The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Edited by: Malavika Suresh
You expected to walk in through the gates of university taking in the spectacular view one breath at a time. From the time you applied for admission to the day you received your offer of admission, this is the moment you had been waiting for. The adrenaline rush, the exhilaration, the guided reality, and the bittersweet feeling of leaving your school life behind to step into a completely new world takes over you as you find your way around campus. As you’ve settled in after a while, you begin to prepare yourself for Orientation Week, a mandatory part of your enrollment, almost as if it’s a rite of passage required to enter the hallowed halls of academia. It serves as an all-encompassing guide to ‘everything Ashoka,’ and acquaints you with what your life will look like for the next 3 years. It’s the stuff of dreams that you’ve been imagining for weeks.
Alas, that is not how it turned out to be. A global pandemic hit the world and forced us to experience everything through an online medium, minimizing hopes and intensifying anxieties. This is our virtual reality.
If you’re still reading this article, congratulations! You’ve successfully followed through with O-week and are gearing up for your first-ever week as a university student. I trust that your fantastic cohort leaders and brilliant seniors have made you feel more than welcome into our community and that online orientation positively surpassed your expectations. The butterflies are flying high, the excitement is surging through the roof and your journey towards individual academic excellence is just about to begin! Since you’ve already been familiarised with ‘everything Ashoka’ during O-week, treat this as a glance into everything you can anticipate in the weeks to come.
The first week doesn’t come without its personalized stumbling blocks. Getting used to navigating AMS, being bombarded with a million emails and feeling overwhelmed, rummaging through links and joining a class on time, and sitting through sometimes-awkward and sometimes-entertaining introductions and ice-breakers, there’s a lot that will hit you all at once. To put it into perspective, this is not the kind of freshers party you were envisioning. The red brick walls and the white atrium of Ashoka, where you could’ve potentially clicked Instagram-worthy pictures and created a lifetime of memories, get substituted with the red and white graphics of AMS. To add to that, sitting in front of a screen full of little boxes of people staring right at you doesn’t make it any less daunting. What’s even more intimidating is sitting through the numerous dialogue exchanges that take place between the professors and some intellectually stimulated know-it-alls, that make you feel unprepared all the same. Of course, you wished that you had people around you to chit-chat with, to collectively relieve the nervousness.
The high road doesn’t end here. You would assume that your classes included course-specific lecture sessions throughout and you would happily call it a day thereafter. But that’s not it. Serving you with an Ashoka special called Discussion Sections—these are 1 hour long classes with a lesser number of people, put into place to encourage you into contributing and speaking up to the best of your abilities in a space meant for healthy interactions based on course material. Needless to say, within these meetings lie a lot of anxious proclamations and strained expressions but they also serve as comfort zones for the taciturn souls.
Speaking of course material, the assigned readings in the first few weeks consist of so much complicated vocabulary that after a point, they’re almost incomprehensible and you find yourself fighting an uphill battle. But here’s a tip: using fast reading techniques and reading summaries always helps. Eventually, it appears as if you’re in an online rat race, the pressure of indulging in extracurricular activities and joining clubs catches on, the social expectations continue to rise, and you’re struck with the realization that this is not a Coursera course that you paid a few lakhs for to skip on, this is actual university.
In due course, things do get better. You make peace with the struggles you went through and accept that it was all part of the process. You find solace in the little things such as being able to attend classes from the comfort of your bed and not being scrutinized if you dozed off for a few minutes in the middle of the class while your camera was off. The fun zoom chats, full of silly jokes and puns and pop-culture references, the informal, light-hearted conversations with the professors after a serious and uninterrupted lecture, and the torpedo of exclamation marks that flood the chat box indicating the presence of questions to be asked and opinions to be put forward. The best part is that amidst this chaos, you do ultimately find your people. It begins with hesitant DMs and stubborn small-talk, and often being left on seen as well, finally leading up to genuine and cherishable friendships. That’s where your treasure-trove of memories starts to fill up.
Despite the hurdles of an online setting, the ethos of the establishment echoes through quite dynamically. The engagement between the student body and the faculty remains consistent and fruitful, as the professors try their best to make classes lively and enriching, the same way they would be if they were offline. Department representatives, mentors, instructors, RAs, cohort leaders, and many others make your lives so much easier and it would honestly be hard to carry on without them. The disillusionment that comes with the idea of online learning gets busted as you adjust, adapt, overcome and learn and it gives you an entirely new perspective to live with. Moreover, there is always some or the other event that keeps happening, hosted by different clubs, societies, and ministries, to rid you of the FOMO and general monotony.
If I may, I’d call this the quintessential Gen-Z experience since, as a generation, we are so accustomed to the broader scale as well as the nooks and crannies of the internet and the online world, that it becomes a unique occurrence in itself. Besides that, a collective conscience, shared experiences, and a plethora of similarly felt emotions makes for a vibrant community of people who find comfort in the idea that they’re not the only ones going through this and they express this state of mind, to each other and with everyone, beautifully. But it is the sense of optimism that drives you to look forward to one day being able to walk onto campus and achieve all of your goals, that makes you feel most alive. It enhances the all-embracing experience of college life and independent living and keeps you motivated. Overall, it makes you realize that, at the end of it all, you will have had not one, but two distinctive experiences of being at the same place. Naturally, you are the only one who can define what an Ashokan identity means to you. But it starts with the little things and it’s all worth it.