But we still have COVID -19 lingering around, like the person who wants to call time on a great party – intent on putting a dampener on proceedings. Not to worry, students’ unions (SUs) around the country are busy thinking up safe ways to ensure you get the maximum freshers’ week experience.

“The hope for this year is a case of social distancing guidelines, [being] COVID-friendly and everything has to be 100% adhered to – we are big advocates for that as is every SU across the country,” says Colin Kearney, SU president at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) and former agriculture and business student.

“Every single student registered in GMIT is a member of our SU, so their wellbeing is very important to us.

“For example, the plan for freshers’ week – which is going to be the first week in October – is to have a marquee in a well-ventilated area. We’re going to have events there in person, something as simple as a pet farm where people that wouldn’t usually interact with animals if they live in a city, just to see what goes on and it sort of links in with our agricultural campus Mountbellew.”

Activities will be planned over all five GMIT campuses during freshers’ week. As the college won’t have full attendance every day, with students only attending certain days of the week at the beginning, the SU has also planned some online events.

“The online activities, while they are a decent substitute, they don’t make up for the real thing and we understand that, so we have hopes that we’ll be able to have a refreshers’ week towards the end of October once restrictions lift again,” says Colin.

Making friends

Usually, freshers’ week is the real opportunity for students to cement their first college friendships and while some first years might be concerned about that not happening Colin says they have nothing to worry about, all the college SUs will have occasions planned to give students the best chance to meet their peers.

“Making friends in college is actually not as hard as people think. Everyone that comes into college –whether you are coming in for the first time, or starting fourth year – you’re coming in with people with similar mindsets, you’re coming into a group of people that have the same interest as you, if you’re all studying similar topics,” he explains.

“It isn’t actually all that hard, everyone always wants to make friends when they start in college. So hopefully this year, we’ll be able to capitalise on the online activities to introduce people prior to them actually meeting in the flesh,” he adds.

Colin’s tips for meeting people and making friends at college are:

1 “The most important one, and I really can’t put enough emphasis on it, is to just be yourself. Don’t try to be someone else for the people around you. Be who you were, and people will accept you so much quicker.

2 “Personally, I would encourage anyone to try and step out of their comfort zone, a small bit. If you’re a quiet type of person, it’s going to be difficult to step out of your comfort zone but it’s a case of getting involved with a club or a society which is a great way to meet people.

3 “If there’s not a club or society there for something you have an interest in – that’s where the SU comes in. We can set one up in a matter of minutes for you.

4 “Become a class rep representing your class within the college, you get a good insight into how the college is run and you get to bring that back to your class – all of your classmates will know you and you will know all of your classmates.

5 “It’s important to arrive with an open mindset. If you are coming from an agricultural background you’ll know about farming and animals and land but someone from inner-city Dublin or Cork won’t know about these things. Keeping an open mindset gives you the opportunity to learn more about the lives that others live.

6 “You will have such diversity in one room at college, embrace that opportunity.

7 “Get familiar with your SU, you have support there with regard to the SU officers, that’s what we’re here to do.”

Money troubles

Another issue students can run into when they start college is balancing their budget. Money worries can often be new to students if it’s their first time leaving home so learning how to budget for your college year is key. There is plenty of help on hand at all the colleges to show you good money management so you can still afford those all-important nights out bonding with your peers.

“If it’s personal finances you come to our welfare officer, and they can help you budget for the month or a week or a year ahead, whatever you need,” explains Colin.

“There are some great resources offered by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).”

Here you’ll find information on student workers’ rights and also an accommodation and finance guide.

There is also plenty of help and resources around the colleges if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by course work, finances or something is bothering you. Reach out for help.

“I want to absolutely make sure to reiterate this – do not panic, do not worry, just come in if you’re feeling stressed, if you’re feeling under pressure, if you have any issues or anything at all. There are so many people around to help you and there are so many people that want to help you,” says Colin.

“It’s just important to know that you can drop in and have a chat with anyone in the college and they’re more than happy to help you,” he adds.

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