Becky says things about … the first day of Uni

Wondrous Listeners, many 18 year-olds are about to embark on the biggest adventure of their lives: University.

(Well, the second biggest adventure – the biggest adventure is the epic trip to Wilkinson to buy more kitchen supplies than they will ever use, 90% of which will spend the entire first year under their beds, never touched by human hands).

So what happens on the first day of this epic adventure?

I shall tell you a story.

My first day of University was on the 21st of September 2003.

[Pause while I consider the dreadful fact that this was 12 years ago.]

uni 1

I arrived at the concrete jungle that is the University of East Anglia with my parents and my younger sister. I went to the Student Union (what the hell was a Student Union?) to collect the keys to my room, trying to swallow the fear of being surrounded by more 18 year-olds than I thought existed in this world (where did they come from?). The girl who handed me my key said ‘Oh, you’re in Waveney Terrace. I was in Waveney Terrace in my first year. You’ll have a wicked time! Just don’t be put off my appearances.’

My mother almost drove me home there and then.


The girl was not wrong. I later heard a rumour that the design of Waveney Terrace had been inspired by that of a Swedish Prison, and there were definite incarceration-like qualities about it: a great, snaking concrete building that ran from blocks A to Q, each block with four floors. I was in N Block. A long corridor, seven rooms on each side, one kitchen with a McDonalds-style plastic table bolted to the floor, and a ‘bathroom’ with three toilet cubicles and one shower.

One shower.

For 14 teenagers of various genders and hygiene standards.


My room was a tiny breeze-blocked cell with a single bed barely big enough for Billy Bear and Huggy Bear (yes of course they came with me). My family and I stoically unpacked my things, my ears pricking at any sound of approaching fellow students. After a couple of hours, my family said they had to go.

I waved them off, watching their car trundle across the muddy car park.

I went back to my cell and stood in the middle of my few possessions. What did you feel, Becky? I hear you cry. Was it excitement? Freedom? No. What did I feel? I’ll tell you.


I then undertook the single most incredible feat of bravery that I have, to this day, ever performed: I swallowed the burning urge to burst into tears and hide under my bed, legged it up the corridor and exploded into the kitchen where two people were sitting awkwardly at the table, and yelled


[Extracted from Chapter 3 of ‘How to Break Ice’, by Prof. Becky Mayhew]

And so it began. One by one more quivering teenagers skulked into the kitchen, each eyeing the others with the fearful stare of a rabbit about to be ploughed over by a Ferrari, and I realised something wonderful: everyone was shitting themselves. Probably the greatest realisation of my young life. It made it so much easier. (Note to any impending Freshers reading this post: always remember, you are only as scared as the Fresher next to you, and he is cacking his pants.)

Conversation happened quickly. Judgements were made almost instantaneously (100% of them turned out to be wrong, obvs). Soon there were about ten of us bundled into the kitchen, and so I learnt another important nugget: on your first day of University you spend a lot of time yelling place and subject names at people, and it works remarkably well.




After we’d all exhausted ourselves by yelling our home towns at each other, someone uttered the words that would become the most frequently used phrase next to ‘Whose eaten my Admiral Pie?’: ‘Shall we go to the uni bar?’

And off we trundled, clinging to each other like King Penguins, to the heaving Uni bar which was full of other clinging groups of King Penguins who were – hallelujah! – all shitting themselves. And there, over insanely cheap drinks (99 pence for a gin and tonic. I know. Take a moment to digest that) more barriers were broken down, common interests were discovered, and I bonded with Mel and Emma in the toilets when my bra strap snapped.


And then, a couple of hours later, someone said ‘Hey, I’ve got some cheese – fancy going back to halls?’ And we must be the only Freshers in the history of Fresherdom who went back to halls at half past nine on the first day of Uni for cups of tea and a cheeseboard.


Then came the dread: it was suddenly half one in the morning, I was exhausted from being so inhumanely sociable for so long, and I wanted to go to bed. But no one else had gone to bed. I couldn’t be the first one to go to bed! I would forever be remembered as The One Who Left the Party Early. I knew how crucial this first day was, how important first impressions would be. Fortunately, the urge to snuggle up in my Aspirin packet-sized bed outweighed the fear of being labelled lame, so I bade them goodnight, claimed that I’d been up since five that morning (a heinous lie, but needs must), and scuttled off to my room. And, even more fortunately, about half an hour later, I heard them all do the same.


So there are several morals to this story, which you may like to share with anyone who will be starting University in the next few weeks:

  1. Congregate in the kitchen. The kitchen is the centre of your world on your first day.
  2. Don’t let your parents hang around. The longer they hang around, the less time you will have to yell your home town and subject at your new friends.
  3. Even if you want to crumble into a sandy heap of terror, run up to the nearest housemate and bellow your name in their face.
  4. Never forget that everyone else’s pants are equally as soiled as yours.
  5. Bring a cheeseboard.


19 thoughts on “Becky says things about … the first day of Uni

  1. Though “uni” was much, much more than 12 years ago for me, I remember my first day very well. I did not require a change of underpants because I was too happy/excited to be anywhere but home. But I did the exact same thing you did: I went to the Student Commons (what the hell is a Student Commons?) where there was a cafeteria (we didn’t have kitchens in our cell-blocks), and standing with my tray of bland hospital mush they called “dinner,” I scanned the vast room of approximately 2000 people for a friendly-looking face. I spied two of them right in front of me. I sat down and blurted: I’M L WHO ARE YOU? One of the friendly faces—coincidentally named Becky—remains a good friend to this day. So, yes. I agree with your advice to Freshers (we called them Frosh): Just blurt your name and, like moths to a flame, others will come around you. Apparently, with cheese boards (is that a new thing the kids do these days?)

    1. It’s the best advice ever! YELL AT STRANGERS!! Everyone is so nervous they’re just pleased to be spoken to! Love Frosh by the way. Like a collective term. And no, I don’t think cheeseboards is a ‘thing’ – I think it was just us…
      Thank you for reading!

  2. The introvert that I am avoided the kitchen area for 2 days. The idea of bellowing my name to strangers was too much for me. Eventually I ended up there and it turned out great when I realized that I wasn’t alone! Your illustrations, Becky, are hilarious as usual.

  3. I’ve never known the terrors of being alone in a dorm – was still living with family when I attended university. Sounds like I dodged a bullet there! Though I still remember my first day being so awkward and stifling because I didn’t know anyone and my schedule was severely messed up.

    Good to see you around, btw! Your stories and illustrations have been missed!

  4. It’s brilliant as always – even if I never went to uni. Well, I did when I was 30 – kind of too late for soiling your knickers at that point. I didn’t get the whole dorm experience, which sort of sucks.

  5. Ah memories of universi…wait – I didn’t live in a dorm….
    Your memories of dorm life at university are pretty much the reason I was not ever in a dorm. I opted for living in sin with my boyfriend – which involved drinking but not as many cheeseboards as you’d imagine 🙂

  6. Ahhh, the first day. I lived at home so I didn’t do the dorm experience but I clearly remember registration and standing in lines waiting to holler my major and name at one of so many volunteers, none of whom really paid much attention. Trying to get the right courses AND the classes of those courses so you structured THE most excellent schedule that any student in the history of the university had ever managed to compile. Sleep in every morning ; never have more than 1 hour off between classes so you didn’t have to leave and come back; no evenings, nothing after a Laboratory (I was a chemistry student); at least every second morning or afternoon off completely. And if it was basket weaving that fit that schedule , basket weaving was now your elective. And so many strange corridors and strange smells and odd people. Who ever thought that there were so many people different from your family in the world?

  7. I beg to differ. The first biggest adventure of their lives is carnal in nature. Uni and kitchen supplies pale in comparison.

    Only 12 years ago? There you go again, bragging on your youth. So lucky. Your whole life stretched out before you.

    Re: What is a student union? Please see first paragraph of my comment. You’re welcome.

    99p gin + tonics. Brought to you by the liquor industry. Creating the permanent client base for tomorrow and the decades ahead.

    Is that it, then? Will we get a new post by year’s end or will we have to wait until spring? Just trying to manage my expectations here.

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