Making the switch from high school to college is often difficult. Nothing the administration, your family, or you do will make it easy. But the college is trying, and although there are different schools of thought on how best to ease the transition, most people agree that the various pre-orientation programs help first-years.
About half of the first-year class participated in the Outing Club’s WOOLF trip program, which sends groups of about ten first-years and two sophomore leaders into the wilderness for hiking or other outdoor activities. WOW/ALANA holds special orientation for minority students, and international students have a short orientation on their own before joining up with the WOW group.
Lesley Clark ’02, who describes herself as African-American, says that the WOW orientation program is important because it can be especially hard for minority students to make the transition successfully from high school to college. “When [minority students] get here, [they] have to deal with two different issues,” Clark says. “There’s the regular homesickness and anxiety over classes that everyone faces, but there’s also the feeling that everyone here is different from you.”
But the WOW participants were not alone in feeling some culture shock. Forty-one first-year international students came from as far away as Hong Kong and Bulgaria to Williamstown. Stephanie Pirishis ’02, who lives in Paris, says, “It’s good for us to know each other. If we don’t understand the American way, we can ask each other, or at least be able to have someone else” who is going through similar ordeals.
At the same time, Pirishis says, the foreign students are not limiting themselves to only spending time with other foreign students. “We’re not necessarily sticking to a group of international students. That would defy the point of coming to the states.”
Pre-orientation programs have been criticized for doing exactly what Pirishis warns againstâ€”separating some students too much from mainstream Williams culture. Mya Fisher ’00, who coordinated this year’s orientation activities with Elba Holguin ’99, says that last year some Junior Advisors resented the WOW program. “In the past, there had been some controversies. Some JAs thought WOW replaced first days. This year we tried to change it a little bit,” she says. “We made it open to JAs and international students.”
Fisher is happy to report that everything went much more smoothly with the WOW programs this year. “We don’t want you [minority students] to just associate with WOW students, we want you to associate with WOW students, white students, international students, everybody. This year that point got across much better.”
Clark agreed that during the orientation program there was a lot of mingling between the WOW students and the international students. “It was such a thorough mix. Black kids, Asian kids, Hispanic kids, international students, everybody was hanging out together.”
Some students wanted to do more pre-orientation activities than just the WOW program. Maria Drinane ’02, who is Puerto Rican, participated in the first two days of WOW and then went on a three-day WOOLF trip. She says she understands that many minority students feel a strong need to meet a lot of other minorities quickly, but says, “I felt like just doing WOW would be restrictive. I wanted to meet as many people as possible, whether black, white or anything.”
According to Andre Mura ’00, one of the student co-directors of the WOOLF trips, says that although Drinane was one of the few students who attended WOW and went on a three-day WOOLF trip, it is fairly common for students to participate in both WOW and a two-day WOOLF trip. Mura says, “We offer the two-day trip mostly because we realize people want to do WOOLF and WOW.”
Iva Borisova ’02 chose to participate in the International Student Orientation Program and a 2-day WOOLF trip. While she creditted the International Program with allowing her to meet the other international students, she said that the program was “more formal” than WOOLF. “Most of the time we were busy. We just went from meeting to meeting.” Borisova found that her WOOLF trip offered much more of a social experience. She appreciated the chance to meet people, and said, “It’s so nice to see a person that you know.”
Most students stress not the outdoor experience of WOOLF, but that opportunity to get a head-start meeting people. Most participants are grateful for the community provided by pre-orientation programs. Ian Lockhart ’02 was enthusiastic about his 3-day trip and related, “I got here and immediately there were 11 or 12 people I knew right off the bat. With that and my entry, I felt like I knew alot of people in the first few days. It was a nice way to start the college experience.”
Some students decided to skip pre-orientation altogether, often because they felt they needed to squeeze in a few more days at home before coming out. Andrew Keating ’02 says, “I had spent no time with my family or my boys or my girls. I needed to spend time at home and get here as late as possible.”
Keating is confident that his choice not to go on a WOOLF trip won’t stop him from meeting a lot of people. He says, “To be honest, I knew I’d do fine if I started bonding with kids when I got here.”
Andrea Lee ’02 was much more eager than Keating to arrive on campus, but felt no need to pack up and leave for the woods on the second day she was here. She decided not to go on her WOOLF trip, but instead to hang out on campus. “I was very anxious to get here,” she says. “I’ve been anxious to get here since January, so when I got here I didn’t want to go.”