Sunday, May 16, 2004

Orientation express

Today was the mandatory orientation for University of Washington students who are leaving for study abroad this summer or fall. This group, as it turns out, includes hundreds of people, something I hadn't realized but probably should have. Somehow, I had imagined I was alone in this, or that everyone had done it before but me.

The orientation was put together by FIUTS ("fie-yoots"), an organization dedicated to being one of the most awkward acronyms ever. It is also a Foundation for International Understanding Through Students.

For two hours, we listened to a series of speakers explaining what a difficult yet rewarding experience we were in for. They told us everything we needed to know about leaving to study in another country, studying in another country, and coming back from studying in another country. Many of these things were warnings, such as, "If it has fur and teeth, STAY AWAY FROM IT. IT WILL BITE YOU IN THE EAR AND YOU WILL BE SENT HOME."

There was a lot of paperwork. Insurance, concurrent enrollment, etc. We were shown a clip from L'Auberge Espagnole, the part where the international study office loses the guy's file and he has to fill out tons of paperwork all over again. Then the director of FIUTS approached to the podium and announced, "Don't let this happen to you!"

They also tried to emphasize the emotional stress this kind of experience is going to put on us -- "culture shock." Also, its even more sinister counterpart, "reverse culture shock." Feeling out of place and alienated in a foreign country? Not fun, but not too surprising either. Feeling out of place and alienated in your home country sounds far worse and more disturbing.

Phase two of orientation was to split up into groups according to which country we were going to, and students on exchange from that country (along with UW students who had studied there previously) held a Q&A. Marianne was on our particular panel of experts, and she got to tell everyone about British slang and cultural faux pas arising from the fact that over there, pants means underwear and fanny refers to female genitalia. Note to self: leave all fanny packs at home.

Orientation was over after two hours of that. And now I feel like I want to get going to Scotland already. I'm all oriented with nowhere to go, y'all. There's nothing to do now but carry on living my everyday American life, with the steadily growing comprehension that it's not going to last forever, and in four months my whole life is going to turn upside down.


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