A Fresher Start

02-Oct-09

If you’re anything like me then you’re Jewish, 6 foot 2, in desperate need of a shave and are currently struggling to type a 700-word article on somebody else’s MacBook. Chances are, of course, that you’re not like me – something which I’m sure comes as quite a relief to both of us. One thing we do have in common, however, is that we are now both students at the same university. And that, like it or not, makes you twice as likely to be male as female. This may be something of a surprise to those of you who have never previously had any reason to doubt your gender, but I’m afraid there’s no arguing with statistics. Only one out of every three students is going to be a woman, but seeing as I belong to the sex that grows to 6 foot 2 and ends up desperately needing shaves, the odds have evened themselves out pretty well for you.

To be fair, these numbers don’t mean very much. By far the more important piece of information is that one in every four of you will come from a land beyond the confines of what we have come to know and love as the European Union. In other words, you are currently sitting on a bed inside a hall of residence belonging to the second most multicultural university in the country. Unless, of course, you happen to have broken with tradition and taken this copy of felix out beyond the confines of your room, in which case I salute your intrepid spirit.

The tremendous variation in nationality – and slightly less tremendous variation in gender – can make life at Imperial a bit confusing. Which is a little like saying that fish and chips with peas can taste a bit like fish and chips. Your lives were like skeins of wool in a lion enclosure long before you came to university, and I hope for your sake they remain that way for many years after. It’s fairer to say that the time you spend at Imperial will be like a particularly intense game of Monopoly: it may well take you a few years to finish, it will cost you a considerable amount of money, you will spend endless hours going over the same, familiar streets, and unless you’re very careful you could well end up in jail. More than that, however, it will prove at one and the same time exciting, excruciating, exhausting and exhilarating, and you can win if you know the rules.

That has been the point of the threatening reams of paper that have been rammed into your mailbox, left in wait on your bed in halls, and thrust into your terrified hands since you first decided Imperial was a good place to go once Oxbridge had turned you down. And yet, despite the noble causes that those trees died to promote, may I congratulate you on turning to felix. Well done, and thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. For it is here, in this paper, that you learn the rules. The forms and inventories, insurance claims and telephone bills, classwork and exercises currently covering your bed will usually do little more than turn you into a panicking cat’s cradle of nerves. Now is the perfect opportunity to take a break and give yourself some time. If the words ‘Don’t Panic’ were good enough for the Megadodo publishing corporation in the constellation of Ursa Minor, and by extension for the Earth-author Douglas Adams, then they are certainly good enough for us.

As a final note, somewhere in your room you should find a small multi-coloured cardboard box meant to serve as a goody bag-cum-survival kit. Among other things, this box will contain a single, flavoured, condom. Remember its flavour and treasure this nugget of information carefully. Like a loveable medic friend of mine (who has, fortunately, since found his true calling) you can pin it to your wall as a decoration, or you can use it as a topic of conversation when the names and course details of your interlocutors have already been said and instantly forgotten. In my first week, the question ‘what flavour was your condom?’ earned me as many welcome laughs as it did confused expressions. Of course, you may in your youthful brilliance invent yet another function for the offending object. You freshers will never cease to amaze me.

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