As they expertly answer questions about everything from the NESCAC to Middletown Cash, this year’s International Student Orientation (ISO) and New Student Orientation (NSO) leaders appear to be oracles of Wesleyan. Tell them you’re thinking about joining an a cappella group, and they’ll effortlessly list all 15 options. Ask them how to get to Pine Palace, and they’ll walk you right to the door.
In light of the leaders’ seemingly divine knowledge of life at Wes, one might find it hard to believe that just a couple of years ago (and some just last year), they stood in their freshman disciples’ very shoes. Some orientation leaders (OLs) for the class of 2018 took a break from their hectic schedules to reminisce about their own orientation experiences.
Carolina Elices ’17 enjoyed freshman orientation so much that it inspired her to become an OL this year. As an incoming freshman, she was nervous that Wesleyan veterans like OLs and RAs would seem intimidating and inaccessible. Instead, she was pleasantly surprised by how warm and inviting the orientation atmosphere was. The aspect of orientation she most enjoyed was spending time with the student leaders.
“They felt very approachable to me,” Elices said. “Sometimes, authority figures can seem a little scary and unapproachable, but they weren’t intimidating at all. They were completely happy to answer any questions or anything, and I think they really built a sense of community within our small community.”
Elices wanted to grant the class of 2018 an equally positive experience. This year, she stepped up to the plate and followed the example of last year’s OLs.
“I was like, ‘I want to make sure that next year’s class can have as great of an orientation experience as I have, so I think I want to be an orientation leader,’” she said. “Now that I’m doing it, I’m really glad I made that decision.”
Sonia Max ’17 became an OL this year for many of the same reasons. She enjoyed participating in organized orientation activities last year and was eager to lead this year’s freshman class in similar activities. Max especially connected with the leaders of her small group, who directed fun icebreaker games as well as serious discussions about relevant campus issues.
“I just kind of wanted to give back and try to do that for the new class,” Max said. “I’ve always liked being in positions where I can give people guidance.”
Hazem Fahmy ’17, on the other hand, was miserable during orientation last year, which for him comprised both ISO and NSO. He began his freshman year bitter that his plans to take a gap year had fallen though, and orientation did little to convince him that his resentment was unmerited.
“I did not want to be here, and I did not adjust very well,” Fahmy said. “I was very terrified, very nervous. My OLs weren’t very active with me. They weren’t very engaging, and it was just a very, very bad experience.”
Fahmy, who now identifies as “a very hardcore Wes fanboy,” took on the leadership position this year in an attempt to compensate for last year’s orientation. Already, he feels he has redeemed himself from the negative experience by spending quality time with the new students and addressing any concerns they have about beginning college.
“Every day, I’m extremely happy I’m here, and helping others reaching that level and helping them get acquainted with it and to connect with the place as much as I did is definitely a privilege,” Fahmy said. “That’s something that fills me with a lot of happiness.”
For Fahmy, and Bulelani Jili ’16, another OL, the division of the freshmen students into small groups helps tremendously in facilitating bonds, both among new students and between new students and orientation leaders.
“I’ve had great moments and long conversations with [the freshmen] about things or issues that relate to Wesleyan but also just relate to their lives in general,” Jili said.
During NSO, the small orientation groups contain 10 to 20 freshmen each; ISO groups average about five international freshmen. Prior to last year, the small groups were only utilized during ISO, while the freshmen at NSO remained in much larger groups for all of the orientation activities. Last year, NSO used smaller groups for the first time, a change that has been well received by OLs.
Miranda Haymon ’16, who also served as an OL last year, did not recall much about her own freshman OLs. She felt that because her class was not divided into small groups during orientation activities, she did not have much opportunity to connect personally with the leaders. The small group system has allowed her to bond with the new students, something that may have been more challenging for Haymon’s NSO leaders back in 2012.
“What I really like about orientation now, what I think is a good change, is that we’re definitely involved, and the students get to associate their orientation with one or multiple leaders,” she said. “The fact of the matter is that now there’s a personal connection with the orientation leader, which gives you a point person and a person that has insight into the world that is Wesleyan.”