Exactly three years ago, I stood where you now stand: on the doorstep of the rest of my life. It was my first day of college, and I had so many thoughts running through my mind. Who are my friends going to be? Will I find my passion? Is this prison cell of a dorm room really where I’m going to be living for the next nine months? I felt much uncertainty, and even more excitement, as I crossed the threshold into my future. What followed was an exhilarating first year at Duke, a series of highs and lows, of 3 a.m. conversations with soon-to-be best friends and unshakeable feelings of insecurity, doubt and fear.
The next year will be the best of your life, but it will also challenge you in ways you don’t expect and influence the next three more than you realize. As your embarrassing older brother, I feel it is my sworn duty to publicly share some lessons I have learned during my voyage so that you may more mindfully navigate your own. But before I delve into this initial article, I want to go over a few basic rules for this column as a whole.
Rule #1: I don’t know everything…in fact, the more I learn, the more I understand how little I know at all. So take everything I say here with a grain (or pound) of salt.
Rule #2: I know more than you. Our respective understandings of the world are tied to our experiences and I’ve had about three more years than you. Though you can solve a 5x5 Rubik’s Cube and enumerate pi to the 50th decimal place (what a talented young man!), you’re over-confident about your understanding of the world. I was too. Accept that there are people who know more than you and humble yourself so that you may appreciate the advice that comes your way.
Rule #3: Use these articles as a syllabus, not an answer key. I’m not going to tell you what to do because I have no control over your actions. Unfortunately for me, you are approximately 120 percent larger than my 5’10 skinny-Jewish-boy physique, so my ability to assert my will over you, physically or otherwise, is severely limited. Therefore, I’m going to be writing to you about general ideas, as well as providing tips and tricks of the trade; stuff I wish I had known during my first year. Stuff that no one told me.
Rule #4: No matter what I say, you are going to learn the most through your failures. Through screwing up, getting rejected, and feeling defeated. Treat each of these experiences as an opportunity to learn and grow and never be afraid to ask for help.
And so, with that preface in the bag, let’s do this.
#1: The (un)Official O-Week Playbook
O-Week is like having your bar mitzvah…only it’s several days long, you celebrate with about 1,700 people you’ve never met, and have almost no adult supervision. Okay, it’s nothing like your bar mitzvah, but it is awesome and only happens once. It’s an amazing way to start off the year and it goes by fast, so make the most of it. Here are a few musings to consider as you go about the next few days.
1. OLD PEOPLE
When Mom and Dad drove off and left you on your own, you thought you were rid of authority figures in your life. But wait! Your RA just called you into a mandatory hallway meeting and your FAC is forcing you to show up to mandatory FAC chats. What gives? I thought I could do whatever I want to do now that I’m in college…right? While the repercussions for disobeying these new authority figures are relatively minor, your FAC, RA, GR, and FIR are all amazing, whom you should get to know. Your FAC and RA especially, are only a few years older than you and really could be potential friends and reliable sources of support and advice. My FAC gave me a textbook I needed for a class and my RA and I still text regularly to this day.
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2. ATTENDING EVENTS
O-Week has many events, most of which might seem trivial or boring from the description. However, there are groups of students and administrators who spend months planning each event. You get out what you put in, and going to each event gives you a shared experience to talk about with your new classmates.
3. MAKING AN INTRODUCTION
You will be meeting so many people and will be having the same conversation over and over again. Where are you from? What dorm are you in? What do you want to study? If you’re like most people, you’ll forget most answers to all of these questions. Try to remember someone’s name and face, and also ask them a unique question that will help you actually learn something about who they are. Instead of ‘where are you from?’, ask ‘where do you call home?’. Instead of ‘what major are you?’, ask ‘when was the last time you laughed so hard that you cried?’. You’ll remember others by their answers, and they’ll remember you from your questions.
4. GOING OUT VS. STAYING IN
Each night, there will probably be a bunch of parties that everyone will be talking about, and it’s easy to feel like you are missing out should you decide not to go. If you want, you should get out and have a good time. Welcome to college! But remember that you are going to have the option to spend your evenings singing and dancing and drinking really until the point where you have children of your own. What does expire, however, is the window of opportunity to get to know those around you before friendships and friend groups start to solidify. There will be plenty of nights to go out. Spend some of them getting to know people.
5. BE SAFE
As wonderful as O-Week is, there are some downsides to such excitement. There is plenty of access to alcohol and irresponsible drinking often leads to alcohol poisoning and hospitalization each year. Additionally, male dominated social spaces on college campuses (fraternities) are hotbeds for sexual assault. If you see any type of inappropriate behavior, act responsibly and don’t be a bystander.
Lastly, try to get some sleep. But you’re pretty good at that.
Grant Besner is a Trinity senior and columnist.