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Ridiculously, stunningly large post of advice and whoa [Aug. 21st, 2007|01:53 am]
Reed Class of 2011


Hello freshmen,

I'm excited to meet you soon. I was a prospie host this past year (any girls who stayed with me in Steele East, hi!) and one of my ex-prospies-soon-to-be-new-freshmen recently wrote me asking if I had any advice. Turns out I had an almost inexhaustible supply, so I thought I'd post my reply here, in case anyone else was interested.


...Oh, goodness, I have so much advice, I couldn't say it all if I had a month, but I'm just going to ramble and keep going. I hope that's okay with you. I'll write more if I remember something else at a later time. And, of course, you're welcome to contact me during the school year--we'll be colleagues, then, you know.

A lot of these things that I'm going to say--you know them already. In your heart, or your mind, you know them; trust the opinion of these parts of yourself when you don't know what to do. But a reminder's nice, isn't it? The first paragraph of advice here comes straight from my (successful) application for the job of Orientation Assistant one year. It'll get a bit less stiff after that.

"+ Flexibility and adaptation are your greatest assets. It's possible, indeed inescapable, that a new student will come to Reed with a lot of preconceived notions, habits, and expectations. Some of these will not be in his best interest, and it's best to figure out what those are as soon as possible so that a student may deal accordingly. Things don't always go as planned, and it's good to be able to step back, see things from another perspective, and adapt.
+ Planning is crucial. From a night's homework to the course of one's undergraduate career, everything is a lot easier of planned out first. Scheduling works better for some than others and everyone must find her particular happy medium, but thinking things out beforehand and making the appropriate preparations saves a lot of grief further on down the road.
+ Prioritizing is key. As hard as it is for the ambitious and eager to admit (I especially have this problem), we can't do everything. Eventually, if one tries to do enough things, one will find that he is sacrificing quality for quantity in a way that does not meet his personal standards. There's only so many hours in a day for everyone, and each student must identify her efficiency level and figure out just how many things she can take on, just how much work she can handle.
It's different for each person, of course, but in my experience, these three really work in tandem to make the adjustment process easier for all involved."

I wrote all that in a very high-minded, general way, but what I really mean in practicality is that things will be different than you think they will--no matter what you think or how much you try not to preconceive--it's just the way things work. This can be good or bad, but is mostly delightful, especially at first. The most important thing is to roll with the punches, but also to stick to your most important (metaphorical) guns--your core ideas about what you want from the next few years of your life. If at any point something in your life is not serving that core vision, think about what you can do to change it. On the other hand, don't sweat the small stuff. The hardest part, of course, is deciding what those core values are, and what the small stuff is.

I'm still speaking quite metaphorically, so let me use examples that are not in me-speak: for instance, you might think that what is most important to you is a particular major, but come to find out later that it's really a certain intellectual path which better fits a different major. The actual major is the detail, the path is the core. It's wrenching to change your mind sometimes, especially if you had it all planned out--but if you feel it's right for you in the end, stay with that. This expands in all sorts of ways which are not apparent at first. Some people need breaks from Reed, or are better served at other schools. I know people who were absolutely, ecstatically, thrilled about attending, had dreamed of Reed for ages, etc, who found out several semesters in that they needed breaks--or needed transfers. Things change. Some of these people were miserable at Reed, though they tried hard not to be, and are sooo much happier now--to them, though they didn't like it at the time, Reed was the detail, and something deeper about their educations or life paths was the core. You have to listen to yourself, as hard as that is.

Fortunately, there's tons of help available. One of my sincerest regrets was that I didn't make better use of it. Let me say that again: there's SO. MUCH. HELP (if you want it). Your HA. Your friends. Your professors. Counselors (both Health Center and Student Services). Tutoring. All of it can be found for free--that's why you're paying the big bucks, so take advantage of it already. I'm totally not good at this, but please learn from my mistakes. It sucks to be alone, and just makes it worse in the end. Get to know your lifelines, so that they're within reach when you need them.

As a freshman, you might feel that you can't do certain things until you have more experience. Let me tell you, that's complete hogwash. Other people might disagree, but I believe that for 99.999% of cases, it's wrong. Certain things might be harder due to your lack of experience, but eagerness and willingness to work make up for a lot. You might think you're very busy, but you'll never have this much free time again. So DO all the extra little things you want to. Go downtown sometimes. Go on Gray Fund trips (more on this in a moment). Run for Senate or other office if you want to (the best senators I know either started their freshman year or attended every meeting from the get-go and ran the next year--the way you gain experience is by going to meetings, not waiting until you're a senior to get started!). Join clubs and/or sports. Get a really great job (minimum wage here is fantastic). Start a club--it's super easy and rewarding--I did, as a freshman. Go to upperclassmen and introduce yourselves--I can only speak for myself, but I would love that. Probably, your closest friends will be your freshman companions, which makes sense as you're in this journey together. But it's also very rewarding--for everyone--when you make friends across class (in all its meanings) boundaries--they may have advantages you don't, and vice versa. The first two weeks, I'd say, is super-important here, as the cliques form fast, but be bold! Just go up to people and start talking. It'll be awkward at first, sure, but don't let that get in your way; have meals and walks and chats with lots of different people (not just those in your classes and dorm, though that's natural at first)--you'll be glad, later.

Gray Fund deserves its own paragraph. I think it's one of The best things about Reed, but it's also quite under-taken-advantage-of. Don't fall into that. A very nice, very rich, very dearly departed lady and her excellent husband gave the school a whole bunch of money for the express, stated purpose of providing fun for the students. Also the awesome people who work in the office have like the best job in the world and love it. (It's a good part-time, on-demand job to be a GF worker, too--I really liked it.) It's better than Santa Claus. You won't believe how many trips go unfilled and how much money is lavished on YOU at those things. Do Gray Fund.

All that being said, you'll need to find your balance. If you're a partying, social sort (these people are often highly visible, but it doesn't mean they're the only ones who exist) there's a lot available for you--join RKSK and audition for Hum Play and run around in a toga. But make sure your Hum reading gets done and you wake up in time for lecture and you do your problem sets and you eat green vegetables sometimes, and the partying and togaing will go sooo much smoother! If you're the shy, studious type (you'd think this would be more conducive to success than it is but it's easy to actually be "socially anxious with self-harmful, inefficient study skills" instead)--at the very least try to make friends with your roommate and dormies, and make at least a few upperclassman friends, study in groups when you can, and take advantage of office hours and tutoring like they're going out of style, because those are the heart of what makes this college different--you could do independent study anywhere, but you came here for a reason--remember that!

Drugs--you're going to have to find your own path here. I plan to complete my four years as I began it--substance free. So it's possible, if you want to do it. As you probably remember from your visit, it's not as hard as people act like it is. People are--mostly--respectful of people who have their own convictions. On the other hand, many people who have Sub-Free leanings experiment from time to time; try it, don't like it, return to convictions justified; or maybe try it, don't think it's so bad, their ideas about the way things work expand to fit. For many people it's the first time they've found people with different opinions (on this issue and many others) and practices whom they respect and admire. Sometimes they change their minds, having found that their opinions and objections have shifted. Other times, they test their beliefs and reaffirm them. Strangely enough, the Religion issue is eerily similar to the Drugs one. Many sides are there, though it's sometimes claimed that one side or another does not exist here. It's a stereotype, and Reedies are (by actual survey, run by the Psych department) less homogeneous in their opinions and practices on these issues and others than popular opinion dictates. In my experience, it's less a matter of other people shaming you for your beliefs than making sure you don't self-censor your own behavior on a misguided idea of what others believe.

Keep a close eye on announcements--At Reed e-mails, flyers, e-mail distribution lists. If you're skipping a play to work on your paper, at least you knew about it and made that choice instead of just not knowing about some cool opportunity. People have different study habits, but I say again (I can't say it enough)--go to office hours and tutoring. Meet your adviser more often than the bare minimum--you don't have to just ask them about classes. If you're eligible for the Peer Mentor Program, do it--I regret not doing so. And, well, try new things. There's very little to be afraid of here.

Packing--I flew halfway across the country, so I know a little bit about this. Pack your suitcases carefully--weigh them to make sure, and know about the particular rules and regulations in effect right now which apply to you. You'll almost certainly be mailing things, and remember that's still an option. You'll have to decide for a lot of things whether it's worth it to bring or to buy when you get here. I brought a few clothes, toiletries, and other things I knew I would want right away with me in my luggage, and shipped most of my books and other clothes a few weeks earlier to be waiting for me when I got there. There will be shopping trips during O-week, so don't fret if you forget something, which you almost certainly will. A new IKEA store just opened up and people are freaking out about it (there was something in the paper about the police directing traffic) so that may be a good choice for furnishings, though you almost certainly think you need more than you actually will. When in doubt, wait until you get here.

Make sure you wear (or have in your carryon) something waterproof when you arrive, as there's a good chance it'll be raining. I forgot where you were from and what you're used to, but it's pretty temperate on the whole, just wet. It'll get cold later, and you can mail up coats and things if you don't want to pack them. I don't really have a lot to say about clothes and stuff, except for the need for something waterproof and a winter hat--otherwise, I was able to get by with a winter coat and my normal jeans, t-shirts, etc (I'm from the South). A lot of people like to bring wacky costumes or room decorations or whatever, and one or two props is a lot of fun, but mostly you'll find your packing space is too valuable. I think most people going to college for the first time tend to bring too much stuff, and end up taking a lot of it back home (or letting it languish in their closets), so be judicious. I ended up regretting bringing my printer, and asking for my parents to send me dressy clothes to interview in. Your possessions are not permanent, and you can take/send them back and forth if you need to, so when in doubt, it's probably best to leave it at home (your mileage may vary).

Actually, what stands out to me as one of my best purchases here was a small metal folding bookstand (they have them in the bookstore). It allows you to read while multitasking--eating, folding laundry, typing a paper. You'll have to figure out your own study style, though. A lot of people invest in lamps (the overhead lighting may not be to your taste). You might think you can just get by with a cell phone if you have one, but even so, I recommend buying a cheap (I got mine for $9.99, there's a Radio Shack on Woodstock) landline telephone--much more convenient to call/receive calls on campus/locally that way and voice mail can be important (your campus extension can be looked up on the information directory, and then you can get calls from friends, study partners, jobs, etc.). If you're thinking long-term, a LOT of great, cheap or free stuff is available at the end of the year when people move out (this is how I got my lamp, rug, and rice cooker); some stuff may be available now as people move out of summer housing. There's garage sales, too. And, of course, The Bins...

If you have a computer, cell phone, speakers, or other important electronics, don't forget any of the associated cords. I wouldn't bother bringing office supplies, food, or anything else which is easily available anywhere--it's much less hassle to buy when you get here. Are your parents coming with you? Mine didn't with me, but some of my friends saved on shipping by getting their parents to fill their suitcases with their things.

Whoo, I'm winding down a bit now, though in some respects I've just gotten started. Sorry I didn't have much practical advice, and too much preaching--do you have any specific questions? I was really anxious right before I came, too, thinking I'd want all this special stuff (as if I was moving to another country or something!), but found most of it worked itself out in the end--either I got it somehow, or I didn't need it, or I borrowed it, or I had it sent to me.

You're right, I am going to be a senior, and that's why I can say a lot of this stuff--because I made mistakes and learned from them. You probably will, too, but I hope some of my experiences will help you a little. Look me up when you get here, won't you? I might not remember your face right away (my apologies) but I would be very glad to see you.

I know this is ridiculously long, but I got philosophical in the middle and a lot of is just me trying to put into words what is in my mind--for my own benefit, quite as much as for yours. I hope my humble sentences can be of some use to you. If I may be excused for quoting Sartre here (I took a philosophy course this summer and was reading over the text recently so it's been on my mind, I'm not purposely trying to be pretentious, though I seem to be succeeding anyway), I thought this passage oddly relevant:

"But in addition the war is mine because by the sole fact that it arises in a situation which I cause to be and that I can discover it there only by engaging myself for or against it, I can no longer distinguish at present the choice which I make of myself from the choice which I make of the war. To live this war is to choose myself through it and to choose it though my choice of myself. There can be no question of considering it as "four years of vacation" or as "reprieve," as a "recess," the essential part of my responsibilities being elsewhere in my married, family, or professional life. In this war which I have chosen I choose myself from day to day, and I make it mine by making myself. If it is going to be four empty years, then it is I who bear the responsibility for this."

-Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness

My best wishes for your war. May it be well-fought!


I hope someone finds it helpful, or at least amusing. Oh, and of course, if my peers want to add something, please do. If you manage to internet-stalk out my identity (not hard) and want to say hi in person (in less than one week!), please feel free to do so. Cheers!

[User Picture]From: spelunkingplato
2007-08-24 01:46 am (UTC)
Hooray, I'm really glad! I hope you're having a great time so far.

If you happen to be free (and interested) tomorrow from 3-4 PM, I'm giving a tour at the nuclear reactor. You could say hi and see the blue glow at the same time? I'm the small one.

I'm also the only person at Reed, apparently, with my first (or last) name, which I would tell you except I'm going through an Internet-paranoia phase. It's scattered throughout my personal journal, but eh.
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[User Picture]From: zachandsuch
2007-08-24 04:14 am (UTC)
if you feel like it ... levinz @ the awesome college.edu

im also on facebook
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