Freshman orientation is weird. That’s the only way I can think to describe it. Yes, it is fun, scary, traumatizing, hilarious, nerve-wracking and informative, but combining all of those adjectives just leaves you with weird. It’s a completely new experience, and I don’t think anyone goes into it knowing what to expect.
For me, college orientation was rough. It included the first time I ever felt depressed and dozens of phone calls to my parents where I sobbed and begged them to come pick me up. It was lonely and scary, and I was convinced I had made a terrible mistake. I was in a new state at a new school where I didn’t know anyone, and after a couple of days, I thought I wanted to transfer to the college I could see from my bedroom window at my parent’s house. But I didn’t transfer. Thanks to phone calls with family, Skype calls to my best friend, and a friend who journeyed from her campus on the other side of Boston just to take me out for coffee, I made it through that first week.
For many students, freshman orientation is just a week or two away, and I’m sure they’re all nervous, excited or some combination of the two. I know the feeling. Chances are you will feel lonely, homesick and scared during that first week, but you don’t have to let those emotions get the best of you. For those about to embark on their college careers, I’d like to share my advice for making it through orientation in one piece.
Go to every orientation event.
At most schools, orientation is designed to even the playing field. Everyone gets to be humiliated! Even the most confident of young adults will feel uncomfortable as they’re forced to reveal their most traumatizing memories and hopes for the future while playing obnoxious games. If your college has a real campus, consider yourself lucky. My campus was the Boston Common, and tourists and locals could walk by and gawk at us as we played a game called Big Booty. And if the idea of all that humiliation worries you, calm down. It’s not awful. You get free food and free swag (lanyards galore)! There are also a lot of meetings where you learn school rules, and if your school is nice, there will be performances and special guests, like a guy called the Date Doctor and a Project Runway finalist. Also, chances are something will happen during orientation that will remain an inside joke for your entire class. It will probably end up in your class speaker’s commencement address, and you know you want to be in on that joke.
But the real reason I encourage freshmen to attend every event is that it will put their mind at ease. If you skip events and hide out in your dorm, homesickness is more likely to set in. Embarrassing meetings are meant to keep your mind off of the scary changes happening in your life. The real purpose of orientation is to get comfortable and start meeting people. Some of those people might become your friends and classmates, and some of those people will seemingly disappear until you see them walk across the stage at commencement four years later. Orientation isn’t the part of college where you make lifelong friends. That part comes later and is more gradual and less structured.
Unpack and decorate ASAP.
The best way to combat homesickness is to have a space that feels like home. First thing to unpack? Pictures of friends, family, and pets. Before I left for college, my best friend made me two giant collages. One was pictures of me with my friends, and the other was pictures from magazines that she thought I would like. Having those pictures hanging over my bed was really comforting, and when I was feeling lonely, I instantly felt better if I looked at those collages. But there’s no need to start making giant collages to prepare or to pack a bag full of decorations. Your dorm doesn’t need to be fully decorated right away. It just needs to feel like home, whether that means unpacking pictures or a special quilt or a teddy bear. It doesn’t need to be pretty.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
Most people are freaked out during the first week of college. Someone might seem totally happy and at ease, but they’re probably panicking just as much as you are! Hell, they might think you are totally at ease! You never know how other people are feeling. And even if they’re already adjusted and happy, the way you’re feeling is very, very normal. Chances are you’re not the only one sobbing into your phone on a campus bench. Focus on yourself, and don’t worry about the girl down the hall who already found eight best friends and a boyfriend in the first two days. Yes, people will pair off, either romantically or platonically, in those first few days. They’re just handling the high-school-to-college transition differently than you are, but neither one of you is doing it wrong.
Bond with your roommates, but don’t rely on them.
It’s entirely possible that your freshman-year roommates will be your best friends forever, but it’s also possible you won’t get along. I was part of the latter group. But you probably thoroughly social media-stalked them before moving onto campus and have already communicated with them. There’s already a bond between you! Stick together for the first couple days. Sit next to each other at events, go dress-shopping together before the big end-of-orientation dance and journey around campus together. Maybe you guys will continue hanging out once orientation ends, or maybe you’ll all meet a new group of friends during that week.
Everyone is a potential new friend.
After orientation, you will have a ton of Facebook friends and numbers in your phone, and you won’t remember who any of them are. Everyone you talk to will say, “We should hang out sometime!” Nothing will come of most of those encounters, but you both really mean it at the time. At orientation meetings, listen carefully to what others say so you can start shopping for friends. (Seriously, it’s like shopping. You have your pick of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people!) One girl heard me say that I love painting my nails at a floor meeting, and she found me at the orientation dance and asked if I wanted to ditch the dance and get ice cream (um, yes!). After that, we hung out every day, often staring at our computers and not talking, and now she’s my emergency contact. If you hear someone talking about your favorite TV show or book or hobby, talk to them! You might have a lot more in common, and they can become your new best friend. The worst that could happen is that you’ll never talk to them again. There’s nothing to lose!
Have a support system.
My parents were so patient with me during my first week of college. They were on vacation, so it wasn’t easy for them to sit through all my rambling, depressed phone calls. But my mom only hung up on me once, and she only did so to force my older brother to call me and tell me about his first week of college. And my best friend was always there to sob with me over Skype. She started school a week before me, and I did my best to talk her through it, and then it was her turn to comfort me. They really helped me get through orientation. Talk to your family and friends from back home as often as you need to. And if you need more help, college campuses come equipped with counseling centers that can really help out when you need it most.
Once orientation ends, classes begin. This is your last chance to have responsibility-free fun and enjoy the summer. It’s also the perfect time to explore your campus and the city around you. When I wasn’t totally panicking, I really enjoyed orientation! It’s a crazy time, but it’s a lot of fun.
To everyone about to start their freshman year of college, good luck!