Help! I'm a Freshman!
Remember how lonely it can be as a freshman on a new campus? Rewind your own college tape and remember how you wanted to be treated.
Launching into the first semester of college is like taking the lead role in a performance you’ve hardly had a chance to understudy. High expectations, a few “go-get-em-kid“s, some fresh deodorant and suddenly you’re in a world you’ve only seen on TV. Your audience — your family, former teachers, and friends new and old — is watching intently. They have no program notes; they must simply watch the unfolding of your college life as you climb and fall, as you remember lines you practiced in high school and discover fresh twists to the plot you thought you knew.
Desperate to connect
This insecure new world of partying/academia can have moments of sanity and steadiness — I found solid ground in the InterVarsity chapter as a freshman at Western Michigan University. But InterVarsity was still an uncharted world for me. I was encouraged by the fellowship I received at large-group meetings each week and felt giddy at times — were there really this many Christians on campus? At 180 degrees from my high school experience, these students were comfortable with their faith. The music, the worship, the prayers — all were different from what I had experienced in church on Sunday mornings back home. I saw students praying on campus and growing excited about contact evangelism, and I loved it. I was drawn to their freedom with God and their sense of community.
Could I have a part in it? I only knew two people in Michigan (I hail from Wisconsin) and was stretching myself thin trying to meet new faces and make friends. The atmosphere of fellowship kept me coming back to InterVarsity meetings each week. I engaged in contact evangelism with my small-group Bible study leader and attended every weekend conference that our chapter had, whether I knew anyone going or not, trying to get people to reach out to me. I wanted not only to be welcomed but also to be drawn closer to people. I wanted to get to know them and I wanted to show them me — the real me.
But I was quickly learning that “me” was not who I thought it was. Being away from home and growing in my faith, exploring new opportunities and challenging my previous viewpoints — all this was knocking me farther than Pluto’s orbital path. Never had I had such a large dose of change in my life as those first four months! I saw other freshmen around me experiencing the same shakeups (with their own personal quirks, of course) and realized that I was normal. As new and uncomfortable as it seemed, others were going through this floundering insanity as well. But things could pull together and make sense again with even a little help: mail from home, Hershey’s Hugs and support from fellow IV-ers.
You’ve been there
You can find ways to encourage new students by rewinding your own college performance tape and looking back to what students and staff did to welcome you into their world and help make it yours too. As an older student, it may be tough to remember your first sense of cafeteria desperation or recognize that lost-sheep look in an eighteen-year-old’s eyes, but with your warehouse of experiences and stories you can be a real lifesaver to a new student!
By offering transportation, food (even apartment kitchens can resemble gourmet restaurants to those suffering from lack of homemade lasagna!) and help with homework, you will be sure to find eager first year students in your wake. Students not used to the weather, having tough classes or living away from home can use daily smiles and interested, encouraging support. Invite freshmen to your (safe) parties, call them on the phone or drop by their dorm rooms. Show them by forming relationships that you care about God’s work in their lives. Close small groups can be especially appealing, because they offer a safe atmosphere for people to learn more about Jesus and share vulnerable thoughts and feelings.
Watch the “insider” culture
As fall begins, remember that clear clues to InterVarsity subculture are helpful! When I first came to WMU’s large group meeting, I was 99 percent eyes and ears (the rest was dorm dinner) to learn all that I could about the meetings and the people who attended. Make clear statements concerning your chapter’s vision. Be sure students and leaders with answers to freshmen’s FAQs are available. Encourage those who don’t know the worship style to feel free to worship in many ways, with voice, silently, in prayer or through other gifts such as music, dance or writing.
Oh, hey — remember the time your good buddy fell in the lake at chapter camp while eating a sandwich and then his nose … Okay, stop right there, please. Freshmen don’t know last year’s inside jokes, so try to keep the reminiscing to an inclusive explanation of what wild and crazy fellowship and training programs your InterVarsity region offers. Don’t get me wrong; stories from the past are great and can help new students see the fun and difficult times you’ve had. But forming memorable experiences with new students will help them feel included and allow you to expand your own life.
Remember to just love ’em
As you meet new students, remember their inexperience. Remember unknown roommates and more noise in the dorms than you had at home. Remember not knowing anyone. Remember learning to live with cafeteria food. Most of all, remember that freshmen are more than recruits to grow your numbers. They are people you will soon learn to love. Be open to who they are and let them grow into who they are becoming. Avoid pegging new students too soon, and introduce them slowly and clearly to the Christian subculture on your campus. By assuming too much, you could stifle their expression and perhaps lock them up inside. Let them bring who they are into the diversity of your chapter and help add new dimensions to what an InterVarsity student can be.
—Rebecca Yourison, an alumna who survived her freshman year with the loving support of her roommate, a delightful I-V chapter, plenty of e-mails, raspberries and the occasional invitation to eat home-cooked food.