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Residence/Orientation need not be preview of hell

Column by Reuven M. Lerner

I'll admit it: I had a really wonderful time during my Residence/Orientation Week, in the fall of 1988.

I should probably add that my experience contrasts sharply with those of most people I know, who thought of R/O as a 10-day preview of hell.

No matter how palatable the people running R/O try to make someone's first few days at the Institute, it always seems to rub new students the wrong way. The entire residence selection process focuses on choosing a place to live "for the next four years," which only adds to the pressure freshmen feel during their first week of college.

Allow me to let you in on a secret: R/O does not have to be bad. In fact, given the right attitude, you might actually enjoy it.

That is not to say that there are not any problems with R/O as it stands. There are probably a good number of ways in which it could be improved. But that does not mean that you are powerless to have a good time. Having a positive and relaxed attitude towards the whole process will do you far more good than than being cynical, worried and upset.

In the interest of helping as many new students as possible survive their first week at MIT with the least possible damage -- not to mention stroking my ego -- I offer a few words of wisdom for newcomers to the Institute:

1/3 Relax. Think about it -- what is the worst that could possibly happen to you? Even if you get assigned to your last-choice dormitory or regret having joined a fraternity or ILG, you can always back out. This does not mean that you should choose a place to live knowing that you might hate it, but realize that nothing that happens during R/O is permanent. No matter how things turn out, they can only improve.

1/3 Smile. As you will learn, there are an awfully lot of nice, interesting and bright people at MIT. (There are probably a number of people who do not fit into any of these categories, but they are pretty rare.) Get to know them, especially before classes begin taking up people's time.

MIT is a diverse and exciting, albeit challenging, place to be. Take advantage of the fact that while we are all here for more or less the same reasons, everyone has an interesting story to tell, and can teach you something that you never knew.

When you consider that the friends you make here will be among the closest you ever have, it can only help to be friendly. After all, you have no way of knowing if the person with whom you are speaking will completely ruin your senior thesis project or be a lifelong friend (or both). It cannot hurt to be decent to them, especially when they might have some influence on where you end up living.

1/3 Wander around. R/O is sort of a preview of Independent Activities Period and the summer, when MIT becomes a cross between summer camp, an amusement park and a science museum. Go explore Boston. Visit Harvard Square. Explore the Institute. It is hard to realize just how pressured things can get around here; getting away for a short while can be surprisingly refreshing.

A high school friend of mine once

said that if something good happens, you should realize that better things will happen to you in the future, and that if something bad happens, worse things will also happen to you.

This is a good thing to keep in mind all of the time, but especially at a time when people are telling you how monumental your decisions are. Getting into your first-choice fraternity is (hopefully) not the best thing that will ever happen to you, and it is an unfortunate fact of life that a bad dormitory assignment is not the worst experience you will ever have.

One of my clearest memories from freshman year is of sitting around in my temporary room assignment with three friends, trying to determine the best way for all four of us to room together. We had known each other for a total of two days, but that did not stop us from spending a long time trying to figure out "the best way" for us to get into the same dormitory, as if that would guarantee us an enjoyable undergraduate experience.

In the end, all of that tension was for naught, since one member of our group pledged a fraternity and a second decided that he would be happiest in another dormitory entirely. We would have achieved the same results no matter how relaxed or tense we were -- yet we all chose to turn our choice of dormitory into the most nerve-wracking decision of our lives.

There are plenty of things at MIT that will upset you more than R/O; save your worrying for then. For the time being, relax and enjoy knowing that MIT will be your home for the next few years. I am sure you won't regret it.


Reuven M. Lerner, a senior in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is a news editor of The Tech.