For first-year students, finding your place on campus can be very difficult. While some students get involved through clubs, athletics, work, and other social groups, it may be hard to understand where your voice lies on campus. How can you get involved in a way that makes you feel most comfortable?
When I was a first-year, the customs program was beneficial in terms of introducing me to campus resources like the OAR, the Writing Center, and the Health Center. Members of my customs team, like my AMA, provided helpful advice for choosing the appropriate classes. However, despite the help from the upperclassmen on my hall, my first year often felt like a cycle of eat, sleep, class and repeat. It wasn’t until I got involved with school organizations or spent time hanging out in the OAR, that I began to escape the confines of my dorm room and realized there were more people on campus that I could connect with. However, this took time and acknowledgement of the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect college experience.
College can sometimes still feel like a competitive atmosphere. For example, I witnessed students who took on roles in student government and held campus jobs in addition to attending classes. On the surface it appeared like they were holding their life together. Now that I am a senior looking back, I believe one of the biggest mistakes I made was to compare my journey through college with other people’s journeys. Now, I would encourage first years to participate in student groups at their own pace. Don’t compare your commitments to what other people are doing. Yes, it is wise to get involved early, but do so because you want to. Make sure it is an organization or club you are excited to work with because it will allow you to develop valuable skills and expand your experience beyond the classroom setting.
If you do choose to get involved in clubs, I would advise to do so sooner than later. If you have a club that you are greatly committed to, you can possibly stay in that club throughout the duration of your college years and thus witness the ins and outs of the logistical process (like how funding for clubs works) and also the more interpersonal aspects like watching how your club expands to address larger issues for the campus community.
Not only do clubs help build community, but they also provide a space for interaction with your peers that an academic space does not allow. Students who get involved in clubs may interact with people from different social backgrounds, but ultimately their common interest in that club unites them. Some clubs at Haverford, like Women’s Club Soccer, also offer a chance to interact with people from the Bi-Co community. Bi-Co clubs provide spaces for conversation in a more relaxed environment and having experienced attending practices in this club, I have interacted with people from different class years as well. The smaller, more relaxed environment allows students to ask for advice about adjusting to college and other things. Bi-Co clubs also help students interact with Bryn Mawr students and learn about the resources that their campus may provide as well. At a college like Haverford, which has a very small student population, clubs are a nice way to see a different face and start a new conversation that is not limited to your own campus or experience.
Even beyond the Bi-Co, getting involved in clubs or groups can also provide opportunities to travel off campus and explore the Philadelphia community. Although I encourage everyone to get involved in activities that are outside of the classroom, this can also mean taking advantage of clubs and organizations that are not at Haverford. It is a great way to discover the Philadelphia area, its important historical sites, and its people. Elom Tettey-Tamaklo ‘19 knows all too well about the importance of taking advantage of off- campus activities. As someone who has participated in off-campus gospel choirs and has taken classes at Upenn, Elom has been exposed to a wide range of people. He states, “Having had the opportunity to involve myself in groups and activities off campus has opened me up to a world of possibility I had never imagined. I have made new friends, discovered amazing academic and professional opportunities and best of all had the opportunity to see the different ways things are done elsewhere. This shift in perspective helps keep me learning and hungry to explore more of the world around me.” Thus, while Haverford provides opportunities on campus, it is important to explore other communities and opportunities off campus.
I would also encourage first-years to get involved with academic resources sooner rather than later. Located in the Stokes building, the Office of Academic Resources (OAR) can be an oasis for doing homework, speaking with staff members, and studying. The OAR provides important workshops and resources that can be used to handling academic stress. They give helpful tips for studying, time management and test taking strategies. It is a resource for those who want to excel in their academics while also maintaining self care practices. Sometimes just by walking in I have found information about career-related services and events. By using those resources, and being in conversation with people who work in those offices, you can build community and relationships with people who work there and with the students who just use it as a space to decompress.
Sometimes it can be easy to isolate yourself in your dorm either because it seems more comfortable or because you just don’t feel like moving. We all have our days where we think “I can just do work here” or “a nap or five won’t hurt.” However, sometimes physically being in a specific social space can lead you to interactions with people you otherwise wouldn’t talk to. It is also a good habit to find a particular space on campus devoted to school work. Making your dorm room the space that you spend all of your time in can conflate work time with leisure. By exploring new places on campus, you can find a study space that works for you, and one that allows you to mentally focus on the important tasks you have to complete.
As a senior, although my interests have changed over time, I have found new ways to explore my interests and maintain my values. Thus, whether you take these suggestions or not, I believe it is important for you to use your freshman year as a time to engage with different people and to learn about the resources that the school provides. Whether you find yourself in a social club, on an athletic team, or taking time to focus on your academics, be sure that it is where you feel most comfortable and where you believe you can succeed.