Have you ever had a moment of Déjà Vu? As if you’ve been there before, had the same conversation, or experienced the same series of events? This happens to me more often than i’m comfortable with, but this time specifically, it’s not just a case of deja vu…
It’s New Student Orientation week, and just because Stanford likes to shorten everything, ‘NSO.’ This week, freshman move in to the residences and go through a series of activities to introduce them to the school, learn the institution’s expectations and requirements, and meet their fellow classmates. Because I haven’t yet lived a full year on the campus, I have to go through it again.
Three years ago, I moved into an all-freshman dorm on the east side of campus. Serra, in Stern, would be my home for the next year. I decorated my dorm room, met my incredible roommate, and started the quarter along with every other freshman at Stanford. It was all so new, shiny, and exciting.
We painted our chests with big, bold letters that spelled out, ‘STANFORD,’ and biked to the games, cheering on our classmates. We sat in the hallways late at night, gently strumming guitars and ukuleles, whispering song lyrics, careful not to wake the neighbors. We’d giggle and cry, sharing our deepest secrets and grandest dreams. We formed study groups to share the pain and struggle of the difficult classes, worked through problem sets, and pulled all nighters to finish that important project.
I’m back here again, attending the same events, going through the same orientation activities, just a few years later, and with an entirely new set of people.
I’m not that old, maybe only a year older than some of the other freshman, and yet I can’t help but feel like i’ve lived an entire life already. I see the excitement in their eyes about living away from home for the first time, having their first sip of freedom and starting the journey of discovering who they are. I do not envy them, and yet I feel the slightest pull of sad separation.
Only a week ago, I was in another country, still performing on a grand stage for Cirque Du Soleil. Now i’m across the world, moving into a shared, small dorm room, attending lectures and taking notes. It’s what I want, but it’s not the same.
I miss my family, the cast and crew of Totem. I already miss the traveling, the nomadic style of settling and adjusting and moving again. Strangely enough, I miss that melancholy feeling of looking around and thinking that I’ll probably never sit on that bench, or meet that person ever again. The change and instability was bearable because I had my family to lean on. The only people in the world who understood the situation, who had lived the same life and experienced the same challenges. They supported me, they raised me, and they loved me.
Now I’m at a new place and things are different. Yes, I will make friends and connections that will change who I am, and will last a lifetime. But everyone here has their own life, their own family. We take different classes, live in different dorms, have different groups of friends and hobbies. Some relationships will be strictly for networking, a step to somewhere higher in the world, and I have to be conscious of the motivations of other people. At Totem, the motivations were the same; survive together.
Yet in my heart I feel that it is right to be here at Stanford. It’s the right place and time for me, the right environment to explore my academic interests, to discover new opportunities, and take on rewarding projects.
What has it been like this time around?
A week ago I disembarked a plane at San Francisco International Airport with two overweight bags. It was late. My original plan, take this train here, transfer to that train, get on a shuttle here then walk a few more blocks there, suddenly seemed daunting and unrealistic as I wheeled my luggage around the airport. So naturally, I took an UBER.
Thirty minutes later I rolled up to the ‘row,’ the street where many of the campus houses and fraternities are located. Dragging my bags up to the front door, I knock to be let in. The door opens and a familiar face greets me, “Maika!” and ushers me inside. It’s just as I remember: tables in the dining room that I’ve danced on top of, the third-floor balcony where I looked at the stars and chatted with boys I had a crushes on. A younger Maika had been there before, lived another life and created memories which shaped her freshman fall. Here I was again, ready to do it all over again.
I plopped down in one of the chairs, exhausted from the past few days. Just as I had imagined, a song came calling, “hey, do you want a beer?” The night filled with laughter and reminiscing, new faces and ping pong balls. (For those of you wondering, no, I don’t drink beer.)
I crashed in one of the empty rooms, or at least tried to. Arriving from Iceland meant major jet-lag. I don’t eat on planes, altitude eating = motion sickness, so UBER EATS was naturally the next step. Famished, I ordered greek food, and spent the rest of the night nibbling at hummus while watching episodes of ‘Hannibal’ until I could fall asleep.
I rose early, showered, and was out the door before any of the fraternity brothers opened their eyes. I began the trek to my dorm. Down the street, up the hill, across campus… so much further than expected. By the end, I wanted to rip my arms off, but was met with loud cheers of excited upperclassmen, “MAIKA!” Grabbing my key, I made it to my new home.
The NSO organizers somehow manage to cram a month’s worth of life into a week in an attempt to excite and exhaust the incoming students. It works.
Mixers, open houses, performances, and mandatory activities, all meant to help us assimilate to the campus and with our new classmates. I’ve been through all the events before, but I try to approach it all with new eyes, a beginner’s mindset.
Hey, at least the weather is perfect and volleyball is relevant.
My course load is heavy enough to make me suffer, and on top of that, there’s plenty of student groups and organizations that I would like to join. I’m hoping one of these smart nerds can figure out cloning so I can be in two places at once.