Firsts of firsts

OrSem kicks off your first year in the Ateneo in its own special way. The signs plastered all around campus best describe the entire experience, “No one does it the way we do, ADMU.” That, along with the flurry of colors, sweaty volunteers, and incredibly loud music, will greet you on your first official day as a freshman.

Four years ago, I, too, made my way to my own OrSem. ‘Sinag,’ it was called. I still remember walking down that slope, my heart beating faster with each step I took towards the covered courts. When I reached its gates and found other students clothed in their colors for the day, I remember consciously tugging at my own shirt—trying to look busy. I had just gotten home from an exchange program and—aside from struggling to hide the forty pounds of fat I gained—I tried to forget the fact that all of my batch mates were already a year ahead in college, and I was alone. As people chatted around me, I watched the hands of my wristwatch steadily tick, as I waited silently. Suddenly, a megaphone blasted somewhere and a horde of crazy Talks and Tours (TNT) volunteers were let loose, sweeping us up in a wave of color and sound.

L1

The sight was overwhelming. Hundreds of sweaty-faced volunteers were spread out like ants leading packs of freshmen. TNTs were dancing furiously on chairs and tables, waving their signs in the air like flags. The music was so loud that it thumped not only throughout the gym but also throughout my body. I started to shake, my hands clamming up, and my mind hyperaware. I nervously typed out my name at the registration table. A volunteer appeared by my side and directed me to my block’s assigned seats. As I skittered after her, I wondered what they would be like. Would they be cool? Was there going to be anyone cute? Was I going to meet my best friend? The volunteer suddenly stopped at a huddle of chairs, then, with a swift flourish of her hands, presented my block: L1.

Back then, OrSem was three days long. Three whole days in a sweltering gym next to timid and not-so-timid strangers. On that first day, our TNTs tried to get everyone to start talking to each other. Feeling the uncertainty in the air, a bubbly girl started small-talking everyone who was within a two-seat radius around her. Picking up on her boldness, I tried loosening up a bit by introducing myself to my seatmates. Hoping my hands wouldn’t betray my nervousness, I sat on them the entire time until I felt more relaxed as the conversation started flowing. Soon, bursts of laughter started popping up here and there, and our TNTs had to physically step in to get us to pay attention to the OrSem program. The first words out of their mouths echoed how I felt: “The fun has only just begun.”

The next few days were a blur of icebreakers and block activities. All of us had to run around school to get oriented on the different buildings on campus, and my block and I would laugh at ourselves when we couldn’t keep up with the rest. There were games and silly dances none of us wanted to take part in, most of us preferring to giggle or feign miscomprehension. A large part of the fun was attempting to escape the gym under the watchful eyes of the volunteers; we never succeeded, but it was nice trying to do it together.

On the last day, all the TNTs rallied us for one last rendition of the dance we had learned to the One Direction song, “One Thing.” We ended the last few notes of the song with a big cheer; arms around each other as shouts and laughter rang throughout the gym like bells. In the noise of the crowd around me, I felt strangely quiet. These people were somehow still strangers but, at the same time, they were not. We had gone through OrSem together, something not easily forgotten. It was a reassuring sense of comfort that made the first day’s insecurities and fears feel far away. I was not alone; I was home.

Onwards

OrSem is a time to let your guard down and shake off all the nervousness that comes with being a freshman. It helps you understand that your first year may be scary, and sometimes even depressing, but the number of new and exciting experiences will definitely outnumber these, by a mile.

OrSem prepared me for my first year, full of firsts—my first love, my first full bottle of beer, and my first collegiate failures and successes. Knowing what to expect and having friends beside you help you keep your eyes open for these things—things that may leave quicker than they come. If there’s one thing that OrSem taught me, it’s to go through your first year in college with an open mind and a sense of wonderment–don’t even stop to think that celebrating your first typhoon suspension by running through the rain is silly. Upperclassmen will roll their eyes at you and mutter under their breaths, but underneath that blasé appearance is someone who was a freshmen too, remembering all those times when it was great to be the new kid in school.

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