After a long summer break, Brandeis students have finally returned to school, where new faces have flooded the campus. In order to help mitigate the uncomfortable transition from a different educational setting, first-year and transfer students go through an orientation.
“Orientation means welcoming a new set of Brandeisians to the school! It means you get to be yourself and find your voice at your new home while making new friends,” said Orientation Leader (OL) Valarie Timms ’16.
As with every first-year class, there will undoubtedly be some introverts in the mix who, in spite of being friendly people, sometimes require a boost or extra motivation to reach out to other students. OLs can be very helpful to this type of student. Zachary Diamond ’18, a new OL this year, this to say about how to make these particular students feel at home: “I’d talk to them and describe my experience, even say that I had some trouble making new friends after coming from a small private school … It takes getting used to a new environment. I would also show my support if they ever needed someone to talk to, as well as introduce them to different groups based on similar interests.”
Some OLs take a different approach. “I make shy first-years feel at home by being myself, which of course means being a huge dork! I share with them all of my awkward and embarrassing stories from my time thus far at Brandeis and I’ve found that it really makes them feel more comfortable to open up and try new things,” said Timms. She also alludes to a particular OL, Erica Gwinn ’16, whom she describes as “so kind and welcoming and really has a way of making everyone feel great about themselves! Her strength and leadership really inspires me!”
Hannah Brooks ’16, a third-year OL, described how she views Orientation. “I learned how to laugh at myself, I learned how to adjust to changes in timings and be more flexible, I learned how to keep it real with my groups but keep it fun. Orientation is a roller coaster of high energy, lots of activities, little sleep and lots of laughs. The whole way through I’m inspired by the other OLs and the first-years alike.”
Brooks recalled one particularly amusing moment at dinner during Orientation. “While we were eating, one of my girls found a cucumber slice in her salad that was attached to another cucumber slice—like a cucumber snowman. My group found this to be one of the funniest occurrences for whatever reason. We then left Usdan, took the cucumber snowman with us and sat outside Mandel in a circle with the cucumber in the middle. We just started cracking jokes, making up puns and goofing around about this stupid little cucumber. As random as it was, we all bonded.”
However, there are also serious moments during Orientation. Given that many students come to trust and confide in the OLs, often times these students will share a very personal experience. Timms explained how the hardest part about being an OL is “when something gets really personal, like a topic that is covered in one of the info sessions hits close to home, or is something that you’ve personally experienced … It can be really difficult for you to lead discussions about those things but you also want to make sure the members of your group are given the space and time to talk about the subject. It’s important to find a balance between doing some self-care to process your own feelings and putting on a brave face to be there for your group.”
With all of these important, sometimes delicate topics to focus on, being an OL is certainly no piece of cake. Trevor Tuplin ’16, a member of last year’s Orientation Core Committee, doled out some advice he had for future OLs. “Reflect on your first, second or third year here and identify what you learned, how you grew as a person, what resources you used and what made you love Brandeis. Once you have these points, get ready to share your Brandeis memoir because being an OL is simply sharing your story about how you began to call Brandeis home.”