Freshman Orientation, it is rumored, is meant to be a fun experience that ingratiates a fledgling freshman with the novelties of Liberal Arts College on a Hill’s campus. In my experience, it came close to being one of the most interminable, generally awful-without-meaning-to-be trials of my then seventeen year-old life. In fact, I think I may have found more camaraderie at the Naval Academy during Hell Week. Or at a bus station in Sheboygan.
I think my first mistake was convincing myself that I was the only one who was new to college. I do wonder, however, if I was indeed the only one on campus who had yet to:
1.) Own an e-mail account
2.) Set up an e-mail account
3.) Imbibe alcohol, take drugs other than Advil
4.) Be kissed
Freshman Orientation addressed the first two Things I Had Never Done Before College. Of course, I am perhaps, again, the only one who matriculated at Liberal Arts College on a Hill in the class of 2002 – or perhaps ever before or ever again – who thanked her lucky stars for providing an e-mail tutorial during the week when the rest of the women in my class were being lured into frat houses with promises of air conditioning and popsicles, neither of which would surface, I can now guarantee (based on what sage upperclassmen would later tell me).
As for the last two Things I Had Never Done Before College, those represent only the beginning of my vast naivete upon entering that great bastion of higher learning. And learn I did – way more and way faster than I wanted to – within that first month.
The schedule of Orientation went like this: Monday. Get up and take shower. Yeah. Within the first 15 minutes of my first full day of college life, I was already up a creek. Whilst I had been busy packing my briefcase, scale, and crystal vase all that last week, I had brilliantly left my shower shoes at home. I thusly proceeded to wear a pair of white leather sandals with a heel that I had inherited from my Nana, which meant that they were purchased new in 1973. I also did not receive the memo about the requisite knee-length terrycloth robes – don’t leave your dorm room without it. And so I proceeded to clunk my way down the hall in a floor-length fleece robe, leather sandals with heels, and my shower caddy that was as large as your dad’s Craftsman toolbox.
The sandals broke after two days and I had to go ask RA for a ride to Wal-Mart.
Seeing as RA was assigned to our “Wellness Floor” in which all of its denizens had signed a contract pledging to be substance free, it disturbed me terribly that RA was a chainsmoker. Surely there had been a mix-up and that soon it would be realized and then Glinda the Good RA would quickly come gracing our floor, waving her Wellness Wand and gifting us with shower shoes. Instead, RA would stay our RA all year. I think that our floor may have bumped her up from 1 pack to 2 with all of our requests for rides to Wal-Mart. But at some point that week, I did make it to Wal-Mart with grumpy, chainsmoking RA. I picked out some new pink shower shoes. That was only after three mornings had passed as I waited until my roommate had left the room and I secretly “borrowed” her nice purple ones which were at least 4 sizes too big for me.
As for the rest of the floor dynamic, there were many very nice girls on the floor. I proceeded to learn their names and their hometowns and actually believed that they had all signed up for a Wellness Floor with the same ardent enthusiasm I had just months before as I dreamed of us all eating carrot sticks whilst we studied and doing aerobics in the lounge – obviously, during our study breaks.
The first girl that I met and had any substantial conversation with other than my roommate was her bestie from high school. TC lived down the hall from us. She was giddy, which I considered myself to be, and she had been on campus for two weeks prior for cross country training. I consciously decided that she was a.) delightful and b.) the person to ask for all things re: campus life. The irony of my impression of TC now is shattering. Just a year ago as I write this, I had been sharing an apartment with TC in which her delightfulness was eclipsed by her complete ignorance of all things re: real life. Another memoir. Another day.
I suffered through all of the Meet and Greets, the same barbecues/different lawns, the same Name/Hometown/Intended Major spiel/different groups. The tri-state area for Liberal Arts College on a Hill consists of New York/Ohio/Pennsylvania, but really there are only five students who didn’t graduate from a public high school “Just Outside of Pittsburgh” and that included all of the international students and myself. Everyone knew everyone already. They had all opposed one another in high school volleyball. They had already figured out that they would meet one another during orientation after picking each other out of facebook, and orientation was only an excuse for them all to figure out where they would hook up – in your dorm or mine? That was the freshman class at Liberal Arts College on a Hill. Also? They all spoke the same. Strangely. They repeated back everything you said in a quasi-question. But it was with an odd incredulousness, as though saying that I just went to lunch actually merited the raising of eyebrows, the repeating back of statement in question form, with an incredulous tone, “You just ate lunch?” It was annoying and confusing and even further made me not want to talk. Of course this was all not true. But when you are a freshman in college, you think that you are the only one who hasn’t read the manual. Of course there are other people who are from Ohio. Of course there are even people who speak with your nasal Cleveland accent. You just haven’t met them yet. When you do, you’ll probably have a few things to talk about, especially as talking was a prerequisite in making friends in college, I had decided.
I suffered through the following few days of Meet and Greets even though they involved stating mundane facts about myself to a group of freshmen and the Orientation Leaders, which later would make me suffer further as I had to answer back to their incredulous statement/questions, or even worse — the Bubbles woman. One icebreaker (which was performed in a dark auditorium while all of my cool friends who went off to city universities were probably going on scavenger hunts in the French Quarter) required us to state our names and then state something that we liked to do and dramatize it. The boy across from me was called Charley and he liked to program. The gurl next to me was called Austin and he liked to dunk. My name was Kendra and I liked to blow Bubbles. If there was one sentence that I’d like to reclaim from entering the galaxy, it would be the prior one. For then and only then would I have been spared the awkward encounter with the other freshman who stood behind me in line for the drinking fountain, eager beaver to tell me that she had seen Bubbles and he said, “thanks.”
I may not have understood many things about college, but I understood her sick joke and I wished I hadn’t. Nasty.
The problem was not that I was not meeting people that week. Freshman Orientation affords ample opportunities to meet new people. I just wasn’t connecting with anyone. Each afternoon, when we would break from assorted ice breaker games and financial aid meetings and pre-law orientations, I would wander back to my dorm room and lay on my yellow and white gingham bedspread which 3 months ago I had thought was adorable but now reminded me of a picnic tablecloth, from a Suzy’s Zoo sticker album. I would flip through the facebook, highlighting pictures of all of the people whom I had met that day. At this point, I know you are waiting for me to say how hard I cried and how I ripped down my stupid dorm posters and called my mama and told her how awful college was and asked if I could come home. But I hated cliches. I simply resigned myself to the fact that I was now living in a box with no carpet and a large bay window, and a blonde, sporty stranger whom I would hope would stay nice and not become psychotic or anorexic for at least the first semester. Because I so could not have dealt with any of that. I wasn’t homesick or self-loathing. I just wanted to meet someone who was hilarious – even he/she was nervous – and who wanted to be my new friend/dinner buddy, if only for the next week.