Thoughts on a First Time on Campus
I’m not going to sugar coat it, this semester has been rough. Like many other students in YU, this is my first time on campus, and the adjustment has been quite a bit more challenging than I anticipated. On top of trying to force myself back into school-mode after a year long hiatus in Israel, I have also been desperately trying to learn the names of the buildings, the cafs, the dorms, and the campuses.
The problem is that everything is different. In high school, each new year had its changes, but it was always the same building filled with familiar faces (excluding the new teacher or two). I knew the ins and outs of the system and could get through the year with almost no surprises. In Israel, everyone in my midrasha was just as confused as I was with the new place, the new schedule, and the new language. So even though it was a completely different environment than anything I had ever experienced, we were all figuring it out together. Here at Stern, the system is a mystery to me and there is no even playing field. I’m new to everything; the city, classes, studying. But for three quarters of the students at YU this is all old news- their routine. And for many of the first time students, the city, or at least New York, is a familiar place.
I told myself on my first day of classes that I was not going to let on that I was new here. I thought I could take this school and this city by storm and come in running full speed ahead as if I had been attending Stern College and living in New York for years. But it seemed that no matter how hard I try I am constantly confusing Beren with Wilf, 215 with 245, and Madison with Park. Sometimes, it feels as if Yeshiva University speaks its own language, and we are all part of some crazy YU immersion program. I needed a break.
I decided that I was going to be involved in Bnei Akiva while in Stern before classes even began, and the first event came at just the right time. During the second weekend of September , at Camp Stone in Sugar Grove, PA, Bnei Akiva of the U.S and Canada hosted their annual Kenes Avoda shabbaton - a weekend long leadership training program for high school students who head the Bnei Akiva chapters in their communities across the country. I had been on this shabbaton twice throughout my high school career and have been participating in different Bnei Akiva programs and summer camps since I was eight, so going into that weekend felt like coming home. Bnei Akiva Shabbatot look relatively similar anywhere you go, so being able to sing the familiar songs and feel the comforting ruach and energy of Shabbat dancing was exactly what I needed after weeks of feeling like a guest in Midtown Manhattan. I knew exactly where to go, how to act, and what to say.
But, looking back on my Bnei Akiva career, I realized that I had not always been the experienced member that I am now. My first summer in camp at Moshava I.O, a Bnei Akiva-run sleep away camp in Honesdale, PA, was full of confusing terminology and songs that all just seemed like a blur of Hebrew to me. And my freshman year of high school, when I was first able to run Shabbat afternoon programming, or Snif, for the kids in my community, was one long year of trial and error. It’s no easy task to run a fun, engaging activity for fifteen to twenty fifth and sixth graders all while attempting to portray the messages and instill the values that Bnei Akiva promotes. It took time, a long time, until I was able to step into any Bnei Akiva situation and feel as if it was a mold built especially for me. This whole “adjustment” thing that everyone keeps talking about is a universal phenomenon, and what I and other first time students are going through on the YU campus is something that has been experienced by first-timers everywhere in countless different situations.
Coming back from the shabbaton, I felt more comfortable than I had when I left for the weekend. I discovered that I knew how to walk back from the bus to Brookdale, the hours of the caf for dinner that night, and when my classes began the next day. I could feel myself molding to the life of a New York college student, becoming accustomed to the busy schedule of classes and extracurriculars, homework and time with friends. So I guess what I am trying to say is that this new adjustment, like every other one, is going to take some time. I doubt that anybody is born ready for the dramatic shift from almost-no-responsibility Israel life to one of classes and midterms and due dates. We just jump into it, and need to let our bodies adjust to the temperature of the water before we can start swimming. So to all us first-timers out there, let’s just relax, take a breather, and soak in this new chapter of our lives one day at a time.