O-Week: Not just for first-years

The words Orientation Week bring to mind a noisy crowd of young froshers, excited to be starting a new chapter in their lives and eager to make friends. But O-Week isn’t just for fresh-faced first-years. New graduate and international students also benefit from orientation.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. In 2013, the most recent year for which numbers are available, Ryerson hosted over 800 international students and over 1,700 domestic graduate students. For many, it was their first year at the university. Often, these students know few people on campus and little about the services offered to them, which places them in the same boat as those just starting their degrees.

I know from experience just how dizzying this transition can be.

As a 24-year-old starting my master’s degree this year, Ryerson remains largely within the Unknown. I only once toured the campus and haven’t visited Toronto’s downtown core more than handful of times in recent years. My knowledge of how things work here is limited (more like non-existent).

At least, like most new graduate students, I’m able to attend a program orientation and a faculty meet-and-greet that will help me transition into the MJ program. I’m also represented by the Ryerson Students’ Union Graduate Council. I may have already overcome some of the biggest tests of university life — being away from home, doing laundry, passing courses — but I’ve hit the restart button on many other things: making friends, finding cheap beer, passing different courses. I’ll take any help I can get.

International students are also fortunate. They, too, have orientation events, which are organized by International Student Support. Students learn about immigration regulations, health insurance, study permits, and entry visas. They even learn to “understand Canadian academic culture.” It’s no wonder ISS describes the workshops as “IMPORTANT.” How could they possibly get by without it?

But it isn’t everyone who has access to O-Week activities or who feels comfortable attending them. Transfer and mature students are often left out, or choose not to attend. As unfortunate as this is, it’s easy to understand why.

Depending on the circumstances, it’s unlikely a transfer student will want to party with younger students. In any case, many will have already experienced frosh at their previous university or college.

Mature students, who are 21-years-old or older when they begin their studies, or who have been away from school for over two years, also face obstacles. Kristy Milland, a 34-year-old psychology major, took to the Ryersonian last year to express her frustration over not fitting in. “When I arrived to my introductory courses, I was confronted with a sea of young people with whom I shared little in common,” she wrote. “It seemed like it would be much harder for me to integrate into this crowd than I had anticipated.”

Ryerson had a Mature Students Association for people like Milland until the group ceased to exist in 2012. Thankfully, it has been revived this year. Mature students should, once again, have opportunities to interact and have access to academic services. During Illuminate 2015, orientation for mature students was limited to a Mature Night Garden Party. Something is better than nothing, I suppose.

This year, Ryerson could have done more to service transfer and mature students. As it demonstrated by offering orientation to its graduate and international students, O-Week can be an invaluable experience  — regardless of age, academic background, or cultural identity. Next year, the school should do a better job of taking all students into account.

Photo courtesy of Augustine Ng