Pop-Culture | Posted by Julie Z on 09/16/2011

College Confidential: Disorientation

The bottom line of college orientation is that it’s a paradox: feeling simultaneously deeply comforted and entirely thrown off your axis, spinning rapidly towards the unknown. Or at least, that’s what orientation was like for me.

This paradox manifested itself at the very beginning of the journey from Ohio to New York. After posting my obligatory, “Leaving for college. Thanks for the memories everybody!” Facebook status, I packed all of my earthly belongings into the family car. That’s when I realized that all of my earthly belongings fit into the family car. While the reality of this totally satisfied the fatalist in me (look how easy it would be for me to escape with so little materialistic baggage to weigh me down once the zombie apocalypse hits — yippee!) it also left me reeling. It only underscored the fact that the home I was leaving, the home I had grown up in and considered my own, really wasn’t mine any more. Everything that grounded me to my house was stuffed into the car, ready to be shipped off to what is essentially a linoleum-floored, whitewashed box. Statements I had made with confidence ever since I clicked submit on my electronic application quickly turned to questions: This is what I want? I’m excited? I’m ready to be on my own?

I often felt a little lost in the shuffle, unsure of who to ask to hang out with me and a little uncomfortable with the thought of having to ask at all. When I was asked to hang out (I did manage to avoid total social leprosy) I wondered if I was being funny enough or smart enough or if people would remember that I had been with them at all.

But when I arrived on campus, a wave of peace washed over me. Everything from the overheard conversations about starting a Quidditch team to the deeply important and intricate debate I had with the senior who so graciously helped me move in about which side of the room I should take (I GOT THERE FIRST, BITCHES) reminded me why I chose to go to Barnard in the first place. These were my people.

This solid sense of being in the right place only became more apparent as the week — known as “NSOP” or “New Student Orientation Program” — wore on. We were pretty much booked day in and day out with lectures on public safety, college life, and even an awesome alumnae book club, but between all of the required activities, I got to know my fellow bold, beautiful Barnard women. Yes, I think I might even have temporarily forgotten about my home back in Ohio … if I hadn’t had to repeat my place of birth along with my name, intended major and reason I chose this school every single time I met somebody new, which was approximately every five minutes. Such is orientation.

I met girls who aspired to be neuroscientists, anthropologists, philosophers of literature and everything in between. I met girls from all over the country and the world — my own roommate is from Istanbul, Turkey. Possibly most impressively of all, I met a girl who proudly dressed up as George Costanza from “Seinfeld” for Halloween the year before. I was so proud that I was selected to be one of these girls and slightly amazed that I made the cut. I finally felt like I had found exactly where I was supposed to be, and the peace that came with that was unlike anything I’d ever felt before.

But then again, despite going through the ranks of what many of us described as “friend speed-dating,” despite casual jaunts to places like Times Freakin’ Square, the West Village and the Brooklyn Bridge, and even despite tasting a variety of cupcakes that truly forced me to reconsider everything I had previously thought about baked goods and subsequently my entire life in general (they are intricately related after all), I felt a little niggling of homesickness.

Longing to see my beloved dog, I tried to convince my mom to set up a Skype account just for him. (For the record, she refused … but she will. Trust me I’m not giving up.) I missed having conversations that didn’t require me to explain myself — my likes, dislikes, hometown, family, etc. — in any way. I missed knowing who I would be hanging out with, when and what we’d be doing. Every evening it seemed like girls formed groups and went off together before I even had the chance to say, “Anybody up for ice cream and Netflix Instant?” I often felt a little lost in the shuffle, unsure of who to ask to hang out with me and a little uncomfortable with the thought of having to ask at all. When I was asked to hang out (I did manage to avoid total social leprosy), I wondered if I was being funny enough or smart enough or if people would remember that I had been with them at all.

Of course, despite the general love I already have for this place and my new life, I’m admittedly struggling a little bit. I’ve already met wonderful people that I truly, genuinely like, but I still worry that once classes start they’ll completely forget about my existence. Hopefully I’ll stop missing my family and friends as much, but I know that I probably always will to some extent. Classes haven’t even started yet (oh right, I came here to learn) so who knows how that’ll work its way into the mix. All I know is that I’m trying to live in the moment, trying to remember the disorientation as much as I remember the orientation. Hopefully, I’ll look back on this moment at the end of the year, shake my head and sigh, ‘Oh, September Julie. If only you knew what’s in store for you.’

Cross-posted from The Frisky where I’m writing every other week about being a college Freshman. Check it out here.

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  • Amy CT @ at 1:39 am, September 17th, 2011

    Trust me, this is perfectly normal! :) Nine weeks ago, I did it for the second time – I’m on exchange for a year – and everything you describe, and everything I felt first time round, washed over me all over again.

    Don’t worry about it: it gets easier. The best advice I think I could possibly give you (as in, the advice I would give myself in first year) is to join as many student socities as you can, until you find the one that fits. At home, I’m in a theatre group who are honestly my family. In Australia (on exchange) I’m a member of the Women’s Collective, and I have never met a more awesome group of people in my life.

    It will get easier – honest. The first few weeks were never meant to be easy.

    Good luck – I’m sure you’ll be fine! xxx

  • Lara @ at 5:53 am, September 26th, 2011

    Go you! How exciting!!

    The homesickness will pass, as will the feeling of everything being just a little bit off-kilter. It’s going to be okay. :)

  • Matt Kreppel @ at 7:50 pm, October 10th, 2011

    I agree with all of the described feelings in the article above; going away to college was a very exciting, but nerve-wrecking experience. It was a little weird seeing my bedroom completely empty the last few days before I actually left, when everything was already packed away for the most part. The activities you go through during orientation and that first week when you are moved into your new room came off as a bit overwhelming for me. I do not like to be thrown into situations that I am not completely comfortable with because they usually end up being very awkward for me. I myself chose not to participate in most of the hall activities set up by the RA’s, but instead I hung out with my roommate and other people in the hall that were not interested in doing the hall activities. Sure, maybe I would have known more people and had more friends and connections but I am perfectly content with how things turned out. I would rather have a handful of close friends than have a huge amount of “peers.” At first I thought that I would miss my friends, family, and of course girlfriend, which I did, but I did not end up missing everyone as much as I thought. The school breaks came so fast and it did not seem like I was gone for a long time at all. I had fears of my friends at home forgetting about me, but this was not the case at all. Everything at home was exactly the same as when I left. Now, I find myself not even thinking about the next time I will go home because I have such a great time at school. This is my home now, this is where I spend the majority of my time, and this is where I enjoy being.

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