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Reality hits post Frosh-O

Eileen Duffy | Saturday, August 19, 2006

If every day were Freshman Orientation weekend at Notre Dame, dorm T-shirts would be the official uniform, icebreakers and egg tosses would replace classes and the beats of Chamillionaire would pulse nightly from the walls of the Joyce Center.

The three activity-filled days do end, though, and on Tuesday, college begins. And often, the transition from high school to college presents challenges to first year students.

For freshman Adam Twardzik, his pool of classmates will grow from 31, the size of his high school class, to his approximately 2,025 Notre Dame classmates. Twardzik said the new situation would “take some getting used to.”

The sense of being a little fish swimming in a big pond is common among incoming freshmen, said Susan Steibe-Pasalich, director of the University Counseling Center. Students tend to compare their freshman year in college with their senior year in high school, which is useless, she said.

“Again and again you’re going to be a freshman, whether it’s in a new relationship, or at a new job … you’re going to be on the bottom rung,” she said. “Transition is just something that takes time.”

Academics are the main concern for freshman Michael Carilli, who said his high school was “not exactly big on academics.”

“I’m really worried I’m going to flunk out the first semester,” he said when asked about the upcoming transition.

First Year of Studies Assistant Dean Kenneth DeBoer had more hope.

“All Notre Dame kids are smart, but some relied on rote learning and memorization in high school,” he said. “The courses in college are more challenging and require a different set of skills … In time, the students find they have these skills.”

FYS advisors like DeBoer provide an outlet for freshmen concerns and point them in the right direction. The advisors meet with students during the first week on a walk-in basis and in September for introductory meetings. Upperclassmen peer advisors also meet with freshmen during September and October.

“In our sessions, we try to make the students feel comfortable,” DeBoer said. “We find out what they want to do and we help them do it.”

Both Twardzik and Carilli were concerned about separating from their families, especially the latter who is leaving four siblings behind.

“Any homesickness or nervousness is counteracted by their excitement to be walking the quad or visiting the Grotto,” he said.

Karen Dillon graduated from Notre Dame in 1983 and is sending her eldest daughter Elizabeth to her alma mater. She said she is confident that Elizabeth’s transition will go smoothly.

“I know there’s a lot of support there,” she said. “There are close relationships in the dorm; the RA’s are available and keep an eye on the kids in the sections. The rectors … I know when I was there, our rector made sure she knew each student in the dorm.”

Students may also have difficulty adjusting to their new “family,” or more specifically, their roommates.

Steibe-Pasalich said a 2003 panel comprised of FYS advisors, Counseling Center staff members and two rectors spoke to resident assistants about the move from high school to college. “Differences” was a major topic in the discussion.

Steibe-Pasalich said that, for new roommates, the differences could range from income bracket to drinking habits to religious beliefs.

Such differences can lead to a sense of not fitting in, she said.

“We suggest first year students get to know each other,” she said. “What looks like a problem might not be a problem.”

DeBoer said that problems often arise between roommates. He recalled a summer program on campus for 75 freshmen and their parents when a lecturer posed a question to the audience: how many had ever shared a room?

Not one hand went up.

“It’s a challenge,” DeBoer said, “but it’s a good challenge.”

Parents, too, must acclimate themselves to their new family, sans one member.

“It will definitely be different around the house without [Elizabeth],” Dillon said. “[My younger daughter] Bridget is concerned that she will get far too much attention from her parents.”

Students often cite weather differences as a transition issue. However, Carilli, a New Mexico resident, had already purchased a winter jacket to prepare for Midwestern winters.

“Apparently the area around Notre Dame is fit for human habitation,” he said. “So, I think it’s going to be okay.”

Ultimately, most students adjust to the college lifestyle, DeBoer said.

“By April, they are more confident as students,” he said. “They have picked up the tools they need to be successful.”