Most colleges and universities in the United States have an orientation at the beginning of freshman year, when new students learn about each other and their campus.
Some schools call it “Orientation Week.” My school, Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, calls it “New Student Week,” but the basic idea is the same: Incoming students are sorted into groups with other students, assigned upperclassmen leaders who know the school, and put through team-building and training exercises to become familiar with how to live away from home and make new friends.
Many of the seminars also deal with important issues like diversity, alcohol and drug use, and sexual consent. This is a brief guide on how to make the most out of your Orientation Week, based on my own experience at Carleton.
First, be open to new things and people!
Orientation Week is your introduction to the campus and community you’ll live with for the next four years. Everyone around you is as nervous and scared as you. And as eager to meet new people and make friends. Even if you don’t end up meeting your best friends during orientation, you’ll undoubtedly meet people whom you can say hi to and sit with at meals.
The core group of friends I made during my orientation isn’t the group I hang out with now, but I still keep in touch with most of them. And having them to support me those first few weeks at an unfamiliar college was really important. We made it through navigating the Dining Hall together, we went to our first college party together, we talked about our first classes and tests.
I remember the openness of the social scene the first weeks at college. Anyone wearing a freshman nametag was a potential friend, and I was welcome to sit with or talk to any of them.
It’s also important to try new things during your first weeks at university. Colleges will often have an event during the first week or so of school called the “Activities Fair” at which campus groups and activities gather to recruit new members. New students can wander through the fair and choose activities for the coming year.
Sign up for a bunch of things and try them out. You can always quit if you don’t like something or don’t have time for it, but it’s hard to join late. I joined way too many clubs at the beginning of my freshman year and had to quit some of them, but I got a sense of campus and got to meet new people. And you never know what you’ll really enjoy!
I randomly signed up for auditions for a sketch comedy group. I’d never done theater or comedy before, but decided I may as well try out. I was accepted into the group after auditioning and have had a wonderful experience with it! So, you never know what you’ll enjoy.
Second, make use of international student events.
International students say these events help them get used to life in America. International student events are great ways to get to know students who can guide you through culture shock and other difficulties. You’ll also meet other international students who are going through the same thing you are.
Many universities have dedicated students and staff to make sure your time at their school is as successful as possible. Events like these are excellent ways to meet those people who you can turn to for advice later on.
Third, don’t feel pressure to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.
Being in an unfamiliar place is hard. You don’t know the rules yet, and aren’t totally comfortable with how everything works. In a lot of ways, that’s really exciting, because you get to learn new things and meet new people!
In other ways, however, it can be a challenge. There are parts of American college that can be dangerous. Most students will use drugs and alcohol during their time at college. Hook up culture, a culture of casual intimacy, including sex, can be difficult to navigate.
The most important thing to remember is that you have total control over what you do. No one should pressure you into anything that makes you uncomfortable. You can always say “No.”
If you remember those things and are willing to ask people for help and guidance, the first weeks of college will be an amazing time. Look out for yourself and other people, and try new things you want to try.
College is an amazing opportunity, and it starts with orientation. Here’s hoping you have a great one!
[Thank you to Wise Guy Events for their great photos!]