A year ago, I was just a nervous freshman scouring Bed Bath & Beyond for the perfect shower caddy. I didn’t predict then that following year, I would be sporting a traffic-cone orange Wildcat Welcome t-shirt as I shepherded my own group of fifteen freshmen through the first week of their college career. But, besides the daunting task of moving freshmen into their dorms (did they really think a girl with no upper body strength could carry a mini-fridge up four flights of stairs?) Welcome Week as a peer adviser so far has been more than a positive experience – it’s been a big learning experience, too.
When you’re a freshman, you get used to the general awkwardness of move-in day and Wildcat Welcome. But things are different when you can’t play the “freshman card” during uncomfortable situations. As I carried boxes up what always seemed like ten flights of stairs, I watched mothers get into their last fights with their daughters over how many clothes she brought. I saw prideful fathers turn down our help, while other parents demanded our labor as if we were their servants. Once or twice, a parent even confided in me and asked how I dealt with the whole move-in and roommate experience. Suddenly, I was the teacher and not the student.
As a freshman, Wildcat Welcome certainly didn’t leave me knowing everything there is to know about this school. After all, after you experience a deluge of information in a short time, some is bound to fall through the cracks. I understood the importance of CAESAR, yet I could never quite figure out why such an important system would be allowed so many glitches. For the longest time I thought Sig-O was a sorority, not the female a cappella group, Significant Others.
But now, having the job to educate freshmen on everything and anything they could possibly be curious about (with the exception of promoting alcohol, drugs and Greek life) I realized that teaching them all these things has actually helped me learn. After helping them all search for classes, I can probably rattle off all of the distribution requirements and exemptions for AP credits. These were things I had only vague knowledge of before. Now that I’ve served as the adviser, I know Northwestern more closely than I would have if I hadn’t taken on this role.
I entered Essential NU as a peer adviser with a crossword puzzle on my lap and a pen in my hand, and yet I found myself surprised that the Sex Signals performance was actually funny and informative. While having to lead a discussion about alcohol abuse seemed like a time when I’d have to act more like a parent than a peer, sitting down with my advisees and having an honest conversation about safety was (hopefully) more effective because I am, in fact, a peer. What I sometimes thought was silly, unimportant and repetitive when I was advisee, I now see had tangible value.
So while it might have been helpful if my advisees learned the fight song at the now-defunct Spirit 101 instead of at the football game yesterday, there’s definitely time for them to pick it up. Some might expect us peer advisers to know everything — that you have been everywhere and that you can answer every question. But the truth is, even though I now supposedly know everything about Northwestern, I went to Lisa’s Cafe for the first time yesterday and I still have yet to swim in Lake Michigan.
For this week, I’ll put on my orange t-shirt and act the part of Northwestern know-it-all. I’ll pretend I know my way around Tech and that I’ve seen the underground tunnels. But oddly enough, I’m more confident now than ever that there’s still so much left to learn.