As a long-term, intense introvert with social anxiety, past orientations have proven to be difficult for me. In fact, I hated high school orientation so much I’ve essentially blocked it from memory and after day one of college orientation, I decided I would not be returning for day two. I don’t regret this decision. It actually allowed me my first step toward bonding with my first roommate as she had decided to skip day two activities as well. At the end of eighth grade, we had a picnic day at a local day camp that involved swimming, tennis, soccer, and other camp-like activities. I hated this so much that I skipped it when we did a similar trip in my final year of high school. I don’t regret this decision either. So, as you can imagine, I was not much looking forward to IES Abroad Buenos Aires orientation, particularly the day we would spend at a ranch swimming, playing sports, etc. It sounded horribly familiar.
These activities were mandatory, however, and I’ve never been a rule breaker. So, I went. And it was hard. My social anxiety makes it so that interacting with people I know well is scary and interacting with people I don’t know is terrifying. My introversion causes me to feel exhausted after short social outings with friends, so I was convinced I wouldn’t make it through 12 hours with people I’d never met, engaging in activities that caused me so much grief as a child. I did survive it, of course, and I don’t regret it. It was awkward and uncomfortable and kind of boring but it was also a learning experience that I appreciate having had (though make no mistake, I don’t want to do it again).
School up through my freshman year of college was pretty difficult for me. I had some good friends, but also some destructive ones, and I did well academically and athletically, but experienced a lot of pressure. I also dealt with mental illness. In addition, I grew up in a small town where I felt like I was constantly on display. And, while it’s true that we think people are thinking about us way more than they actually are, my classmates were very concerned with what everyone else was doing, as I think high schoolers often are. So, I didn’t just feel like I was being judged a lot, I was being judged a lot. As a result, I was excited to go away to college where I was hoping people would be mature enough not to worry about everyone else’s business. This was not my experience during my freshman year. I don’t know if this was because we were all fresh out of high school and hadn’t really transitioned into this period of quasi-adulthood yet or if my being in a sorority contributed to the cattiness I experienced, but either way, I remembered thinking “I thought this was supposed to stop after high school,” and I was very disappointed it hadn’t. Hence my skipping orientation.
I was expecting pretty much the same experience during orientation here. About halfway through our day at the ranch, though, I realized I wasn’t feeling that way. Sure, I was kind of bored and a little anxious, but I wasn’t terrified or exhausted. People were generally nice and open-minded and I didn’t feel like I was under a microscope. I wondered why this experience was different and I started to reflect on my sophomore and junior years of college. During that time after freshman year, I’d found a number of people who continued to surprise me with their kindness, maturity, and acceptance. And even after two and a half years of an overall experience of the goodness of people, I guess it still surprises me. After the day at the ranch, I realized that I’m not in high school anymore, and neither is anyone else here.
I still prefer to stay home rather than go out and I still experience anxiety whenever I have to interact with people, but I’ve found that, on the whole, my cohort of IES Abroad students is generous and welcoming. Now, it has only been the first week so I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but first impressions are important and I’m grateful that this group has made a good one and that they’ve helped to remind me that there are a lot of good people out there and, despite my limitations, if I can push through and believe in them, I will find them.