August 9, 2019

DESTROYING JOTENHEIM | The Three Essentials of Orientation Week

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Photo from Joe Wilensky/Cornell Chronicle


  1. Pack your schedule to the max

One of the great things about Cornell is that they are well aware of the difficult transition between high school and summer to living at college, and they go through a lot of effort to make the change as easy as possible for incoming freshmen with Orientation Week. Events start as early as the day of move-in, and if you take full advantage of the university’s scheduled activities, you shouldn’t have a single minute of empty time to stew over the discomfort of being in an entirely new and unfamiliar place.

That being said, a lot of Orientation Week is what you make of it. Only a fraction of the events that you will find in the welcome guide are actually mandatory, and many tend to overlap and leave the decision of attendance up to you. As a newly former freshman myself, the best advice I can give for this portion is to go out to as many events as you can. Most will provide you with the incentives of free food and Cornell swag, but even the ones that don’t can be the perfect place to meet future friends, study buddies, and at least another person to go eat your next meal or attend the class picture with so you don’t have to wander campus on your own. (You will get lost. That is a guarantee, but so is the efficiency of Google Maps your new first semester best friend so there’s no need to sweat it.) It’s pretty easy to skip the less flashy, day-time activities during the week, such as library tours, nature walks, or printing seminars, but I promise you won’t regret going. Either for the information or the people you can meet in the less awkward/forced situations, all of the events Cornell provides are worth your while. My closest friends last year were ones I met at Game Night on the first day of Orientation, and I am 100% thankful I chose to go out on my own instead of uncomfortably following along with my cliquey hallmates or staying back to text old friends in my room. My entire first semester experience can largely be accredited to that first week of orientation, so go out and take advantage of what the university has provided for you. This will also be one of your last weeks of total freedom with no classes, work, or course-related stress, so go out and live it up as much as possible in your new home-away-from-home!

  1. Talk

This may seem even more basic than the last point, but it really is essential. Some of you will have no problem with this one walking up to strangers in the dining hall or introducing yourself to the random guy sitting next to you during the awkward sexual consent assembly. For others, however, the idea can strike you with palm-sweating panic. Personally, I’m an example of the latter, and so I hope you’ll trust me when I tell you that as frightening as diving into random conversation with strangers may be, Orientation is the absolute perfect time to do it. You won’t ever again find a time on campus where such a large amount of people are in the exact same uncomfortable lonely-boat as you. And of course a good deal of your interactions are going to be awkward, but I guarantee that at least 80% of the people that you interact with will be experiencing the same level of cringe and mild panic that you are. Making a fool of yourself while trying to meet new people is truly a rite of passage for any college experience; the beauty of it is that no one is going to care or even remember you stumbling over your own name or suddenly forgetting where you lived before coming to campus, because he/she will be too busy rehearsing his/her own stilted response for whatever they predict you’ll say next. Moral of the story: you’re a fool surrounded by thousands of other fools. You’ll fit in spectacularly.

Some interactions will go better than others, but don’t let a negative one early on end your search for new buddies. One of the first people I tried introducing myself to gave me an ugly look before retreating back into her room without a word. Needless to say, I went back to my room and promptly began to cry. Thirty minutes later, I trudged back out and tried again, meeting one of my best friends not two hours later. RAs and orientation leaders are also assignments that you can’t control, and while the majority can be great, don’t get bummed out if yours doesn’t turn out to be as friendly as you’d been expecting.You need to constantly maintain the mentality of what Michael Scott once said: “I’m ready to get hurt again.” The majority of people at Cornell are fantastic and ridiculously kind. I promise, you’ll find them in your own time.


  1. Explore Campus

This is a shorter one than the other two, but important all the same. Cornell’s campus is huge, beautiful, and very easy to navigate once you get accustomed to the busing system and its layout. When you first arrive, the extreme mileage can seem daunting, but within a week you’ll have no problem hopping from quad to quad. That being said, it’s a fantastic idea to look over your schedule and scope out the buildings for each of your courses so you don’t have to worry about the extra stress of getting lost on your first official day. Guided tours are great, but sometimes it’s better to venture out with a flexible route of your own so you can really get familiar with the parts of campus where you’ll spend the majority of your time. (Depending on your major, you may not even step foot on a whole third of the grounds.) 

Collegetown and downtown Ithaca are also great aspects of the university’s location, and it can be fun to explore the shops and eateries with a group during one of your days. That being said, I wouldn’t spend the majority of my Orientation time down there. You have endless weekends in the future for exploring all that Ithaca has to offer. Take advantage of the activities Cornell has already planned for you on campus during this time to better acquaint yourself with the immediate area where you’ll be living. Campus is new and exciting for you at this point; enjoy that wide-eyed wonder and save the Collegetown excursions for times later in the semester when you’re looking for something fresh or a quick escape. Nightly activities off-campus can be tempting, but again, what Cornell offers you in that first week is unique to Orientation, and not something you’ll be likely to find as commonplace later in the semester. You have plenty of time — there’s no need to cram all of your college experiences into a few couple of days. Also keep in mind that other students are aware of the fact that freshmen are the ones predominantly occupying campus at this point. Be smart with whatever you choose to do during the week, but remember that you’ll have plenty of time during the semester to try different things.


Welcome to campus and I hope you enjoy Orientation and the semester ahead! Do your best not to stress over it too much. And older students? We’re still just as awkward as you. Talk to us, please we can be a great resource for you, right on campus!