In the back of my closet somewhere is a Kinko's-bound pamphlet entitled "An Unofficial Guide for Harvard Freshmen." No, it wasn't the creation of the drab FDO. Nor was it the product of Harvard Student Agencies, authors of the Unofficial Guide to Harvard.
My sister wrote it for me. It was the sum of her four years of experience at Harvard, immortalized on printer paper. Its cover was gray paper speckled with crimson (what else?). My roommates and I benefited enormously from its words. Perhaps you might too.
Orientation week: Your introduction to Harvard as a student, this fabulous week is often wasted. The next time the campus will be devoted to you and your class is Senior Week, when all the conversations will be, "Oh, I wish we could have hung out more." Do not stay in your room unpacking. Get out there and meet as many people as possible. But don't worry--orientation week friendships are notorious for their impermanence: You won't find your best friend in the first week and you don't have to. All you need is someone to go to the ice cream bash with. Sit down with random people in Annenberg. Attend the Crimson Key screenings of "Love Story"--it is hilarious. (But sit near the front so that you can still hear the actual movie.)
As for the Name Game, those who have interesting names--like my friend Caille (rhymes with "dye")--should be thankful. Their names will be remembered, and due to the prevalence of first-year facebooks (buy it even if you're not in it), your face will be as well. For the rest of us Chrises and Sarahs, you can always use your last name. Take comfort in the fact that once people learn your name, they'll say it correctly. Unusual names, on the other hand, are sometimes given unusual pronunciations: "Do you know that girl named 'Guy?'"
Activities: They could be the reason you came to Harvard. "More varsity teams than..." etc. etc. etc. I spent an afternoon with the juggling team that I still remember fondly. Whatever intrigues you in the least, go to a meeting and talk to someone in a class above you about it. An officer in the organization is okay, though they tend to be a tad biased. Attend the extra-curricular fair orientation week. Beware however, of the sign-up sheets. Understand that you will receive e-mails from this group for four years, or until you figure out how to use mailordaemon.fas to take your name off their list--whichever comes first:
Classes: Take a freshman seminar and actually get to know a professor. Don't fixate on your intended concentration. Your plans, interests, priorities will change. A reassuring story: I took three art classes plus a freshman seminar my first year, one Core (not Ec10) and only one class that eventually counted for my concentration. I am in an honors only concentration, yet I still have four more electives left. If it turns out that you're an art history lover, it's better to find out sooner rather than later and have to go to summer school to take "Landmarks" History of Art and Architecture 100.
Rooming and Blocking: My sister just happened to meet her future husband on the first day of school, at their first proctor group meeting. They sent the dean flowers when they got married. Her current best friend is her first-year roommate. In general, however, it is a mistake to eye those living in your immediate vicinity as your definite life-long friends. If you have six roommates, odds are that you will love one of them. If you have more than four, it is almost certain that you will grow to despise at least one of them. Take it all as a learning experience and trust the randomization process. One of my best friends floated into my rooming group sophomore year.
In the end, each orientation week is different and it could be possible that unlike me, you will have no problem picking your concentration, will love your roommates and will be elected an officer of a student group before you turn 19. Your biggest problem might be figuring out how to handle all the phone calls you receive without angering your beloved roommates. I cannot (and would not) help you with that problem.
But, I can provide the solution to one of the first year's more mundane problems. On the first day of the Freshman Outdoor Program (FOP), our leaders performed a skit for us. They played two people making seemingly innocent conversation--"hello," "how are you," "good to hear it," etc.--until: "So, where do you go to school?" Pause. "The Northeast." Eventually the hapless girl gets cornered and she coughs out the word Harvard with dread and embarrassment.
Whatever you do during your first year at Harvard, do not do that.
Christina S. Lewis '02 is a history and literature concentrator in Leverett House.