a raging hangover and couldn't think of anything worse, I decided to give it a go. After all, that's what a fresher would do.
By shot 80 I wasn't feeling good. As a 27-year-old woman who hadn't drunk that much cider that quickly since pub golf in 2008, I was convinced I was about to throw up in front of a bunch of 18-year-olds. So to save the dignity the years since uni had given me, I gave up at shot 83. Everyone else, of course, made it to 100.
The next stage of the night involved everyone deciding to go to Walkabout. It was a place I had promised myself I would never go back to, a place where 18-year-old me once got off with a guy while he was wearing a coconut bra.
I summoned my last reserves of energy and headed out with them in a taxi. But when we got to the seafront, I just wasn't able to do it. My bed was so close, and even though I had so much fun the night before, I just couldn't handle doing it all over again so soon. Eventually, I abandoned the guys outside Walkabout.
Instead of doing what the average fresher would do and rave on for another night, I did what I would do. I got two fucking pizzas and I ate them in bed.
But now I did want the fun to stop. So the next morning, after just three days, and even though I knew I would be missing the foam party (*sigh*), I declared my whirlwind fresher experience officially over.
Freshers now have easy access to all kinds of information I never had, like knowing who they will be living with before they even move into their halls – a result of the Facebook groups the university sets up in the summer for each uni accommodation.
Advances in technology have also affected life on campus. When I was a fresher, Facebook was still pretty new, and some of us still used disposable cameras. In 2015 there are myriad apps, from WhatsApp to Instagram, Twitter to Snapchat.
Houses often have WhatsApp groups. In my day, we all spoke to each other on MSN, and arranging social events happened via Facebook and word of mouth.
Snapchat was by far the most popular app I saw being used by freshers, and I noticed that most were sending Snapchats to friends back home or at other universities rather than to each other. I wondered if this was preventing them from living in the moment and whether they were preoccupied with projecting an image of themselves at university to others outside of it. When I was a fresher, we tended to spend more time interacting in person with our uni friends and less time online with our old ones.
Yet beyond the technological advances, not much has really changed since I went to university. People still do the same things, go to the same parties, have the same fears.
The only other thing that was fundamentally different was my personal experience of freshers' week. This time round, I learned how difficult it is to make friends during freshers' week, and how that can make it a pretty daunting and unsettling experience.
But I also knew that those feelings are transient, because everyone eventually settles and finds their way. Freshers' week, although it can be amazing, is one week out of three years, and you don't have to have the time of your life.
Going back to Sussex made me realise how grateful to the university I am for giving me not only a fantastic freshers' week, but the best three years of my life.
It also made me extremely grateful to all of the people I met while I was there, in 2006 and 2015.