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Welcome to Camp Harvard

Freshmen Reflect on Their First Week Here

By Michael W. Miller

The Jack Daniels is flowing a little less freely in the quadrangle between Strauss and Matthews; President Horner has offered her counsel on the subject of industrial sandwich condiments; seven Rocky Horror Picture Show refugees have shouted "Define very sick!" to the image of Ryan O'Neal in a dimly lit Science Center lecture hall; a band called "Hand to Mouth" has played its last notes to a sweaty crowd of strangers in Memorial Hall; and four faculty discussions, two Yard concerts, a brunch, a talent show, a square dance, a peripatetic performance, and an ice cream bash have all run their course. Freshman Week 1981 is over, and the Class of 1985 is already reminiscing.

Before he arrived at Wigglesworth Hall, Arshad Zakaria attended the Cathedral School in Bombay, a private institution operated by an Anglo-Scottish educational society. In his first two weeks as an American resident--he arrived a week early to work on dorm crew, which he calls "an original experience"--he has had to make his share of adjustments. "In India, we had domestic help," he recalls wistfully. "I have to do much more here--you can see the state of my bed." The bed is, in fact, remarkably out of control, even by Wigglesworth standards.

"Another thing--the weather is absolutely terrible. They had to found a college, they could have found a better place for it. I'm already dreading the winter."

But one astonishing encounter has considerably shortened Arshad's culture gap. "I was looking at a sign-up sheet for co-ed soft-ball, he remembers, "and saw 'A. Zakaria' written in. So I thought, 'What is this, some kind of joke,' because I hadn't signed up for co-ed softball. But then I looked in the face-book, and there was a picture of Aamir Zakaria. I finally met him at the ice-cream bash--It turns out that he's my first cousin. I never knew he was coming to Harvard--I'd never even met him."

Taffy Zimbler sits beneath a large color poster of the Clash in her Strauss Hall common room, drawing deeply on a Marlboro. "Fresh-man Week was a terribly unnatural phenomenon," she says. 'It was really very contrived--there was no need for a special social week." She takes another drag. "Yeah, Freshman Week sucked shit."

"I like being at Harvard, basically. It's a good place, I suppose. But just because it's our first week here, we don't need a whole special schedule. I know there are a lot of people here who have never been away from mommy and daddy and want the chance to get really shitfaced and throw up in our door. But the whole week just wasn't very worthwhile."

How did she spend her week, then? "In my free time, I've been reading a lot, meeting people, just trying to assimilate myself with as little hassle as possible--you know, getting drunk lot." The highlight of the week was yelling obscenities at people on their way to the mixer. "I wouldn't have been caught dead there."

The memo board of Mike Knobler's Holworthy room bears a simple message: "The basic formula of all is: frustrated, neglected love." Chances are, it is a sentence that found expression on Friday night, the night of the Freshman Mixer.

"The mixer was one of the biggest wastes of time I've ever been to," says Mike. "The people were boring, the conversation forced, the atmosphere anything but relaxed, and the music wasn't music. You walk up to someone--you don't know anything--you don't know anything about them--and you're reduced to the standard questions you've been asking the rest of the week: What's your name? Where are you from? What courses are you gonna take?"

Knobler comes to Harvard by way of Los Angeles, and he has already noticed a difference of temperament between the two coasts. "Things can be very impersonal here," he says. "No one says, 'Have a nice day.' Some people think that's trite, but with the right tone, the right inflection and speed, it can be important."

He shrugs. "There's alot of intolerance I didn't expect. When everyone got the brochure in their registration packet that said, 'Someone you care about may be gay,' that was the biggest joke around. Not that there's anything wrong with being conservative--it's very difficult to have interesting discussions if everyone agrees with you. But I was a little disappointed."

"I'm from Akron," says Steve Bauer, "and in Ohio, you're scared of coming here. You think: 'God, you'll get killed, you'll study 24 hours a day.' But it's just not true. I've been finding out everyone is pretty much like yourself. You expect to see geniuses and child like prodigies, but no one's really different as far as intelligence goes."

But Harvard has not been without surprises for Steve. "It's bizarre that there are no small children. It's very strange being only with students. There are lots more punks, lots more preps, and lots more of everything else in between." And parties"--he laughs--"parties are O.K. here if you like fighting for your beer and your women."

"What about the mixer?" yells a roommate from across the room. Steve grins. "The mixer was a meat market," he nods, "but I guess it worked out alright for me."

Betsy Wanger and Inga Larson have been roommates in Pennypacker for a little over a week, but already every sentence they say begins with "We." "We had a great week," says Betsy. "We walked all over everywhere, we bought furniture, we fixed up our room. It was great."

"And we're on crew--our whole room's on the baby crew team--and we're in the band," Inga adds. "And we hated the mixer."

"Yeah, the mixer was the worst part of the week." Betsy agrees. "It was so anticlimactic. It was totally punk, it was bad, it was terrible, it was awful."

Inga did have one Freshman Week experience all to herself. "Someone came up to me and gave me a big hug and said, 'Wow, you made varsity soccer!' I don't even know what a soccer ball looks like. He saw I was confused, and he said, 'Inga?' I said, 'Yeah, Inga Larson.' It turns out he meant Inga Parsons-- that's the only other Inga I've ever heard of. But I said, 'That's O.K.--you can keep hugging me."

Greg Lyss is part of a vocal minority. "Everyone says the mixer was bad," he says. "These people just don't know how to enjoy themselves. You boogie a little, cruise around, pinch a few asses--it's great! Of course, it helps to drink a pint of gin beforehand. But you know what: The highlight of the entire week was the square dance. You definitely had to be shitfaced for that."

By yesterday, though, Greg was all business, clutching a shopping bag full of textbooks. "There's $84 worth of books in here--I got the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the books for my tutorial [Greg is a government concentrator with sophomore standing], some Shakespeare--I mean, what kind of liberal arts education can you get without reading a little Willie?"

He shifts the bag of books in his arms and sights. "It was a great week. There were just a couple of tests--everything else was just rest and relaxation; just drink a few beers, sleep about two hours a night. For a while, I really thought they should have called this place 'Camp Harvard.'"

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