Oberlin Blogs

Orientation: Best of Times?

August 30, 2009

Aries Indenbaum ’09

Normally, Orientation is a crazy time, though no one agrees why. Freshmen go through some pretty dramatic changes, and no matter how well Orientation is run, it's going to be stressful. That said, the stress manifests in different ways.

Over the last two years, I've found that for every emphatic opinion, there exists the equal and opposite reaction, delivered just as piercingly. Say these freshmen, Joan and Oliver, are talking about Orientation. You might get something like this:

Oliver: It's too boring.
Joan: It's too busy.

Oliver: Jeez! Is there anyone who doesn't play music?
Joan: Yay! Everyone plays music! Win, win, win!

Oliver: Where's the noise at night? I miss the city.
Joan: Why are my hallmates so loud? I can hear them playing Lady Gaga in the lounge!

Oliver: It's all talk-talk-talk; everyone is telling me what to do!
Joan: I don't know what to do! Someone tell me!

Oliver: Dude, it's freakin flat here.
Joan: It's so beautiful! The sky is so bright, the trees are so green! I'm going to go picnic in the Arb!

Oliver: Registration is so simple. Are we done now?

Oliver: I got everything I want! Classes should start now.

Oliver: I really miss my girlfriend. This is going to really hurt.
Joan: The cute boy in Barrows made eye contact with me! Yes!

Oliver: People are really awkward. I can't wait for things to get rolling.
Joan: Everyone is so friendly! This already feels like home.

Oliver: I left so much stuff at home. Strangely, I don't miss it. There's something great about being in a new place.
Joan: It's weird not to go to the living room and see my brother and my dog. I mean, my dormmates are cool, but they're not my family.


That said, this year feels different. Everyone is relaxed, and while there may be some absolutist Joans and Olivers... they aren't as many out there. The freshmen are mature, active, and wonderful. I feel so lucky to be here.


For two years, I moved to campus early to be an Academic Ambassador: counseling, consoling, and communicating with freshies on issues big and small. (As both Brandi and Ma'ayan are both Academic Ambassadors, they might have a different view of all this.)


Basics of the Academic Ambassadors:
1. Teach freshmen about academic requirements.
2. Serve as a Big Brother/Sister, giving mentoring and advice to make the transition easier.
3. We're the WD-40 of Orientation. We keep things rolling as ushers and guides.
4. Give mini-seminars on academic issues during the first semester.
5. Hang out with Dean Randal Doane, one of the smartest people in the whole world.

Photo Cred: Ma'ayan Plaut.

In terms of our official duties, the big thing we do is give a classroom presentation on academics to our twenty first-years. As we don't have a core curriculum, students have a lot of choice in how they make their schedules. That said, we do mandate some distribution requirements. While they aren't killers, it's a good thing to keep in mind when registering for classes. Not sexy information, but really, really helpful.

My favorite part was helping with registration. I imagine registration as a Scrubs-style daydream....

At one instant, you're sitting at a laptop with at least 3 tabs open, staring at Presto, the course catalogue, and the course schedules. You can't figure out if classes are conflicting. Are the classes you signed up for over the summer at the same time as these two totally rock-freakin-tastic courses that would totally fit with your major? Is Presto frozen? Why is it taking so long? How many spots are left? Do I need consent?

... And suddenly, you're on the floor of the NY Stock Exchange! You're wearing newsies clothes that don't fit! Your suspender snapped - fix it! Sell the class! Buy the other class! No, no, get the one with dividends! Oh, the price is rising and your options are tanking! Your ambassador is trying to tell you to take the new class! But the stock is plummeting! You're really hungry because you forgot breakfast and the person next to you just finished cooking muffins for his co-op! He smells delicious! The first year seminar is your only stable stock; you're going for broke! Buy everything! Get a muffin! Take the class!

And then, you've signed up for 4 classes, planned which excos you're going to take, signed up for your library/computer help desk/dining hall/Student Union job and your portfolio is balanced. Phew.

Registering! Photo Cred: Ma'ayan Plaut.

The rest of being an AA is more chill, giving advice and generally helping out. As someone who totally messed up their first year, my advice was generally well-received. There's nothing like a cautionary tale to help clarify some issues.

Truth: I was not qualified to become an Academic Ambassador. I didn't get recommended by a professor. I didn't have a solid transcript to back me up. For the first time in my life, grades were not my strongest suit. And yet, though I had done most of the things you aren't supposed to do, Dean Doane agreed to hire me.

My first semester, I assumed college was like high school, and to do well, I would just do more. In retrospect... that was a poor choice. I took a full course load, overloaded with work, projects, and extracurriculars. I failed a class my first semester and barely scraped by in the next semester. On the positive end, I made tons of friends, worked through some really painful personal problems, and took some spectacular classes. I started new things that I fell in love with (radio, improv, circus, storytelling, clowning), but did it with little sleep or planning.

I love helping freshmen avoid making my mistakes.

That said, this year's freshmen don't seem in danger of that. As a class, and individually, they are some of the smartest, most relaxed, charming, and friendly folks I've ever met. For the first time, I think I would feel okay if classes never started. These freshmen are just way too cool.

Yesterday, I did Day of Service at George Jones Farm, weeding veggies, moving a shed, and chilling with freshmen for a full day. There's something about picking up a shed and sliding it that lets you really understand your peers. When it's hot and sunny, things are heavy and ungainly, they're on it. They're all over it. If we start throwing a peach and it explodes, they'll keep going. They understand how the game works. When our supervisor didn't come back for a while, we stood in a circle, telling stories.

When we did a circus shindig the other night, the freshmen weren't afraid to try anything. They learned fast, they wanted more. Despite moving hundreds, or thousands, of miles from home, living in different rhythms with different demands, they rocked it. At the swing dance last night, the room was packed. The raw beginners were wonderful partners.

PS: Every year, around this time of the season, I listen to "This Will Be Our Year" by The Zombies (or the cover by OK Go). Sometimes it applies to relationships (blush), but mostly to school, to hope, to change. This year, it seems more fitting than ever.

The warmth of your smile
smile for me, little one
and this will be our year
took a long time to come

You don't have to worry
all your worried days are gone
this will be our year
took a long time to come.

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