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Online Freshers’ may have hidden opportunities

If you thought moving to university was an unusual, challenging step, the last few months have only exacerbated this. With the pandemic forcing all lectures at Warwick to move online for the autumn term, it is obvious that for every student — fresher or finalist, undergraduate or postgraduate — the experience of university will be radically different.

In a way, this is hardest for freshers. Moving away from home, often for the first time, should be an exciting experience. It can feel daunting at first. A whole group of people, most of whom don’t know one another, are thrust together for the first time, united only by the fact they are studying at the same institution. Yet, this often makes university brilliant. The very fact everyone is in the same boat and may feel sightly homesick brings people together and can create friends for life. 

Freshers’ Week is usually a good place to break the ice and communicate properly for the first time. For obvious reasons, that won’t be happening in the same way. 

Looking at different societies through a screen instead of in-person won’t be quite what individuals thought they were signing up for. Similarly, meeting society execs in person is a brilliant way of assessing whether the society is likely to suit you in the long term. Obviously, doing this online prevents the same interaction and intimacy that a meeting can provide. 

I’m hearing impaired: listening to people at a societies fair was not easy

However, despair with a dose of doom and gloom aren’t the answers. For optimism, I need only remind you of the original purpose of the internet: to improve international human communication free of state interference. This is what will happen with that Freshers’’s Week. Discussion and browsing of university opportunities will still be possible but just take place in a different format. Smaller versions of society or sporting events can take place in person and may possibly expand throughout the term if the severity of coronavirus continues to decline. 

For many people, large gatherings were never a pleasure. I’m hearing impaired: listening to people at a societies fair was not easy when a million other conversations were taking place. My naturally nosy sense of self meant I often tried to overhear the other discussions instead. Some people struggle with social anxiety  for them, large scale events are likely to cause extreme difficulties. Online events will help reassure and encourage them to become more involved.

University involves many kind of pressures. When societies were in real life, I think people often felt they could only join if they attended every event. It was easy to believe that, if you missed out on the Freshers’ activity, you wouldn’t be able to join later in the academic year. This was particularly hard for people that came to develop an interest in a particular hobby during their university degree rather than at the arrival. 

Our generation are excellent at using the internet in innovative ways

An online Freshers’ event makes this far easier. Given that everything is taking place online, individuals may be far more comfortable attending a real event when they take place. There is far less likely to be any kind of judgement or suspicion about someone joining a society later in the term. Instead, a welcoming atmosphere is likely to prevail. That someone may have only attended a few online events will matter less in the grand scheme of things, since everyone has been communicating online.

Our generation are excellent at using the internet in innovative ways. Students of all ages will need to utilise these skills this term. With the online world inevitably comes benefits and faults – that has always been the case. The most important aspect of Freshers’ Week is discovering the opportunities that university has to offer. While human connection will inevitably suffer, an interest in what three years away from home can provide doesn’t need to disappear. Instead, an online Freshers’ will only increase anticipation for when events are allowed to resume in person. I imagine for all students, regardless of age or course, the experience will be worth the wait. As Queen Elizabeth herself said, we will meet again. 

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