Young Star

To freshmen, on first days and awkwardness

IN A NUTSHELL - Samantha King - The Philippine Star

Stepping into college, you realize that you’re back at the bottom of the food chain.

From having every right to scoff at the annoying freshie kids, you’re now an annoying freshie yourself.

Remember Buffy Summers? Before she became the most long-lived, kick-ass, and quotable vampire slayer of the 21st century—she was a relatively normal high school student, just like the rest of us. Expelled from her old school for burning down a gym full of the undead, she moves to Sunnydale to start anew, only to be greeted on her first day by a dead body, vampires, and the portal to the Hellmouth.

Buffy’s scenario is probably Western pop culture’s number one contender for worst first day of school ever, which is why I can tell you now that whatever embarrassment or trepidation you may experience on your first day, it’s not going to be as bad as that. To bring it a little closer to home, our public school system is a mess. On the very first day, kids are greeted with too many classmates and too few classrooms, textbooks are shared among three to five students, and the roll call is peppered with absences on the first day, most of who have already dropped out. These are factors that can’t be changed by any internal force of will, but rather require intervention (and endless waiting) from above and without. That said, however, here’s a list of first-day mishaps you can change on your own, and come out a better person for it:

1. Getting a name wrong is the ultimate insult

It’ll rear its head sooner or later, and when it does, the person whose name you forget will likely feign politeness to avoid making things more awkward. Don’t be fooled though. If they are to be your classmates for the next year or so, making the effort to know their names is the surest sign of sincerity. Solution? Repeat the name after being introduced, and associate an attribute to the person for easier recall—“Tin has the sleek hair,” for example. In case you’re drawing a blank, however, you can try the one-sided introduction dodge—“Hey,” you say to the person whose name escapes you, “let me introduce you to Tin.” You say the name of the person you remember, and almost always, the nameless person will volunteer his or her name. Also, remember that others might have trouble remembering your name, so err on the side of re-introducing yourself as well.

2. No-friend zone

No friends… yet. When people start gravitating towards each other in little cliques and you find yourself facing the prospect of eating lunch alone, there’s no shame in simply asking if you can join the others for a meal. But when you think about it, there’s really nothing wrong with eating alone, either. We place too much premium on the group dynamic, and think of ourselves as “loners” or “losers” if we aren’t surrounded by the swell of humanity at all times. Not true. It’s the first day! Go easy on yourself and use the alone time to observe your surroundings, or get lost in a book not required for class.

3. Getting called/picked on by the teacher when you don’t know the answer

Impressions are usually everything on the first day, and being called for something you’re wholly unprepared for may leave a scar. But scars heal, and you’ll avenge yourself the next time you’re called for recitation. In professional schools, where more is expected from supposedly more mature students, teachers may be merciless. Think of it as part of the training, however, and take consolation in the fact that if your professor crosses a line, you do have rights as a student, rights which don’t require you to keep your silence.  

4. Adjusting to the food chain

Stepping into college, you realize that you’re back at the bottom of the food chain. From having every right to scoff at the annoying freshie kids, you’re now an annoying freshie yourself. And there’s that odd, new dynamic that the longer your stay in college, the lower your market value, the stranger you get, and the more sentimental you are of old friends who have graduated (or at least moved out of college, somehow). Truth be told, nobody really cares what batch you are or how old you are coming into college. But when you’re savoring the benefits of your seniority, you better get your head checked.

5. Finding yourself in a school/course you don’t want

This situation can only come about by the power of parental guidance, or by the fact that you just weren’t able to get into your school or course of choice. This can make a first day akin to rubbing salt in the wound, as you’re forced to interact and watch people actually enjoy being where they are. Two things: you either learn to love your course, your school, your new-found friends; or you decide to throw caution to the wind and get out. While our parents’ love is as good an incentive as any to stay and live their dreams for them, it ultimately boils down to whether you can excel in a place you don’t like, and whether you can live with their decision for the rest of your fleeting student life.

6. Overprotective relationship

There’s a problem when you introduce yourself as “Hi, my name is ____. And I’m his/her boyfriend/girlfriend.” And there’s an even bigger problem when your significant other tries to insert him or herself too early into the picture. We’re all for fidelity and truth in true love, sure, but try giving each other room for new friends, new people to come into your lives—especially on the first day. One of the suckiest feelings after graduating is when you realize that you made too few friends because you were crazy over one.

7. Waiting for Godot dilemma

The first day of school will always be filled with questions. Like Estragon and Vladimir in Waiting for Godot, the only certainty for students is uncertainty. Bask in it. Be open to the people you meet. Challenge your old ideas with the new ones you learn. The first day of school may suck, but, lest you forget, school makes up 10 out of your year’s 12 months—plenty of time forget about Godot and just live!

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