September 11, 2003

Now that you're here, take a break

So, welcome to the U of C. I'm probably about the 3,000th person to tell you that. You are by now buried under a pile of Chicago Life sessions, placement tests, and "must do" orientation events. You are undoubtedly besieged by a legion of O-Aides, program assistants, recruiters for RSOs and other student groups, ad infinitum. So no one's probably telling you to just chill. Well, let me be that person.

There are people here who will encourage you to define your life at the U of C during O-week. You can do that if you want to, but I wouldn't recommend it. You don't have to plan out the next four years in exacting detail. What happens O-Week won't affect your ability to get a good job/do something fulfilling/date an underwear model after graduation (unless you commit a major felony, in which case you have bigger problems). So just go with the flow. The U of C changes a lot in four years, and frankly, you will too. Planning to have everything stay the same is kind of silly.

Before this column becomes a very special after school special of the kind you were forced to sit through as a child, let me just mention a couple of things you're likely to notice about the U of C. Firstly, all the students seem to gripe a fair amount. I've been involved in entire lunchtime conversations that are nothing but continuous streams of griping. In terms of gripes per minute (GPMs), a good U of C student can hit at least 15. Part of this is because the U of C is a legitimately difficult place both academically and socially, and it can be tough to balance school, work, and extracurricular activities. Nonetheless, don't feel obligated to hate this place/the administration/the world/the squirrels on the quad. Try to find a balance here.

Random observation number two: you'll find a lot of students who enjoy comparing the difficulty of this place to the Ivies. This is not necessarily a healthy thing. You're here hopefully because you want to be here, and you're looking forward to the academic challenge, and there's no need to continually justify that this place is tougher than most. Plus, we have it on good authority that Harvard's campus is infested with radioactive tarantulas.

If you are anything at all like I was, you are probably freaked out by the placement tests. Again, my advice is to not stress about them. If you did well in the subjects in high school, you'll be O.K. Note that you have to go through Hum, Soc, Civ, and fine arts in the Core anyway, so don't stress about remembering lots of stuff from high school dealing with these subjects. It's of note that, despite this fact, within the first two weeks someone in your Hum class will attempt to epistemologically prove that he or she is smarter than any or all of the following: Plato, Kierkegaard, the professor, you, the average People magazine reader. They tend to be wrong. Just let the professor give them the smackdowns they deserve.

So, now that we've finished that little digression, here's some hopefully not too trite advice about what to do during O-Week. First off, you will be more or less forced to get to know the members of your house (commuter students can ignore this section). You might as well make this as pleasant as possible. The wrong way to do this is to release rabid chihuahuas into the house lounge. Releasing them in some other house lounge, however, is completely acceptable.

In any case, O-Week is time to have a little fun before the crushing of the quarter starts. Just enjoy it, be yourself, and prep for the coming year. Oh, and one more piece of advice—everyone at the U of C is a geek in some way or another. Trying to have a geek-free U of C would be like trying to have dry water or reasonably-priced ARAMARK food. It just doesn't work. Don't try to fit into some predefined stereotype, though, but be aware that they exist. Well, that's it. Have fun during O-Week. You'll probably have it again, in some way you don't expect.