Disoriented and alienated during o-week

Frosh week isn’t for everyone

Erin Calhoun

Illustration | Emily Fu 

Orientation Week at Victoria College prides itself in being the first step students take into life at university. Events scheduled are boisterous, historical, and sometimes wacky—they’re meant to have students strip down their inhibitions and try new things.   

Making oneself vulnerable and open to trying new things can be a difficult quest for some. The inclusive events, extroverted orientation leaders, and constant expectation to get involved can alienate students who are uncomfortable in such situations. 

Orientation Week Executives and Co-Chairs at Vic are aware of the nature and energy that stems from events meant to be unique and exciting. Such events pressure and induce anxiety in students who do not feel socially established or comfortable in those situations. Alternative events that are less sensory heavy are planned to cater to these factors in an effort to absolve feelings of alienation. These events, such as board games in Ned’s Café, still hinge on forced socialization and excessive effort for inclusion. 

At Victoria College, the fee for Orientation week is included in Residence Fees for those students who live in a Victoria College residence and are a Vic student. In 2016-2017 the fee was $130.12. Students who commute are able to participate in Commuter Orientation for an additional fee paid during the sign up process.

Often seen as a necessary step for inclusion and breaking the ice with your peers, I found my Orientation Week to be highly alienating from the real experience of university that came later on. At first, I was resentful to have to participate and to try new things. However, I later learned that Orientation Week is an essential way to learn what Vic is about. 

In my first year, the theme for orientation week was “Views from the Vic” which I immediately did not relate to, as I was not a Drake fan when moving to Toronto. My name was then misspelled twice on my name tag. I humored myself in this small tragedy and put the past behind, trying to interest myself in the events. I spent most of my first week on Vic grounds fumbling between dorm rooms and common rooms, feeling uncomfortable and out of place for the most part. Being asked to dance to a mashup of pop music didn’t help. I felt like I was in grade nine all over again.  

A challenging part of enjoying Orientation Week to its fullest is finding a group of friends to experience it with. The aim of many events throughout the week is to have students interact with each other, from putting them into pre-made groups to constant ice-breaking sessions. Events with less social structure, like the boat cruise, rely on the concept that most students have found a friend or group to associate themselves with.   

Without a group where you feel like you belong, the events and socializing can be awful—and that’s just fine. Much of the first month of school will include meeting new people, and meeting more new people, and maybe liking all or none of them. Just remember, everyone is as desperate to make friends as you are. 

My first year at Vic started to become more comfortable when Orientation Week was over. I began to familiarize myself with Vic by doing things on my own. I sought out clubs I would enjoy and tried new things at my own pace. I became the Sustainability President on my residence floor and began writing for The Strand.  I met people that I call my friends not through Orientation Week but at my own pace through places where we share mutual interests.  

Groups of shared interests and location are profitable ways to make new friends. Victoria College’s first year program, “Vic One” with its many small specialized streams is a consistently successful way for students to talk to likeminded peers and connect with faculty. Campus groups, clubs, and hangouts will put you in the same area with students who share the same interests. Even residence spaces are ways to cultivate a sense of familiarity while staying at Vic. For commuter students, the Commuter Dons arrange weekly activities to include an off-campus community when on-campus. The pancake breakfasts are typical hits for on and off-campus students. 

When asked to describe my own Orientation Week experience, I refer to it as ripping off a band aid. Not in the stereotypical “it hurts at first but you just have to do it, and fast,” but as something awful and prolonged. It does hurt and is uncomfortable at first, but you’ve started so why not keep going. As you continue you wish you could abort, but you keep going. By the end, you’re glad it’s over and you might have ended up with a little scar somewhere; maybe it might have been a bit fun too. It’s also something only you can do.  

The energy that flows through Orientation Week is not properly representative of life at university. Everyone eventually stops holding hands and promoting support and enthusiasm. Eventually, self-autonomy becomes essential for seeking advice. The resources mentioned throughout Orientation Week are important, but it’s up to you whether to attend. Once the safety ropes of this make-believe week disappear, the real challenge begins.