KATIE'S BLOG: Freshers Week needs a refresh

I’ve had two kids go through Freshers week at Uni, both enjoying the weeks of partying, joining various societies, making new friends, occasionally rolling up to the odd lecture or seminar and getting up to all sorts of things which, to this day, they either can’t recall or more likely would rather forget.

Stories of Freshers Weeks like these have been shared around our kitchen table to our two younger kids over the years and my third child was beyond excited about experiencing a similar time as we planned and prepared to send him off to Uni last month.

So to hear how his fresher weeks have been so far is pretty sad really; the contrast is stark from the experience of his siblings who have gone before.

Hopeful anticipation

Over the summer I was very worried about how he’d cope going to university during a pandemic. Having only just nursed him back to full mental health this summer, we were always feeling cautiously optimistic about how things would pan out.

He purposely chose a uni where he didn’t know anyone as he wanted to have a fresh start and immerse himself in a totally new experience, hopefully meeting new people from all walks of life and from all corners of the UK & the World too.

Thankfully, he struck lucky with his flat of 12. Maybe it was luck or maybe it was because the uni had promised to match kids together with similar interests, it worked out well. Although him being a philosophy student who is an aspiring playwright, film director, actor, author, journalist, theatre director, who loves supporting QPR football, we weren’t sure how they’d match him up!  

But sure enough he is now living with an English Lit student, a football fanatic, a psychology student and a media & theatre studies student – so they have all immediately bonded over their mutual love of thinking and writing a lot about the arts and football – oh and of course a bottle of cheap vodka!

Week one away from home

The first week they became very close and although nothing much was going on within the campus they did venture out to a pub and the gym and a footie trial once.  That was until one of the 12 caught covid.

Now, like so many students up and down the country they are all in lockdown for two weeks waiting to either get it or get out.

Finding ways to cope

When I asked my son how he was coping he told me he was on page 300 of a 700 page book about the Beatles, he had finished writing a play, he had put a call out for actors and a film crew to support his play (which he was hoping to film in an outdoor setting) and he had been interviewed on the uni radio station discussing the championship league.

He’s also attended some zoom seminars and lectures so 5 days into lockdown, he's keeping himself busy and that's fantastic and reassuring.

Continued isolation

But what worries me, and is starting to dawn on him too, is the looming reality of constant and repeated isolation. He lives in a flat of 12, all sharing a kitchen, so with one flatmate now positive they are all in isolation. Let's play this out further - if he doesn’t get covid, does this mean that every time a new flat mate does get it they will be back in lockdown for another two weeks?

If so, in theory, he could be in lockdown for 22 weeks (or in other words half his time at uni). 

And with scientists saying that immunity may only last for 3-4 months – is his entire first year of uni going to be spent inside a flat of 12 with no fresh air and no exercise? No meeting anyone else, no societies joined, no in-person seminars, lectures or parties?

'The best time of your life'

University is constantly dubbed 'the time of your life'.

But for current students, I can’t begin to imagine the impact this is going to have on all of their mental health and with all the money it is costing them, I’m not sure what the point of being there is right now.

Many kids aren’t as lucky with their flat mates, perhaps not gelling with anyone and hoping to meet others over time, how lonely an experience will that be for them?

Struggling to eat well, unable to go out and exercise, socialise, perhaps feeling a bit homesick. I’m worried the drop-out rate this year will be like no other and I’m also seriously worried about the increase in depression, self harm and far, far worse for kids who are locked away in their rooms with nobody checking on them.

Supporting this generation

We need to relook at this whole situation for our Uni kids.

2020 has already been a disaster for them with A-levels being cancelled, along with all the end of year celebrations that normally accompany it.

But if we don’t get it right now for them, I fear that many will never return and will be joining the unemployment queue along with hundreds of thousands of others who are already much further along the queue than they are.

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