10 things I learned (or got reminded of) volunteering during O-week
Long nights, training, preparation! All of these start to mix up before move-in and orientation, “frosh week” as its commonly known brings in a set of new faces to campus with fears and hopes for the year ahead. It feels not too long ago since I was the one experiencing all this excitement and butterflies-in-my-stomach that come with it, now two years later I am fortunate to be part of the ICUBE and Residence Life teams: two families that play big roles during orientation-week.
The job was arduous and long not going to lie, but extremely satisfying at the end. Moving students into their dorms amidst the summer heat while having slept little to four hours trying to finish up bulletin boards, to tabling during O-week promoting ICUBE sign-ups and entrepreneurship on campus. This is my second year doing it, and I still believe this work impacts those who take on the roles of volunteers and organizers. Every year has something different to offer, so here are 10 things this years o-week experience left me:
‘1) You can do anything, but not everything:
It happened to me, and it has probably happened to you too! We want to take every opportunity that presents itself. Trust me, it’s a great mindset to be in, but maybe the situation you will end up in, is not. This year I made sure I balanced my efforts and prioritized what I consider more important: learning, and the place in which I will be doing most of it. Not school work necessarily, but other experiences that push me out of my comfort zone into my learning zone! (Such as having to run a community meeting with 24+ first year students!!)
2) Sometimes you just have to listen:
You have heard it (no pun intended), we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. And yes, I am guilty of forgetting this one! But let’s face it, most of the time we don’t really understand what people mean by “listening”. Is it just nodding and smiling, or looking in between a person’s eyebrows so they think I am making eye contact?!… In my opinion, listening is all about getting genuinely interested in what its being talked about. And yeah, most of the time the weather is not as appealing a topic to most of us, but neither is for the other person! – So switch lanes, have fun, explore different things you can talk about and go beyond the surface level. I met a lot of people during o-week, but how many did I take the time to carefully listen to?
3) Be in tune with where you are at emotionally
Juggling many responsibilities can overwork the average student very easily, and even though I like to pride myself on how much I can take on, sometimes I just need to take time to check in with myself. We must be in tune with our feelings if we want to make an impact with first years, whether that is to get them excited for residence cheer off, or to sign up with ICUBE for a $500 gift card. How mindful we are affects the quality of the work we put out. Take care of yourself!!
4) First years and upper years have one thing in common
Aside from the fact that we are all in the same boat, students from all years struggle asking for help. It took me two years to get rid of this “help-aversion”, and I can’t anybody but myself. We get caught up in our own heads too much, and the earlier we recognize it the faster we’ll get out of it. As I say to my residence community: its okay to ask for help!
5) You never know who looks up to you as a mentor
Unless someone directly says to you “YOU ARE MY MENTOR” there is no way of knowing exactly who you are role-modelling for. People look up to us more than we think, all it takes is just to remember what it was like being a first year who is lost or confused, and is trying to find guidance and support in someone who has already gone through the same journey. Let’s remember we were all in the same place at some point, so let’s lend a hand when needed.
6) Bring in purpose to everything you do
Start simple: have a conversation in line, or approach someone sitting by themselves in the cafeteria. Purpose only comes to those who are searching. Of course, some of us have to search harder than others but all it takes is just to take a risk and step out of our comfort zone. I found my purpose when I was reflecting on my experiences as Residence staff while working at ICUBE during the summer. My “why” is to foster entrepreneurial spirit in the university and the community. Now, the next challenge is find ways in which to apply that purpose. How do those actions look like? That’s up to us.
7) Believe in Serendipity
Closely related to #6, it’s important to make things happen for yourself. Follow the law of serendipity: “luck favors those who try”. You really cannot lose while trying… I have tried exec roles at clubs, volunteering, committees, my own business, and failed in every single one! But I have not lost, for I have learned from the experience and moved on to the next one. This year luck favored me, and I was given the opportunity to work in ICUBE and come to terms with my vision, as well as to come back as a residence Don, mentor another group of first years, and keep learning how to make things happen.
8) Your team is your greatest asset
This is a shoutout to all my team members from ICUBE and residence who made the time during o-week one for the books. I have witnessed many times over what collective effort can do: Tabling in the middle of the CCT building and running problem-solving activities, or helping out during move-in day with the luggage of 1000+ students coming from all corners of the world. Team work really makes the dream work! Value every member, recognize achievements, and piggyback each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Trust me, personally I have to remind myself of this one pretty much everyday, and I am sure I am not the only one. I feel we have gotten so caught up in our own worlds of social media and likes that sometimes we forget about genuine human interaction, and the impact a simple smile can do. This o-week helped me step out of the screen and engage in interesting conversations. I noticed my mood lifted, my attention improved and interestingly enough I started smiling more. Noticing these small things can have a big impact in your day to day, and somebody else’s.
10) Appreciate the stories around you
Lastly, an acknowledgement to the diversity of life stories that inhabit our campus. As an residence Don and ICUBE team member I got to interact with lots of old and new faces, hear stories of people from all over the world who can now be called UTM students. See this chapter unfold in front of them, and witness scenes that warm my soul: the nostalgic smile of a parent who is dropping off their child in their first day of college, Mom’s mandatory first day of school picture, Dad’s reminders to clean up the dorm and call home often, the practical advice from a cousin “party hard, but also study hard”, the ritualistic passing down of clothes from an older sibling who went to the same university, the tears, the goodbyes, and the excitement that follows a week long of celebrations make this experience worth it. Here is to a good 2018/19, and the class of 2022!