13:00. I was meeting two of my compatriots in the mess hall. Over our meals of Soba in paper bowls, the suspense was tangible. We had all witnessed the preparation for the carnage all morning, the setting up of hundreds of wooden tables was deafening as we hurried to our morning classes. It was hardly 13:15, and already a daunting mass of terrifyingly determined first-years were swarming Low Steps. There was no saying what these forces were capable of.
I was completely unprepared for what I encountered. Dozens of over-eager Columbians bombarded me with enticing clubs, communities, and organizations. Flashbacks of flea markets in Cancún raced through my mind. This was worse. In Cancún, one could simply pass by the raving traders without a second thought. The tactics here at Columbia were much more sophisticated. They were using an unprecedented shock tactic based in genuine friendliness. They were armed with catchy slogans, colorful posters, intriguing pamphlets and publications, and in one case (Columbia Habitat for Humanity), even temporary tattoos. They were even armed with a surplus of candy. I repeat, candy. It was impossible to turn away.
14:00. On a sunny September afternoon, I gave in.
The rest is a blur. Writing down my UNI on practically every sign-up sheet was a habitual action to me, and I became numb to the feeling of impending over-extension. I needed to stay strong, and figured I could always request to be taken off email lists in the post-Activities Fair era. Somewhere along my journey, I ran into a comrade of mine, who was approaching the swarms in the opposite direction. It was reassuring to see a comforting face, but we had no time to chat, and the best I could do was wish her luck as we carried on our separate missions.
Before I knew it, I was soaring on a candy high and totally in the zone. The ever-increasing load of brochures, pamphlets, flyers, and handouts that I was lugging in my bent arms hardly phased me. It became easier to fully surrender to the intrigue, quirkiness, excitement, ingenuity, and creativity of literally every booth I encountered.
This isn’t to say I didn’t cherish the occasional opportunity to carry on past a booth... but they proved to be very rare. I thought my veganism would save me from the Feel Good grilled cheese club, but the representative went on to say that they had been looking for an opportunity to experiment with vegan cheese for a while now. (I kindly warned her never to consider that as a possibility if she cares anything about edibility.) Even the ethnically-specific clubs were not in actuality ethically-specific; the various Asian, Latin American, African, Eastern-European, and African-American clubs made me feel more wanted than I had ever felt before. Columbia’s forces were armed with an approach of extreme social inclusivity, and I was no match for their powers.
Life after the Activities Fair has been rough. I have regularly been receiving emails from a vast array of extremely interesting groups, and the process of trying to discover which opportunities I love the most is nothing to laugh at. It helps to know that I am not the only one. I am one of the many who are feeling overwhelmed with too much love and awe for our incredible, passionate, and diverse community here at Columbia. We must stand together. The best advice I can offer you in your recovery is to not try to work through this alone. Succumb to the urge of nerdgasming to your suitemates about that Youth For Debate info session you attended. Indulge in ranting about how excited you are for the ridiculous amount of a cappella groups. Maybe even bring a comrade with you to that ballroom dancing club you are especially excited about. It’s overwhelming, but I know we can get through this together. It’s the least I expect from my Columbia comrades.
The author is a Columbia College first-year.
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