Let's knock the dust off the old blog, eh? There were a few times during Orientation where I started to write some posts (let's be honest, only Saturdays and Sundays) but they were all abandoned when I found I was rambling and not coming to a specific point. As I've stated before, I don't want this to be an outlet for my day to day happenings and that was what most of those posts wounded up being about. But sadly Orientation is now over, and I'd like to spend a bit of time truly reflecting on what a fantastic experience it was.
I don't want to speak in cliches and give the typical ambassador answer of "this was/will be the best summer of my/your life" because honestly it's a really tough comparison with studying abroad last year. They are two completely separate entities - I love Clemson to death, but being able to prance around Italy and live in a city last summer? That was pretty freaking cool. In terms of people, however, this summer blows last summer out of the water. I came out of Italy with a one fairly close friend, a few more people to say hey to on campus, and a few as well that I dread having to see to be completely honest - which is awkward cause we were nearly all Marketing majors and I have had/will have to still see them in classes. Granted Orientation saw it's fair share of drama (never a dull day at Orientation 2012!) and tempers boiled over at times, but there is no one I dislike coming out of the summer and to my knowledge nobody who has any issues with me individually. (If you do, step up and say something! :P Haha) There are OAs that I never really got to bond with and just know in passing, but there are no hard feelings at all. I've also made a lot of close friends that will (hopefully!) last beyond Orientation. What's even greater is that these are friends that I probably would have never run into without this experience, and even if I had I may not have given them a second thought or ever even spoke to them. Crazy to think about how our choices can send our lives spiraling in wild different paths.
Whereas the OAs were not nearly as cliquey as Italy, it was still kinda cliquey. I'm not going to lie, there were a few times where I felt like I really did not belong, like there was no one I could turn to, that I did not fit into the other friend groups. Rooming with Sid really helped with this - I consider Sid to be my best friend from Orientation, and I am really glad he was my Lever roommate. We shared many laughs, ridiculously outlandish discussions, and bounced our sarcasm off each other. Sid really hates groups, so whenever I was frustrated with the cliquey feel to everything, it was nice to be able to just hang with Sid and do our own thing. As I've written about before, I tend to bounce around from friend circle to friend circle without ever fully being engulfed in one. While this wasn't a huge issue of exclusivity, I could pick out a couple different divisions among the OA team - clique is a strong word to use for this situation, it was more just who tended to spend free time with one another. By the end of the summer, I found myself hanging more and more with the sorority girls - who would have thought, me of all people?! I have this uncanny habit in college, I've found, of hanging out with a group of girls I don't really fit in with and making great friendships out of it - I can count four other instances through my college experience where that seems to hold true. But I am glad to have broadened my horizons and to have had a great time with some awesome people - special shout outs to Sarah, Adair, Erika, Lindsey and Sophie on that note! You are all amazing individuals and I am glad to have gotten to hang out and know you better this summer! I also have to give a big shout out to one of the presenters at SROW from the University of Tennessee - unfortunately, I do not remember his name. He was an introvert, however, and in a presentation on the topic he gave a great piece of advice for an introvert to "survive" the summer of Orientation. Embrace who you are, but do not let the stereotypes define you - for a team to work best, the extroverts need to take hold of some of the best qualities of introverts and the introverts need to learn to step into more of an extroverted role. I definitely embraced this right away in terms of working Orientation, but when I applied it to bonding with the OA staff as well, it did wonders for me. I wish I could thank the giver of this advice, but for now I'll suffice it to hum Rocky Top to myself and track down Wes in the fall and maybe have him pass it along, after doing an internship with the Tennessee Orientation Leaders.
I must admit, small groups was probably the biggest challenge I thought I would face this summer when working with students. When I went through Orientation and Convocation, the two things I disliked the most were the ice breaker games and the pointless small talk. As an Ambassador, I would now be the one forcing the incoming students to participate in those exact things. With the helpful advice of our Team Leaders, especially Caleb, I thankfully was prepared for small groups well during training. Without Caleb's advice, I don't know how I would have reacted to my initial meeting of my first small group on Day 1 of Orientation way back when. Literally the most blank and awkward faces you could imagine on 18 people at the same time - that's when the damnedest thing happened...after playing an ice breaker, they actually brightened up and became talkative! Crazy those things actually work, although ironically not for someone like me - at my Orientation, I don't think I said two words during small group time outside of the typical "Name, Hometown, Major, Fun Fact" formula. Well I wish I would have been able to lend more general wise words from an old Senior, I quickly learned after that first small group that people really do not want to hear you talk at them - especially after sitting in Brooks Center and being bored to death by the introductions that always put us behind schedule session after session. I knew going in that I was not going to be an in your face extroverted ambassador who tried to pump small group pride artificially - hell, I didn't even have a cheer until Session 3 and depending on my group's interactiveness in the morning, I sometimes didn't even mention it. But I did step out of my comfort zone to try to lead the new students along in discussions when no one wanted to talk, tried to make connections when I could with people rather than just letting everyone go around in a circle so they could introduce themselves and then forget everything anyone else said. I'm not saying this was the best way to do things, because that's absurd to think that there is a right and a wrong way to do things when dealing with so many different personalities. I'm just glad that I was able to stay true to myself and still come up with a system that worked for a scenario I definitely would not have been able to handle my freshmen year, all with minimal adjustments being made since Day 1.
And speaking of Day 1, as much as everyone tended to complain about it - and yes it was exhausting standing around after not getting much sleep, especially as the weekend loomed just a few hours ahead - I feel like I really came into my own and excelled on Day 2 of our Orientation Sessions. They get a bad rap among the OAs because as the students, parents and guests go into their different interest sessions and academic advising, we are standing on our feet in the same spot and answering the same questions on about 6 hours sleep if we were lucky, from 7:30 to around 2 without lunch. Yeah, it was sometimes tough keeping alert on Day 2, and I'll be the first to admit I would succumb to short breaks of wandering over to a friend to have a quick chat and laugh before returning to my post, but there was never more of a true customer service feel than being able to help people out on that dreaded second day. Whether it was as simply as pointing a confused Engineer towards P&A for the 10th time that morning, clearing up a scheduling question for a parent, or running around the chaotic registration room and easing the troubled mind of a stressed out student or being able to return from your pleading to the masters of the registrar and inform them that yes, you were an awesome person and yes, you did get them into that class that was closed and hearing the thanks that were associated with all those scenarios truly made it all worth it. The ability to help people like that is why I wanted to become an Ambassador in the first place, the positives I hope to one day (soon! Eek!) take from a position in marketing. Maybe I have a future in customer service - taking angry/confused guests and giving them the right information was something I found I really had a knack for. And I don't consider myself an expert at crowd control, but I gained a reputation among our pro staff and especially with the staff at Tiger 1 for being able to manage the lines in the bookstore when ID Card pickup rolled around. One of the most rewarding moments I've had all summer was during class registration, where Sid and I spent the better part of an hour helping this poor little double Math-Econ major, abandoned by the CES advisor, build a class schedule and hearing her gratitude when we had finally done it, with enough hours, having all pre-requisites covered, paced for an on-time graduation, with a pretty awesome schedule time-wise to boot! All in all, this position has given me a lot of great experiences, across the people I have met, the friends I have made, and the skills I have developed/discovered. This has truly been one of the best things I have done in college, and I know there are still plenty of benefits to pay off from it in the future. For now it's time to look forward to living it up my senior year, continuing the friendships I have forged over this summer, and making sure I leave Clemson with no regrets.