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The Norwegian student introductory week: who takes part, and is participation associated with better social integration and satisfaction among students? by Solbjørg Makalani Myrtveit, Kristin Gärtner Askeland, Marit Knapstad, Ann Kristin Knudsen, and Jens Christoffer Skogen

Solbjørg Makalani Myrtveit1,2,3, Kristin Gärtner Askeland2, Marit Knapstad2,4, Ann Kristin Knudsen2,3,5, Jens Christoffer Skogen2, 5
1 Department of Clinical Science, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway, 2 Department of Health Promotion, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Bergen, Norway, 3 Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, 4 Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway, 5 Center for Disease Burden, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Bergen, Norway, 6 Center for Alcohol & Drug Research, Stavanger University Hospital, Stavanger, Norway.

Many new students have recently moved away from their hometowns, and therefore wish to establish new social relations. In countries across the world, starting university is associated with various types of initiation rituals such as the Portuguese Praxe, American hazing, and introductory events in New Zealand, Denmark, and Norway. The Norwegian introductory week aims to introduce the new students to each other and the study institution, to be fun and including and promote social integration. A study recently published in European Journal of Higher Education shows that almost 80% of individuals taking part in the introductory week are satisfied with the opportunity the event provides for getting to know other students. Individuals who took part in the introductory week as new students are also more satisfied with their student community and student city than individuals who did not or partly participated, and they report more friends and less loneliness.

One could expect some groups of students to be in particular need of the opportunities for making new friends that the introductory week can provide. For instance, individuals who are young, single and have moved to the student city might be more in search for new relations than individuals who are older, married, or have lived in the student city for years. Also, in cultures where alcohol use is wide-spread and accepted, previous studies have found individuals who abstain from alcohol to have fewer close friends, lower social support, and lower social participation than moderate consumers. Thus, it might be of particular importance that young students who have recently moved to the place of study and students who abstain from alcohol participate in the introductory week.

However, it has been questioned whether the focus on partying and alcohol during the introductory week can make social integration difficult for individuals who do not drink. Many of the group activities during the introductory week are centred on alcohol. In previous studies, students report alcohol to be central in getting to know each other. Abstainers might have to explain their choice not to drink, and some students report that participating without drinking can be difficult.

Our study found the introductory week largely seems to reach individuals in search of a new social network, such as younger and single students, and students who have moved to the student city. However, individuals who report abstinence from alcohol are much less likely to participate. Therefore, even if most students who have participated are satisfied with the introductory week and the opportunities provided for getting to know each other, the event might be in danger of excluding individuals who do not drink. This information can be useful for universities and university colleges aiming to evaluate how they meet new students, and whether the introductory events can have unwanted side effects, such as social pressure to drink alcohol and social exclusion. At the University of Southern Denmark, internal regulations state that “alcohol consumption should never be at the center of the introduction events”, and the University of Bergen wants their introductory week to include “lots of fun, new friends and less alcohol” (university web-pages). Hopefully, by organizing more events during the introductory week not focusing on alcohol, such as cultural, academic and sport events, non-participation due to alcohol could be avoided while the beneficial effects of the introductory week could be retained.

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