Swag! Or, as the venerable Michael Scott would say, “Stuff We All Get.” Much like Michael Scott on that particular episode of The Office, I am helpless to resist signing up for various shady promotions in exchange for a cool light-up keychain, free cherry cordial or (if I’m lucky) lip balm with a reminder to always use protection written on the side. Every year at Cornell’s Clubfest, I brace myself.
“Okay, Jercich,” I mumble as I stagger into Barton Hall, feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of eager faces slavering at the thought of my e-mail address, “You already have extracurriculars. Just grab the Starburst and get out of there.”
Naturally, this never happens. As a consequence, my inbox is regularly deluged with e-mails from various dance troupes, cooking clubs, and the occasional juggling society, all encouraging me (and the rest of the suckers who put their names down) to come to their first General Body meeting. I knew that Market Day, University of Queensland’s own version of Clubfest, was going to be no different.
The strangest thing for me about studying abroad has been feeling like a freshman all over again, for better or for worse. On one hand, everything’s fresh and interesting: I haven’t developed the disaffected nonchalance of an upperclasswoman yet, so I approach every new class with boundless enthusiasm. The same goes for extracurriculars. Unlike at Cornell, I have no commitments yet, so I’m free to flit about to every booth that tickles my fancy. Despite the fact that many clubs require a one-time registration fee (anywhere from $2 to $330), I still managed to get my name on a handful of listserves.
Another part of feeling like a freshman, of course, is the constant, vague worry that I’ve made a mistake in leaving my comfort zone to come halfway across the world. I keep trying to remind myself that I didn’t exactly settle into Cornell right away, and that it took at least a few months to really make good friends. Still, it’s hard to keep from making a giant eager face every time someone sits down next to me. As Cosmo loves to tell me, there’s supposedly nothing less attractive than being desperate, but I still find that my general strategy (basically announcing to people that I think they’re awesome) hasn’t led me too astray.
Luckily, the kind folks at UQ recognize the plight of tiny frightened exchange students, and have started several clubs to rectify the matter. QUEST, a society for students who have studied abroad in any context, is absolutely fantastic. They target both domestic and international students, so we avoid the lethal trap of just sticking with other Americans. Plus, they host weekly pub nights (which, much to my delight, include karaoke) and various trips around the city, all of which are great ways to make connections with people who understand how daunting a new environment can be. Another organization, Mates@UQ, works to put together trips outside the city for great discounts. Basically, I get to learn how to surf for obscenely low prices, so there is no bad there.
In addition to those social groups, I also decided to whip my poor Michelin Man physique back into shape by joining a sport, preferably one I’ve never tried before. One of the first things Australians ask when they meet you, along with your major and country of origin, is “What’s your sport?” Excepting an eleven-year foray into soccer in which I only played goalkeeper, I’ve never really been the athletic type. But I do love trying new things, so a sport I will get, Australians! Thus far, I’ve signed up for rugby union, handball, and canoeing, though I think handball (the European type, not the glorified four-square type) is going to win out. I went to a “come-n’-try” session last night with my flatmate and had a blast, so my hopes are high.
Classes are starting this week. I’m looking forward to really getting into the swing of things, and maybe making some new friends so I can shake off “freshman syndrome.” Only time, and my brand-new bag of informational pamphlets and poster-sized calendars, will tell.
(This entry’s title brought to you by one of my favorite ladyrockers, La Roux. Perfect pump-up music to get me in the mood to go do extraordinary things.)