A Hint of Nostalgia…

Orientation Express: Revisiting College Move-In Day 10 Years Later

By now, most kids are back in the school routine and still in the honeymoon period of getting to see friends, being in a higher grade, and brand new school supplies (just me?). With this new school year starting, I’ve been reminded that it’s been a whole DECADE since I began a whole new experience in college. Yiiikes.

Earlier this year, we spent a whole week reminiscing about our high school experience, but anyone who’s been to college knows that it’s a whole different beast than anything you’ve ever encountered in your previous 18 years of living. Whether you stay in your hometown, move to a different region of your state, or go across country, every freshman still gets that ‘Holy crap what am I getting myself into can I even handle this level of responsibility’ feeling on the first day they move into college.

For me, it was a unique experience to say the least. My parents and I loaded up our rental van and drove from Rochester to Boston with all my crap in the back. Here’s a thing to know about the college I went to: it’s right in the middle of the city. Like the “campus” is blocks of downtown Boston. This was the view from the building I lived in my freshman and sophomore years.

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With that in mind, moving about 900 students in on a busy Boston street is no easy feat. A lane of traffic has to be used specifically for freshman, and it has to be done very promptly and efficiently to keep the flow of traffic moving. I remember we pulled up to the building that was soon to be my home for the next 2 years, and looked out the car window to see (and hear) a bunch of screaming, enthusiastic college kids wearing the same shirt and for some reason, were really excited to see my car pull up. After a few admin tasks were completed, I vividly remember the very first moment I stepped out of the car and the important girl with the headset said, “Everyone welcome Traci to Emerson!” and a group of about 15 crazy people said “WELCOME TRACI” and cheered and yelled and started stealing my stuff. No, really. Well okay, they were taking everything out of our car, placing it in carts, and hauling it up to my dorm room so I would barely have to touch a thing (I didn’t lift a single item. It was the greatest).

Me, when first getting to my dorm on move-in day

The kids in the shirts, I would later find out were “OLs”, short for Orientation Leaders, made up of Sophomore, Junior and Senior volunteers who have a lot of Dunkin Donuts coffee and glitter running through their veins. In more recent years, the OLs have taken to dressing up in colorful outfits to, I don’t know, make the freshman feel more welcome? There’s really no way to accurately describe the shock when it comes to the very first moments of move-in day, so here’s a video instead. Also take note of the dad at 1:18.

The rest of orientation week was filled with icebreaker games (THE ABSOLUTE WORST) at this event called Hooray!, a guy nicknamed the “Dating Doctor” who talked about dating and sex, and as a girl coming from a Catholic education for all the previous years of my life, this was quite a change. There was a boat cruise, an epic dance where all the OLs dressed up in various costumes and busted moves along to popular songs of 2004 (similar to this, but imagine it being 10 years ago), and this 1980s safety video for everyone that had never lived in a city before. Honestly, they showed this, and in my opinion, it’s the greatest tradition our college has. A Bahston cop, dramatic reenactments, horrible acting, I mean, really.

“ATMs: probably the greatest invention ever to exist.”

In the end, Orientation week was a good way to transition into college life and not feel so scared about the daunting task of “being in college”. So for you freshman out there who still feel scared or uneasy about your new life, just know that the next four (or five or eight+, depending on the interest in furthering your education or level of long-term commitment)  years of your life will be some of the greatest you’ll ever have. You’ll make lifelong friends, you’ll learn things about yourself, about others, about LIFE. Just enjoy yourself. If those crazy OLs can let go of their inhibitions and wear tutus and banana costumes on the streets of Boston, you can make it through your freshman year.

PS: Please tell me our school wasn’t the only one with eccentric move-in/orientation events! Did any of you guys have a similar or horrible experience?

(originally posted on cookies + sangria)

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This One Time, At College Camp

Here’s the cold hard truth about getting older – you default to lying only because you can’t remember. “Were you the one telling me about all your horrible birthdays? And how you think they’re ‘cursed’?” “Yeah, that was me… No wait, that’s not true. That’s Penny from Happy Endings. My birthdays are fine.”

For our summer series, we’ve talked about how we never got to go to camp as a kid – and that’s a lie. I’ve been to camp. I went to sleepaway camp for exactly one week when I was maybe 12 years old and that was it. Never went to summer camp again. I think the reason I always forget it happened was because the whole thing didn’t feel real and it was just a tiny blip in my life. Like the day I spelled ‘architect’ wrong in my 6th grade spelling bee was more memorable than my entire week at camp. Let me explain.

I went to a camp called Mindstretchers which was located at Keuka College in the tiny hamlet of Keuka Park, New York, right on the Finger Lakes (there are a bunch of lakes that look like fingers from afar, I realize how weird this sounds if you didn’t grow up in upstate NY). It was approximately an hour away from our hometown of Rochester, so it wasn’t too far that I felt like I was going on some big adventure.

I guess I always wanted to go to camp, because that’s what the cool kids did, like Lindsay Lohan on The Parent Trap, but my parents were never into it until the one year I guess they just got sick of me. But like I mentioned, this camp was at a college. I didn’t actually get that Parent Trap or Salute Your Shorts experience I had envisioned. This was like, kind of smart camp? I mean, imagine you’re like 12 years old and you get to spend a week at a sprawling campus – living in DORM ROOMS!! Shared bathrooms! Living the life, y’all.

college camp

i’m not pictured in this photo, fyi

So here we were, just a group of kids between the ages of 10 to 15 at this camp called Mindstretchers, which BTW, according to one internet poster, is described as a “camp for creative thinking and writing”. They’re not too far off. Also of note – I went to this camp so long ago, that there’s BARELY anything on the internet about it, except some dude who created a FortuneCity homepage in like ’98 and posted pix of “me and my friends at Mindstretchers camp”. Basically, I went to a nerdy camp at a college, and it explains a lot about me as an adult.

Prior to attending the camp, we had to sign up for three “classes” we would take throughout each day. One academic, one artistic, and one athletic. Here’s what I chose:

Psychology Class

legit got this from the keuka college website under the pyschology dept page. is freud all they teach there?

It was my first taste of what a real college class would be like, and I’m pretty sure it was taught by one of the poor professors who basically just needed extra money. I’m sure he wanted to take the summer off like a normal teacher. I remember this is where I first learned about Freud and the Id and anal personalities and whatnot. Something I carry with me to this day.

Acting Class

this is NOT from Mindstretchers, nor do I know these kids, so yeah, it’s a little creepy I’m using their pic

Honestly, acting class was the highlight of my day, even though we had to do those stupid circle acting exercises and icebreakers. But I was into it. Our class took place in the college’s gym, and there may or may not have been one of those multi-colored parachutes involved. I’m starting to regret not going to an all out theater camp…

Soccer

Let’s be real – I am NOT the athletic type. I was forced to pick a sport and I picked the least offensive one, based purely on the fact that one of my best friends at the time was like a superstar soccer player. First day, I was legit the only one not only without shin guards, but without cleats – I HAD PINK AND GREEN ROO SNEAKERS. So embarrassing. To me, it seemed like all the kids were friggin Bend It Like Beckham and I was Posh Spice trying to keep up. The Worst.

We even had all our meals in a dining hall. For some reason, the walk from the dorm to the dining hall always made me feel like I was an adult – an adult in college, and I felt so cool. To clarify – I was not.

Looking back, my experience at summer camp was actually more of  “traditional college” experience than my actual college one. At Mindstretchers, I took a psychology class where I learned about Freud, as opposed to my real college experience, where I wrote an entire final paper about stereotypes found in MTV’s The Real World. But also, the more I think about it, Mindstretchers maybe was just a giant ploy on behalf of the Keuka College Admissions team, attempting to lure impressionable kids with memories of summer camp in order to go to college there for real when the time came. Ugh, adults. This is all to say that it’s not like I didn’t have a good time at the camp, it was just … a thing I did one time that I never did again. That is if I remembered correctly.

(originally posted cookies + sangria)

Study Abroad: A Lesson in Jumping In

In the spring of 2006, I went through the rite of passage that many college students go through, which was to study abroad. The college I went to had an especially unique one in the Netherlands located about two hours southeast from Amsterdam in a small town called Well. In my head, I pictured it to be all Stars Hollow-like, since there was one main street, where the bakery, grocery store, restaurant/bar, and school were all on the same stretch of road, and only about 2,500 residents. Why Well? WELL, it’s because it’s where our European campus was located. See below:

Yes, that’s a castle. Yes, that’s a moat. Not pictured: a second outer moat. Welcome to Kasteel Well – the 14th century castle where approximately 75 to 80 students called home for about four months. This is where we slept, ate, and even took classes, which were mostly taught by European professors. We took said classes Monday through Thursday, and Friday through Sunday were designated as travel days. Throughout my time there, I went to 12 different countries (including Spain to visit Molly where she was studying at the same time!) and was lucky enough to see all these places and landmarks I may never see again in my lifetime.

In full disclosure, I could talk all day about my time at the Castle, but I’ll try to keep it at a minimum for this post. Looking back on that experience, it almost seems surreal. I mean how fortunate and crazy were we as 20 year olds to roam around Europe on our own and discover cultures and lands much different than we were used to? Not to mention the whole living in a castle factor, which already seems like a made up thing. Peacocks! Did I mention we had pet peacocks!?

Castle

Going into that semester, I didn’t really know anyone going. I mean I had a couple acquaintances going but some people were going with their best friends. This terrified me. I dug up my LiveJournal (yes, ‘dug up’, and yes, my LiveJournal) entry from a couple days before I left for the Netherlands. And because we’re friends now, I’m going to share that entry from 19-year-old Traci with you:

08:32 pm 1/11/06

jump in
I leave for the netherlands in approximately 46 hours …
i do this thing where i put off thinking about something big that’s going to happen in my life because i don’t want to face reality if i don’t think i can handle it.
i’m excited about getting to see new places and new people, new cultures. but it still worries me that i won’t make friends in the process. you can tell me over and over again that i’m going to have a great time and that i will make friends, but i’m just so scared about it. when i look at the people going to the castle, all i see is cliques and groups of friends, and me trying to fit in and be a part of theirs.
i’m scared of living in europe for 3 and a half months, and not having anyone to travel with. i’m just scared overall.
but of course i’m not thinking about it.

You know how people ask, ‘what would you tell your younger self?’ My answer to that in this particular situation is… nothing. I wouldn’t say anything. I needed that sense of fright in me. I think I would be more worried if I WASN’T scared of leaving everything I knew to be familiar for 4 months and diving into a foreign country with no one I knew.

I can’t pinpoint an exact moment in that semester when it happened, but the day I returned to the States, April 27th, 2006, I felt something was different within me. Maybe it’s that I had to quickly learn how to go into the world and fend for myself. Maybe it’s that I was able to come across so many people from different walks of life and realized that there is so much more than the bubble we live in each day. Maybe it’s the unexpected (lifelong) friendships I made with people that share that magical time in our lives together. Maybe it was the reverse culture shock – it is REAL y’all. If you’ve never experienced it, it’s nearly impossible to explain. I remember having a particularly hard time coming back to my friends in Boston. All I knew was that I was so so so happy to see them and be in their presence once again, but I didn’t feel like the same person they were friends with 4 months ago. Whatever it was, I knew I was forever changed because of it.

So here we are, eight years later and to this day, deciding to go to the Castle is one of (if not the biggest) game-changers in my life. I can honestly say I’m not sure I would be living the life I had now if I didn’t go the Castle. To mark that day we came back from a semester of living worldly lives, our core group of castle girls decided to celebrate our ‘Castleversary’ each year. I believe the first anniversary involved a sleep over, temp tatts, and painting picture frames (because we had since become mature adults). Now that four out of the six of us live in LA, we’ve been celebrating our own Castleversary with mini-adventures in the city – which just happens to be this weekend.

While we ‘hit the town’ and celebrate our general eternal love for each other, I am reminded of the countless memories we made all over Europe, the late-night train rides, the getting lost and not really being worried about it, the meeting of strangers who would seem like old friends, and how the fear I had going into the whole experience was completely warranted. What’s that quote? “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Studying abroad is not something you go into with complete confidence. It’s daunting and unfamiliar, but in the end it’s all worth it. Whether you’re thinking about doing a similar program in college or if you’re a grown ass person who is stuck in a rut, the same message rings true for all – what are you waiting for? Be excited. Be scared. Jump in.

“For if every true love affair can feel like a journey to a foreign country, where you can’t quite speak the language, and you don’t know where you’re going, and you’re pulled ever deeper into the inviting darkness, every trip to a foreign country can be a love affair, where you’re left puzzling over who you are and whom you’ve fallen in love with. All the great travel books are love stories, by some reckoning — from the Odyssey and the Aeneid to the Divine Comedy and the New Testament — and all good trips are, like love, about being carried out of yourself and deposited in the midst of terror and wonder.”

Pico Iyer, “Why We Travel

(originally posted on cookies + sangria)

Home Is Where the Heart Is

On a recent trip back to my hometown, my friend asked me, “Does it feel like home when you come back to Rochester?” He posed an interesting question that I guess I’ve never been asked before, and I had to find the right words to accurately depict a real answer.

Sure it felt like home, but not in the same sense that it was when I was younger. I guess the idea of ‘home’ changed somewhere around spring of 2006. I spent the semester studying abroad in the Netherlands with 79 other kids from my college, and we all lived and took classes in this medieval castle. I went in there not really knowing anyone, but ended up leaving with a group of lifelong friends, the experience of traveling around Europe, and it essentially became a turning point into adulthood.

I’ve mentioned it briefly before, but while I was there I was introduced to a song called cathedrals by Jump Little Children. One of the lyrics from the song that I still connect to to this day says,

In the cathedrals of New York and Rome, there is a feeling that you should just go home – and spend a lifetime finding out just where that is.

It was true – this random castle in a sleepy Holland town became my home after 3 months, and although I absolutely loved it there , I was longing to go home to America to see my family and friends. Problem was – Boston slowly became my home and Rochester was the home I only ever knew before going away to college.

I’ll never forget one of the first nights back in the States. I was staying in my old dorm room, which was now occupied by some random granola crunchy girl. It hit me all at once – I was back in Boston – in America – the day I had been dreaming of for the past three months – yet I just broke down and cried. Like I was probably having a mental breakdown but I just sobbed out all my emotions and insisted i was okay. If I was exactly where I wanted to be, why was I so upset?

A year later, I officially moved to Boston. It was the first time I wasn’t going home to Rochester for the summer and the first time Boston felt like home too. Two years after that, I made a somewhat quick decision to move to Los Angeles and nearly four years later, a city I swore I would never move to has now become my home as well.

On the same recent trip to Rochester, I realized that I get the same questions from my parents’ friends. “Do you like it in LA?” Swear to God, the two times every year that I go to Rochester, someone asks me that without fail. I’ve always thought that was a weird question to ask someone, especially since I’ve been living in LA for so long. Of course I like it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here still. It might be their way of making conversation or perhaps because I think too much into things, it might be their way of saying, “Why do you like it in LA so much? It’s so much better here in Rochester.”

My cordial answer to them is always a vague, ‘Yes I like it a lot. ‘ I don’t want to go into the reasons why LA can be annoying at times, because honestly who can say they love every single things about where they live and have no complaints? But yes, I like it, yes it’s home for me now, but so are these other places around the world. Anyone who’s lived in more than one place can relate. I feel like Voldemort leaving pieces of his soul everywhere but without the whole evil side of it. My heart is in Rochester, it’s in Boston, it’s in Well, the Netherlands. Who knows what will come in the future?  I’ll just have to spend the rest of my life discovering just exactly where home is.

(originally posted on cookies + sangria)

It Doesn’t Get Better: Life After Graduation

Hey kids. Congrats on making it through about 17 years of school. Now you’re being released into the real world. How does it feel? Awesome, yet awful at the same time. For most, you’re probably not going to ever have to write another paper or take another test ever again in your life. Now it’s time to figure out what you’re going to do with that degree, where you’re going to use it, and who’s going to be there when you figure all that out.

I remember I once had a co-worker who was 30-something when I was a Senior in college. She was having a discussion with our boss about her 20s, and she said something like, ‘Oh I would never want to live through my 20s again. My 30s are much better. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing back then. It was horrible.’

22-year-old Traci thought she was being ridiculous. 27-year-old Traci thinks she’s absolutely correct.

Sorry to rain on your graduation parade, but I’m just going to give you a heads up on what to prepare yourself for in the near future.

Your first job out of college probs won’t be the start of your career

Listen, in this economy (insert gag sound for using that annoying phrase) you’re just lucky if you can get hired. While it’s not liked there aren’t any jobs available, it’s just that more people are applying for the same jobs and it’s just that more difficult to stand out from a plethora of applicants.

I had to work retail for a few years before getting the job I have now. It was half not hearing back from the places I applied to and half me not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I say, if you have a job that pays you money, but you’re still working towards your ultimate dream job, then it’s all good, homie.

Don’t be afraid to take chances

Not knowing what you’re doing in the future, or even in the next year can be scary. But you’re young. This is the right time to be an adult and be decisive. If a life changing opportunity comes up and you’re afraid to take it – don’t be. Now is a better time than any for trial and error.

In 2009, two of my best friends told me they were taking a road trip to LA and moving out west. I was in this place of ‘what do I really want to do career wise’ – and the only answer I could come up with was something entertainment related. I didn’t have the same resources in Boston so LA was the only logical choice. I went into it with a ‘fuck it who cares if I fail at least I tried attitude’. 3 months later, we hopped in a car and drove cross country and I haven’t looked back ever since.

Dorm life is over

Pack it up kids. Maybe one of the most heart wrenching things about graduating is that you won’t be able to see your BFFs every day like you’re used to. No more dining hall run ins, no more late night visits to the convenience store. Your clique as a whole will never be the same. There will be at least one person who moves away, or in some cases, everyone disperses back from whence they came. You’re never going to all live in the same place again ( of course I’m generalizing here, idk what your college life is life, but I’m gonna go ahead and make an ass out of you and me and say your friends are leaving you). It’s somehow different from high school, relationships and friendships have different dynamics when you’re in college, but it’s always up to you to make an effort to stay in touch. Good luck with that.

You’re going to fuck up

It’s inevitable. But get over it, learn from your mistake, don’t do it again and go on with your life. As the years go on, you also learn that there’s no time to waste on feeling sorry for yourself so point your energy to something more productive.

Be grateful

Okay, so life is confusing and overwhelming and annoying and you just want it all figured out already. But don’t get jaded. Think about what you can be thankful for. The fact that you’re even reading this blog post means you’re doing something right in your life. I know this post was originally intended to be cynical and depressing, but guess what, just like life, there’s always a silver lining. You just need to get through all the murky shit to see it.

(originally posted on cookies + sangria)

Life Lessons From an Only Child

Being an only child has taught me a lot of things throughout my life, mostly that there a lot of assumptions people make if they know you’re an only child. But I’m here to break the stereotypes and tell you the truth about being the only kid in the family. I would like to reiterate that I’m not speaking on behalf of the Only Children of America coalition (not a real thing), but I’d say this is pretty accurate.

1) We’re very independent

Sisters are doin’ it for themselves. Or brothers, whatever. In sixth grade, I had dance lessons that started at 4pm, which was before my parents got out of work. So on the days I had dance, I would take the bus home, be by myself for about an hour or so, then my friend’s mom would pick me up and we’d go to class. I mean I was 11 years old, but at the same time, there was no one else around to make sure I wasn’t like, lighting anything on fire. But I was given the responsibility of having keys to the house, knowing how to turn off the alarm system, make food if need be. If something went wrong, I had to figure it out and fix it myself. If anything, this is what has stuck with me the most. I’ve never really relied on anyone to do anything for me, because I know I can (usually) do it myself.

2) We’re okay with being alone

Ok, that sentence isn’t supposed to be read with the same kind of depression you read it with. But along the same notion of being independent, so does time in solitary (again, not meant to be weird and prison-y). After my parents trusted me with being at home by myself, it wasn’t necessary for them to have anyone look after me. So if they went out, I was by myself in the house. I would like to add that I didn’t really have friends or family members that lived nearby, so again, I was just used to being alone. Without a sibling, I was used to doing stuff by myself, which is still true to this day, mainly because it’s all I know. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I hate being around people. I mean for the most part that’s true because I hate people (my years working retail is to thank for that complex). But I mean only children usually tend to gravitate towards extended family or in my case, my friends, to hang out with all the time. So just as much as we like being alone, we like being around people. But we also need our personal space at the same time. Yeah, we’re crazy.

3) We can do weird shit

My friend Caitlin and I call this the ‘Only Child Syndrome’, because we end up doing random weird things that we don’t realize we’re A) doing in the first place or B) is even weird at all. I don’t even really know how to explain this besides doing like odd little movements or noises or giving strange looks… No one was around to call us out on being weird, so that explains why we’re still weird now. I also tend to talk to myself a lot – like out loud. I assume kids with siblings would usually have a brother or sister to at least be around when you’re saying something, and it’s not as weird as talking outloud and knowing no one ever hears you.

4) We don’t actually like being only children

Okay, I may be speaking for myself here, but I honestly don’t really like being an only child. Like I said, I didn’t have any family members – cousins, etc. living near me growing up. They were/are all in the Philippines, and some here in LA. But what’s weird is that my dad is one of 9 kids. I have a bunch of cousins and second cousins, some of whom I don’t even know. But they all grew up together and I was the American kid. When we go back to the Philippines, I always feel like the odd man out, not only because of the language barrier and cultural differences, but because they all have the advantage of hanging out with each other, while I had my parents and me, myself and I. I’m just saying it would have been much easier to have a sibling when going back to the Phil. Also, I could never blame anything I did wrong on a sibling, or bitch about my parents to someone who would really understand.

5) We’re not all spoiled

So this is obviously the most common only child stereotype. All my friends who are only children are not spoiled by any means. Well, in the sense that they don’t want everything in the world and expect their parents to buy it for them. Many people believe that we’re naturally born brats who expect to be doted on all the time, but that’s far from the case. In fact I know some people like that who do have siblings, and it’s embarrassing. But like, I’ve never expected my parents to get me everything I’ve ever wanted. I will say that they have done the thing where if I’ll mention my DVD player is broken, they’ll call me back 2 days later and say we found a blu-ray player, and bought it for you, you can pick it up at Best Buy sort of thing (that’s a true story). We don’t act spoiled, but once in a while, we’ll get spoiled.

(originally posted on cookies + sangria)