Orientation, the Great Equalizer

Collectively (universally), the great equalizer is the shiver we all feel at the phrase “move-in day.” This is only amplified when the move is to another country (even if it is only an hour farther than the regular drive up to school). There’s just something about crossing a border that makes everything on the new side a little bit terrifying. It’s probably the text your wireless carrier sends alerting you that you’ve left the US, a text that’s really only meant to alert you that they’re going to charge your firstborn the next time you use 3G.

I do the best I can to block out days like these. If you ask me about the freshman year college move-in, I do a sort of involuntary head shake and try not to get a sympathy stress stomach ache for my past self. But here, the first sense of relief comes when you think about it as a numbers game. There are less than 50 students doing this move-in, really cutting down on the crowding and social anxiety and there’s no wondering where your dorm is, as it’s one building. You park right by the main entrance to unload. You probably only slip once or twice on the slush between car and door.

I’ve found through this process that matching t-shirts are worth your time. The people in those shirts probably want to carry all of your items for you and give you keys to important things. They’ll show you where everything is and, though things may seem imbalanced as they seem to know everything and you nothing, it’s all pretty equal in that they have to wear matching t-shirts and that must be a bummer. They’re upbeat, though, and that’s admirable.

Getting to know each other seems to be high on every “orientation” agenda. We all dread the games. It’s always games, isn’t it? But through these introductory games, I found out that someone’s nickname is “Soup.” Amazing and worthwhile. As goofy as these things seem (and make me feel), looking around, it’s clear that they’re having the same effect on all. There’s something to breaking everyone down and putting everyone on equal footing. There’s value in everyone sharing in the off-kilter embarrassment inevitable in orientation weekend.

On a side note, on Friday I followed a really crude map my Montreal friend made me get home to the dorm and it went off without a hitch. More pride than you’d think. A surprisingly reassuring time.

Early mornings and full days of activities also come with the territory–things that we don’t associate with college students. I even tried to get out of some of the activities but everyone kept saying the word “mandatory.” But that scavenger hunt I’d tried to weasel out of ended up having a whole different energy than I’d imagined. My group was chilled out and let me go to a fancy soap store to buy some fancy face soap. There is no shortage of boutique-style soap here. Montreal’s amazing in that way. The least of its virtues but important nonetheless. We also ran into another Champlain Abroad student’s mom and she wished us a great semester. Always nice to see a mom. Hi, Karen. Not sure about the name but Karen’s a fair guess for any mom.

Admittedly, a Professional Writing student could feel a little bit checked out when the presentations and workshops get a bit gamer-heavy, but what it does allow for is a lot of individualization. There’s a certain compensation that the staff here provide to the outliers. The four or five non-gamers called in to talk to Ryan and Hannah, myself included, were really given the chance to talk about the things we’d be interested in doing here and the ways in which our time will be spent differently than those in the dominating program. There’s a sense that they’re taking special care of us, making sure we feel heard. That’s a nice way to start a semester, with someone asking if you want to go to a Mohawk reserve. We all said yes, thanks, and I’m waiting on that confirmation email [I’m working on it, Sara! – Ed.]. It’s crazy, the things you don’t know you’re interested in until someone asks. Apparently, I’m also into slam poetry?

By the beginning of the third (and final) day of orientation, we’re all about ready to be finished with it and just about settled into it, in equal measure. The first weekend, all in all, feels exactly as it is—it’s set up. It’s mostly realizing that everything isn’t in free fall (there are real adult people who have schedules to hand you and that’s okay) and figuring out which bus gets you from the dorm to campus and maybe a grocery store. The 24 gets you pretty close to both. It also comes around every ten minutes, so that’s nice when you miss the first three you’d meant to catch.

More Montreal
Interview with Ubisoft Game Lab Contestants
Interview with Rudolphe Recca
The Mont Royal Hiking Experience