Oberlin Blogs

Orientation Survival Tips

August 25, 2018

Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21

Orientation is just around the corner! Move-in day was only a year ago for me, and it simultaneously feels like yesterday and another lifetime. I’d like to share what my experience was like, and offer some tips, to be taken with AT LEAST seven grains of salt (Kira just wrote a great blog post about orientation, and she also linked several other orientation posts if two isn’t enough! Check out her blog!).

I’ll start with this: Orientation is a wild ride. There’s no way around it. Something will inevitably go wrong, but a lot of things will go right. My orientation began with my mom getting a bleeding head wound from the trunk of our rental car (Nissan 1: Judy 0). It was a very humid, warm day, and I felt like a sweaty disgusting mess after making six trips from the Stevenson parking lot to my very dormy dorm room in Barnard House. I remember worrying about how much more stuff I had than my roommate, and discovering that I had somehow managed to pack 44 pairs of socks. And, even though my brand new rainbow holographic sneakers helped me make friends literally on day 1, they also gave me some gnarly heel blisters. Like I said: a lot of things went wrong during move-in day and orientation. But a lot of things also went right. My first day ended amazingly with the orientation concert in Finney Chapel. The quality of the music blew my small freshbaby mind!!! 

Picture of me smiling at orientation concert in Finney Chapel


The week before I picked up and moved 1500 miles across the country, I felt like I was making a terrible mistake. It was hard for me to remember that exchanging my lovely yellow bedroom for a very dormy dorm room and my mom’s cooking for dining hall food was something I actually wanted. Because I hadn’t gotten here yet, I was only thinking about the things I was losing. The second day of orientation was an emotional roller coaster (think a bimodal distribution curve: thanks STATS 114). I had to say goodbye to my mom, which was really hard, and literally a minute after I said goodbye I was herded into Finney Chapel once again and put into my PAL group (s/o to Pomelo Tree!). PAL stands for “Peer Advising Leader.” The PAL Program places first-years with an older student who guides them in their first week and provides academic and social support, as well as a friendly and familiar face amongst all the change. Minutes after saying goodbye to my mom, I found myself in a very full auditorium, discovering that all the kids in my PAL group were in the same freshman seminar, History of Pirates and Piracy (taught by Matthew Bahar. I know a lot about pirates now. It’s pretty rad). 

Later that day I had to attend a play called “The OC” which was performed by several of the RAs from different dorms. “The OC” used a perfect amount of humor to discuss important issues such as alcohol use, gender identity and sexuality, healthy relationships, race, privilege, and consent. As I sat in Hall Auditorium with what was without a doubt the most enthusiastic and engaged audience I have ever heard, I realized that I had made the right choice. It was clear that the vast majority of the students I was with all really cared about the same issues I do. After the play we had a debrief in the lobby of Barnard and some of the musical first-years in my dorm played music and sang for us. Everyone here is crazy talented. I don’t know how the admissions gods do it but this truly is a very special place. By the end of the day I was absolutely exhausted, having had only 30 minutes out of twelve hours (!!!) by myself. Yet I finished the day happy and overwhelmed in a good way. I felt validated in my decision to come here. 

Saturday continued to be a validating experience when it ended with a variety show at the Cat in the Cream, a student-run coffee shop and performance space. The space is a very ~aesthetic~ hub of talent. The variety show was open mic style, and performances ranged from acapella to singing with piano and guitar, slam poetry, beatboxing (?!), and even a reading of a short story excerpt by the author. I remember how in awe I was. The most amazing part was that many of these talented students were not in the Conservatory. They were just really, really good. This was another moment of my week that assuaged any doubts I had about coming here. 

This year, as a PAL, I came to campus early for a job training. The first night, we had a dinner with President Ambar (insert fangirl squeals here). She talked about how important the first 24 hours on campus are. It wasn’t until I reflected on my orientation that I recognized the truth behind her words. 

So now, some advice and things to remember for new students:

1.     Wear comfortable footwear: I know this sounds incredibly mom-ish, but you’re going to have a much better time if your feet aren’t hurting for the whole day. You’re dealing with enough.

2.     No question is too stupid: If you have a question that feels super basic, you’re probably not the only one. Be brave! Ask it! Everyone is confused and no one knows what’s going on, and all the other new students will inwardly thank you if you’re the one to ask that question.

3.     Utilize your PAL: As a PAL, I’m really excited to meet new students and support them. The program exists for a reason. During orientation, my sole role is to guide and help new students. I love Oberlin, and I want all my cohort members to love it too. Your PAL is a resource: use them. We’re here for you!!!

4.     Conversations aren’t as high stakes as you think: the first day I sat with a random person in Stevie and talked while we ate. I ended up with their phone number, and pretty much never talked to them again. You will meet so many people during the first week, so don’t put pressure on yourself to immediately be friends with anyone/everyone you talk to. I understand the urge to, but it can be emotionally exhausting. 

5.     Push yourself (but not too much): During orientation there were times I wanted to hide in my room like some sort of sylvan hag. By all means, take care of yourself, but if I hadn’t pushed myself to go to events and socials, I wouldn’t have met as many people and wouldn’t have realized what an amazing place this is. 

6.     Take a minute for YOU: Finding balance during orientation as an introvert was challenging. Orientation is designed to be intensely social, and for introverts like me, it was mentally exhausting and I was definitely overstimulated at times. I am proud of the fact that I pushed myself but also took alone time when I needed it. If you are someone who worries about balance, know that it is A-OK to take breaks when you need it. Listen to your brain and your body. You only have one of each of those things so it’s a good idea to take care of them (Check out Emma’s post about being an introvert during orientation here).

Before orientation actually happened, I expected that I would spend a grueling 6 days feeling horribly uncomfy and just waiting for classes to start so I could have a routine and not have to be an awkward little troll. Turns out, orientation was actually pretty alright? All in all, orientation was exhausting, and affirming, and even, dare I say, fun??? If I, a sometimes-anxious introvert, survived, you can too!! Take it easy, try to have fun, and soak in what a special place Oberlin is. 

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