It is a fact of life that, “You must be new here” is painted across every freshman’s face. No, your official school lanyard* hanging around your neck didn’t give you away; It was the look of utter fear in your eyes.
*Note: The use of a school lanyard to hold your freshly pressed student ID may be handy, but it is also a symbolic albatross around your neck that screams “awkward freshman alert”.
There are several parts you have to keep track of during orientation: moving into your dorm, arguing with your parents, navigating a new campus, and of course, meeting new people. You are thrown together with hundreds of thousands of new faces who all have the potential to be your new best friend. And let’s be real here, there are a TON of cuties, and you can’t help but wonder which one you’re going to dance with at the New Student Mixer later that evening.
You’ll most likely have a “small group”, a sample collection of fellow freshies, whom you will meet with throughout Orientation. Small groups are great because they make it a little less scary to meet new people. But you’re also going to be introduced to the single most influential person of your college career: yourself.
New Student Orientation for your college/university will be your first real introduction to the realm of collegiate life. Its main purpose is to acclimate you into a college environment and build campus camaraderie amongst you and your fellow peers. Your orientation program can last a day, a weekend, or even an entire week depending on your institution. I know every orientation program means well, but it’s a little naive to think that all of you freshies will just bust on campus and instantly spark into this well-adjusted, social, collegiate. It’s going to take longer than a weekend, and it’s going to take some work.
Upon arriving to my Orientation Weekend, I was scared (insert expletive here). I’ve always been a social butterfly, enthusiastic to make a new circle of friends. I’m sure some of you can relate, but also I’m sure some of you are on the opposite side of the spectrum and prefer to be the farthest away from the spotlight and just float on by. High school is aggressively obsessed with labels, and I’m going to assume that you were graced/cursed with one. You could have been a jock, a mean girl, weird kid who just sits on tumblr and talks about Dr. Who, super brainiac, etc. Whatever you think you are, eradicate it from your mind. The oppressive chains of petty high school labels have no power over you in college.
Everything about college is different. For me, I was in a new state without my family, and I was no longer a big fish in a tiny pond. That social butterfly shriveled back into her cocoon. Orientation is a terrifying situation because you have to adapt to an entirely different culture, and everything seems to be spiraling into a void of uncertainty. But that is actually the best part orientation.
So, say you’re in your small group, and your overly excited group leader asks you to introduce yourself by name, hometown, projected major, and an interesting fact about yourself. Panic literally courses through your body as you scramble to come up with something. The girl who went before you was super bubbly and said “like” too many times to count, and the guy before her brought nun chucks…and that’s it. So what do you say? Who are you? It is intimidating, but also extremely liberating because you can be whoever you want to be. Remember that uncertainty I talked about? Once you are aware of it, that fear transforms into infinite potential.
I struggled at first to find who I was and where I belonged, but that’s natural. For all of you incoming freshmen, don’t get discouraged if you don’t instantly click with a group of friends. Familiarity comes with time. It’s safe to say that for the first few weeks, everyone is sort of blindly bopping around. Some might consider this being fake, but in my eyes, exploring self-identity is extremely important. You aren’t being unfaithful to your character. You’re simply finding out who your character is, because you really don’t know. I honestly didn’t get a “rhythm” until the first semester of my sophomore year, and I’m continuously focused on my personal development. It takes time, but the process of self discovery is worth it.
I could tell you to “just be yourself”, but you might not know who that is yet. If anything, be genuine. Realize that “orientation” literally means finding the relative direction. You’re determining the relative direction of yourself. This is the great thing about college. It is a process. It’s fluid. It’s dynamic. It truly is what you make of it. For the first few weeks there are no boundaries, and that’s great. You’re free! This is probably the only time you’ll be able to be so mobile. So take advantage of the freedom and explore!