O-Week Survival Guide: Tips For Your First – and Busiest – Week at Uni

How to navigate the endless events and activities at Orientation Week (O-Week) at Australian universities as an international student. Here is your complete O-Week Survival Guide.

Friends walking along street

Starting university – especially in another country – is overwhelming in itself. You’re beginning the next chapter of your life, starting a clean slate, preparing to take on the world, and as exciting as that is, you wouldn’t be wrong for feeling a little bit scared. 

That’s where O-Week comes in. Standing for Orientation Week, O-Week is a week-long event at every Australian university before classes begin, full of welcome events focused on introducing you to your new campus. A typical O-Week program will include faculty information sessions, campus tours, parties, a fair for clubs and societies, and seminars on transitioning to university life. It’s a packed week, and it’s an important week. It’s not compulsory, so you don’t have to go, and skipping out on it can seem tempting – there are a lot of events, and you have to schedule, there are so many people around… we get it. It’s daunting. But attending really and truly reaps long-term benefits that will stay with you throughout your university career. Most of the friends I made during my time studying at the University of Melbourne, I met at O-Week, or at least through people I met at O-Week. In fact, some of my best memories from uni were during those five days – the events are honestly pretty dang fun. 

Here are some tips of mine so you can make the most of your O-Week, have fun, meet new people and survive the non-stop events.

The Biggest Takeaway

Firstly, and most importantly, I’m going to start with my biggest piece of advice: when you go to any O-Week event, step outside your comfort zone and talk to people. It may not feel natural to talk to strangers, especially if you’re shy, but the magical thing about the first week of university is… everyone is in the same boat as you. They’re all scared and don’t really know anyone, and they’re waiting for a friendly face to come up and say hi to them! Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the person standing behind you in a queue, with whoever you’re sitting next to in a welcome lecture, with any one of the other students on your campus tour. All you need is a few seconds of initial courage to break out of your shell. Make a side comment about the event, about your degree, about how scary O-Week is – anything. I pretty much guarantee they’ll be relieved someone has reached out and spoken to them, no matter how cool or confident they may seem. If you guys get along, ask for their details! They’ll be on campus for O-Week just like you, and going to different events is so much less nerve-wracking when you have a buddy.

During my O-Week, I literally got everybody’s phone number, mostly just by being honest: “Hey, let me grab your details, it’d be great to have a pal to go to all these welcome events with.” I’d text them whenever I saw an event that seemed interesting and just say, “Hey, are you going to the O-Week party?” or “Do you want to drop in on the Clubs and Societies Fair with me?” Repeat and reuse this strategy as often as you can. Soon, you’ll have an entire network of strays you picked up at O-Week. 

And in the unlikely event that they’re rude, or mean, or you don’t get along… there are thousands of people on an Australian university campus. Chances are high you’ll probably never see them again anyway.

What do you have to lose?

stall at O Week fair

Now, Onto The Nitty-Gritty

Organise your schedule. Find out the exact dates of your university’s O-Week, and then prepare for the Internet Scavenger Hunt that is figuring out all the different happenings around campus. The university itself will typically advertise more educational, faculty-focused events, like info sessions for your degree or campus tours. These are super worthwhile and a great way to meet the people you’ll be taking your classes with and learn more about the ins and outs of your degree. And hey, if you bond with anyone else on your tour, or have a laugh with someone who was with you in the Bachelor of Arts introduction session, see if they want to grab a drink with you after at the uni bar! 

As for other events – such as speed dating, comedy nights, special interest events such as gaming, arts and crafts – these will likely be organised by the student union, or clubs and societies. The hunt continues!

Find out if your university even has a student union, which is basically a student-run organisation dedicated to improving student life on campus. Just enter into Google, or Facebook ‘Swinburne/UTS/Victoria University Student Union’ or something similar – and poke around to see what events they’ll be holding on their website or under their Facebook ‘events’ tab. If your university also has an online database of clubs and societies – again, just punch in ‘Macquarie/QUT/ANU clubs and societies’ – and make note of everything that sounds interesting to you. Bigger clubs and societies may have a Facebook page, and from there you can find out what individual events these societies are organised. 

On the note of clubs and societies – usually, there will be a Clubs and Societies Fair, or pop-up stalls run by members around campus, and I cannot recommend joining them enough! They’re a fantastic way to find out about organised activities like study groups, parties, barbecues, the works, and you’ll meet so many new, cool people. Some clubs are generalized and based around faculty – e.g. the Arts Society, the Engineering Society, the Commerce Society, etc. These are usually the largest clubs with the most people and hold the most events. Don’t feel restricted though by your degree! During my time at the University of Melbourne, I was doing a Bachelor of Arts but was a pretty active member of the Science Society. Don’t feel restricted! Clubs are super laid back and just want cool people to join them. There are a lot of special interest societies as well, such as Quidditch Clubs, Fantasy Clubs, Rum Appreciation Clubs, Cantonese Clubs, Cricket Clubs… I promise, there’s something for everyone! Even if something sounds only mildly interesting to you, you should still sign up. If you decide to quit, you will still  have made friends during your time there. Most universities will have Language Clubs and International Student Clubs too, so that may be an easy way to meet up with other students in the same situation as you. 

Most clubs may have a joining cost of $5 or so, which will go towards tickets and functions, so be sure to keep that in mind and bring some cash along! 

Also important to note: some universities have more clubs and societies than others. Larger universities with established campuses are probably more likely to have a more established student life and society culture, so if you go to a smaller or city university, I encourage you even more strongly to join societies due to their scarcity. And hey… there’s no reason you can’t crash another university’s O-Week!

If you’re living on campus or in dedicated student accommodation, chances are your accommodation will be holding lots of O-Week events themselves. Go! Attend! These are the people you’ll be living with, sharing an elevator with, needing to knock on their apartment doors to ask for a vacuum. It’s easy, low pressure, and the best part is… it’s not far from home.

stalls at university fair

Who Doesn’t Love Free Stuff?

Take advantage of the freebies! During O-Week, there are so many free barbecues and pop-up society stalls giving out pens, pizza, candy and tote bags. Hint – if there’s a big barbecue going on, ask a member if they need any help. You’ll get to meet all the established people in the club and be taken under their wing. You’re new, so they’re excited to meet you no matter what! There may be some other freebies around, like free live shows, and big brands and companies are notorious for setting up stalls and giving out discounts. Just, avoid the Paintball People. It’s a scam. Trust me. 

O-Week is also famously a lot about partying, and this notion is both true and false. This may or may not be your thing, and either way, you’ll be fine and enjoy yourself. If you’re a fan of partying – then go for it! Societies and the Student Union will likely be throwing a big O-Week party, and there are bar crawls abound. Just be sure to pace yourself, have a way home planned, and friends that are looking out for you. 

If drinking and partying isn’t your thing, or you’re not yet 18, then don’t worry! There are countless people at university who feel the same way as you do and would rather not deal with the headache in the morning or the sweaty crowds. Do not feel pressured that this is what O-Week is all about. Parties are just a small, tiny fraction of O-Week enjoyed by a specific group of people, and you will in no way feel left out if you don’t feel comfortable in that environment. There are far more sober events than parties, so don’t stress!
Between welcome lectures, fairs, speed dating and parties, it’s easy to feel bombarded by the sheer onslaught of activities. So, I repeat: organise your schedule. Find out all the events you may want to go to and make a little calendar for yourself. You may have clashes, so choose what you’d like to explore the most. Plan for events that pique your interest and make you step out of your comfort zone, that challenge you, that you always wanted to get involved in but never had the heart. This is your clean slate, the chance to become whoever you want. And if you find yourself getting worn out by all the events, then give yourself a break. Get your sleep, drink lots of water, and be kind to yourself. If you know you’re not going to be able to try everything, then just stick to what feels most important and most manageable.

People partying and smiling

Admin and Checking the Boxes

  • Get your student ID as soon as possible – student ID means student discounts.
  • Get your timetable and class clashes sorted out as soon as possible.
  • Apply for a transport concession card. You’ll use public transport at one point or another, and getting cheaper fares is always a good thing. 

Also, download LostOnCampus onto your smartphone and set it up for your university. It’s a personalised map that will guide you around your campus. You’ll thank me later. 

Get Ready, Baby!

That should cover it for our O-Week survival guide! O-Week is an exciting, scary, daunting time… but it only lasts a week, and in that week you can make the friends you’ll have for life. Make the most of it, strike up conversations, be kind to yourself – good luck! You’re going to be amazing.