Orientation: The relative determination of position or direction. College orientation: The position is independence, and the direction is forward.
Last week I got my first taste of college, or rather, a fleeting glimpse of my future. I never could’ve guessed my future would begin with a luxury red-eye flight on Spirit Airlines. With seats that mirrored the wooded feeling of my dining room chairs and with no reclining features, I was poised in an 90 degree upright position for four hours until I touched down in Michigan. “So this is college,” I thought. Yet, through the screaming babies and the lack of complimentary water on this airline seen as a blessing by broke college students worldwide, I could almost feel a sensation of “This is it. I made it. I’m here.” So my journey started with the takeoff from LAX, not the descent into Detroit.
After departing Los Angeles around 10 p.m. and touching down in Detroit around 5 a.m. local time (there is a three hour time difference between the two), I stumbled my way along the entire length of the plane, following the light and the hopeful light breezes of cold morning air until I reached my freedom. After making my way out of the flying tubular vehicle, I walked to the windows of the gate, gazed up at the dark grey sky quickly losing its opacity to the sunlight, and stared out into the Detroit landscape. “So this is college,” I thought. And I made my way to my bus.
As I began making smalltalk with my fellow bus goers while starting to nervously dread the enigmatic three days that were ahead of me, the Michigan Flyer transport screeched its way into the station, breaking the crisp morning air. Only this twenty-minute bus ride now stood in front of me and my future home of Ann Arbor; I realized that I literally had no idea what my freshman year orientation was about to entail. How am I going to meet my people? What classes am I going to take? Am I going to miserably fail all of my placement tests? Is this bus even going to the right place? As I neared the institution that was bent on teaching me everything, I realized that I knew nothing. Complete cluelessness. “So this is college,” I thought.
I got dropped off by the bus at CC Little, the central bus station on the campus of the University of Michigan. My orientation check-in was at the East Quad. Hypothetically, the walk from CC Little to East Quad should’ve only taken me about five minutes; realistically, it took me about 20. Disorienting myself with my own cognition and confidence, I wandered astray in the huge grassy quad known as the Diag, exploring my school accidentally at the most inconvenient time possible. It wasn’t until I saw flocks of freshman students doing the same thing that I realized what direction I was supposed to be headed.
Upon checking in, the socialization started. The brave reached out to strangers, the timid stood in the shadows, and the lucky hung out with groups of hometown friends. After being asked where I was from two or three times (always followed by “Why would you come to Michigan from California?”), I made my way up to my room, or should I say, my walk-in closet with two beds in it. “So this is college,” I thought. A trend of luxury had been following me ever since I left Los Angeles.
Yet, as hard as figuring out how to put the sheets on my bed was, or finding out that the bathroom was about 100 yards away, or realizing that I can’t get food without my student ID card, I surprisingly adapted quickly, proficiently, and enjoyably. The exciting future in front of me pervaded into my present, and college living morphed into my own. Unlimited meals? I’ll take it. New people and places and things to discover? That’s a dream to me. Realizing this will be my home for the next four years? Yes please.
The first day consisted of lectures about safety, money, campus policy, etc. Even after a red-eye, I found every single presentation scintillating. Here were people standing before me, talking about my future as a Wolverine. Talking about their confidence in us finding success in the world. Talking about representing this standout institution with pride. I couldn’t help but get jittery with joy every time they called us Wolverines – my future was waiting. It had begun.
After that first day, I was in college… or at least, I’d like to think I was. I met new faces, some interested in art and others going into pre-med. I found new places, from the quaint little cafe of the Undergraduate Library (UgLi for short) to the best cookie shop around (no California cookie can ever match up with an Insomnia cookie, I’m sorry). And I found my direction. Although I still have no idea what I want to study in college or what I’m going to do about my overall lack of basic life survival skills, my orientation gave me the full confidence that I belong at the University of Michigan. It showed me my position as a student, as a growing young man, and as a Wolverine. It truly did orient me.
“So that was college” I thought, as I made my way back to the bus station on the last day. Schedule in one hand, suitcase in another, I couldn’t stop reading over the classes that I had arranged to take. And the second I left that campus, the nostalgia swept right in. I knew that this school was my place, and for the first time ever, I felt pangs of longing for my new home away from home.