(Orientation, Classes, and Burnt Popcorn, Oh My)
We begin this season of Emma Lives A Little on Wednesday, August 15th: Move In Day. As we pulled up to my residence hall, I’ll admit it, my stomach turned into knots. It was strange to think that my daydreams of college life might actually become reality. However, as we began moving boxes and decorating my side of our little dorm room, my nerves began to dissipate. As my roommate and I started adding finishing touches, other girls in the hall began shyly peering in, remarking that they had been sent to look at “the cute room”. I was pleasantly surprised at the kind smiles and nods of our neighbors, feeling ready to meet new people and make new friends.
At last, after hours of moving, we all shuffled off to hear the President of the school’s welcome speech and were promptly split up into our orientation groups for what would be a series of never ending ice breakers.
The next few days of orientation proved to be just as long as I thought they would be, but also definitely more fun. True, I almost broke my arms after being the lone recipient of a giant beach ball in a particularly athletic ice breaker one night, but there was inappropriate trivia to be played, funny skits to be watched, Australian professors to meet, and library information sessions to attend. One of my favorite parts of orientation ended up being my orientation group’s service project, where we groomed a hiking trail near campus.
Picture this: I stand in a group of awkward freshmen, eyeing the one grooming tool left in the pile, an ax. My Australian professor’s accent flows through my ears, distracting me from the thought of the next three hours of physical labor I’ll have to endure. Gingerly, I grab the freshly sharpened weapon, following my professor and our trail guide to a particularly troublesome part of the trail. Our task? To ax away at sage and rocks encroaching on the trail and fill the low parts with dirt to improve the drainage. Certainly not my idea of a lit Saturday morning, but I had an ax and I figured I may as well use it. Maybe it’s my obsession with Dexter and his affinity for hacking things up, or maybe it was just the thrilling snap of the sage as I pulled it from the ground, but as I worked I began to seriously enjoy clearing the trail. After about an hour or so, to my ultimate joy and disbelief, the kids around me started singing Bohemian Rhapsody and it soon became a complete sing-a-long. At that moment, I couldn’t help but think that maybe I had found the perfect place for me.
The day before classes started, Western gave all students free Adventure Park and lift tickets at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, so a couple of friends and I took the bus up to the nearby town. There, we took the highest lift up and began climbing to the summit of Mount Crested Butte. College students, pikas, and disgusting flying ants abounded on the trail, and we made it to the summit after a quick mile and a half long hike.
I was rudely awoken from the dreamlike stupor of orientation on the first day of classes, where I got about an hour of homework in almost every class. Monday’s classes included Storytelling, Intro to Mass Media, Math for Liberal Arts (which isn’t even math so far, it’s argument analysis?), and Orchestra rehearsal in the evening. I was surprised to see that my orchestra director sat me in the first violin section as third chair, which is much higher than I had expected! To add to the newfound stress of the first day of school, the Mountaineer Men (who live in the basement of my residence hall) thought it would be a good idea to microwave their popcorn for four minutes so just as I was getting ready for bed, the fire alarm went off. My roommate and I scrambled out of our room in our pajamas, forgetting our keys in the process, and as soon as smoke had stopped trickling out of the basement, we realized we had gotten ourselves locked out. It was just our luck that the only RA in site was an attractive male and I was wearing my weirdest leggings and a purple star robe. On the bright side, we fell asleep quickly that night.
On Tuesday, my only class was The Business of Life. I sat by a girl from Gunnison who owns a herd of goats and my professor picked on random people throughout the room to answer questions about trends in the market and traits of good business leaders. To say the least, I was on the edge of my seat all morning. The rest of the week passed in about the same way aside from a stressful scheduling conflict and a work orientation: classes, homework, practice, listening to parties in the quad until I fell asleep, and starting all over again.
Finally, Saturday rolled around. This was the day of my paddleboarding adventure with my freshman seminar class: Outdoor Education and Leadership. Myself and half of my class took a shuttle down to a river about ten minutes from campus and were fitted with life vests and paddles. Then, my professor (the Australian, if you’ll remember), stood in front of the paddleboards and began a speech that made my blood run cold.
“All right my little cherubs, I just need to tell you a few things about this trip. If you fall off your board, don’t put your feet down, or you could drown. If you get stuck in a strainer, swim as hard as you can and don’t get caught under water, or you could drown. Blow your emergency whistle if you can, and someone will try to save you. If your board floats down the river without you, either hitch a ride with someone else, swim along behind us, or walk along the bank and catch up to us eventually. DO NOT get caught in a strainer if you can help it. Someone died very recently here getting caught in a strainer. Usually this stretch of river is okay, but it will be a surprising day if I don’t have to rescue someone. Last year someone went down the wrong river fork and got caught in a strainer. Ready to go? Grab a board and head down to the river.”
I wanted to turn around right then and there. I was not about to end my first week of college drowning in a strainer, whatever that was. However, I felt myself grabbing a board and suddenly, I was in the water, waiting for my professor to put his board in and lead us down the river. After a few minutes, we all started paddling, aiming our boards towards the small rapids Paul was leading us towards. I got down on my knees as soon as I saw the waves but others weren’t so lucky. All around me, I heard people running into the bushes along the bank of the river and falling into the water. One girl was sad to have her toenail polish ripped off by the rock she ran into. However, everyone recovered quickly enough to get back on before the next section of rapids, and I started to enjoy myself. I have always liked paddleboarding, but it’s so much more fun when a strong river current is pushing you past beautiful meadows and looming mountains, or when death by strainer is imminent. After a few close calls with overhanging trees and strong opposing currents, we made it to a calmer stretch of the river where we paddled for another hour to our bus. While we were loading our boards, I almost wished there was another river we could SUP down to campus. Later that day, I went to a 24 hour play festival on campus, where students wrote, directed, and acted in original plays to be performed after 24 hours. After a day of thrills on the river, who doesn’t like to watch short plays about human sacrifice and Captain Underpants? I’d call that a day well-spent.
Now, I am sitting in my dorm, unwinding from my crazy week, and bracing myself for the events to come.
Stay tuned next week for what will hopefully be more adventures, issues, and funny stories from my second week of classes!