by Kevin Zampieron | published Aug. 23rd, 2019
Your first few weeks of college can be a seriously rough adjustment — you’re moving away from home, you’re trying to figure out your new location and your stomach is acclimating to a diet of ramen and Gracie’s. It makes sense that universities put so much effort into their freshman orientations. Ideally, orientation should help your transition be as smooth as possible. But, for all of the activities, fairs and displays of orange, RIT's New Student Orientation (NSO) doesn’t achieve its goal of helping all students transition into college life. For some students, orientation can be a nightmare.
(Not) Fitting In
My own freshman orientation was not a pleasant experience. Eighteen-year-old me was already feeling unsteady before orientation — the stress of being far from home had compounded my treasure trove of social phobias. I was not into icebreakers conducted by loud people in khaki shorts at that moment in time, to say the least. The intense, extroverted loudness that emanated from every activity was an enormous shock to me.
If you’re not extroverted or into parties, it’s hard to feel like you belong during this hectic week. Orientation ended up pushing me further into my shell instead of bringing me out of it. If I didn’t fit in at orientation, I thought, maybe I would never fit in at all. And, while I eventually found my place, it took me a lot longer than a week to do so.
Icebreakers or Time Wasters?
I was far from the only one who didn’t enjoy orientation. Many people seemed eager to get those long, crowded presentations over with so they could get used to their new school on their own terms. Freshmen, reckoning with their newfound independence, couldn't find the communities where they fit in. I made all of my friends through classes, clubs and common interests. Instead of transitioning new students into their college life, orientation seemed to delay it for me.
If the goal of orientation is actually to welcome the newest members of our community, it can’t be a one-size-fits-all, tiger-themed circus. It should be an ongoing relationship that focuses on building a support network for students transitioning into college. That’s not to say no improvements have been made; but, as long as orientation remains in its current form, there will be people who are left out. And being left out is a particularly hard experience at that stage of your life.
If you like orientation, that’s great. But if you’re a newly-arrived first year who’s not enjoying NSO, don’t let it get to you. It’s okay if you’re not brimming with Tiger spirit or can’t seem to connect with anyone in your orientation group. Everyone’s transition into college is different, so try not to compare. Besides, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone whose orientation experience was pivotal to their college years. If you feel like 18-year-old me, just tough it out and wait for school to begin for real. Until orientation becomes something more valuable to the student body — especially those who currently receive little benefit — it ultimately doesn't matter in the end.