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Hong '24: The Nuts and Bolts of First-Year Orientation

As a first-year, I often hear upperclassmen ask, “What is it like? How are you taking it?” Although I can’t speak for my entire class, here’s my take as a first-year on campus: From my one online class in the fall to a full course load on campus, my first-year spring has been challenging so far. Quiet Period, an unfamiliar dorm room, a different climate and new regulations to follow all took a toll. Despite all this, transitioning to college life, while difficult, was significantly eased by first-year online activities and a little patience. Throughout orientation and the following weeks, I’ve slowly made friends and connections with other students — and best of all, I’ve felt welcome.

The days before arriving on campus, numerous questions bounced around in my head: What will my dorm room be like? How will I socialize during the pandemic? Will there be an outbreak? Even knowing that I would be quarantined in my dorm, I found myself optimistically hoping that being at Brown would finally make me feel like a Brown student.

My first week at Brown is best described by the phrase, “things have to get worse before they get better.” Initially, the campus was in Quiet Period Stage One: Dining hall access was limited and walking around campus — besides picking up mail or getting a COVID-19 test — was strictly prohibited. Most first-years I met offline were merely the people I saw in my dorm hallway or the bathroom.

The first week was challenging, and I think every other first-year felt the same. I was happy and excited to finally be on campus after my remote first semester — but I still couldn’t explore the college grounds or enter a library. I was finally within arms reach of my peers — but I couldn’t meet them in person without being a health risk (or somehow breaking regulation). The little things, like cold Quiet Period meals and malfunctioning microwaves, along with the experience of living away from home, contributed to feelings of “cabin fever.” 

I wouldn't be surprised if many of us felt a need to overcompensate for lost time and social starvation from our remote fall semester. Regularly, I would see groups of students gathering and travelling to dining halls, conspicuously breaking COVID-19 protocol. While I understood their excitement to make friends, I couldn’t help but feel that these students could have waited for a little longer. Yes, I was restless, too — but I knew that patience would pay off in the end. 

So, instead of focusing on the in-person social experience that I didn’t have, I turned my attention to the plethora of online community-building events offered by Brown and other student groups. One fun event was “Speed Friending,” an optional orientation activity that paired first-years to talk for four minutes at a time. Fast-paced and fun, I enjoyed having a reason to talk one-on-one with another first-year student. We would talk about anything from interests, to how we were doing, to ranting about our move-in experience, and it was refreshing after sitting in my dorm room all day. Speed Friending helped me begin to feel like a part of the larger Class of 2024, beyond my floormates. 

Student organizations also spiced up orientation week for first-year students. The Class Coordinating Board, for example, connected first years through the First Year Friending Frenzy, which was based on a provocative, student-written personality questionnaire. Other student organizations held Zoom get-together events as well, where I met many upperclassmen. 

But in contrast to student-run activities, the “official” Brown orientation activities were not organized the way one would expect. Orientation information was scattered across the BrownU App, Bruno Beginnings community pages, various Brown websites, Instagram, GroupMe and emails. Webinars were either on Zoom or Accelevents, which nearly crashed the first time we used it. In future years, if Brown is to hold another online orientation, I would recommend that all information — from move-in details to the orientation schedule to synchronous online event links — be streamlined into one Google document or easily-accessible website. 

Despite some technical issues, orientation achieved its purpose of connecting me with other first-years and campus resources. Events like the Resource Fair and workshops were informative and easy to participate in: I would hop into a Zoom room, chat one-on-one with a resource representative and gather as much information as I needed without having to move from my dorm room. Optional activities like the Brown Talent Show and the Orientation Dance were group reprieves in a day otherwise packed with dry logistical meetings.

But even the best online events contributed to my Zoom fatigue. Orientation activities didn’t stop between Jan. 13 and Jan. 19, and they continued even on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. By the end of orientation, I could have used a day off to prepare for classes on Jan. 20. Staring at my computer for hours of Zoom every day, I would grow tired of attending required events, trying to connect with random first-years on Instagram or dropping in on activities like Trivia Night or the Midnight Organ Concert. 

I soon realized, though, that it was alright to take a break, despite an instinct to overcompensate. The world wouldn’t end if I didn’t attend Arts & Crafts Night. I wasn’t missing out on anything that would make or break my social experience. After all, I have the whole semester ahead of me. 

As the campus has moved into Quiet Period Stage Two and regulations have been relaxed, I’ve been able to walk around campus, meet new people and avail myself of improved dining hall food. Signing into a virtual activity from campus feels more fulfilling than staring at a screen at home. Classes have started by now, and although they’re rigorous, they’ve brought a much-needed sense of direction and rhythm to my days in my dorm. 

In a normal year, I imagine that first-years would have conversations at parties, say hi to each other on the Main Green and hang out with new friends on Thayer Street. Admittedly, first-years have had it hard this semester. But if you’ve survived the first few weeks of this COVID-19 first year and still remained human, I think you’ve done great. With the spring and the summer ahead of us, I’m confident that with some optimism and patience, things will turn out more than alright. 

Jaehyun Hong ’24 can be reached at jaehyun_hong@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.



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