Almost a week after I arrived in Nottingham, the International Welcome Programme had run its course and it was time for me to move into my new flat. I was filled with excitement about no longer having to live out of a suitcase and finally settling into a more permanent place to live, but I was also nervous to leave my old friends behind, as they were assigned to live in places on or near campus. I, on the other hand, was moving to Raleigh Park and into an apartment complex, Jubilee, that is adjacent to the neighboring campus and is about a mile away — a 20-minute walk from University Park.
The first night I was there, I met Martin and his friend Roxanne from Toulouse, France. We had all joined the Facebook page for Raleigh Park, and it was there that we all received the message that there was some sort of mandatory meeting in the Raleigh Park common room at 6:45. So the three of us headed down a little before then but what we found was not what we were, or at least what I was, expecting.
Club music filled the room. The lights were out, creating a bit of a mood and people in bright orange t-shirts, our orientation leaders, were dancing. And the freshers (sometimes pronounced “freshas” which, of course, means freshmen) were already playing a round of beer pong. In the States, this would be unthinkable! But here in the UK, as many people know, the legal drinking age is 18. This was the beginning of what people at University of Nottingham call Fresher’s Week.
Fresher’s Week is a week of no classes when all the freshmen settle in. In addition to a few lectures and sessions concerning enrollment in modules and courses, Fresher’s Week also has planned events for every single night. There are various activities to choose from – ghost walks, comedy nights, open mics- but most students opt for the ticketed events at local clubs such as Ocean and Crisis. These events are what the British call “fancy dress.” When I first heard of fancy dress, I assumed it meant formal. However, this is not at all what it means; fancy dress is what Americans would call costumes. Each of these events had a different theme: services (nurse, police officer, etc.), caveman and Baywatch, to name a few. Though I did not attend any of these events, as the tickets ran anywhere from 5-7 pounds (almost 10-14 American dollars), I had the pleasure of watching tipsy freshers in odd outfits walk around the city center.
One could obviously presume why freshers chose the fancy dress and clubbing events over others– alcohol. Though many freshers were of legal drinking age before coming to University, this is their first taste of real freedom. Unlike at home, they do not have parents waiting for them at curfew. Furthermore, they do not have parents who, at home, probably monitored their drinking. Having a drink or two with friends is one thing, but drinking for the sake of getting drunk is something different. Having little experience drinking alcohol, especially without adult supervision, it’s safe to say that many freshers do not know their limits as well as others with more drinking experience do.
I cannot say that it isn’t the same in the United States for freshman. However, the school does not plan nor monitor alcoholic events for them, as they are obviously not the legal drinking age. It’s rare that you see a pack of freshman headed to the local liquor store to buy alcohol with so much confidence, and it’s common that a freshman at their first frat party would be seen on the floor. But when the school constantly hands you coupons for cocktails, shots and beers at local bars, and allows, even promotes drinking — what kind of environment does that create?
Although Fresher’s Week can be notorious for heavy drinking and heavy regrets, it does have its benefits. For one thing, Fresher’s Week gets the freshers to learn their limits early on in college. This makes it so that, later on, they may be less inclined to drink as heavily or as often, and they’re less likely to embarrass themselves in front of more experienced upperclassmen. It’s a way to, more or less, get such things out of their system. I would also say that Fresher’s Week is good because, even though students are encouraged to drink, they are doing so at events set up by the University. Although the amount of alcohol they drink isn’t monitored, at least if something were to happen, there are orientation interns to help them and make sure they make it back to campus safely.
As Fresher’s Week winds down, the fancy dress costumes are folded and pushed to the back of the closet, and more people opt to prepare for their courses rather than go out for a drink. For anyone, even for the most reckless of freshers, a week of one party after another has a way of running a person down.
Alex Worthy is a junior at the college and is currently studying abroad at the University of Nottingham in Nottingham, UK for the semester. She is majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing and enjoys singing, playing guitar, reading, and writing fiction, poetry, and songs.