Starting on August 27, The Wanderer Online launched its Orientation 2012 Series, which sees videos, top 10 lists and personal essays published online, with the goal of easing students’ transition to university life. To check out everything that we’ve done thus far, click here. Today, Andrew Broad, a fourth-year Science student and former Orientation Team Facilitator (basically a senior volunteer) talks about his first days of school, where ironically, he didn’t attend Orientation. In three years on campus, Andrew’s done a 180 in his studies, and is now among the most involved students we know. Enjoy the read.
I started university three years ago now, and I remember the (brief) time that I spent at Orientation very well. I was coming out of high school, where I had not been unsuccessful, with far too much confidence. I was on the honour roll and captain of my school’s rugby team, and I had just spent a summer working at a daycare and was going out to the bars every second night. Now I was about to start my biology degree at Campus Saint Jean—a mere stepping-stone on my path to medical school. Yes, I was one of those unbearable, and obnoxious first year “pre-med” students. However, I was not only an overconfident pre-med student, I was also a total bro and my wardrobe at the time (highlighter-coloured tees, tight jeans, hair that was coiffed to a perfect level of messiness, and official MLB starter caps) was a testament to this. If I haven’t made made it clear yet, at the time, I thought I was the greatest person alive.
That’s why I had completely neglected to register for university orientation. I was just too much of a boss for things like that. But my girlfriend at the time, who had been a total keener in high school, was excited to attend Orientation with her faculty, Phys Ed. So on the morning of orientation, I drove in to the U with my girlfriend who was sporting brightly coloured spandex (this along with exercising and drinking on weeknights is a phys ed ritual), and tried to sneak in with her group. A ripped dude dressed as a classical Olympian (the Phys Ed TF) quickly squashed my plan, and told me to go register for my own faculty’s orientation.
After waiting in line for over an hour to register for an orientation group, which would have taken less than thirty seconds registering a few weeks before, I was finally assigned a group in CEB (the civil-electrical engineering, now known as the South Academic Building). I reluctantly went up to a classroom on the second floor, and met my two orientation leaders (OLs). These two girls, ambassadors to my French campus, were speaking in pathetic broken French (or Frenglish), which disappointed me. “How could I take this seriously if they could hardly speak the language we were required to use at CSJ?” I thought, “Do they think this reflects well on the Fac?” This only made me more bitter, so I was drained of all enthusiasm by the time we started playing ice-breakers like What’s In Your Wallet and an evolution-themed rock-paper-scissors tournament, in which chickens can evolve into humans. I know—very Platonic.
Shortly into my stay at Orientation, I was texted by some friends (fellow bros) asking me to go with them to get our OneCards. After only 15 minutes with my Orientation group, I abandoned them. Free from the oppression of ice breakers and meeting new people, my friends and I picked up all the free things we could in Quad, were swindled by a slick business student selling BSA cards (I can assure you, that you will never use your BSA card ever), and cut ahead of thousands of people in line at the Butterdome waiting to get their OneCards, easily saving ourselves two hours of queuing. By noon we were at Hudson’s On Campus with cold beers in our hands.
The next day, some friends and I decided to attend President’s Address, after having skipped the orientation earlier in the day. We sat in the back, mocking the cheering (except the engineers, those guys have always seemed so badass), and scrutinizing the speech-givers. At the time, my overall impression of Orientation was that it is totally lame.
However, now I look back on my Orientation experience through different eyes—those of a much more mature man-boy. More mature than the boy-boy who arrived late to Orientation three years ago. I still think that my experience at Orientation sucked, but for different reasons than I did at the time. Orientation didn’t suck because of my terrible OLs, it sucked because I went in there with a bad attitude. The confidence that I displayed at the time was mostly an act, and I was honestly very insecure, so when it came time to meet all those new people from my Orientation group, I shut down. The prospect of being vulnerable—of having to open up to new people—scared me, so instead of facing my fear by playing silly Orientation games in order to break the ice with these strangers, I put up a wall, and acted like I was way too cool for them. Then I went back to my security blanket high school friends.
Unfortunately, I ended up being isolated from those friends and my girlfriend later that week, and for the remainder of the semester. Whereas I was going to Campus Saint Jean, they had all elected to go to North Campus, twenty blocks away. Leaving Orientation early meant that the only people that I knew in my classes were a few classmates from high school that I had seldom spoken to in the previous three years. To worsen the situation, since everyone else had attended Orientation, they had already formed their cliques, and I was an outsider (the Fac is very cliquey), so now I had two walls separating me from making friends: the walls they had put up around their posses, and the wall I put up around myself. The result was that I spent most of my time at school alone, and so I had no support to speak of. I had nobody to help me in my classes and nobody to spend time with at school, so I ended up becoming even more withdrawn—skipping most of my classes, and not seeking help from anyone. I ended up doing very poorly academically, and of course, I blamed it on CSJ, and transferred to Main Campus after only a semester. Had I gone to Orientation with a much better attitude—more willing to play those damned ice-breakers and to meet people, I think things would have transpired very differently. If I had made contacts and friends in classes, before school started, I would have been more eager to attend classes, and seek the academic help that I needed, and I would be much less bitter towards the Fac than I was.
The irony in all this is that this will be my third year volunteering for Orientation. Despite my horrible experience as a delegate, I went back, and my experience has been anything but unpleasant. Volunteering there, I’ve learned the importance of not taking myself seriously. This has allowed me to open up to all those people who previously scared the shit out of me, and to be honest, most of my best friends I’ve met through volunteering at Orientation. These are friends who I lean on when I’m struggling at school; they offer me help, advice, or usually just a good laugh to de-stress when I’m ready to cry from exams.
Another lesson that I’ve learned from Orientation is to be open to trying new experiences. Not experiences like trying crystal meth, or eating placenta (not yet anyway), but definitely things like trying new volunteer opportunities (teaching my own diploma preps, and writing for an online magazine), or having the initiative to start a new club (I started the University of Alberta Quidditch Club). As a volunteer, I get to see all the fun I missed as a first year, and I’ve heard a ton of stories from people who absolutely loved their experience at Orientation, and came away with practical knowledge, and (I think) more importantly some great friends.
So from a third year to any first years reading this, here’s my Orientation advice to you. Come with a willingness to look silly. There is a lot of cheering at Orientation, and to a lot of people, you will look like a massive tool, but who cares? This is University. There are no popular and unpopular people so whateva! And besides, everybody else is cheering anyways, so if your group can by some miracle outcheer the engineers, then you will look like a God among men (Engineers, this is a challenge, now that I have enticed other people to cheer loudly, this means you have some competition on your hands). And as my colleague Darren Tardif would agree, for those of you young lads looking to capitalize romantically from Orientation, this is a great place to meet girls, since 50% of the delegates will possess two Y chromosomes (for those ladies seeking companionship, this means that you will now have tons of university educated men attempting to court you. You’re welcome.). There is nothing more attractive to the opposite sex than a healthy amount of self confidence, and what better way to demonstrate that than to dress up to match your faculty theme? And what a great conversation starter too!
Also, don’t forget to arrive at Orientation with a positive attitude. If you’re going to come with a Negative Nancy attitude (like I did), then you’re going to have a bad time. Having a positive attitude will make your time so much more enjoyable, and you’ll get a lot of useful facts out of it, like “there is no program called pre-med” (I would have benefited from that one). I’ll leave you with a quote from Bob Dylan to win you over about going to Orientation, and doing so with a great attitude tucked into that brown paper bag lunch that your mom packed you. “A bad attitude is like a flat tire. If you don’t change it, you’ll never go anywhere.”
Orientation Breakthroughs illustration by Farwa Sadiq-Zadah