October 21, 2008

When fun starts to die

We begin to believe that this model of school, fun with brief unpleasant interjections like the “Aims of Education” address, is the model we will be living from October to June.

[img id="76886" align="alignleft"] It’s no secret that for an upperclassman, scoffing at the grievances of first-years is a regular practice. As a member of the latter group, it is safe to say that this jaded mocking and rolling of eyes isn’t completely unjustified. A month has yet to pass, and we’re already bemoaning problem sets and the quantity of complex readings we’re expected to do—problem sets and readings that, for all you third- and fourth-years, probably seem like excerpts from entry-level LeapFrog games. Our Homer and Plato have no hopes of ever being able to hold a candle to whatever mind-bendingly difficult assignments you fill your days with. However, perhaps it is something to note that you were all in this place once, and remember (or perhaps have successfully blocked out forever) the harsh transition for a first-year that takes place from O-Week to third week.

It’s not a great idea to judge the quality of college life off orientation week, and yet we, supposedly bright students, find ourselves doing it anyway. We begin to believe that this model of school, fun with brief unpleasant interjections like the “Aims of Education” address, is the model we will be living from October to June. We start to think that our year will be composed of outings to the captivating and diverse neighborhoods of Chicago, completely subsidized house activities, and food—lots and lots of free food. If anything, O-Week bears more resemblance to an all-expenses-paid vacation (with significantly smaller rooms and no Jacuzzi) than to a launching point into our educational careers.

It’s after the first weekend that we start to become disillusioned, our pockets empty due to the exorbitant costs of city living. A bus ride that may have been 50 cents back home is equivalent to a four-dollar transit service here. Our faces lie slack-jawed over our receipts. It was only a bag of potato chips and a gallon of milk! Then comes the grim realization that sales tax in Chicago exceeds 10 percent. House activities dwindle in both quantity and quality due to a shortage of funds and unsuccessful fundraisers to replenish them. Food at Bartlett shifts to à-la-carte, taking away the joys of tucking away two or three desserts; meanwhile all the baked goods given out by organizations to lure the unsuspecting onto their listhosts are replaced with an endless barrage of e-mails. It turns out that while fun isn’t completely dead at the U of C, it’s hanging on by the thin thread of life support.

However, even we inexperienced first-years weren’t naïve enough to believe that college was going to be all play and no work—the difference here is that we found this notion of work actually desirable. We chose this school because we wanted to expand our minds, to learn and grow as people. Yet even this concept of education and character building is filtered for new students during O-Week. The RSO fair gives but a brief glimpse at the more recreational side of broadening your horizons. On closer inspection, it becomes evident that trying new things here is a rare luxury, as every club seems to be preceded by an application or an audition of some sort. At the more intellectual end, a surprisingly enlightening video on the evils of gentrification and the University’s history of self-segregation compels us to act—to cast off the shroud of apathy and isolationism that pervades our campus. We gain intentions of going to the surrounding neighborhoods, perhaps as volunteers or tutors, but the sheer volume of schoolwork puts a blockade on this thought.

Nevertheless, the most jarring shift is in our thoughts on schoolwork itself. Heading straightaway into week four, I’ve found that the best analogy for this subject is that of novocaine slowly dripping into the cavities of the mind, anesthetizing the decay slowly formed over the years by the sweet simplicity that is high school education. But this is what we asked for, right? We ravaged the pages of our course catalogs over the summer, gluttonously devouring the idea that we, in four years, would come out enlightened—that our minds would gain a coating, shiny and new. We desired challenges; we desired the idea of drilling down all our old conceptions and thinking in a completely renewed process. Yet we aren’t prepared for the fact that, like a tooth injected with Novocain, the prevailing feeling during this lengthy process is numbness.

Maybe, along with the attainment of knowledge, one of the greatest feats that can be accomplished here is acclimation to the University’s environment. Once this is achieved, perhaps everything else will fall into place and some of the excitement from the first few weeks here will be restored. Then in several years, upon hearing the fresh group of first-years complaining about their first Sosc papers, we current first-years will be able to think, “Don’t worry, it’ll pass. I’ve been there too.” And maybe scoff a little.

Alice Hur is a first-year in the College majoring in political science and English.