Seeing Double: Amherst Reorientation 2021

Seeing Double columnist Cole Graber-Mitchell ’22 shares the difficulty of adjusting to life back on campus after so much time away. He urges students to take their time settling back into in-person college life and make use of college mental health resources when things get tough.

Over the course of the last week, I’ve frequently found myself tired out by all of the reintroductions and reunifications promised by our return to a full campus. I had been and still am excited to be back, but I hadn’t expected how exhausting seeing this many people — more people than I’ve seen in one place in 18 months — would be. And as I, a senior, have gotten to know some of our new first-years, I’ve realized how much my experience back on a full campus feels like orientation.

Everyone remembers orientation, right? The constant pressure to be cheery to stave off the perception that you’re an awkward, anti-social loser who deserves no friends? The overwhelming rush of classes and Val and extracurriculars, signing up for seemingly thousands of email lists you would go on to ignore? Making new friends that you quickly dropped after a few weeks only to awkwardly encounter them literally everywhere for the next four years?

Orientation had its highs, of course, but my first couple of weeks at Amherst were rough. Nobody knew me, so I had to explain myself to everyone that I met. Even my own room wasn’t a place I could hang out alone and recharge, since I hardly knew my roommate. Every introduction was a first impression: when someone asked for your name, pronouns, major and a fun fact, they were also vetting your friend potential.

And let’s not forget about classes, which were not easy to navigate. I walked into my first college class without doing the reading for that day because I had no clue how to read a syllabus. For the next 80 minutes, I practiced the time-honored Amherst skill of talking out of my ass.

Incoming students, I want you to know that it gets better. If you feel lonely, stretched thin or homesick, you aren’t alone. We’ve all been through it, and I guarantee that your neighbors and peers feel the same way. And don’t write off the weird people that you meet. When I first met my co-columnist, I thought he was awkward and strange. I was right, of course, but now he’s one of my closest friends. (Let’s not consider what that means about me.)

I’m not a first-year anymore, but for some reason this first week has felt more like orientation than any move-in since then. I was on-campus last semester and this summer, but this week has felt different. The flood of people feels overwhelming. For every first-year I meet, I have two acquaintances that I have to somehow catch up with. If anyone’s figured out how to talk about the last 18 months, let me know. I’m incapable of distilling those experiences into a shot’s worth of light-hearted small talk.

In other words, I’ve gotten used to Zoom University. I’ve acclimated to sitting at my screen and taking notes, to unmuting myself when I want to talk and to turning off my camera when I’m tired. In some ways, my body and mind have adjusted themselves to living in one room and only seeing a handful of people. Confronted with the pace of in-person college life, I can feel myself starting to shut down.

My guess is that I’m not alone in this. Don’t get me wrong: I’m ready to be back, and I’m so excited to see everyone again. Campus feels like home to me. But at the same time, I can tell that it’ll take some getting used to. I’m planning to set up an appointment with the Counseling Center to talk through how I’m feeling, and if that would be helpful for you, you should too. For other resources, talk to your CA — they know what help is available on campus. And if you want to, come find me and we can go on a silent nature walk to get away from it all.

I don’t like that ordinary life feels too draining for me, but it does, and that’s okay. I just need some time to get reoriented. And unfortunately, reorientation feels a lot like orientation.