September 6, 2000

Cornell 101: Part One

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For over a century, they have come. This August was no different, as thousands from the Class of 2004 spread across the campus in search of higher learning, independence and new social networks.

Every month until next May, The Sun will chronicle the lives of these 18 first-year students (see right) from the second floor of Mary Donlon Hall. Each month’s feature will focus on a key theme of freshman life, and will also bring you an update (and for some, a reminder) of the ins and outs of freshman year at Cornell University.

Welcome to Donlon 2, home to 61 male and 24 female freshmen, where “Bohemian Rhapsody” blasts from room 202 at 6 p.m. and finding washing machines and weekend parties is as essential as locating lecture halls and libraries.

First Impressions

Kim Friedman visited the campus when “the monsoon” hit. “It was so cold, ugly, and rainy,” she said. Fortunately, Cornell’s academic reputation made up for the weather, and now she sees that “it’s a lot prettier in the sunshine.”

For others, it was love at first sight. “It was the perfect balance of size, academics, social life and beauty,” Weston walker said. “It just clicked.” Wes also said he loves seeing new faces and getting away from the gossip in high school.

Ritu Daga, no stranger to campus, as the University isn’t far from home, is thrilled to finally be here. “The engineering program is great, the campus is beautiful and the people are friendly,” she said, although she feels apprehensive about going to such a large school.

Similarly, Katie Black initially felt “scared and lonely, like everyone else already knew each other,” despite dreaming of Cornell since she was 12.

Others hardly looked back after leaving home for their new lives. Andrew Welch said his goodbyes in Colorado, jumped in his car and drove 30 hours to Ithaca. “My parents were just like, ‘go East. Have fun. Don’t get kicked out,'” he said. “It was a long road. I don’t know how I’ll get back — my car probably won’t make it.” Despite missing the mountains, the sun and even the way the water tastes back home, Andy said he isn’t homesick at all.

The familial ties were not so easily broken for others. Jason Porter recently found out what being sick at college is like, as he dragged himself to classes and collapsed between sections. “I so want my mommy right now — I want her to make me soup!” he moaned, clutching his head.

In the absence of Mom and her soup, Jason’s floormates did their best to take good care of him. Brooke Yakin made hot tea as the guys scolded him about his less-than-wholesome dinners of pasta and onion rings.

Health concerns aside, the freshmen praise the dining hall fare, complaining only that it gets old fast. Ritu, a Jain who follows a strict vegetarian diet, hasn’t had any trouble finding food, just time to eat. “I only get to eat one meal a day right now, because of my busy schedule,” she said.

Homesickness goes beyond missing home-cooked meals and free time. Hours of long-distance calling and Internet chatting are accumulating, as the freshmen struggle to stay in touch with their old friends while making new ones.

When the urge to talk to an old friend from home strikes, Lindsey Giserman can just glance across her double at roommate Kim. This decision took a lot of careful thought, as Lindsey wasn’t sure if predetermining her roommate would take away from the full college experience.

“In the end, it was one less thing for me to worry about. I knew my roommate was not going to be weird and we were going to get along,” Lindsey said. “We try not to spend all of our time together, because we don’t want to be attached at the hip, but we usually hang out in the same group.”

“It was pretty lonely here at first and knowing Lindsey from home made it easier,” Kim said.

The other roommates first met at move-in day, although many of them had made contact over the summer.

“We’ve been getting along very well, despite only talking on the phone once before coming here,” Kate Blosveren said, of roommate Katie.

“I was a little nervous at first, but I’m learning a lot about her culture and we seem to get along,” Brooke said, of roommate Ritu.

Due to residential housing overcrowding this year, the Donlon male quads are each housing five freshmen, with one designated “temporary” resident, who will be moved when other housing becomes available. In room 244, Nick Quinn, Kevin Gomez, Vlad Muste, Jonathan Sterk and Jung Lee share two bedrooms and a study room.

What will become of Nick, the quad’s “temp” who has been told it will be at least a month before another room opens up? “I’d rather stay,” he said. “I got here first so I took the bed in the two-person room, anyway!”

Brooke and Ritu find their accommodations less than five star. “Our room is a god-damn stove!” Brooke complained. Her roommate agreed, and also finds the room too dark.

Checking Out the Social Scene

After moving in and waving anxious parents away, the first order of business for the freshmen was checking out the social scene. A week of roaming Collegetown and fraternity parties quickly introduced them to Cornell’s nightlife.

Disoriented late at night after a party, Nick walked the wrong way and ended up miles downhill from home. Fortunately, he managed to convince a pizza delivery car to take him back to Donlon.

Andy also had some interesting experiences out on the town. Late one night, he was kicked out of a party after he “started head-butting people.”

Not everyone emerged unscathed from their partying mishaps, however. Arthur Klock “partied a little too hard one night” and ended up in an ambulance to Cayuga Medical Center. “I don’t want to use insurance, because the premium will go up and my parents don’t know about it,” he said. To pay the considerable bill, he is looking for a job, possibly at Spirits Catering, the company that provides and serves alcohol at social functions.

Along with the physical and financial penalties, Art has been “J.A.’d” twice for underage drinking, meaning that he must report to the Judicial Administrator for possible disciplinary measures. Both evenings — the night of the hospital visit and the other infraction — took place before classes started.

Have these inconveniences dampened Art’s partying spirit? “No, not at all. I’m just worried about this money issue,” he said. “I just screwed up a little bit; I drank something that I had never drank before and it kicked my ass.”

Although the University provided dozens of Orientation Week activities, alcohol did play a significant role in many of the freshmen’s first days here.

“The first week here is all about getting wasted and hooking up,” Brooke said. “If you can make it through that week without doing those things to an extreme, you will survive.”

Fraternity parties and Collegetown weren’t the only attractions on Friday and Saturday nights, however. Jung, who was born in Korea and then moved to New York City when he was two years old, stopped by the Korean Student Association and the Chinese Student Union that first weekend for some cultural bonding.

Ritu, a dance club fanatic, is still searching for a decent club in Ithaca after exploring Republica and being discouraged after “only 20 people showed up the whole time.”

These extracurricular pursuits have also had some educational value, as the freshman have had plenty of contact with older and wiser Cornellians while out on the town.

Kim and Lindsey, who knew older people from home, found the upperclassmen very welcoming when they saw them at parties. Andy, who sometimes goes out with those two, felt differently. “The thing about going out with freshman girls is that they’ll let you into the party and stuff, but then you
always lose them to older guys. They love those little freshman girls,” he said.

Brooke enjoyed herself at the parties, despite some unwelcome advances from upperclassmen. “I fully support the fraternities,” she said emphatically. “It’s the same thing at any party — don’t be stupid. You have your own mind and you make your own decisions.”

Most freshmen males found older females to be somewhat less friendly. “They never want to talk to you if you’re a freshman,” Andy complained.

Wes agreed. “I told this one girl I liked her necklace and she’s like, ‘that’s the oldest line in the book’ and walked away. I wasn’t even hitting on her at all!”

Single and Loving It

Many of the freshmen are recently single, having ended high school relationships before leaving home for Cornell.

“My girlfriend and I mutually broke up before we left for college because we went to different schools,” Vlad said, echoing the group’s sentiment that long-distance relationships just aren’t worth the trouble, even with technology that allows some to communicate face to face with web cameras.

Wes also ended his relationship before packing his bags. “We still talk and e-mail. It’s harder for her because she’s younger and around all the same people, but I’m up here meeting new people so I just don’t think about it as much.”

Except for Katie, who has been seeing someone for four months, and possibly Art, who has a girlfriend at home with “an agreement to see other people,” these freshmen are completely single and loving it, and far from looking for a serious relationship.

“I’m looking for quality not quantity,” Jung said. “Do I go out Friday nights wearing cologne and woman-hunting clothes? No. But if a girl is nice, then cool.”

The Orientation Week social scene couldn’t delay the inevitable scholastic requirements that began to interfere with the fun. Before they were even unpacked, the freshmen had to take a swim test, where Srinivas Rao and Jason were literally thrown into a sink-or-swim situation.

“My swim test went really badly,” Sri said. “I don’t know how to do the backstroke, so I started swallowing water. They made me grab the pole!” Fortunately, Sri ended up passing and was able to sign up for Jeet Kune Do.

Jason, who normally swims two miles a day, had a similar experience. “Two hours before my swim test, I decided it would make sense to go to the gym and exhaust all my muscles,” he said. “I was straining during the laps — it was really painful, and I was the last one in.”

Academic Concerns

More tests are on the way, as the freshmen have finalized their schedules and formed strong opinions on their classes and professors.

“Every class I go to, I sleep in!” Sri said. “The atmosphere just makes you zone out — professors could make a CD called ‘The Soothing Sounds of the Classroom!'”

Nick has a professor that “looks like Colonel Sanders. “I just crack up every time I see him.”

The rest of the quadmates, up to their ears in math and science problem sets, have more serious academic concerns.

Kevin finds his classes intimidating, even after a summer here in the COSEP program. “My professor has a really thick accent, so it’s hard to understand her,” he said. “She moves incredibly fast, and I’m so busy taking notes that there’s no time to take it all in!”

Jon, a self-described “artist and math geek,” is a week ahead and hopes to keep it that way.

Jung, deciding between a major in civil or mechanical engineering, complained that his schedule was overwhelming, especially with math five times a week every morning. “You have no idea. Try learning some of this stuff at 8 in the morning,” he moaned. “Even physics at 10 is pretty bad.”

Vlad voluntarily packs his 18-credit schedule with crew practice and Presidential Research Scholar meetings, not to mention trying to organize a Donlon tennis team. “I know it’s going to get worse,” he said. “At least I can party on the weekends so far.”

When the academic stress begins to strike, there are dozens of friendly faces on Donlon 2 to lend an ear or hand.

Like all floors, Donlon 2 seems like social paradise to some residents and social purgatory to others.

“[Freshmen] are trying for popularity, friends, and hoping to cover their loneliness with each other,” Sri said, who has opted to pursue friendship more cautiously than his peers.

“My floor is outgoing and friendly, but it’s easy to see the cliques forming,” Wes said.

The majority opinion for now, however, seems to be that the floor “rocks!”

“Most people know to come here to have fun,” Jung said.

“My floor seems to be the best one out here,” Kim said.

“Is there any other floor at Cornell?” Andy asks rhetorically. “This is it.”

The next installment of Cornell 101 will appear in late September.

Archived article by Nicole Neroulias