Freshers' First Steps

September 2009, and the concrete boulevards of Belfield are straining under the annual influx of incoming First Year students. Ciarán Ó Braonáin asks some of those newcomers how they feel about the times ahead.WITH THE START of every year at UCD comes a massive influx of first year students. Most are fresh from secondary school; some are starting anew after switching courses; others have finally found a chance, later on in life, to come back and study at college – and, of course, more and more international students are also being drawn to Irish universities.There is an immensely diverse assortment of people to be found taking their first steps towards a third level degree at UCD and The University Observer went out amongst them to get a feel for what their hopes, fears, expectations and initial first impressions are of college life.Mark O’Rahilly is a 21-year-old First Year Medicine student. Mark had previously attended UCD as an Arts student, but decided after one-and-a-half years that it wasn’t for him. “I didn’t really have an interest in the courses. It was more a case of looking through the list and saying ‘I don’t like that, don’t like that, don’t like that’ and then I just ended up with whatever was left.”Lake-Fountains-OReillyHallA significant drawback Mark noticed about Arts in UCD was the difficulty in properly getting to know people. “There is no class atmosphere at all. It is unfortunate that with the sheer class sizes and wide range of course choices it can be quite difficult to make friends among your fellow classmates. It is definitely an aspect of the Arts degree which tends to take away somewhat from the college experience.”
“There’s a much better class atmosphere now, it’s just easier when you see people more regularly.”
It really sounds like it wasn’t the right course, so why did it take so long to bite the bullet? “It was a tough decision. I had been contemplating it throughout first year and then again in second year… I thought I’d drive through and finish my degree, but then halfway through second year I just packed it in because I hated it so much.”Now, after returning to school and re-sitting the Leaving Cert, Mark is back in UCD and seems to be delighted that he is finally in the right course for him. “There’s a much better class atmosphere now, it’s just easier when you see people more regularly.”On top of his enthusiasm for his new course, Mark is looking forward to the future of college life in general, not having to switch the phone off Monday to Friday, worrying about CAO points and – of course – he’ll be one of the few lucky students currently paying for the new Student Centre who will get to actually use the facility!And a final word of advice for his fellow first years? “Do what you have to do… if you don’t like it get out.”Aoife Brophy is a 17-year-old Law student from Kilkenny, and Emma Saunders, also 17, hails from Laois and studies Children’s and General Integrated Nursing.Many Dublin students miss out on the genuine college experience, as they never have to leave the comfort zone of home or need to make new friends. This hasn’t been the case for either of the girls, who’ve both moved from home – with Aoife finding on-campus accommodation and Emma living nearby in Sandyford. Living on campus tends to be a great way to engage with other students, and makes the process of forging new friendships considerably easier.
“Look to your left. Now look to your right. There’s a very good chance that one of those people will have dropped out by the end of the year.”
“People bring strangers home and then we get to know each other’s friends – and then we’ve loads of friends and that’s how it works.”Something as trivial as a dead battery could be the reason for making new friends. “I forgot to bring my charger up so I had to go knocking on doors last night looking for one, so I met loads of people like that.”Both girls seemed to be brimming with enthusiasm for what lies ahead despite some rather ominous warnings from lecturers. In fact Emma’s class were told: “Look to your left. Now look to your right. There’s a very good chance that one of those people will have dropped out by the end of the year.”Then there was Aoife’s lecturer recounting a tale of girl who dropped out last year, Aoife herself could draw some striking similarities: “She was only seventeen, she was very young to do this course and she lived in a small little village and she came to Dublin and she couldn’t hack it.”Foreboding warnings and all, the girls love college so far and are looking forward to the fun of Freshers’ Week. And, even if things don’t work out in class, at least Emma has an “illuminating bathtub” at home to help take her mind off things. Whatever that means!