(Okay, I’m going to assume you’ve got your laptop already, so let’s move on.)
Aside from doing well in your classes, keeping your dorm room door open and opening yourself to others may be the most important things any first year college student can do. A doorstop and chopsticks will help.
Whether it’s one of those cheap rubber store models, a brick, a rock, or your ugly ceramics project from art class, you’ll need a doorstop to keep your door open and keep you open to meeting others. Meeting new people expands your horizons, and expanding your horizons is what college is all about. Each new person passing your door presents a new opportunity to gain a friend, a study partner, a club or intramural team member, or even a future spouse. If your door is shut, you’re shutting those people out. A closed dorm room door serves up nothing but missed opportunities and says, “I’m not interested in getting to know you.” An open door says, “Come on in!” You’re essentially telling your dorm mates, “Hey, I’m open to meeting new people” and “Sure, I’d like you to invite me to dinner.”
It’s a subtle signal, but it works!
“But what if I’m studying, and I need quiet?” you might ask.
Great question! And I’ll answer your question with a question: What if you did your studying somewhere else and reserved your dorm room for fun, frivolity and fraternizing with your dorm mates? The answer is that you will probably do better at BOTH studying AND socializing. Go to the quiet floor of the library from 7-10pm, then come back to your room and fling that door open ready to have some fun. Better yet, you could hang out in the hallway and create even more social opportunities. Let’s put it this way: if someone’s juggling piranhas or debating the second amendment in the hallway, you’re going to want your door to be open, so you don’t miss it.
Moreover, this might be an especially wise approach if you’re a more introverted, shy or reserved person. You could try to become more outgoing with this small step of opening your door (and yourself) to others. And, it’s important to note, the beginning of the school year is the best time to do this because everyone is new, and everyone is in the same boat where they’re trying to meet new people. So, maybe for the first time in a long time, the shy and reserved person is on the same social plane (or at least the same starting line) as the more outgoing types. Since everyone is new, it’s an excellent time to jump right into the social fray as “equals”.
Consider the alternative: keeping your door closed for the first month or so while everyone else is establishing social ties, and then, once you’ve pondered long and hard and finally mustered up the courage, trying to ignite those social connections several weeks later. This is clearly a much tougher proposition. You’ll feel like you’re running in mud and can’t catch up.
Make it easy on yourself, and others, with the simple and effective ‘open door’ maneuver. Keep it open early and often.
Okay, so you may be wondering how chopsticks are related to doorstops. The answer is simple. They’re both about expanding your horizons. In addition to meeting new people, college is a great place to learn new things (duh!). But many of these new things can be based in community and culture, as well as in the classroom, and the wonderful patchwork of cultural diversity at most campuses makes for some deeply rich offerings.
So, why not learn how to use chopsticks? Or use “chopsticks” as a metaphor for learning a little something about ANY other culture? Take up Bangra or Latin or Irish dancing (do you know why they don’t move their upper body?). Attend a Passover Seder meal or a Cinco de Mayo celebration. Learn yoga or henna painting or origami. Try sushi or Thai or Indian or tapas food. Experiment with veganism. Go see a gay pride parade or a step show or a hack-a-thon. Attend offerings by the Young Democrats and Young Republicans and other political groups. (And, even though it’s your first year, you can begin plans for studying abroad.)
The key here is to walk away from your first year with a greater understanding of someone else’s culture or a new skill that complements and enhances your life – anything that makes you more interesting and fun and helps you better understand at least one other person or group of people. For example, at dinner one night, a friend who grew up on an Iowa farm told me how he used to castrate pigs and make “Rocky Mountain Oysters,” a local delicacy (You can look ‘em up). Although I was never able to bring myself to try the allegedly tasty morsels, I did become more culturally aware (sort of), and sometimes there’s value in the “old college try”.
You can even extend the idea to smaller sub-cultures and activities. Pick up a yo-yo, take up archery or rock-climbing or juggling, check out LARPing or Anime or Manga. Explore something that allows you to walk away from your first year a more culturally aware, and culturally adept, person.
One of the beauties of learning these things on a college campus is that you can just as easily learn them from a friend down the hall as from an organized activity or event. The key here is to see your college community as a rich panoply of cultures just waiting to teach you about the world. Don’t let it go untapped.
On the whole, if you can keep your door (and yourself) open to new people and experiences, you will have a great first year.
Michael Metzler has nearly two decades of teaching experience at both the high school and college level. The above piece is excerpted and modified from his book, Carpe College! Seize Your WHOLE College Experience.