Orientation week blues

staff note

I don’t remember much from orientation week except that it was devastatingly hot. I was familiar with North Carolina’s stifling humidity—being a Raleigh native, I had to be—but the steamy, uncomfortable climate was a bit too representative of my mood for my liking. Just as the heat seemed bound and determined to smother me, so did my forthcoming freshman year at Duke.

I probably can’t recall the minutiae of O-Week because I was either inebriated or occupied most of the time, scurrying from RA meetings to frat parties and every event in between. If anything, it felt wrong that I was so full of despair. The signals were everywhere that I was supposed to be having the greatest week of my life—that the friends I made would be the best I’d ever have, that partying is exciting and fun and fulfilling, that Duke chose me and I’d always choose Duke. There was no room for doubt and very little space for fear.

But I was utterly terrified. All of my interactions with others seemed superficial; I wasn’t sure if I’d ever forge genuine friendships. The whiplash transition between orientation week, a seven-day-long romp of hedonistic pleasure, and the first week of classes was severe. Loneliness followed me around relentlessly, and I made the 30-minute pilgrimage back home to Raleigh often. Moving into college felt as though I was incurring an incredible loss. I was no longer proximate to my friends, I didn’t have the comfort of my home and I missed my family dearly. And though O-Week wouldn’t necessarily turn out to be the worst week of my freshman year, it certainly wasn’t the easiest.

That’s what the RAs and FACs never really tell you, I suppose—that it’s okay not to be okay. To be sad, even, or lonely, or depressed or anxious or uncomfortable. To realize that you’re actually terrible at dealing with change, or bad at making friends, or not as excited about college as everyone hoped you’d be. Maybe the transition into Duke triggered the bouts of anxiety and depression that had been suspended inside of you for so long (it absolutely did for me), and maybe you’re not exactly sure how to internalize that, to deal with it, because everyone seems determined to pretend those crueler emotions don’t exist.

Here’s where my platitudes and clichés begin: it does get easier. By the sheer force of time, you will begin to feel better. I don’t dare say happier, because that’s relative and vague, but a few months from now (weeks, even), you will find your niche. The weird feelings will pass. You’ll have to grit your teeth and bear the discomfort, and knowing that there’s very little you can do to augment the situation is incredibly frustrating, but I promise that by winter break you’ll despise having to leave Duke for almost a month. It just takes time.

I don’t have many regrets about how my freshman year panned out. If anything, I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia for all of the nights spent in my dorm, surrounded by the interesting and exciting people I’m lucky enough to call my best friends, still unsure and nervous but somehow at peace. I have no doubts that I left freshmen year a more complete person than I entered it. There are infinite resources on Duke’s campus to help calm the adjustment period—from CAPS to various student organizations—and you should never feel discouraged from seeking them out.

In many ways, orientation week is a terrible representation of what life at Duke will actually be like—and, in other ways, it’s a pretty accurate portrayal. The most liberating part of it all, I suppose, is that you get to dictate your time at Duke however you please, be it partying often or rarely leaving your dorm. Each path has its drawbacks and attractions, of course. But those are your choices to make and learn from, and at the end of the day, no one can take that away from you.

So, although everything may seem out of your control at the moment, you’ll figure out how to survive your upcoming freshman year. I certainly did.   


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