“John Jay? No, no, you mean to go to Carman.”
I didn’t know her name, but she was the first person I bumped into at Columbia. She was helpful, and when I asked the way to my dorm, she was eager to direct me to Carman even though I told her that I lived in John Jay. (As it turned out, she was trying to get me to go to a party.) I don’t know who she was, but she was my first impression of Columbia. After that interaction, I realized that Columbia wouldn’t let me take in the enormity of the college experience and New York City lying down. And orientation was indeed a blur—in a great, warm kind of a way.
It was the kind of feeling you get after a long day where you didn’t realize how much you’d done until you hit the hay. The lobsters we were served, the Varsity Show, the meetings with our orientation leaders, the numerous sessions which all ultimately acclimated us—they all fit into the larger goal of making first-years feel welcome. We were meant to feel comfortable, presumably to help us start on this new journey that we’d all worked hard for.
When I read the letter that described Columbia as “the greatest university in the greatest city in the world,” I daydreamed. I dreamt of camping out in Times Square reading the Iliad, or going to a Broadway show as part of a class assignment. I conjured up images of Columbia that made me fall in love with the University before I’d even gotten here. Sure, many of these dreams were unrealistic. (I mean, would they really give me free Broadway passes every week?) But Orientation didn’t end up bursting this bubble that I had made up. Instead, that paradise seemed even more achievable. Looking back, it was because we were pampered.
That’s not to say everything done for us first-years was pampering—far from it. We discussed disturbing, thought-provoking, and pertinent issues like sexual assault and its prevention, and accepting diversity in all its forms.
But even these potentially disturbing or disruptive seminars were cushioned by all the comforts that we enjoyed during this past week. (For me, the wide range of events for international students allowed me to feel right at home.)
It’s been said before that the New Student Orientation Program is Columbia’s attempt to make us fall in love with her only to have her stab us in the back.
And maybe this is true. The state of housing on much of campus might seem more dismal, and the food available might not be exactly the same quality as the gourmet lobster I wolfed down last week. But I don’t believe that NSOP’s real aim is (or should be) to put us through the wringer, to prepare us for “real life” at Columbia. Instead, it should ease us into our new lives at Columbia.
Even this basic acceptance is something I haven’t yet fully managed. But I’m certain that what I have come to terms with is a result of the treatment we’ve received at NSOP. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not implying that these “luxuries” are vital to the first-year orientation experience, or that we need to be pampered and coddled so that we can sleep soundly at night. Not at all. All I mean is that these experiences make the incoming first-years a bit less uncomfortable with who they are at Columbia and a bit more at ease with themselves and their new environment.
The first week on campus was overwhelming, sure, but starting new anywhere is always a daunting task. If I were to be thankful for just one thing in this past week, it would be these luxuries at NSOP. Columbia pampered us and held our hands. I’m certainly grateful that she did what she did. I don’t really know what is in store for me this coming year, or if Columbia will actually decide to move on next year as others have claimed.
If by this time next year she does decide to move on, I might feel a little put out. But then again, she’ll just be busy welcoming another batch of first-years who will need that pampering more than I will.
Kunal Kanodia is a Columbia College first-year with prospective majors in economics-political science and human rights. First Impressions runs alternate Tuesdays.
To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.