By Yosef Bluth
I recently had the “wonderful” opportunity of taking Introductory Biology over the summer. The course was split into two semesters, which both had a lecture and a lab. Altogether, this meant spending around 5 hours a day in class, plus countless more studying, every day for about two months. Without a doubt, I can confidently say that this was my least favorite course I’ve taken in YU.
There’s just one problem – I’m not sure what made me hate it. It wasn’t the difficulty of the work; my classes this semester are going to be the hardest I’ve ever taken, yet I’m looking forward to them immensely. It wasn’t that I was struggling with the material, even though it wasn’t a cakewalk by any means. I was able to understand the material and I got grades that I am happy with. It wasn’t the teachers; my lab professor was absolutely phenomenal, and I thought my lecture professor was good as well. The subject was fine and I happen to enjoy science a lot. So what was it?
I got the opportunity to think about this question while working at orientation. During orientation I had the opportunity to work with some awesome people, both YU staff and students. The people at OSL were wonderful to work with, and the team of orientation leaders was one of the best groups I’ve seen in all of my time at YU. There were members of the student government, Seforim Sale head staff, club heads, student leaders – just an absolutely fantastic group.
The week of orientation felt not just fulfilling, but was also the most fun I had the entire summer. I got to hang out with old friends, both working with me and just starting out at YU. I was able to use my knowledge of YU to hopefully help teach the FTOCs some information that will help them during their years here. I had the opportunity to meet lots of new people who I hope to build a relationship with for years to come.
One of the last parts of orientation was the orientation Shabbos. Friday night we had an inspiring Kaballas Shabbos (welcoming Shabbos) in the Glueck Beit Midrash. Before Maariv, Rabbi Blau gave an interesting speech which made me start thinking. After Maariv, I went over to Sam Gelman and asked him if he had anyone signed up to speak at dinner. He told me that he didn’t and that I was welcome to do it. This was what I had wanted, but there was only one small problem – I didn’t have a speech. I had an idea to start with, but now I had to come up with something I could actually talk about.
I started to reflect. I had just had one of my favorite weeks in my entire time at YU, right after finishing one of my least favorite times. What was the difference between the two?
When I thought about it, the difference was pretty clear – the difference was in my attitude. With orientation, I went in knowing some people, but more importantly, I went in with an attitude of being ready to meet people. I knew that I was going to meet a lot of new people, and I was looking forward to it tremendously. I’ve had friends ask me why I wanted to work orientation, and my answer was always simple – I wanted to get a chance to meet all the new FTOCs. It was cool to see all my old friends, but it was even cooler to meet people that I didn’t know. With my summer biology class, I went in with an attitude that was almost the complete opposite. I didn’t want to meet people. In fact, I didn’t want to be there at all. I’ve always thought that taking summer classes would be miserable, and I was less than enthusiastic about it going in. I had no interest in meeting people; I just wanted to get through it. For the first couple of weeks, I didn’t really speak to any some of my fellow classmates. We spoke in class, but that was about it. It wasn’t until I started to struggle that I asked them for help and realized that not only were they better classmates than I was, but they were also genuinely phenomenal people.
That was the big difference. This was the most obvious example, but looking back I realized that the rest of my classes followed the same pattern – the best classes I took were the ones where I had a good relationship with my classmates. There are other students at YU that I became friends with during the one class that we had together randomly, and we will still stop each other to catch up when we happen to cross paths. A few of these guys are now some of my closest friends, and it all goes back to the one random class we had together, the one random class where we got to know each other.
In almost every class I’ve taken at YU, someone has made a WhatsApp chat for everyone in the class. I was speaking to a friend recently, and we realized that we had taken a class together a few years ago, before we knew each other. Looking back, we had completely different thoughts about the class – my thoughts were mostly positive, while his were not. I mentioned to him that something that really helped me was the class WhatsApp, which I saw he wasn’t on. His response was simply to ask “what WhatsApp chat?” (Definitely helps explain why I don’t remember taking the class with him. The other part being that we had ‘checks Canvas page’ 27 students in the class.) I realized that he had never heard about it, and that lack of communication with the rest of the class had made his experience both more difficult and less enjoyable. On my end, I realized that just the existence of a class chat had made my experience so much better – I had other people that I could reach out to that were willing to help me out. This was back in my first semester in YU, and the friendliness of the rest of the class was the best welcome I could have asked for.
When I got up to give my speech at dinner Friday night, I knew that this was the message I wanted to give over – that the most important thing you can have in YU, is an attitude of cooperation. Be ready and willing to reach out to others. Everyone in YU is here together. Your classmates are probably struggling with the same things that you are (or they aren’t, which means that they know how to help). Whether you need help, are the one helping, or you’re just lurking on the chat, the atmosphere of cooperation will make your time at YU better, more productive, and more enjoyable. When you’re actually in class, take the opportunity to go over to someone you don’t know. Who knows? You might meet someone who will become one of your best friends. Don’t just sit in a corner with your friends and ignore everyone else.
I’ve always looked at the retrospective articles that are published at the end of the year as being a little weird. They always talk about ‘Oh I wish I knew this when I started at YU.’ At that point, it’s too late for anything to be done for that year, and a decent number of students are graduating. However, thanks to my summer class, I’m in the position where I feel I can publish a retrospective article at the beginning of the year, which is an opportunity I’m more than happy to take advantage of.
I want to tell everyone to take the chance to meet people. Especially for the FTOCs, the people around you are fellow students that you will spend the next few years with, in the dorms, in your classes, and generally sharing a campus with you. Take the chance to meet them now, and not in a few years when you’re on your way out the door. Don’t wait until you are struggling in a class before talking with your classmates. Instead, seize the initiative and be the person that reaches out first, that starts the class WhatsApp chat if no one else has made it yet. So what are you waiting for? Stop reading this and go introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you!