Becoming “Oriented”

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Some of the many people I had these awesome conversations with. (Photo by Seimi Park '20/The Daily Gazette)

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Today, The Daily Gazette welcomes the class of 2020 with a series of articles written entirely by and about first year students. Welcome to Swarthmore!

“Do you really have to go?”

The question I had spent my entire summer avoiding had somehow weaseled its way into my life. My heart wanted to scream, “NO! I’ll stay! I don’t have to go!!!” but my uncompliant mouth responded “Yes, I do.”

As I said my bittersweet goodbyes to my friends and family before leaving for school, I seriously questioned why I was leaving the place I knew as home for a small town seven hours away. I knew Swarthmore was a great school with great professors, great classes, and great students, but I had my fair share of reservations.

My closest friends in high school came to my house for one last time to send me off. (Photo by Seimi Park ’20/The Daily Gazette)

These reservations began when I attended Swatstruck, the orientation program for accepted students. Quite frankly, I was having the time of my life. I sat in on a politics class in which we discussed the effect of past revolutionary movements on present-day violence. I was beyond excited to be able to talk to such intelligent people about topics I hadn’t learned as part of the “high school standardized testing curriculum.” Having the opportunity to take part in these conversations had completely solidified my decision – I knew I would attend Swarthmore in the fall! After the class ended, I packed up my belongings and began to walk out when I heard a fellow spec whisper, “That class was stupidly long.” At those five words, my idealized perception of the school had completely gone down the drain. I will be the first to admit that it’s rather absurd to discount the 100 great things about the college for one bad thing, but in the moment, my rage completely dominated my mind.

I knew college wouldn’t be this perfect place where everything was rainbows and butterflies, but I really believed Swarthmore was the closest alternative I would find and chose accordingly. Still, the incident made me worry about the people, as I didn’t want to have to befriend anyone like the kid from my politics class. What if I didn’t fit in with everyone else? What if I’d never get that sense of community that I so badly wanted? Most importantly, what if I didn’t make any friends?

But with every passing minute of Orientation Week, my fears began to dissipate.

Between mandatory hall meetings and exciting social events, I met so many different people who are exactly what I aspire to be: insightful, curious, and compassionate. For the first time in my entire life, I was able to speak without censoring my own thoughts. I had hour long conversations about racism, religion, mental health, and so many other topics that I had never even thought about discussing.

I learned more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from strangers than I had from a lifetime of learning in public schools. A friend and I discussed the difficulty in bringing Asian-American issues to the table without taking away focus from equally important movements like #BLM. Someone I met during the Tri-Co Social Justice Institute told us about the hardships of sharing one’s religious beliefs in a society so strongly influenced by sterotypes.

Some of the many people I had these awesome conversations with.

I can’t pinpoint exactly why it was so easy for me to reveal my entire self to strangers I had never before met, but I knew I felt safe. The more I talked to people, the more I felt like I had been always been a part of the Swarthmore community – a special kind of place in which people focus on bettering the world they live in and work to be the best versions of themselves.

We ended Orientation with First Collection, a Quaker tradition that has been around at Swarthmore for years. The freshman class gathered to discuss our core values, how we wish to be impacted by the community at the school, and what kind of people we hope to one day become. A few people said that their impressions of the school had changed for the better once they arrived on campus, just as my own did. I didn’t have the chance to speak up, but here’s what I wanted to say: I’m so thankful. Thank you all for giving me an open space to talk freely about anything I want to and anything I need to, without judgments or preconceived notions. I appreciate it so much and in the coming years, I hope I can do the same for you.

The lighting of the candles during First Collection. (Photo by Seimi Park '20/The Daily Gazette)
The lighting of the candles during First Collection. (Photo by Seimi Park ’20/The Daily Gazette)

Many of the faculty used the word “acclimate” to describe the purpose of Orientation, but for me, it was so much more.  It didn’t teach me what to do when Swarthmore’s rigorous workload catches up with me, but it gave me a group of friends who will be there when it happens.

Featured image shows Seimi Park ’20 with people she met during orientation. By Seimi Park’20/The Daily Gazette.

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