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The Jump Start Orientation Leader Experience

Post by Ernielly Leo, UBC Vantage College Orientation Assistant

After two weeks long of training, here I was, rolling my suitcase into first year residence again. Soon, these hallways and floor lounges will be filled with new and unfamiliar faces of incoming students to UBC, a little bit of a throwback to myself exactly one year ago! I’ve had a good time as a Jump Start participant before, and I credit a lot of my friendships I’ve made to those first two weeks of being in Vancouver. I sure hoped that this time around I would be able to help create good memories, facilitate friendships, and be a resource for incoming students.

Soon enough, the houses were buzzing with hellos and nice to meet you’s as 1200 students started to check into residence. Without my “on duty” shirt, everyone thought I was a fellow student. I was feeling a bit mischievous, so I intended on keeping it that way until they figured it out themselves! The residence assignment is connected with orientation groups, so chances are some of these new friends I’ve made will be my student group for the next two years. Sure enough on first day of orientation, as I wave my handmade banner sign for ARTS 12, bewildered faces came to greet me bright and early on Totem Park field.

In between whisking them from workshops to class simulations to helping them navigate the gigantic university that is UBC Vancouver, we had some time to lounge around under the tree or near the Rose Garden to have lunch and to get to know each other better. I love that the two weeks really helped in building genuine human connections, especially since the groups were sorted by intended majors and there definitely seemed to be a lot similarities in the classes that they were going to take. It’s a relief for many that they won’t be walking into a 200 person classroom full of strangers - even I found a student who will also be taking the same class as me!

Being a Jump Start Orientation Leader was an interesting experience, as I tried to balance the different roles as a mentor, friend, residence advisor while constantly hyping up our students. As the first point of contact with students, it was really important that we continued to also communicate with our supervisor to make adjustments according to the needs of the incoming students to make sure that we are really building and inclusive environment. There had been many times where I had to exercise my own judgement and at those times, I was grateful for the intensive two weeks training I had to prepare me for these situations.

My favourite part in being a leader was always the non-academic component of Jump Start. From hosting coffee houses and talent shows to taking students for a berry picking adventure across campus, I find these activities to be the best way to meet new people and branch out beyond people in the same faculty or residence. Often students are exhausted after a full day of being in classes and workshops or that they have formed groups to do their own outside of class activity, which as all fine and dandy.  We are there to be your jack-of-all-trades whether you want to hit up the best all-you-can-eat sushi in Vancouver, or whether you need a listening ear when things aren’t going so well.

Everyone experiences Jump Start differently, as both students and orientation leaders. One thing that I learned to be of high importance is of course, self care: knowing what works for you and what doesn’t, balancing between pushing boundaries and trying new things with drawing a line to what you are okay with. It’s really easy to be dragged into a crowd mentality in the middle of the excitement that surrounds Jump Start, but I tried hard to emphasize to my students in residence and in my orientation group to really know your core and what matters to you. Get out of your comfort zone, but know your limits and don’t compromise safety for adventures. It was also important for us to always highlight that we have such a big support network and access to resources at UBC to help make the orientation experiences fruitful, safe, and fun for the diverse group that we have. There is always something for everybody!

As Jump Start came to a close, friendships had been formed and memories were made. On our last evening together with Jump Start, everyone cleaned up nicely with their crisp shirts and dresses for an evening of catered meal, performances, and dance while reminiscing on the two weeks that felt longer. Some of my students came up to me to gave me a big hug and thank you while we looked back at the very intense two weeks. I was very proud of them and very grateful that they have credited me to this confidence they now had in navigating the city, preparing for university, and in making new friends. The nervous faces I saw when they moved into residences are now gone, replaced by excitement and certainty of the new adventure that awaits them in their first year at university. As an orientation leader, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride and satisfaction myself. Jump Start had done its job well, if I may say so myself.