With Fresher’s Week upon us, George Morahan speaks to active society members about the allure of society life

By the time this article goes to print UCD Freshers’ Week 2011 will be in full swing; the members of UCD’s 80 or so active societies will all be vying for your attention and your €2 membership fee. Their mandate is to encourage inclusion and to persuade as many people as possible into joining, but their members say little about the importance of societies as part of the college experience or how beneficial joining a society can be for students, both personally as well as for your future professional prospects. There’s sure to be a countless amount of goody bags and concession cards handed out over the coming days, but beyond the immediate, tangible benefits of joining a UCD society, what do students get out of signing up and getting involved?

Having spoken to numerous prominent members from a cross-section of societies, it is safe to say that those that are heavily involved in society life believe it to be a personally enriching experience. As Film Society (FilmSoc) Auditor, Natasha Waugh puts it, “It’s a great part of college life and one that I personally couldn’t be without.”

Drama Society (DramSoc) Auditor, Eoghan Carrick, fell into society activity somewhat by accident.  “Someone came over to me and asked whether I wanted to audition for a show and I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to, but I did anyway. I got cast in the show and I just slowly kept getting more involved with the society. Once that happens, you generally get sucked into it.”

Overall, it seems that the pull of the society became irresistible to all that were consulted, compelling them to become more involved in society life. However, at first, finding the right society was more a case of trial and error, according to Literary & Historical Society (L&H) Auditor, Christine Simpson. “I think that a lot of people coming into first year join a lot of societies in the Fresher’s Tent and then see what suits them best.” The L&H are best known for their debating, but Simpson’s experience of debating was limited. Having taken part in just a small number of debates in school, when she first came to UCD she had little idea of how big a role it would play in her life.

“It’s a great way to get involved and either pick up a new hobby or continue an old one from school. In the past couple of years they’ve sent me to Cork, Galway, Edinburgh, Paris, so it’s a really great way to get around the world.” Carrick gives the same impression of stumbling upon the wonders of society life accidentally. “I didn’t know I was particularly interested in drama until I joined DramSoc and now it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.” It’s clear that societies can completely change one’s expectations of college life, but aside from the profound effects society involvement can have, the general sentiment is that societies are an important tool for first years; helping to bridge the gap from secondary school to the intimidating unknown of college life, especially in a campus and a bureaucracy as big as UCD.

“UCD is daunting, because it’s such a large campus. It’s hard when you’re a fresher, not only to make your way around the place, but to meet new people and make friends,” Waugh says, “being in a society is like having your own small family on campus.”

Of course, there are drawbacks. As with any long-term commitment, societies consume time and energy and many members have found balancing their studies with societal commitments to be an unmanageable task. More than one former auditor has had to quit so that they could keep up with their college work. People go to university for a degree, first and foremost, and while societies occupy a vital place in the lives of some students, those involved in extra-curricular activities should not lose sight of what ought be their top priority.

Carrick has found it “difficult around the exam period, but by that point the shows have died down. So, it’s just a question of keeping up to speed. It gets very hectic and can be quite stressful.” However, there is a school of thought that believes societies to have a beneficial effect on one’s academic progress. “I think it forces you to be more organised,” attests Simpson. Maybe that fear of falling behind focuses the mind on the important matters at hand, but all involved in society life agree that it is most certainly a balancing act. Juggling society commitments and academia successfully is extremely rewarding, and as long as you stay on top of things and don’t leave everything to the last minute, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

For all those finding nerves to be getting the better of them, there are few ice-breakers better than actively participating in societies. It’s a fantastic way of finding like-minded friends and making the transition to college that little bit easier. So instead of joining solely for the offers in d|two or free popcorn, be enthusiastic, get involved and make the best of it.