Getting acquainted with life at Western Md. College Orientation is only the beginning

September 05, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

Turn your head. Don't look back.

Just set your sail for a new horizon.

Don't turn around, or look down.

-- Phil Collins

"We Said Hello, Goodbye" Perspiration tricked down Pauline McAlonan's face as she sat on her bed at Western Maryland College.

She brushed from her face the strands of long, red hair that had escaped the clip at the back and began to survey the boxes piled in a corner of her colorless room in Whiteford Hall.

"Things have just been so chaotic," Ms. McAlonan said Thursday afternoon as she gestured to the overflowing containers around her bed. "I'm trying to work out some organization.

"I don't know what I'm going to do later. Maybe just sit back and unwind."

Nice thought. But even Ms. McAlonan admitted she'll become more wound up before her four-day freshman orientation culminates with the first day of classes -- Labor Day.

And Thursday was just moving-in day.

"I guess I'm excited," Ms. McAlonan said. "It's just a new experience."

"Somewhat tiring" is another way Ms. McAlonan described check-in in the lounge of the college's Decker Student Center.

The set-up was alarmingly similar to the multiple lines at counters in a Motor Vehicle Administration office.

"It wasn't difficult and they seemed organized, but you sort of went from table to table to check in, get your keys, get situated," Ms. McAlonan said. "After all the running around, I was a little disoriented."

After 45 minutes of line-jumping, Ms. McAlonan joined the swarm of freshmen filling the hallways with cardboard boxes, plants and stuffed animals as they moved into new rooms.

When she opened the doors of Whiteford Hall, the placed looked primed for partying.

Green and yellow balloons dangled from the columns and walls; streamers hung from the ceilings in the first-floor lounge. Multicolored paper letters spelling "Welcome to WMC" greeted the new residents from the glass partition atop the service desk.

"I was kind of surprised it was all decorated," said Ms. McAlonan. "It was a very nice idea. It makes you feel as if they care."

She wasn't as impressed by a bulletin board at the end of the first-floor hallway, which displayed a likeness of Whiteford Hall and bade the freshmen, "Welcome to your new home."

"I thought that was kind of funny," Ms. McAlonan said. "Maybe it was a bit overboard, because people are not going to think of this place as home, at least not yet."

Saying goodbye

Jennifer Light, Pauline's roommate, is the first to agree.

"I'm more homesick than anyone in this entire world," Ms. Light said, laughing nervously. "I miss everything at home."

Home is Severna Park, where she went to Chesapeake High School.

"I was fine when my parents and my brother were here," she said. "We walked around the campus and looked at things. But when they got ready to go, that's when it hit me . . . that I'm staying here and they were leaving."

Ms. Light said her transition might have been easier if there had been more than a virtually uninhabited dorm to greet her when she arrived, earlier than most of her hall mates.

There were no streamers or balloons adding color to the cream-maybe-eggshell-perhaps-apricot walls along the corridors when Ms. Light, a field hockey player, arrived with the other athletes Aug. 22.

"There was no one here and there was nothing to do," she said. "We had practice three times a day, we ate breakfast and dinner.

"There was nothing to do, maybe count the little holes in the cinder blocks in your room," she said. "There was really nothing ++ to keep you from getting homesick."

Ms. Light conceded that eventually the phone calls home will become less frequent. The weekend visits will be fewer and farther apart. College pennants will take the place of high school memorabilia along the walls.

But not yet.

"I know it'll take some time [to get adjusted]," she said. "But it doesn't feel so good right now."

Closer to home

Ms. McAlonan isn't far enough away from her Westminster home to be homesick, but she acknowledges there will be things she'll miss.

As a Westminster High athlete and scholar, she was used to people calling her name in the halls to say "hi" -- she was a big fish.

"It was kind of a big pond there," Ms. McAlonan said of the high school, with 2,300 students one of the largest in the state. "I was especially known by the people in my grade the last year. I didn't know many underclassmen."

But they probably knew about her. Aside from being a member of the National Honor Society and Math Club, Ms. McAlonan was a middle-distance runner and high jumper for the Owls track and field team.

By her sophomore year at Westminster, she earned a varsity letter in the 400- and 800 meters and the high jump. She was the county quarter-mile champion in 1992.

Her new floor mates are polite, she said; everyone says "hi." But they aren't having lengthy conversations.

"I think the hardest thing to get used to is meeting new people and going into an all-new situation. You just have to get used to it," she said with a shrug.

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