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The Dartmouth
April 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Gart: Dis-Orientation

During orientation, it’s easy to repeat the same conversations over and over. The best way to make new friends? Shake things up.

This article is featured in the 2022 Freshman special issue.

It took me a few days to really get into the spirit of Orientation Week, but once I hit my groove, I was feeling fantastic. One of the last nights, I spotted a few friends I’d made earlier, and together, we adventured around the campus, hopping from dorm to dorm. It was a night to remember, and an awesome introduction to the casual culture of acceptance that Dartmouth boasts. For the first time, I’d been able to break through the barriers of small talk, and I engaged in fun, real conversation with my peers. At the end of the night, before I headed back to my dorm, I paused and looked at my two comrades. “Hey,” I stammered, “uh, what are your names again?”

Orientation is, well, weird. Of course, it’s absolutely crucial — Orientation is where you make your first friends, gag on your first Foco meal and hopelessly realize that you really should’ve bought a fan. And yet, Orientation is also possibly the most overwhelming part of the entire freshman year experience. With only freshmen on campus, it feels like there’s constant pressure to meet as many new people as possible. Whether it’s a random sidewalk encounter or a Collis pasta line run-in, Orientation puts pressure on every student to be as outgoing as possible. 

This can sometimes be great. The more people one meets during the first few weeks, the more likely they are to find people they genuinely like. Yet, at least in my experience, these introductory conversations seem to take on an infuriatingly repetitive rhythm. Here’s how it breaks down.

First, both parties introduce themselves. Second, it’s established which dorm they’re both living in, with an accompanying wince if either person mentions the Choates or the River. Next up is hometowns, followed by potential majors, and to wrap the conversation up, some general thoughts on Orientation so far. Now, if at any point there’s a commonality between these people, genuine conversation can blossom. But more likely, the conversation thuds to completion, and the two parties go their separate ways. 

Here’s the problem: Even if the people in conversation don’t have any of those five things in common, they could still be a fantastic potential friend waiting to be discovered. During one of my first nights at Dartmouth, I briefly met a quiet kid in a hoodie before swinging into another introductory conversation. One year later, he’s one of my closest friends — but most of the fall term had passed  before I took another chance to get to know him. Maybe these missed connections are somewhat inevitable, but I believe there are ways to shake up a conversation and allow someone’s true personality to break through the conversation’s formulaic exterior. 

The first, and most reliable, way to change up the conversation: Ask weird questions. I’m not saying you need to parade around asking people for their social security numbers or mothers’ maiden names, but questions even a little outside the normal range can massively help along a conversation. Instead of sticking to the same stale stuff, use “second-meet” questions — the topics you usually reserve for conversational talking points the second time you meet someone. Take, for example, music taste. It might not be the first thing you traditionally ask someone, but finding even one artist in common can allow two people to instantly bond, whether it’s over John Denver or Doja Cat. Or, instead, ask about their biggest fears. Sure, this question isn’t a traditional opener, but learning that someone is terrified of utensils can be a hilarious meet-cute (or, I guess, a sure sign to steer clear). 

The second way to shake up conversations might be a relatively obvious one: Notice things. With the whirlwind chaos of Orientation, it’s easy to begin viewing each new person as just another meaningless face instead of a potential friend for life. However, if you’re willing to take a step back and keep an eye out for details, you can kick-start conversations with greater depth. During one of the last days of Orientation, I wore a t-shirt with one of my favorite artists on it, and by the end of the day, I’d had a number of fun, meaningful conversations — each with people who took the time to notice my shirt. 

Another factor in getting value out of conversations? Not having too many of them. With the constant roster of activities and dorm hangouts, don’t be afraid to sneak back to your bed for some quiet time. Even the biggest extrovert’s social battery eventually runs out, and there’s no shame in giving yourself some time to recharge. Instead of slogging through interaction after interaction, this recharge time can be key in making sure the conversations you have involve two willing, energized people instead of exhausted shells. 

Remember, though, that Orientation doesn’t have to go well. It’s a packed period of time where each student is so amped up on their introduction to college that the collective atmosphere is, well, strange. Yes, some kids have the time of their lives during Orientation, but to be frank, most don’t. If your Orientation feels jumbled and subpar, that’s totally okay. It certainly wasn’t the highlight of my freshman year, and it doesn’t have to be yours. Orientation is the first opportunity to make friends, but far from the only one.

The last piece of advice: Stay away from questions about the application process. Nobody really cares whether you applied early decision, regular decision, two minutes before the deadline or two months before it. You all already made it — and it’s a damn good time. Enjoy the ride, and go make yourself some friends. 

Oh, and for the love of god, don’t ask anybody what their SAT score was.