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Life

O-Week: What it Once Was and What it Could Be Now

Edited by-  Malavika Suresh

 

With the Monsoon semester almost upon us, the thought of Orientation Week is on everyone’s mind—it’s definitely been on mine. I’m now a third-year so the idea of orientation is shrouded in rose-tinted nostalgia mixed with a bit of cynicism (I like to think that university has opened my eyes). Every fresher’s experience of this time in their life largely matches up with everyone else’s. We all share the trauma of introducing ourselves over and over again (name, place, prospective major), the confusion of hundreds of new faces, and fumbling to remember the way to… well, anywhere on campus. This year, however, is going to be vastly different, courtesy of that great disrupter of lives: the pandemic. All the staples of O-week that take place on a physical campus will be either translated or eliminated in the transition to an online college experience. It compels one to wonder what is to be lost and what is to be gained from such a situation. 

 

O-week has always been one of the most anticipated weeks of university. In some ways, it’s the beginning of everything. Your adult life starts here and adult life is all about independence, isn’t it? That’s why one key aspect of Orientation is moving out of your parent’s house and into your dorm room. For the first time in your life, you aren’t being supervised or scrutinized. There’s no one around to question your actions. I remember the day I moved in. My parents came with me to help set up my room. When I was making my bed, in “typical parent” fashion my mother said, “Don’t lay your blanket like that! You have to fold it this way.” She proceeded to glare at me until I complied. The moment my family left campus, however, I changed it. There was that thrill of being able to make the space my own. It seems like a small thing but it’s just one way in which you start to make decisions for yourself and who you want to be which is really what college is about. 

 

The other O-week essential, so to speak, is socializing. This is the part that gives me nightmares, not because I’m just a misunderstood misanthrope (although sometimes I certainly feel like one) but because having a social life becomes like interviewing for a job. Every first year on campus is on the hunt for someone to hang out with (they’re all thinking “please, please, let me not be alone”). There’s posturing—I interned with so-and-so this summer, what did you do?—, then there’s rambling and a whole lot of nervous anxiety. Everyone’s in the same boat on this one and the university space is the thing that helps you do away with your apprehensions. The fact is that a lot of your social experiences happen because you all share the same new physical space. You’re all exploring the campus, getting a feel for the culture, and looking to make connections that will tether you in this unfamiliar reality. 

 

It is this quality of being present together that makes for those fun stories where you reminisce about making friends in the unlikeliest of ways. One of my most baffling memories is the day I met 10 random people on the basketball court at 2 am. That night, we all decided to go to Delhi at 11 the next day and what do you know? All of us actually turned up and set out on our first-day trip! In all honesty, it was a little odd and I’m not close to any of them now (though at the time I thought that it was the start of a beautiful relationship) but that’s just how Orientation Week is. You make fast friends and you lose them just as quick (read all about that here: The Hard Truth About O-Week Friendships)

 

The reason I’ve repeatedly highlighted my most memorable (if not always pleasant) orientation experiences on the Ashoka campus is precisely this: the incoming freshman year will not have these same encounters. They will have to wait for that first night away from home, the awkward feeling of sharing a room with someone you just met, the excitement of walking down the halls of the university, and bumping into other eager freshers. They are yet to have the shock of eating mess food and wishing for anything else or the constant sense of newness in every single thing they see. Usually, O-week is a blur of optimistic energy with a side dish of anxiety. But this year, since everything is online and the world is hung in hesitant inaction, orientation seems to be more about uncertainty, being unmoored or lost and a whole mountain of crippling anxiety. Connecting with batch mates feels harder now than it’s ever been because the entire process relies on proactive initiation of and participation in conversation. One doesn’t get to bump into people; one now has to make significant contributions to the batch Whatsapp group. Orientation talks and workshops will be the only medium through which the first years will be able to see their batch at large and it sounds utterly daunting. 

 

I realize that I’ve painted a very bleak picture of the circumstances as they stand and I know that I, for one, have developed a tendency to take the ‘we are doomed’ perspective over the last few months. But fear not! All is not lost! The incoming freshmen batch will still be able to experience all of these things, just not right now. Instead, they’ll reach out to people through Whatsapp or Instagram or Twitter and form friendships that are purely virtual at the moment. This will be helped along by O-week events, classes, and events held by clubs and societies and hopefully, it’ll create an online community that knows and supports each other. People may even get to know their roommates before arriving on campus and prepare themselves to share a living space. Instead of uncertainty, this turn of events can be an opportunity to create positive anticipation. When we finally get back to campus, everyone who knows each other through social media will get to meet face to face and it’ll almost be like re-introducing yourself to each other (like multiple platonic Tinder dates at once). 

 

In some ways, the Batch of 2023 will have two Orientation weeks—one before classes start and one when they reach the campus for the first time. The experience might even be more fulfilling than the original because a lot of the awkwardness of beginning college will have already dissipated. ‘Patience is a virtue,’ right? I believe that’s the perfect phrase for this year’s Orientation week—all we have to do is wait. 

Surabhi Jain

Ashoka '21

A fourth-year English and Creative Writing major, Surabhi is always in possession of 20 different kinds of tea, watermelon-pink kitten earmuffs and galaxy-printed leggings. Her many talents include the art of hugging, marathon Netflixing and catnaps.
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