From Another Perspective: An RA Examines Freshman Life

By Hope Michelson

I always imagined myself doing some time abroad during my undergraduate years. Six years of pre-college French was primarily endurable as an investment in my future; a future that was supposed to include at least six months attending some remote, fantastically European university. For an entire semester I planned on sporting head-to-toe black and a thick pair of sunglasses even (especially) on the cloudiest of days, drinking rich coffee from tiny porcelain cups and navigating the continent with the confidence of a native.

Flash forward to the actual beginning of my junior year. I am wearing a too-stiff, too-big bright white T-shirt with the words “Georgetown ResLife 2000, Set Sail!” emblazoned across the back, clutching a cold bagel and a giant commuter mug of coffee and standing in the hallway of the second floor of New South. I am peering out the window at the palatial expanse of parking lot that is spread out beneath me, watching bulging minivans pulling in one after another – an advancing, swarming army of first-years and their electronic equipment, wardrobes and other random stuff. I am dreaming of crawling back into bed, dreaming that these approaching minions are not in any way my responsibility, wondering what I have gotten myself into.

How did I get from Parisian cafes to cafe New South? How did I wind up strolling not across the Champs d’Elysees at sunset but picking a path through the halls of a decrepit freshman dorm?

Epiphany? Insanity? Masochism?

Somewhere in the middle of sophomore year I took the time to consider where and why I wanted to go abroad. I realized that when I was imagining my junior year I was envisioning myself against the backdrop of all of these beautiful locations, these exotic stage sets, but I didn’t have any passionate reason for wanting to go. I realized that I knew already that I could probably handle it, that I could vacillate between solitary and social, that I could travel and discover incredible churches and hole-in-the-wall bars, meet interesting people and fall asleep on trains to the sound of the tracks mixing with the melodies of unfamiliar languages. It would be beautiful; it would be incredible; it would be comfortable.

I searched for something that I thought I couldn’t do easily, that I thought would frustrate and test me in ways that I had never been challenged before. I tried to imagine a place where I would feel unsafe or out of my social territory, so to speak – still intellectually engaged, but on less stable ground. What I came up with was not Paris, Japan or Zaire, but staying here, saying good-bye to almost all of my scattering friends who were going abroad and cobbling together an experience that would be unlike anything I had ever done before.

The obvious choice was to apply to become an resident assistant in a freshman dorm.

I had grown awfully cynical by the middle of my sophomore year. I was getting to be an expert at picking out unpleasant aspects of this university with a masterful eyerolling passivity. My decision to become an RA was in part influenced by a need to reconnect with all of the things that attracted me to this institution in the first place. It is the freshmen who inject Georgetown with an innocent enthusiasm each August. I desired, for the space of a year, to reconnect with that energy.

The coming and going, the excitement of getting ready for them to arrive, the denouement of their move-out detritus littering the halls offered me a glimpse into the workings of this university that few students have a chance to witness. My experiences with the residents in my hall were rich and varied. My floor didn’t pull any punches; life was never dull (or quiet). I discovered myself watching the freshmen that I lived with-reflecting on my own first year, the ways that we are free to shape our worlds and the way that some paths are determined for us. I remembered that there are certain essential, common moments in a first-year, moments of uncertainty and excitement, happiness and loneliness. There exists a marvelous circuity, a cycle of in and out, a rotation and folding and refolding of experience that I find graceful and consoling.

There were many moments this past year when I was not comfortable. No other role, no other experience that I have had has forced me to define who I was and what I believed on such a regular basis. No other job has left me struggling with my concept of self and identity, has divided and frustrated me so dramatically. No other job has found me at midnight on a Tuesday sorting beer cans from hard liquor bottles in the recycling bins figuring out whether community responsibility was a concept I was comfortable enforcing. Those times of internal conflict-they crackle with consciousness and life.

For me, being an RA was about imposing a constant awareness on my everyday actions; a mindfulness of who I was, where I was and why. Being an RA means that you have a responsibility to drop the pretenses, to see, or at least begin to look at who other people are. It means keeping your door open, inviting people into your space, using your creativity and enthusiasm to excite others. These are the things that I hope to keep.

And yes, the clichés are true – I learned more from them than they learned from me; it changed me; it was hard and rewarding and opened my eyes. The next few weeks are all about swapping experiences in rapid fire exchanges. If I see you at a party and the music is too loud, if I am dashing across Copley late for my 10:15, if I am feeling jaded or lazy I may fall back on those stock phrases, those ResLife taglines. But know that although I did not go away for my junior year, I feel like, in a way, I’m returning to a Georgetown campus that feels foreign; coming back from a distant place. It wasn’t particularly exotic or linguistically difficult, but it was bizarre and challenging, strange and lovely and I will miss it.

Hope Michelson is a senior in the College.

Have an opinion on this subject? Submit a letter to the Editor.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.