Welcome to the Jungle

Orientation week is a seven-day cocktail party. It's a homework-free romp through the Yard. It's an opportunity to bond with geniuses who got 1600s on their SATs and roommates who snorkle, write award-winning poetry and splice genes in their free time. It's along, strange trip that's completely forgotten a month later.

Harvard first-year students come in at least two varieties: big orientation week fans and big orientation week critics. Very few think the experience is just "okay."

For those who like introductions, small talk and playing the name game, it's a blast. Every day is an opportunity to meet a future spouse, or at least a first girlfriend or boyfriend. Besides taking placement tests, the only responsibilities are socializing and more socializing.

The people who thoroughly enjoy orientation soon find that they don't have a single bad thing to say about Harvard. Their fate is sealed. They often become Crimson Key hosts, sharing their enthusiasm with tourists from around the world.

Less boppy students will describe orientationweek as an "ordeal," or at least call it "weird."They find the placement tests too challenging,idiotic and numerous, and the ice-breaker eventstoo shallow. Thehi-what's-your-name-where-are-you-from-what's-your-dorm-well-nice-to-meet-you mantra growsold very quickly, and the days become a blur ofcookouts, sweaty parties and fierce scamming.

During the next three years, orientation weekdetractors will shake their heads sadly, recallingall the cute Jennys and Kevins that they met thatweek so long ago and haven't spoken to since.


Nevertheless, no one can accuse orientationweek of being like high school or like anythingelse from an 18-year-old's previous experience,for that matter.

The first year's introductory extravaganzabegins on the day when dorms open, usually aSaturday. This is a significant day. The bigquestions: Just who is this roommate? Will weclick? Will I instantly hate him/her? Does he/shehave a cool stereo system I can use? Is thatunpleasant smell due to his/her recent return froma week-long First-year Outdoor Program backpackingtrip, or is this a regular thing?

Roommate dynamics for the rest of the year arefrequently determined by the way students handlethe all-important bedroom selection process. Someroommates are nice and wait for everyone to arrivebefore they settle down in a particular room.Others do not.

That evening, it's time to discover theculinary wonders of the Harvard Union. This is thedining-room-away-from-home, where is 30-minutewait for a plate of caponata spaghetti is nothingunusual, and where first years learn to dine tothe dull roar of 1,600 of their chatteringclassmates. Many believe that the Union, more thananything else, defines the first-year experience.Never again do students eat Chickwiches with agroup the size of some Midwestern towns.

Classmates continue to move in on Sunday.Further roommate bonding takes place, or doesn't.Sunday is a good day for errands--a good day tospend big bucks.

The Coop will be full of first years withparents in tow, examining the prices of laundrybaskets, full-length mirrors and artsy M.C. Escherposters (every first-year room has at least one).

That weekend also marks the Ice Cream Bash, asocial function designed to initiate first yearsinto the Square's fetish for frozen desserts. Forthe next four years, the Union will provide icecream at least once a day, giving its students thedelusion that in the real world, they will haveice cream regularly. The Bash is also one of thefirst opportunities to meet other members of theclass. It's certainly not the last.

The first weekend also kicks off theorientation week party series sponsored by fellowclassmates who would like to meet other classmatesvia keg. Recently, Yard parties have become harderto come by due to a stricter alcohol policy at theCollege. Many students will likely spend everynight for the rest of the week--no, for the restof college--searching for The Party, which many ormay not actually exist. Good luck.

Sunday is highlighted by the Opening Exercises.First years and their families sit on foldingchairs together in Tercentary Theater and try toimagine four years at this place. They sing quaintHarvard songs, listen to witty speeches, lookaround at other families and try to convincethemselves that the next time they end up sittingon a Tercentary Theater foldingchair--Commencement--is a long, long way away.

From Opening Exercises, the first-year classheads en masse to the Radcliffe Quad for agood old-fashioned picnic--Harvard Dining Servicesal fresco, basically. Students are supposedto sit with their dormmates, but during the longmarch to the Quad, they tend to get separatedsomewhere between Johnston gate and the SheratonCommander Hotel. These kinds of things have a wayof happening on the way to the Quad.