Thursday, September 1st, 2011 was a turning point in my life. After a long, dull, irksome summer in a small town, I was finally moving back to Halifax for my 2nd year at Dalhousie. I would describe my feelings at the time as a cross between euphoric and ecstatic. I could barely contain myself. In between these thoughts of excitement, I found myself getting momentary bursts of nervousness. I was about to have my first experience as an Orientation Leader for O-Week, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect.
If you’re reading this as someone who is planning on being a first time Orientation Week Leader, I would like to let you know that you’re about to experience one of the most memorable, tiring, spirited, strenuous, and overall amazing weeks of your life. You probably won’t enjoy the early morning wake-up calls, and your pledge to remain sober for the week may present a challenge for some of you, but I can guarantee that you will meet many great people and that you will learn to test your limits as a leader. I had an extremely positive experience, but there were a few things that I wish that I would have known before Orientation week that would have made my job easier and less stressful. I’ve taken it upon myself to compile my experiences along with the experiences of others in order to prepare future O-Week Leaders with essential information and tips that they can use to make sure that Orientation Week runs as smoothly as possible. Keep in mind that this is all based on past experience, and that your experience may be completely different than my own or anyone else’s.
You’ll be expected to attend a Leader Training Camp a few days before the O-Week kick-off, which was one of my favorite parts of the whole experience. First off, you’ll be handed a manual of rules and regulations that you’ll have to know for the week, but don’t panic! By the end of the Training Camp, you’ll have gone over everything that you’ll need to know. The goal of these initial days is to ensure that each leader can provide the incoming freshmen with the experience that they expect and deserve. This whole concept may intimidate you, but you’ll quickly notice that the atmosphere of the training camp is very laid back and stress-free. Have fun with it, and soak up as much information as possible.
Before you know it, the eager and terrified 1st years will be arriving on campus. If you’re leading a group of students living on campus, you’ll probably be expected to help the new students move their things into their room. If you’re leading an OCUS group (a group of students who are not living on campus), your fun begins now! Keep a smile on your face, and take the following things into consideration:
- You’re a role model
The most important thing that an O-Week leader needs to remember is that they are a role model for the incoming freshmen, and they have the power to make or break their initial Dalhousie experience. In order to be a good role model, you’re going to have to follow the rules (which will be detailed for you during O-Week Leader training), and be respectful of your peers and surroundings. Everything that you do during the first few days will be setting an example for what is and what is not acceptable, and it wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone involved to misrepresent the ways in which we do things at Dalhousie.
Part of your job as a leader is to get your 1st years excited about the events that are planned. Your energy and enthusiasm will be mirrored by the team that you’re leading, so it is up to you to make sure that the freshmen of your house get excited. Make sure that you attend every event that you possibly can, and keep a smile on your face at all times.
- Communication is key
Communication was the biggest challenge for my team during O-Week. On the day that the new students were moving in, the O-Week leaders of our team made sure to inform the residents on our floor that we were holding a meeting to introduce ourselves and explain what was going on for the week. I highly recommend doing this, as it is unlikely that the 1st years will be comfortable enough to come to you to ask questions, so it’s best to gather everyone and get it all done at once. We gave a rundown of the planned events, and did a few ice breakers so that we could get to know each other. After the meeting, we went to the first event together. When our team got to the event, everyone got separated, and unfortunately, we had lost everyone for the remainder of the day. The error that the leaders had made was that we didn’t get anyone’s contact information, nor did we schedule a second meeting, so we had no chance of reassembling our team until the next day. We had to walk around and inform everyone about the second meeting individually, which is very time consuming. Another idea would be to give all of the first years your cell phone number so that they can call you if they get separated from the group.
- O-Week is about the 1st years, not yourself
Keep in mind that you have already had your chance to be a freshman. If you’re planning on using your status of an O-Week Leader as a way to find parties, you should know that you’re better off trying another way. As a leader, you’re not only committing to staying sober for the week (you’re under contract), you’re also committing to making sure that every single member of your team has a great experience. You’ll have plenty of time over the duration of the year to socialize and catch up with your friends, so make sure to avoid forming cliques. Strive to be inclusive. Talk to everyone, and make sure to reach out to those who seem to not be enjoying themselves. A quick ‘Hey, how are your first few days at Dal going?’ can go a long way!
- Be yourself (corny, but effective)
There is often a misconception with the definition of a ‘good leader’ where many feel that to be effective, you must be loud, crazy, and borderline obnoxious with your energy. While this approach may work for some (myself included), many will feel more comfortable taking a more laid back approach to leadership, which can be equally as effective. The 1st years will come in all different shapes, sizes, personalities, and backgrounds, and they’ll respond best to those with whom they can identify with. Be yourself, and many new students are bound to be able to identify with your unique leadership style.
A great leader is not simply someone who can point the right direction. An effective leader is someone who knows their strengths, weaknesses, and when to when to step back to let someone else take charge. Orientation Week is designed to introduce Dalhousie’s newest students to the social and academic aspects of life on campus, and it is your job to make sure that this is achieved. If there is one thing that you take away from this article, let it be that you need to stay positive and stay excited, no matter how much you would like to take a nap! I hope that you enjoy Orientation Week, because I know that I will.
A special thanks to Renee Kinden, Jessie Chisholm, Brittany Avery, and Becky Richter for contributing their experiences, thoughts, and more to this article. It is greatly appreciated!