O-Week Elsewhere

By Nyeleti Machovani

The curtain has closed on 2008 and it is certainly back to school and back to the academic rasp for many. Starting off the university calendars is the most anticipated event for the new additions to campus rush hour: first year Orientation Week, termed “O-Week”. You see, this period allows our emancipated fellow students to execute their freedom in utter abandon. Each institution has its own traditions as to how they introduce first years to new and unfamiliar territories. It is agreed upon that the average student will always remember their first year orientation. These memories, however, differ for each individual. Some classify their O-Week in warm, nostalgic tones while others try and shake off the bitter taste of a time they would rather forget. Activate goes on a limb to find out what students from different universities got up to during their orientation and the roles it played in introducing them to a place that will be home for a couple of years to come.
University of Limpopo
Dimpho Mathe – 2nd year Degree in Communications

Our orientation week wasn’t badly planned at all. Orientation began a week or two before classes commenced. It was quite informative. I have to say though, once lectures began, orientation seemed quite useless. What we were told during that period is what we would inevitably come to know in our individual capacities. They grouped the new students according to our previous schools, and focused mainly on getting us familiar with the university grounds. We were also given questionnaires about general knowledge and briefly lectured on what the university expected from us. Orientations in other institutions are mostly controlled by the seniors, which I believe then give the seniors the leverage to use the opportunity to humiliate the new students. Our seniors weren’t as involved, but were helpful to a certain degree in getting us acquainted with the University lifestyle. I think that perhaps it would have been much more memorable and fun if we had been introduced in a more spontaneous and unpredictable manner – not necessarily degrading.

University of Cape Town
Shedi Kgomo – 2nd year BA LLB

At UCT, we had a two-week-long orientation which I thoroughly enjoyed. Our two weeks consisted of taking tours around the city and engaging in fun activities like boat cruises, ice- skating and go-cart races. We also had residence activities such as watching movies and karaoke sessions. The more demanding “initiation” tasks laid out for us were to build a float as well as to sell RAG magazines in the streets of Cape Town at 4am! I wrapped up 2008 with fond memories of a fun first year of tertiary education. I think the concept of orientation is good, if used constructively and made fun. The objective of orientation should be to welcome first years and help them to settle and adjust to the huge transition from high school to university or technikon. I don’t believe there is a need to exploit and abuse first years, because that is what some institutions do. There are some horrendous stories of initiation for first years I have heard. The relocation from a 12-year-long comfort zone is unnerving enough and should not be made into a pending nightmare. Prospective students should be excited about their tertiary years and emerge from orientations with fun memories they will not be ashamed to re-tell over and over again.

University of Johannesburg
Sheilah Mokgoadi –2nd year LLB

At UJ, first years had to perform a theatrical drama. To ensure that we were known, we wore name boards around our necks instead of tags. We also had uniform days when we were told to wear our high school uniforms. Imagine a first year, excited to be launching into the big bad world and leaving parents and high school behind, being told to wear the very same attire you couldn’t wait to burn or at least shed. There were some tasks that rode a fine line between acceptable and demeaning. I think that Orientation Week by definition and nature will always be a point of controversy. I think the elements of O-Week, to mutilate and humiliate as well as inform and guide, are interlinked and cannot be separated. Orientation is also most definitely, a platform to serve senior students with much entertainment as they derive tyrannical pleasure at the expense of gullible new students. Perhaps it is what we are obliged to do that makes the basis of memories we will cherish through our university lives and beyond. One thing is for sure, prospective students need a good dose of humour to be able to take O-Week with a pinch of salt.

University of Greenwich, Kent (London)
William Smart – 3rd year I.T. for Business Management

I remember my orientation as nothing but a week of partying. There were times when we would be grouped into a bunch and encouraged to mingle, as well as the usual lectures about university procedures and expectations. I must say, it is quite an eye-opener for a ‘fresher’ to walk out of their comfort zone and be obliged to adapt to a new environment with people you don’t know. I can’t say that there is any point in time that I felt what we were obliged to do was degrading or humiliating by any means. I’m actually grateful for orientation because that’s when I forged new friendships and those are still the people I refer to as friends today. In doing so, we quickly become accustomed to the environment and it made the transition less intimidating. It also teaches one to network and communicate, which are excellent skills for the long haul.


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