“Wear comfortable shoes and weather-appropriate attire,” said the email detailing the Abbotsford campus’ New Student Orientation. Looking out my window on Friday morning, it sounded like a contradiction. Rain was pouring down so hard that gum-boots seemed like the only weather-appropriate option. Settling on old runners and a good coat, I drove to campus listening to CIVL 101.7 for the second time in my life, hoping to catch some information about the doubtlessly drenched activities of the orientation’s morning session. Didn’t hear any, but the music was good.
The rain slowed to a steady drizzle by the time I arrived, well behind schedule as usual, and found the check-in. After a few minutes of standing awkwardly with other new students, none of us wanting to be the first to break the silence, we were ushered into the south gym for the welcome session. Half an hour went fast, with encouragement, advice, and an all-around warm welcome, and then us afternoon folks were directed outside into a surprising hint of sunlight.
The welcoming emails that’d been arriving for months had promised the orientation would be The Amazing Race: UFV Edition. As a regular viewer of the actual show, I’d been wondering how that would work out. Would we be teams of two, or more? Would there be an actual race? I figured I was safe from eliminations and U-Turns, but you never know. I’m just glad it wasn’t modeled after Survivor.
Once we were out of the gym and into the cool air, and after a few minutes of complete chaos, we found ourselves placed into teams (of 12, in my case), introduced ourselves, grabbed some chips, and the race was on. More of a marathon than a sprint, we had to complete the majority of 24 different stations around campus, led by friendly volunteers.
We set out at a good clip to our first station, which is when I realized one issue with the event: While my team were all young and able-bodied, we were sore and tired by the end of the day from crisscrossing campus, climbing stairs, and a bit of basketball. I didn’t see any considerations for students who find that amount of exertion difficult. In a race, even a non-competitive one like this, nobody wants to feel like they’re holding back the team, especially when they’re dripping with sweat and their legs are aching. I’m sure a number of students were uncomfortable with three hours of physical activity.
That hustling led us first to the Office of the Registrar’s table, where my obsession with knowing all the important dates proved useful in a matching game. A bookmark with all the dates, included in our bags, may have helped a little bit too. From there it was station after station, each with their own unique challenge. Some were puzzles or quizzes, with the Indigenous Student Centre even offering their own reproduction of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. There was bingo, a math riddle, and timed painting. I especially remember a cool student-run newspaper asking us to come up with headlines and fill in a comic … they were called The Cascade, I think.
Every time we walked past the finish line, the waiting crowd (of perhaps five or six) greeted us with hearty cheers, and as we entered our third hour, the sun finally broke through in earnest. Our pace was slowing by then, but we finished up with a library scavenger hunt and a hands-on trash sorting exercise (did you know some cups from campus restaurants are made of corn and can be composted?) which wasn’t nearly as gross as it sounds.
The biggest failing was one that no amount of planning could have prevented. At an event with hundreds of new students being told to participate in activities, not everyone is going to get into it. Some students in each group showed definite disinterest, but it was through no fault of the organizers. Every single staff member and volunteer was enthusiastic, even as the day went long and they’d given the same speech dozens of times. I have a bag packed full of pamphlets for services I had no idea existed on campus, and loads more that reminded me of information I’d forgotten. But a special acknowledgement has to go to the people who led groups around campus, tried to break through some (mostly teenage) cynicism with genuine excitement, and acted as our tour guides for the place where we’ll be spending a lot of time.
When we finally crossed the finish line, it did feel like we’d accomplished something. Not winning a million dollars on an international hit TV show, or even a quarter of a million on a Canadian spin-off, but it was a fun change of pace from a simple tour.