Orientation First Days: Who Would Have Guessed | By Dustin Chelen

On August 27, The Wanderer Online unveiled its first Orientation Series 2012 article, written by student leader Nikki Way. One day later, Jeff Wright of the U of A Office of Advancement, contributed his piece. Over the next month, The Wand is steadily releasing Orientation articles, videos, lists and other helpful resources that focus on the up-close and personal, portraying real people in real-life situations. Today, we continue with a piece by your Students’ Union Vice-President (Academic), Dustin Chelen. In four years on campus, Dustin has charted a blistering course, not only participating in, but actively leading some incredibly-meaningful initiatives. What’s more, he’s an eloquent writer, so take a look at what he’s written for you, below.

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Oh man, first day of school. It has been the second-most exciting day of my life for the past sixteen years, right after Christmas morning. My first day of school at the University of Alberta certainly wasn’t any different.

I woke up early, threw on the nicest looking clothes I owned (which was jeans and a t-shirt at the time), and zipped out the door without breakfast. I fumbled for my U-pass while getting on the bus, nerves already showing. You see, I’m from Calgary, and I didn’t know a soul on campus, so I knew I had to make a good first impression if I didn’t want to spend the rest of my university career alone in a library.

I pretended to not look at a map that I had folded up in my hand while I attempted to find CAB 279. Nobody would know that I’m a first year, right? Little did I know that buying your textbooks before classes started was a total first-year move. (Wait until you know how often a prof will use it before buying!) I made myself comfortable in my algebra class, and scoped out the room. I was instantly sure that I wouldn’t get along with the cocky fourteen year-old “gifted” high school student sitting behind me. But I soon learned that those at the U of A are there for a common purpose: the love of knowledge. Who would have guessed Yuri and I would have ended up close friends by the end of a four year math degree.

I’d never met a professor before coming to university. I expected tweed jackets, a cigar, and a British accent. So when a short and rotund fellow with scraggly hair and an old, gray t-shirt wandered over to the podium, I was a little dumbfounded. He tripped while trying to erase the blackboard, and instantly was covered in chalk dust. The authoritarian, unapproachable and poised image of an intellectual that was set in my mind instantly vanished.  My first professor started the class by talking about why he loved math, abstractness, and symmetry as a teenager. Who would have guessed that this professor would inspire my love of abstract algebra, and that I would continue to take three more courses from him to satiate that passion.

For lunch I booked it to the Students’ Union Building, along with the other 6000 clueless first year students. I took my food and tried to find a spot in the main area, but everything was taken. I did a few laps around the building, and eventually made my way to the Alumni Room to eat in solitude. During my tour of the building, I noticed a bulletin board that listed SU Councillors and Executives. As I ate in silence, I thought it would be really cool to meet a Science councillor some day. Who would have guessed that I’d end up winning an election and working as an Executive four years later.

After lunch was my Japanese class, held in the dark corners of Tory Basement. As soon as I entered the class, I was taken off-guard by a small Asian woman speaking to me in some strange tongue. I forgot that I was there to learn a language, one that sounds very little like English. I made it through the first class, which consisted mostly of funny sounds and things that looked like pictures rather than letters. Who would have guessed that I’d take nine more classes and live in Kyoto in order to become near fluent in 日本語.

After classes, I was supposed to meet up with two members of a “prestigious scholarship selection committee.” They were younger than I expected, perhaps 21 or 22. At the end of the interview, they asked me if I knew anything about fraternities. Besides beer and toga parties, I was in the dark. They divulged that they were actually members of a local campus fraternity, and that they wanted me to consider joining. Needless to say I got out of that interview as fast as I could. Who would have guessed that this fraternity would be responsible for me growing in to who I am today, and my closest friends.

University is an incredible place. You will meet life-long friends, study abroad in an unknown land, push your limits as a student, join a tight-knit student club, quintuple your skills and confidence, and perhaps meet your future husband or wife. How you’ll get there won’t be clear from the first day, but take every opportunity to grow and meet new people. Looking back four years later, I can say that you won’t regret it.

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