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The Self Shelf: Friendly advice to fresh first-years

Published: August 27, 2010
Section: Opinions


As I sit in my castle cell and gaze out the window at a true New England summer (pouring rain and a howling wind off the ocean), it hits me: My days as a wide-eyed first-year are over. And it was quite a different story when I first came to Brandeis one year ago.

For it was one summer ago that I was scrambling to move everything into my room, pick up my WhoCard, and figure out exactly what I was doing. During my first night at Brandeis, I discovered exactly how difficult it was to accommodate two separate sleep schedules in the same room and just how valuable air conditioning was. From there, I found myself engulfed in a whirlwind of cookouts and icebreakers as I slowly accustomed myself to college life. Yet I had my share of problems.

At first, I was trying to meet anyone and everyone–trying to figure out where my friends were in the crowd. The main fault I found with orientation was that, with the deluge of icebreakers, one would meet someone one night, and then they would be gone once the event was over. For example, at an ice cream social, I hung out with a group of people and by the time I had learned their names, the social was over, and I would never see them again.

Perhaps that was more of my fault than anything else, but either way, my first few days at Brandeis were fraught with fear and self-doubt. Fortunately, however, my floor was a collection of the friendliest people I have ever met. I found that by simply leaving my door open, I had made a number of friends who lived only a few feet from me. My fears of finding myself isolated in my new surroundings slowly subsided.

If I could only give one piece of advice to the incoming first-years, it would be to leave your door open both literally and figuratively. Make no mistake, your friends are here. It is just a matter of finding them. Openness is the best possible strategy.

Meanwhile, I signed up for about ten clubs. I had no comprehension of the disastrous time commitments I was getting into nor did I realize that I would only stay with half of the clubs I joined. My overpowering urge to get involved in activities at Brandeis unavailible to me in high school spurred me to indulge my every interest.

Within a few weeks of the activities fair, I would shed half of these, and I have continued pruning ever since due to the strenuous input required for each club. I slowly realized that there was always something going on at college and that artificially filling up the hours was not only unnecessary but eventually harmful.

Nonetheless, the clubs I have participated in have provided me with some of the best times I have had at Brandeis and I would strongly urge any incoming first-year to get involved. Just don’t join eight of them and expect to have any time … ever.

The first day of classes was a wakeup call for everyone. The atmosphere beforehand had been one of a summer camp but it quickly morphed into one closer to school. It was difficult to settle down but the first homework assignments brought everyone back to Earth. For me, however, college still had a somewhat playful atmosphere even after classes had begun and to some extent, it never lost it. It seemed that everyone was managing to have fun even as they were getting their work done.

Nonetheless, the first month was rather hard on me due to the unexpected difficulties of living on your own. These obstacles included stress, homesickness, procrastination and, of course, cleaning duties. Yet I persevered and eventually settled into the insane schedule that would characterize my time at Brandeis.

A typical day included waking up at 8:30 in the morning to go to breakfast with a friend (this also conveniently made sure we were both awake and on time for class), and then going to class for much of the day. After this, I would eat dinner with friends and, if it was a weekday other than Friday, go to a club meeting of some sort. Then, I would sit in my lounge procrastinating for a while or hang out in a friend’s room before starting my homework, usually well after midnight. I would then repeat my schedule the next day and this would take place four days a week. Let’s just say sleep was not a huge priority.

Interestingly enough, although my work habits eventually got better, my sleep habits did not and it would not be unusual to find me awake at three in the morning even when I did not have to be simply out of force of habit. Nevertheless, I was able to settle into a routine (as strange as it was) and the year began to fly by. Before I knew it, it was winter break. Shortly thereafter, or so it seemed, I was saying my goodbyes and heading home for the summer.

Now I find myself back at Brandeis, and it is all so methodical. I arrived and met up with friends for dinner before unpacking and writing this article. There was none of the scrambling, panic or adversity that I had faced a year ago. A new year has begun and yet it feels like a continuation of last year–as if I have only been on a short break and moved to a different locale.

Perhaps the passing of time will dawn on me more heavily in the weeks to come, but for now I reflect back on my first day at Brandeis as if it were yesterday. My only fear now is that I will be walking across the stage in a tasseled cap and gown tomorrow.