Packed O-week schedule leaves students scrambling

First years still left overwhelmed by the recent changes to faculty orientation

Grace Chen reflects on her rushed frosh week experience.
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The start of every September in Kingston is thrilling, as Queen’s prepares to welcome its next batch of students. This year, I was part of that, alongside the rest of the class of 2023. 

As a first year concurrent education (Con-Ed) student coming from British Columbia, faculty orientation (or, as it’s better known, frosh week) lived up to what I imagined all summer. My program’s long-standing traditions, bonding activities, and tight-knit community all left me feeling the school spirit everyone knows is unique to Queen’s. 

I loved my first week, but, like anything in life, nothing is perfect. The 2018 schedule changes meant to make space for a fall reading break, yet I found orientation week’s newly packed nature felt far too constricting at times. 

Our orientation leaders, or Teaches, did an incredible job creating a strong bonding experience for us first years. Though the week was shortened from previous years, it was busy bouncing between an off-campus semi-formal, a mystery road trip, and a trip to a farm to receive our tams. 

However, this was all squeezed into a mere five days, which left me feeling like I was being forced to have fun.  

The tight, hectic schedule caused stress for first-year students. Me and my peers felt overwhelmed at times, forced to constantly stay moving while trying to adjust to an entirely new life and environment. This pressure could very well have soured the meaningful connections we formed throughout the week. 

While so many of us fell in love with Queen’s and the sense of family within the Con-Ed community, we felt obliged to be fully emotionally and mentally present for each event, regardless of how we really felt—and it was exhausting. 

This wasn’t just a Con-Ed problem: it extended to other faculty orientation programs as well, including Arts & Science (ArtSci), which might’ve been hit the hardest. As the largest faculty, a constant stream of demanding activities surrounded by strangers is already chaotic before being compacted. 

A few of my ArtSci friends shared with me how stressed they felt being overwhelmed by so many people and feeling pressure to connect with one another in such a short time frame. Everyone seems to feel like orientation week is the only time they can grow their social circle, or, in some students’ cases, start it from scratch.

But the reality is, that first week is not the be-all-end-all to the university experience—it’s only the beginning. 

It isn’t the only time for the seeds of new friendships to be planted. There are so many opportunities that only come afterward, once everything has settled down a little. Whether that’s through classes, clubs, or residence, students shouldn’t feel pressured to make all their friends in one week. 

It’s scary to leave high school, where your best friends were the familiar people you sat with in class every day. As a result, it can be difficult to learn that forming new relationships as you enter adulthood can sometimes take much longer. It’s just not possible—nor is it realistic—to become best friends with everyone you meet in just a week’s time. 

As an aspiring Teach for next year, I want to start advocating now for a longer time span allotted to each of our orientation activities. This would give first years some much-needed time to catch their breath, teaching them that it’s alright to take a break when you need one. It would also be a good chance for Teaches to stress that it definitely isn’t the end of the world if we choose not to partake in every moment of frosh, regardless of having signed up and paid for the whole week. 

Balance is just as important a lesson for new Queen’s students to learn as the Oil Thigh is.

There’s also room for change within the events themselves to keep students from feeling crushed under busy week’s pressures. During Con-Ed orientation, we listened to guest speakers from our faculty talk about the program in-depth and the importance looking out for one another in first year. We need more of that. I believe there could have been more room to acknowledge students’ feelings transitioning into their new lives, as opposed to pushing them to feel forced to enjoy all their scheduled, structured activities. 

It’s not possible for people to be happy and energetic 100 per cent of the time. Unfortunately, thanks to the abbreviated schedule, orientation week tries to force students into that mentality. 

While some may think O-week is over-emphasized and over-valued, it plays a vital role in the university experience. It sets the tone for how students see the university for the next four years. While I feel glad to have had such a positive experience, I know many others felt discouraged coming out of the week of events because they felt overwhelmed by the pressure to completely enjoy it. 

Moving forward, I know the school can improve the way we plan our orientation weeks to give next year’s class a better experience. A lengthened schedule would make all the difference.

However, despite the flaws of frosh week, I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience. I’m already grateful for my frosh group, my Teaches, and Queen’s as a whole for offering me all the opportunities a first-year student could hope for in their first moments far away from home.  

Grace Chen is a first-year Concurrent Education student.

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