So you’ve recently arrived in Sydney – here’s how to survive Welcome Week.
Let me set the scene: you’ve recently arrived in Sydney for the foreseeable future. Perhaps you’re an international student, from interstate, or even regional New South Wales. To make matters more complicated, let’s say you’re also a dreaded ‘twelvie’, someone who started Year 7 as a mere 11 year old, always a year behind most of your cohort. Assuming you’re a precocious twelvie who never took a gap year, chances are you’re either recently or soon to be 18 years old. That’s big, and let me be the first to say congratulations.
Either way, you’re about to be introduced to two daunting environments: the University of Sydney, and the adult world at large. While I can’t give too much advice on how to navigate the latter, I’m well enough equipped to at least share my advice on how to survive Welcome Week.
Tip 1: Don’t go in blind.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have more understanding of USyd than I did at this time in 2019. To be honest, I was quite ignorant of Honi Soit for longer than I care to admit. Even worse, I hadn’t even taken a tour of the campus before I applied.
If I remember correctly, the University sent many emails prior to Welcome Week full of lists of activities that were taking place, including tours with Arts mentor groups, croissants and advice sessions. Lectures on essay-writing and planning your time were difficult to find and ultimately forgettable. Mentor groups also have to be booked in advance, so I found myself aimlessly walking around campus alone. Not a great start to say the least. If you are more unfamiliar with campus than you want to be, book a tour or find a friend to look around with! Make sure you know which activities you want to attend, and make sure you know how to attend them.
Tip 2: Don’t sign any petitions.
While I was on my lonely tour I stood in the middle of the Quad, taking it all in, when I was approached by someone holding a clip-board. They asked me to sign a petition, then asked me some questions about socialism. I mentioned something about George Orwell, my friends from high school, and caring about the environment, then went on my way. I felt very good about myself, first day on campus and I was already making a difference!
Later that day I was already getting calls, asking if I was interested in attending events about environmental degradation. “We heard you were passionate about environmental issues…”. Luckily, I was occupied at the time and couldn’t stay on the phone for too long. Either way, be mindful of who you give your details to.
Tip 3: Bring multiple disguises.
It’s a story as old as time: promotional freebies. Grab as many of these as you can. Razors, kombucha, gum; who knows what will be in store this year! Either way, to save face and pretend you’re only taking your fair share, make sure you blend in with the crowd. If not, bring a hat or two, sunglasses, a fake moustache even. With enough skill and ingenuity, you could have fresh breath, amazing gut health, and silky smooth legs for at least half a year!
Tip 4: Be open-minded.
The University of Sydney is a big place with a lot of students. Everyone has something interesting to offer, which means there are a number of societies and collectives that may interest you. Look around at everything and get involved! Meeting people in your classes is a great way to make friends at uni, but joining societies and collectives introduces you to many more diverse students, and is a great way to find new interests, or engage with old ones.
4a: Join the USU.
You can’t join societies unless you have a USU number. The good news is it’s free to join! There is an option to purchase ‘Access’, which gives you discounts and promotions at a number of eateries on campus. This is well-worth, and pays for itself if you are around campus enough. However, if you’re feeling particularly cheap, stick with a plain membership, and make sure you only join societies with little to no membership fee.
Tip 5: Socialise at your own pace.
Welcome Week can be overwhelming. You meet a lot of new people, you’re in a new place. Make sure you are comfortable in the environments you are inhabiting. Trust your gut and stick with people who keep you at ease. If you are new to drinking and haven’t been out many times, a party at Manning Bar may not be the best place for you to go.
I was a recent 18 year old at the Welcome to Sydney Party in 2019, and amidst the flashing lights and MADSoc demonstrations, I was groped. In fact, at a few drinking events on campus in my first year I was sexually harassed. I do not mean to discourage any new first-years from socialising; in fact at that same party I met people who completely changed the trajectory of my university career by introducing me to Political Economy, which became my second major. These environments can place a lot of pressure on a young person; I can’t imagine how I would cope in them after two years of online school. Just know that nothing is all good or bad, and stay aware of your surroundings.
A guide to Welcome Week would be incomplete without a sober word of warning about rape culture and misogyny at USyd. While the culture must change to eradicate sexual assault on campus, in the meantime there are a range of services that the University offers to support you if you have been mistreated by someone. Remember there is no shame in reaching out for help, to professionals and friends.
Tip 6: Look around.
If you’re too young to legally enter a bar, you may find your social opportunities limited. So, for the next few months, discover the real hidden gems of Sydney: parks, cafes, and libraries. The green space in the city is truly beautiful, and there’s no better way to spend a day than reading a book and drinking a coffee in a public park. The Botanic Gardens near Circular Quay are expansive and beautiful, and serendipitously placed right near the Conservatorium of Music, where many of USyd’s fiction collection lives. Victoria Park gives you access to Glebe Point Road and Fisher Library, making it a convenient recreational spot for those on the main campus.
Exploring parks and libraries is a great way to become familiar with your new home in spaces that feel safe and welcoming. Websites like Broadstreet and Urban List also provide helpful advice on local food and attractions. Go a little crazy and see what’s around; you’ll love what you find.
Tip 7: Learn to let go.
University exists alongside and often facilitates a period of drastic change for many young adults. Leaving high school and moving out of home are both difficult and courageous, but they are just the beginning of what’s to come. Welcome Week is a great introduction to campus life: giving you the opportunity to explore your new environment, meet new people, and discover how your interests can expand and guide you through this next phase of your life. The friendships you make in your first semester may not last forever, and that’s okay too. Accept that things will not be the same as they were, and embrace this new chapter of your life with grace.
Wishing all the best for the future students of USyd. Do your readings and respect your tutors.