Good afternoon, freshmen (because you shouldn’t be reading this in the morning, and it’s not like anything really qualifies as ‘night’ until you’ve gone out anymore), and we hope you’re settling in well. Well, a little bit – we’re also looking forward to the hijinks we’ll get to bear witness to as you stumble around for a few weeks. Whether you believe us or not, it’s going to happen in some way or another (I’m telling you now, half of the A buildings have a secret 00 floor that’s going to confuse you even more on top of the ridiculous room designations. And good look routinely finding Starbucks when you’re actually looking for it.)
Here I’m going to share with you some helpful advice on your early Surrey career, stuff you can only know if you’ve lived it, that isn’t going to help prevent those hijinks, but might just make your introduction to uni life a bit easier. Sure, some of it may seem logical, but you’re a new student and so very liable to not do the things. Do the things. I’ve even recounted a bunch of my own brilliant escapades as examples of why you should.
1. Attend the lectures on your Welcome Week timetable. Seriously. I don’t think I need to explain this, but if you think you’re not missing much – well, you are. There’s important stuff, there’s fun stuff, and there’s stuff that details the running of the University and opportunities to experience this.
I’ll give you this example: I won a Student Award in my first year here, and it can all be traced back to my decision to go to an “Introducing the Sabbaticals” talk during welcome week that none of my roommates wanted to attend. The Sabs were being their usual funny selves and, from the back of the lecture theatre, I joined in. I also had to leave at one point, thanks to a ridiculous nosebleed. But I made a good impression on the VP Voice and became friends with him, and so I paid more attention to the emails he sent and felt more comfortable asking questions about Surrey Decides and getting involved. I auditioned to chair some of the debates, and for this I was nominated for the Student Award – it’s also ultimately how I met one of my best friends from Surrey. It may not have had an immediate effect, but it’s amazing to think of what a small thing like that can lead to.
1b. Go to Freshers’ Fayre. And the Active Freshers’ Fayre. For a lot of Societies, this is the main point of exposure – and for several, it’s better to join near the start of the year. A lot of them will not charge a membership fee for the first couple of weeks, so you can see if you like it. Not to mention all the free stuff you can grab! Active Freshers’ can also help you decide if you want to join the Sports Park. Student memberships have changed for this year, but they are costly, so you’ll want to consider if it’s going to be a good choice for you to get one.
Also, stay at Freshers’ Fayre a while: you may think you’ve seen everything, but it is a labyrinth shoved in a marquee absolutely brimming with students. It took me about seven tries, and walking past the LGBT+ stand four times, to re-assess the map of the tent, in order to find the cheerleaders and Stag Radio. And Stag Radio had an aerial and set-lights at their table, so you wouldn’t think it’d be that hard.
2. Go to Guildford. This is the city that you live in, and eventually you’ll want to go somewhere – or need to go somewhere. Not to mention, if you learn to navigate back from the bars in the daytime, when you’re sober, it’ll be easier finding your way home when you’re drunk in the dark. At different times over the year, people’s knowledge of the back route from the station to Stag Hill has helped greatly when trouping disoriented friends of friends back to your flat (there were seven camped out in our bedroom at one point, great sleepover) because someone wanted a kebab at 4am after partying at… somewhere.
There are also some really nice spots in town. And you might find yourself needing to go clothes shopping at some point.
3. Make friends with your roommates. Some of the best nights I had were with the guys I was in halls with first year. We were a misfit group who all loved house parties, and I maintain that the greatest reality show ever could have been made by setting up cameras in our kitchen and the upstairs corridor (some of the beauty was captured via Snapchat).
When I arrived on that first Saturday, I found one of the guys playing music on his laptop in the kitchen (he immediately jumped up to help me with my stuff), and by that night we were all drinking and making full meals in the death-trap of an oven that we bonded over. We also played sardines in the library! Quietly of course.
3b. Make friends with people who aren’t your roommates. Get cosmopolitan! But, seriously, you’ll want time away from the people you see all day, every day, and you’ll need to find and claim more people to drag along to your drinking sessions. Our honorary roommates could form their own gang, there were that many of them. From the guy who was sick in our toilet and slept on the kitchen floor, to the girl who woke up the next morning under a stranger’s kitchen table, and to the guys that you might be living with next year, you too can have a gaggle of melding personalities that make your nights in and out the most fun ever. Especially when you have enough card decks to make up for the lost and damp ones between you all.
Honestly, towards the end of the year, I spent an afternoon and evening in the room of my Romanian friend (I got to know from GGA in Spanish) with a bunch of her friends – none of us really knew each other, just through her, and we had weirdly insightful discussions and played Cards Against Humanity, eating pizza on the floor. It was an amazing day (and a perfect break, since this was my only free afternoon during the hellish essays-and-revision period leading up to the finals). This was also a sitcom-cast full of wonderful people; finding these can make you love life at Surrey.
4. Sign up for Guildowns, the campus NHS centre. And do it ASAP, because you will get Fresher’s Flu. There is an opportunity to do so in Hillside.
4b. Find your common room. Yes, those exist. You might have an organised course mixer session in one during Welcome Week (they will usually give you food, so go!). Why do I mention it here? This is where your department pigeon-hole will be – you also have one of those. Signing up to campus NHS will mean that anything they send you by post will go to your School (i.e. English and Languages) and therefore to this pigeon hole… which they clean out every month. Nobody tells you this and it took me ‘till the last week of first year to find out.
5. Visit the Union. And I don’t just mean the nightclub. Go to the offices. You may be scared to enter, but it is there for you. There are sofas that I can personally promise are very comfortable to nap on, and computers. There’s also people there to help you, and the cheapest coffee on campus.
5b. Get acquainted with campus. It is a beautiful campus! From the open court areas between the housing blocks, to the amphitheatre, to the lake, to the piazza, it’s not just perfect for prospectus covers, but also fits the image of a University, despite its contemporary status. You are going to need to know where stuff is, so you might as well explore. Working out the best routes from AX to BC may become an obsessive activity, though. Other useful passages to find are the ones to the Cathedral and onto the Chase – behind Wates, and Scholars’ Walk.
6. Do “Frosh Week.” Because you’re surely old enough to still have in your mind the traditional image of drunken posh people waking up half falling out of a fountain somewhere near their Biochemical labs building, plastered in UV paint both on and off the neon bras and pinstripe boxers that remain the only clothes on their body, shoes decorated with equally vibrant vomit. With streamers.
I mean it about the streamers – the random bric-a-brac that the nightclubs around Guildford give out during Frosh/Freshers’ Week is multitudinous. I loved it.
Even if you’re not up for the hectic drinking grounds that suddenly turn into dystopia once you see their smoking areas in the light of day, you should still “do” the lively nightmare that is this blowout week of epic proportions.
I kid you not! It was three days into my first week at Surrey that a shopping trolley appeared on the court by our flat (Stag Hill), while only the second day some random students came in and stole our frisbee. Not to mention the very first night when we sent two students streaking around campus and had a music/house party with new acquaintances stuffed into the lower level of a shared room that perfectly encapsulated a clean aesthetic level of student grime. Said night also included playing volleyball with a blown up condom that then escaped out of the window and initiating everyone into the house by making them climb down the fire escape holding their drinks.
It’s the experience you’ve heard of and can live up to, if you choose. But departing from all the news stories of intoxicated delinquents doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the week for what it’s meant to be: throw parties that suit your taste, claim the free coffee and toasties. This is the start of Uni.
Text by Hannah Mickleburgh
Picture research by Alice Vily; featured image taken from Disney Pixar.