University Social Charge

They’re getting their little schoolbags ready now. Mammy is shedding a few tears as she marvels at how they’ve grown up so fast. It seems only yesterday they were running around crying over a grazed knee. Now look at them. She’s made sure to wash their clothes in whichever fabric softener is the one that makes a faintly homesick child remember her and home – when they’re knocking back cans while watching Jeremy Kyle. The kids are starting college.

Lying in wait for them are a host of new experiences.

Previously on these pages, students living away from home for the first time were told what to expect from flat-mates. There is of course another group who you will have to deal with. Landlords.

Most landlords are either fine, or asbstracted from having to meet their grubby tenants by a layer of administration known as the management company. A lucky few of you will encounter the truly strange. You will have unnerving experiences with people who probably shouldn’t have a key to your dwelling, but do. If you can, try to remember it as it will provide useful conversation starters later in life when you are at a wedding and don’t know the others at your table. As long as your former landlord isn’t also one of the guests.

This wouldn’t be a Starting-College article without some money-saving tips. These are well covered by other publications already but they have left some important ones out. They’ll tell you to make nourishing home-cooked meals, you will not always be up to that. It’s far easier to find out when ‘Samples’ day is. If you time it right you can, for example, get a whole meal of sausages, probiotic yoghurt, strawberries, bits of ham and the Wensleydale cheese with the Cranberry Sauce in it that should be nice but isn’t, just by loitering around your local supermarket. Supermarket managers will tolerate this habitual scrounging if you at least pay-lip service to the notion that you are just passing by. Therefore, don’t stand for an hour at the free sample area waiting patiently for it to be refilled. Rather, take up to 25 tours of the shop and each time you pass the freebies remark half-aloud to yourself “Oh! They must be giving away some samples… I wonder what this is like… nom nom nom nom”. The downside of this of course is that you will be repeatedly putting sausages into your suffering stomach after broken bits of chocolate cake but that’s why you need to make sure you don’t miss out on the probiotic yoghurt.

Whether you live at home or away during the college year you will inevitably encounter other students. This is very easy if you went to a large school with a long tradition of sending students on to third level. You just hang around with the people you went to school with until about midway through your final year. However if you are alone in your class, you will need to make some new friends. Be sure to choose carefully. College presents an unrivalled opportunity

If living at home, find at least one friend with somewhere reasonably habitable to stay that will in turn let you have a nice place when you ‘miss the bus’. Conversely, also make a good friend from Abroad. Preferably from the city of Somewhere Nice. Take them under your wing, show them how to tell whether a pint is bad, where to get the best hot-chicken baguettes, bring them to one popular Irish tourist location like Fota or Trabolgan. Introduce them to your mother – warning her in advance to get in extra fruit cake. In return, they will invite you to Somewhere Nice many times.

In case Somewhere Nice isn’t available, try and also make an friend who is very wealthy – it does not even have to be a deep friendship, just a passing acquaintance. That’s all the Rich need anyway. More likely than not, your friend’s father – a wealthy shipbuilder- may approach you to ask your friend to come home from Europe. This may set in train a dramatic sequence of lies, deception and eventually murder… sorry, that’s the plot of The Talented Mr Ripley, but nevertheless it illustrates the kind of opportunities that can only start in college.

Some find meeting people difficult unless it’s within some sort of structure. Most colleges will have a large array of clubs and societies. During Fresher’s Week, representatives of these societies tout their wares. If you are a misanthrope, don’t be intimidated by the happiness and positivity of this occasion which can, at first glance, seem like a chugger’s convention. Somewhere in that hall is a group of people who like your mind.

For those wanting to be genuinely out-there, consider joining the Young Fianna Fáil Society. Such is the revulsion the party experienced a few years ago, it’s practically punk (punk dressed in chinos and Next). Then, next year join Young Labour.

Belonging to a club greatly eases the transition to third level and gives you a real sense of place. For example if you are in the Rugby Club your place is throwing wristy passes to each other over the heads of pink-jumpered girlfriends outside the Library.

Scattered in amongst the student population are the Reps. These are ostensibly students but four years ahead of the rest of the population, they are rehearsing for real-life. These proto-business people flit around college, always busy, doing deals about beer kegs with actual adults. You will know them because of the way they answer the phone: Often and very quickly as if they are expecting news of a shipment that’s been delayed in Macao.

These few words are but a tiny sample of the tapestry of experiences you’ll have and the thousands you’ll meet over the next few years. Get in out of That Recession and close the door after you. It’s time for Really Big School.

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