As the class of 2022 filed out of Convocation in a mass exodus, some wiped tears from their eyes as they slowly separated from their families, while others, like me, were only too eager to get started with orientation. But while all 1,436 students crammed onto the South Lawn in the shadow of Butler Library, I lacked the foresight to prepare myself for what was coming: the unrelenting icebreaker.
It has been over two months since the beginning of the New Student Orientation Program, and in many ways, I have acclimated to the fast-paced life of a Columbia student. However, the necessity of and insistence to break the ice in every facet of student life as a first-year still causes my temples to throb and my heart rate to spike.
On that first night of NSOP, I found my orientation group, which I will call “Queens-18,” clustered in a disorganized pack on the grass. Awkward tension filled the space between us and closed my throat. Some sat down, basking in the retina-damaging blue light of their iPhones; others stood apart from the group, rubbing their swollen eyes and crossing their arms.
We all maintained a complete silence as we awaited the arrival of the last couple of members of our group. Every so often, I looked up and made eye contact with one of my classmates. I attempted a smile, but immediately suppressed it once their eyes darted away. Finally, the whole group had arrived and we were ready to begin.
We started with introductions. As people began to go around the group, I was excited—excited to be a part of a community I knew nothing about, excited to make lifelong friends like they do in the movies.
However, these introductions were more complex than I ever could have imagined: They involved our names, hometowns, preferred gender pronouns, prospective majors; colleges, reasons for choosing Columbia, things we were most excited for in the upcoming week of orientation, and, of course, two fun facts.
By the time three students had finished their icebreakers, the group had lost focus, and I had lost all sense of time. I quickly understood that, far from easing the transition into college life, this phenomenon of forced social interaction would make for abrupt silences of various lengths in the days to come.
I justified these icebreakers by telling myself that they would be isolated to orientation and that it was natural to devote hours upon hours to introducing myself over and over again to people I quite possibly (and in reality) would never see again.
Once NSOP had ended, I let out a sigh of relief. I hoped that the era of surface-level introductions would be consigned to oblivion and that I wouldn’t be forced to participate in one again.
And yet, much to my dismay, the icebreakers continue to follow me today. In classes, club meetings, and even some Carman parties, I often find myself going through the same cadence of name, college, major, and hometown.
(Even our weekly all-staff meetings for The Eye are initiated by a routine icebreaker, which consumes at least 45 minutes of the meeting. Every week.)
When we move into college, many find a plethora of firsts. First time living apart from our parents. First time moving cities. First time managing our own spending. There are many, many first meetings that are riddled with anxiety about how we are being perceived by those around us.
I’m convinced that the transition from high school to college embodies the biggest challenge to my personal identity yet. After we get past move-in, we are forced to question and confront the people we have been for the past 18 years, and we are encouraged to embrace the opportunity college provides for recreating that self-image.
However, the moment we enter this new environment, we are forced to project a version of ourselves that can be compressed into a 30-second intro that is both funny and confident, so our new peers can “get to know us.”
The most nonsensical part of this may just be that we all know icebreakers are not a sufficient way of getting acquainted with others, and yet we depend on their shallowness to interact within a group setting. Without “breaking the ice,” our small groups would be an even colder place.
One would think that our mutual frustration toward and dislike for icebreakers would allow us to banish this endeavor to the past. But, maybe the reason why we haven’t done so is that there is no better alternative. Maybe icebreakers are designed specifically for that surface-level introduction and exist only because we need to say words to each other in order to function civilly.
Not only has this transition from high school to college confronted me with a choice between who I am and who I want to be, but I have also been presented with the opportunity to solidify relationships with the people to whom I have been forcibly introduced. In an ideal world, this window would allow for the solidification of relationships with others. But I will never be able to wrap my head around how a long-winded, awkwardly organized showcase of this shallow version of oneself can create a healthy friendship.
In the time since NSOP, I have come to realize that not a single one of my friends was made through icebreakers. When I see a member of “Queens-18,” I am often greeted with an ingenuine smile or, if I’m lucky, a head nod.
Moving forward, I pray for a reality in which we can openly accept the idiocy of icebreakers and search for means that allow for natural and candid introductions. Until that day, I will continue to be a staunch opposer of the icebreaker.
Have fun leafing through our ninth issue!