For our orientation issue, we’d like to present you with some Blinks: small anecdotes from our staff members. This time around, we’re looking back to our most memorable NSOP experiences in honor of the end of everyone’s favorite week of the year.
The word “phlegm” is interesting to me because it’s probably the most difficult word for a person with a lot of it to pronounce. I thought about this often during NSOP because, during a week which the goal is to speak to an enormous number of people, I lost my voice. This went on for days. At first, I tried to resist. I pushed through that vocal gravel like a landscaper, talking until my voice caught in my throat and fell out in a demonic hiss. But as I tore open packet after packet ofvitamin C powder, I had to accept that I had fallen victim to the COÖP Cold. This completely blindsided me, as COÖP never compromises on hygiene or nutrition.
As my condition worsened, I quickly found that if there were any surefire way to be memorable during orientation, it would be to introduce yourself in tiny font on the Notes app, shoving the screen—cracked, to show that you’re casual and trendy—in front of another person’s nose. When I wanted to throw in a clever one-liner in groups of three or more, I’d pass my phone to my roommate, whom I was glued to for this entire experience, who would then raise her hand to signal an abrupt halt to the conversation. “Wait, guys. Liz has something to say,” she’d announce, and everyone would give me the floor, Under1Roof-style (what a power trip). Then she’d deliver the joke, late by several lines of dialogue, deadpan.
Eventually, my voice began to clear up, as well as my dignity and my skin, in that order. But I still spoke like Zooey Deschanel pitched down several octaves in GarageBand. On one of the last days of NSOP, I found myself in the Hartley elevator on the sluggish way down from the sixth floor where my friend lived, discussing uncomfortable dorm situations with two athletic-looking guys I’d never met. It was probably my first real spoken conversation in days.
This was my NSOP peak—mildly feverish and on the sure road to recovery. The elevator reached the ground floor, and we said our see-you-arounds. “Wow,” I heard one of them say as I walked away, basking in the glow of triumph. Bewildered. “That girl had a really deep voice.”
After Spectator’s open house, I needed some time to decompress and stare into the void at the Nussbaum & Wu bagel shop. Time passed and eventually I was shaken out of my morbid reverie by a woman who said that I looked just like her daughter.
She asked me if I went to Columbia. I told her I was just transferring in that fall, and she told me that her daughter had also thought about transferring to Columbia but chose to stay at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania and was now having the time of her life as a Fulbright scholar in Paris or somewhere.
This was relevant because I, too, had thought somewhat long and hard about doing a Fulbright fellowship. In fact, I saw my Barnard acceptance email mere seconds after finishing a meeting with my old school’s fellowships adviser to plan my Fulbright application for Bulgaria. Needless to say, after a week of failed interactions with high-achieving and genuinely ambitious new students, I understood this chance encounter as the final sign that I should definitely not have transferred to Barnard.
So in front of dozens of other Nussbaum customers, I began to cry.
The lady with the doppelgänger daughter reached in her bag and handed me a five-dollar bill. “You could use this,” she said. “Thank you,” I whimpered. She patted me on the back, and then she was gone. Weepy-eyed and weary, I purchased a small tea.
Building an air conditioner out of wet rags is the last thing I expected to do on arrival to Columbia, but life can be full of surprises.
I first came to Columbia as a transfer, which meant that NSOP was a bit of déjà vu. Almost everything, from the awkward icebreakers to the legally mandated lecture on fire safety, seemed like a repeat of the beginning of my first year of college. It probably was, to some extent—there’s actually a national conference for orientation in higher education, at where tactics on how to herd terrified, bored, and horny first-years into the first week of adulthood are shared.
But transfer NSOP wasn’t a complete clone of my first-year experience at Johns Hopkins, as it felt a lot more hands-off. Part of this was probably because I had seen it before and was no longer as excited or impressed. And the NSOP committee was probably aware of this, as transfer and visiting student orientation had fewer mandatory programs and more free time—we only needed to be inducted into Morningside Heights, not adulthood itself.
But part of it was probably unique to Columbia itself. In comparison to other elite institutions, the bureaucracy here seems much more chaotic. Just like New York itself, Columbia is an individualistic, freewheeling institution.
This style has its upsides: more freedom, more hustle, less institutional intrusion. People care more about the results and less about how you get there. But it has its downsides, too. There’s less of a support network, and a bureaucracy that cares about your requirements but not the journey getting there can be Kafkaesque.
Which brings me to the air conditioning. Housing had been pretty vague with me up until a couple of weeks before move-in, and Owl House—then the main transfer housing—was a former frat house on the far periphery of campus. I knew how hot August and early September would be, but I wasn’t expecting a room without air conditioning.
So we had to make do.
My roommate, whom I had just met, had brought a fan, but the first night made it abundantly clear that we needed something a bit stronger. We were both reluctant to drop $60 on an AC unit that would only be useful for the first month of the semester, so I googled a tutorial on DIY air conditioning.
Finding that too complicated, we had to get even more creative. We bought a bag of ice from Morton Williams, filled a bucket with it, and built an elaborate structure of wet rags to keep air from the fan blowing over it. It wasn’t pretty, or efficient, but it got the job done.
Welcome to Columbia.
In a conference room on the fourth floor of Barnard Hall, I sat at a table with my fellow transfer students. We engaged in small talk—what classes we were taking, where we were living, what the weather was like. And big talk—why we left our past lives, what we liked and disliked about our former schools. This quiet, intimate conference room was the perfect place for strangers to break bread.
Figuratively, not literally.
NSOP oriented me to the world of carb-less eating. At events throughout the week, we ate lettuce—delicious, but lettuce nonetheless. And salmon that was certainly tasty, but not as satisfying as that thin-crust New York pizza I’d heard so much about. Kale and honeydew melon occupied the portion of our plates normally reserved for grains. Although the food was delicious, I craved bread—whether wheat, rye, or even gluten-free.
Although I assumed that my week at NSOP and the coming introductory weeks at Barnard would be an endless loop of ice-breaking questions like, “Where are you from” or “What year are you,” my expectations and interests changed.
Take my first conversation with Clare, another transfer. On the subway platform with a near stranger, save polite nods in class, I asked her, “Do you eat carbs?”
A strange icebreaker, but a good bread breaker.
Flashback to NSOP 2016. Twas the night of the Mets game at Citi Field, which all new students got into for free, courtesy of Columbia University. I was sitting in the nosebleed section with a group of girls from my residence hall, with whom I was developing a pleasant and slightly awkward circumstantial friendship. We wanted to have a New York City adventure together after the game, and someone suggested going to Upright Citizens Brigade, a popular comedy theater in Manhattan. I was interested. We found UCB’s website and saw that tickets for the 9:30 p.m. show were only $5. I was sold. We all bought tickets on our phones, and at 8:00 p.m., we set off!
According to Google Maps, it should take 59 minutes via foot and subway to get from Citi Field to the UCB Theatre. The first leg of our journey went smoothly, but things started to go downhill when we were supposed to transfer from the 7 train to the F train. Unfortunately, although we were waiting at the right platform, we confidently boarded the wrong train. See, we hadn’t yet gotten the memo that different train lines can stop at the same platform.
I don’t recall which train we boarded, how long we took to realize it wasn’t the F, or where we then exited the subway in a panic. But according to Google Maps, wherever we were was a 30-minute walk from UCB theatre. If we power-walked it down to 25 minutes, we still had a chance of making the show.
Our feet were aching and our armpits damp, but we ended up getting to the theatre just in time. Relieved, we retrieved our virtual tickets, showed them to the bouncer, and were gently informed that there are actually TWO different UCB Theatres in New York. And we were at (I’ll give you two guesses) THE WRONG ONE. None of us had realized that we had bought tickets to a show at the Chelsea location, but had spent a high-stress hour and a half making our way to the East Village. The two locations are 25 minutes apart and it was already 9:30. We swallowed our pride and accepted defeat. New York City: 1. New New Yorkers: 0.
But the night did have a positive twist: On our way home to Barnard, we stumbled upon Katz’s Delicatessen—which, I learned from a squealing companion, is pretty famous. Someone took a picture, and someone bought a bagel. I bought a pickle, and I ate it.
“Meet me in front of Butler and I’ll walk you to Carmen,” I said. Pretending like I knew what that meant was the first lie I told in college.
In reality, I wondered who Carmen was and if she was nice.
It was the first night of NSOP. Josie, an old friend from summer camp, invited me to my first college party. Josie and I were used to being five hundred miles apart yet something about being on opposite sides of Broadway felt just as far. I had only been on Columbia’s campus once before; across the street was a labyrinth of foreign territory. After I walked over and stepped through the gates, due to the combination of being overwhelmed and lost, I suddenly felt so small. Every time Josie texted me “Where are you?” I had the impulse to respond with some excuse of why I couldn’t go and run back to familiar Barnard.
When you type in “Butler” in Google Maps, you get a small county in New Jersey. It also didn’t help that it was the middle of the night. I traveled to Furnald, Hamilton, and John Jay all before I made my way to the library.
Despite all the time I spent frantically looking for Butler, I forgot to pause and look around. As I waited for Josie, I sat on a bench in front of the library. It was like sitting in the front row of a movie theatre: The scene was too large to take in all at once. The gargantuan Low Library was gently illuminated by streetlights and the lamps along College Walk. The whole campus had a novelty glow.
As I write this blink, it’s difficult to exactly recall how nervous I was and why. Instead, I laugh at myself and take a deep uneasy breath realizing move-in day is just around the corner. It’s as if my brain threw out all the all the anxiety and butterflies from the first night of freshman year. Taking their place are new worries I have for this upcoming year.
Have fun leafing through our NSOP issue, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter As We See It!