Beginning on August 27 and running throughout September, The Wanderer Online is bringing readers in-depth personal essays from some of campus’ most involved current students and alumni. We believe in the human experience, and so these essays are intended to help new and returning students understand that everyone experiences ups and down en route to earning a degree. In this piece, former Students’ Union Vice-President Academic and interview enthusiast Emerson Csorba talks about stammering through several nerve-wracking days upon entering first-year.
I can remember my first day of Orientation, back in 2009, with vivid clarity. At the time, I lived in Parkallen, a good thirty minute walk from campus. By 7 am, I was ready to head to campus, Orientation directions in hand, location of the Students’ Union Building printed and circled on a U of A map. Every few years, when you change schools, the prospect of meeting people from outside of your social network is inevitable. Though I love meeting people and learning about their interests, passions, etc. I was pretty damn nervous. But not for the reason that you might guess.
See, though I’ve never stuttered badly while growing up, I’ve always stammered. Not consistently, but just enough for it to be challenging every so often. For some reason, about half-way through grade eleven, I had more and more difficulty saying words that begin with the letter “E.” When your name is “Emerson,” this small stammer can create a lot of stress.
So here we are, on day one of Orientation, and I’m entering a second-floor room in the Chemistry Building (now the South Academic Building). My heart is thumping non-stop, waiting for that moment when someone says, “My name is…” and extends their right hand in front of me. At that point, it was about 80-20. Eight times out of ten, I’d have no problem saying “Emerson.” On other occasions, not such a good feeling. It turned out that on day one, I didn’t really have a problem introducing myself. There may have been some small stutters, but nothing significant. Orientation was a success.
The real issue took place on the first day of class. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this moment. It’s in Histoire 120, at Campus Saint-Jean, so the classes are small and we all have time to introduce ourselves during the last twenty minutes of a lecture. I’m hoping that the prof will pick me first for introductions; I just want to get it over with. But we go around the room, and for whatever reason, I’m probably third from the end. The prof, who I am now good friends with, says something along the lines of, “Et maintenant c’est a vous”: it’s your turn. A tight knot builds in my throat, and I can’t say anything. Je m’appelle E-. Je m’appelle, E- E-. I cough nervously. Face is red.
Probably ten seconds later, I finally say, “Je m’appelle Emerson.” I’ve been practicing my French throughout the month of August, and I’m ready to go for the semester. But the prof is probably thinking otherwise – this student has trouble introducing himself.
This is how I begin my year.
Throughout the rest of the year, there are a few occasions where I have trouble with introductions or speeches, with one memorable occasion being in an advanced French writing class, but these situations are few and far between.
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For most people that know me, they’d probably be baffled by this story. In high school, I participated in speech and debate tournaments and earned some impressive results. I was class historian for my high school graduating class. Every few months, I MC an event or serve as a keynote for a seminar or awards ceremony. While serving as Vice-President (Academic) of the Students’ Union last year, I did countless interviews – and up to 12 in one day – with the likes of CBC, Global, Canadian Press and CTV – loving every minute of it. And there are few things that refresh me more than striking up a conversation with a random person on the street, in the LRT or in class. When I ran for Vice-President (Academic), I probably talked with over one-thousand students around campus during a single week.
Though I often decline invitations to stay out late (in favour of early sleeps), I tend to be a social butterfly, and have met countless people in university. Orientation was phenomenal, and I met people on the first day that I still keep in close contact with. My group leader, affectionately known as “Rook,” is an awesome guy that served as a mentor throughout my first year. Raph, who is probably the first Campus Saint-Jean student that I met at Orientation, served with me on Students’ Council, and we’re now both in fraternities. But my first memory of university will always be the fear of stuttering. It’s funny how things work.
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When you step on campus, you’re probably going to be nervous. If you are, don’t worry; you’re in the same boat as 95% of the incoming class. You might be worried because you’re from out of town. Others might be worried because they’re playing varsity sports, and don’t know how they’ll balance travels with class. Others might be worried because they desperately want that 4.0 gpa (that was also me). I happened to be worried about introductions. Eventually, that worry will dissipate, and you’ll get used to campus. You’ll make some friends, delve into lectures, study in different buildings, etc.
But every so often, feelings of worry or fear will arise. My advice to you: take a swim in the unknown. Believe me, when you try something new, you’ll be nervous. If you run for Students’ Council, you’ll be nervous. If you raise your hand to pose a question in a 300-person lecture, you’ll be nervous. If you’re on a first date, you’ll be nervous. The degree of nervousness will differ based on what you’re doing, and who you are. But there’ll always be that feeling of uncertainty, even if it’s just lingering in the background.
Whether you’re new to the U of A or returning for your third or fourth year, challenge yourself by moving out of your comfort zone. That short-term discomfort will make for incredible and life-changing memories.
Orientation Breakthroughs illustration by Farwa Sadiq-Zadah