Logan Howard

First-year pre-orientation groups typically populate campus before fall move-in, but this year, the college was quiet as students hiked, volunteered, and learned about food sustainability from their computer screens at home. 

Yale College conducted its five pre-orientation programs: Cultural Connections, FOCUS, First-Year Outdoor Orientation Trips (FOOT), Harvest, and Orientation for International Students (OIS), virtually and free of cost in mid- to late August. While participants and leadership alike were wary of how the virtual format could hinder the pre-orientation experience, members of both groups stated that the programs were still worthwhile.

“I don’t know how an online pre-orientation measures up to the real thing, but Cultural Connections being online was a wonderful experience,” said CC participant Charnice Hoegnifioh ’24. “If I had to go back in time, I would definitely do it again.”

Across pre-orientation groups, one of the largest worries was that the programs would not transfer well into the online format. Many pre-orientation programs introduce students to campus, New Haven, or Northeastern nature while facilitating connections with other students, so several leaders worried about the transition to an online format.

This year, Harvest, which typically allows students to live and farm together before the fall term, sent participants a care package with food and plants that they could cook and sprout. FOOT, typically dedicated to outdoor hiking, focused on education about the outdoors while continuing to emphasize the formation of strong relationships through optional outside activities. Cultural Connections replaced their “CC Olympics” with daily challenges, like a CC-specific TikTok dance. OIS offered question-and-answer sessions related to Yale. FOCUS — which usually includes mingling time during dinner, hikes, and ice cream trips — set aside one hour each day for community building across different family units.

Still, several leaders interviewed for this article stated that they experienced multiple issues that made their programs less accessible, and, at times, made it difficult to stick to their programs’ central missions. Griffin Berlin ’21, co-Executive Director for FOCUS, voiced concerns about both connectivity issues among students with slower internet connections, and the fact that students were learning about Yale and New Haven from their homes.

“FOCUS, in its very name, is meant to center New Haven within orientation for students. This year, however, none of the participants were in New Haven (unless they were from here), and several of them are not coming for the entirety of this year,” Berlin wrote in an email to the News. “This posed unique challenges in terms of our curriculum — how do you center a place when everything is occurring virtually/remotely?”

Cam Do ’21, an OIS counselor, said that her group never met all at once, since its members were spread across many time zones.

Kenia Hale ’21, Cultural Connections Co-Head Counselor, stated that she worried about connection problems too, but added that digital formats can also increase engagement in other ways. 

“I hope [the online format] made [CC] a little bit more accessible, because for students who were working or couldn’t get transportation that week, they could still go,” Hale said. “And we had our biggest CC class that we ever had.”

Hale suggested that some of the aspects of the virtual format, such as digital panels and daily TikTok challenges, might remain a part of CC, even when pre-orientations are able to resume in person.

Participants mentioned concerns similar to their leaders’. Three first years across FOCUS and CC cited “Zoom fatigue” as the hardest part of participating in pre-orientation.

But those same students also said pre-orientation was ultimately worth it for them. FOCUS participant Mahesh Agarwal ’24 wrote in an email to the News that he was “unequivocally happy [he] participated in FOCUS,” and Sophia Li ’24, who also participated in FOCUS, said that the “pre-orientation program definitely created a welcoming and encouraging community.” 

CC participant Aderonke Adejare ’24 offered similar praise for her program.

“I loved it,” Aderonke said. “I’m so glad I did it. Highlight of my quarantine.”

Multiple pre-orientation programs invite transfer and Eli Whitney students to participate as well. 

Madison Hahamy | madison.hahamy@yale.edu

Madison Hahamy covers faculty and academics as a staff reporter. She previously covered alumni and is a sophomore in Hopper College with an undecided major.