The transition from high school to college is rife with fear and anxiety. We’re suddenly removed from our parents for the first time, far away from friends we’ve known for years and often hundreds of miles away from where we grew up. All of this to say, college is an exercise in discomfort. From moving away to meeting new people, it's a poster child for what life will be like once we graduate. For most students, this begins with the intake process at orientation.
In-person orientation began way too early in the morning and ended way too late at night. Students were stuck in groups of people they had never met before and were often paired with orientation leaders who had too much energy for 7 a.m., and from there, students got a crash course in college within two days. Orientation can be overwhelming, but it is essential to the freshman experience. The wisdom students acquire during this time never quite fades from memory.
There are many things that college students must get taken care of during orientation. They are issued Hokie Passports, fully register for classes, learn how to navigate the transit systems and become familiar with the campus. Orientation has everyone constantly on the go from early in the morning to near midnight. Students’ days are packed full of activities, in the span of a day and a half, designed to introduce them to college. In this perspective, orientation does its job. Students get all of them done in a short amount of time and go home happy and prepared, albeit exhausted.
“I have loved being an Orientation Team Member for New Student and Family Programs at Virginia Tech,” said Audrey Rowe, a junior majoring in public health and current orientation leader. “I have learned valuable leadership skills, developed personally and professionally and made some of my best friends along the way. I became an Orientation Team Member because I love Virginia Tech and wanted to help welcome incoming Hokies, and their families, home.”
Orientation leaders are the backbone of the experience, and the messages they instill in the students they lead are not quickly forgotten. As echoed by Rowe, most leaders join out of a desire to help their fellow Hokies. Their work has immeasurable impact: For example, my orientation leader in 2018 made me feel welcome and safe, despite the craziness of the days I was there. My opinions were validated, and my orientation leader created an environment where each group member felt comfortable opening up. She made college feel more real and accessible because of her own openness and willingness to share her experiences with us — experiences that often validated our fears as well as our excitement for the upcoming years.
“Orientation is an important part of a new Hokie’s transition to college because they have the opportunity to meet other students, learn about Ut Prosim and the Aspirations for Student Learning and hear about the experiences of current students at Virginia Tech,” Rowe said.
While orientation can be an overwhelming experience, perhaps the discomfort of it all is necessary; it serves as a prelude to the often arduous and disagreeable first few days of school. Many students meet their first friends in their orientation groups, while others may find mentors in orientation leaders, but everyone will leave orientation with the tools necessary to succeed in their first few days of university.
If there’s one lesson to be learned from college it's that we all must get comfortable being uncomfortable. From working internships sophomore year to job hunting during junior and senior year, much like orientation, we will be forced out of our comfort zones constantly and sometimes pushed to limits we did not know we had. Often, we come out better on the other side of them.
Orientation is an experience that never fades from the collective consciousness of students and serves as a prelude for what's to come. It is filled with good and bad, triumphs and failures, early mornings and late nights and fears of what’s to come — but often, we look back on those days as new, bright-eyed Hokies in a refreshing light. We are happy that our worst fears never occurred, and we all made friends and grew as people. Orientation is a preparatory course in the college experience; while it can be tedious, it offers us a chance to see what the next four years will bring. College is ultimately a test of how uncomfortable we can all be while pushing ourselves through. We’ll have good times and bad, but often when we look around, even the bad times are good in their own way.