How to turn a bar crawl into a Freshers Adventure

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

It’s not that long ago that the freshers bar crawl was pretty much a staple of freshers’ weeks across the UK.

It might linger on, risk assessed to within an inch of its life within the odd society, but the days of lurid press coverage covering students covered in both fancy dress and vomit on their sixteenth venue are pretty much numbered.

In fact it’s more common to find press coverage bemoaning that “woke” students don’t do that any more than it is to find stories calling for “carnage” (as is the moniker of one firm that promises to put it on for you) to be outlawed.

In some ways, there’s lots to love about a bar crawl. You’re meeting new people, walking around a new city together, getting to know which sorts of students go where, and you often end the night with a collection of photos of you in your fancy dress that form quite precious memories.

That said, there’s any number of reasons why it’s died out – the number of venues is shrinking, students are going tee-total, even when they’re not they’re pre-drinking instead, and there have been a number of high-profile cases involving tragedies (or something close to them) involving students too much, too quickly.

That set of problems was never exclusive to the UK – student “culture” and its associations with dangerous hedonism have both been around for a long time and been a feature of concern right across the world.

Something must be done

But around ten years ago, something fascinating happened in Finland. In a slipstream of negative press coverage and ministerial and municipal hand-wringing about students, multiple students’ unions resolved to attempt to re-invent and strategise around “student culture” – and one notable innovation that took off was the appro.

In Helsinki, planning for a new freshers event to replace its outdated and intimidating patchwork of bar crawls and club nights began in 2013. There was pressure from both students, the university and the city to reinvent the welcome experience to meet the needs of students, and as part of that students on the planning group resolved to reinvent and reimagine the bar crawl into one of HYY’s biggest events of the year – in a way that would build belonging, deliver educational outcomes and enable students to make memories.

Fuksiseikkailu – translated as “Freshers Adventure” – began in September 2014 as a “check cycle” event. New students formed into teams (often from their student tutor groups), chose some fancy dress, and travelled around Helsinki and the university’s campuses, completing tasks along the way.

Checkpoints were run by everyone from clubs and societies to SU committees, university student services, the university chaplains and local business – each signing up to operating an activity or challenge that teams had to complete when they visited the checkpoint.

Teams that completed five of the challenges became eligible to go to what amounted to the Freshers Ball – and teams could compete to get the most number of points to be crowned the winners at the event.

According to participant feedback, new students learned new things about clubs and socs and the SU, got to know people on an interdisciplinary basis and liked the community spirit of the event. All the checkers expressed their desire to participate again in organising the adventure. And lots of students who’d taken part in year one wanted to help run it in year two. And so it quickly grew.

And we’re off

Year one saw 600 students take part. By year two, the number of organisations offering to run checkpoints had doubled to over 60 – registration for teams was filled in four hours, and student participation had more than doubled to 1,300.

Ten years on, the event is pretty much the biggest in HYY’s impressive event calendar – and its genius is the way in which it offers scaffolding for student organisations (and student focussed services and businesses) to run what amounts to hand-on science museum approach to introducing 4,000 new students to their work, all while students get the social and and orientation benefits of a bar crawl without the dangerous downsides.

I really can’t recommend enough downloading the Fuksiseikkailu app (on both iOS and android) to get a sense of its creativity, scale and ability to draw in students from across the university. Checkpoint activities include mini quizzes, crafting, karaoke, puzzles, playing some sport, drama – like a sort of give it a go festival fused with a freshers fair that takes place across the city. A brief glance at the #fuksiseikkailu tag on insta should also show up the way in which it helps students create memories.

Similar events – usually known as appros – have now popped up across the country, with multiple themes. There are wellbeing appros to introduce students to support services and self-care activities; restaurant appros to help students experience diverse foods and cultures; sports appros for those keen to try out new activities, and even jobs appros for students to meet potential employers in the bigger cities.

And the level of detail in the planning has reached new heights. Some students miss out on the tutor group thing or are just keen to meet people outside of their course – and so students can sign up to be allocated to a team of random students that become firm friends by the end of the day.

They’re outdoors, walking, laughing and interacting – rather than struggling to hear each other in a venue playing the Baywatch theme too loud. It’s never not rained. It’s never mattered. And unlike on a bar crawl, they’re more likely to end the day knowing about safe sex than having had unsafe sex.

Over the years, I’ve often been in students’ unions where freshers planning is happening – and it’s great that what were wristbands full of club nights are now morphing into something more focussed on student needs. But often, there’s still a sense that “we” – as in SU staff, officer and volunteers – are providing a welcome experience for “them” – the students.

The ultimate genius of Fuksiseikkailu is the way in which it provides the scaffolding, the app, the venues and the expensive after-party to enable student groups and student services from across Helsinki’s community to provide the event themselves, in a way that enables students to form friendships, make memories and learn about student life, culture and city in a participative way – and makes them think that next year, it could be them having a hand in running it too.

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