At Western University, a Soph is a student who helps facilitate Orientation Week activities and continues to connect incoming students to academic, social, and health resources at the school throughout the year. Being a Soph at Western University was an experience unlike any other and worth every sleep-deprived minute. Here is what it was like:
Why I Applied
When I came across the opportunity to apply, I was reminded of the wonderful experience I had during my Orientation Week at Western University three years before. My Faculty and Residence Sophs were responsible for my comfortable transition from home to university life. At that point, I was entering my final year at Western; it was my last chance to Soph and I felt that I had spent enough time at the school to be able to give the incoming students the best welcome I could give.
The application prepared me for the entire experience tremendously. The questions pushed me to think through the reasons I wanted to be a Soph. Reminding myself of these reasons later on gave me the motivation to push through the more difficult moments. I decided to apply to be a Faculty of Arts Soph because throughout the three years in my program, I had been continually inspired by my studies in the Arts and Humanities and wanted the chance to represent our faculty with pride.
The first time I met the Head Soph Team was at the interview which took place on the second floor of the University Community Centre. The three facilitators created a welcoming and relaxing environment in which we could truly get to know each other. Because I was able to be myself, I knew that whether or not they chose me it would be for the right reasons.
Receiving The Call
The Head Soph Team called to welcome me to the Arts Soph Team. This call was overflowing with joy, enthusiasm, and positive energy; this filled me with excitement at the idea of working with them. That night I was invited to a secret Facebook group through which the team would get to know each other a bit before our first meeting.
Summer in London Ontario is calm and humid. We met up one evening in the cosy living room of a house by the Main Gates of Western University. About twenty of us sat on the floor, quite close to each other, shy and eager to get to know each other. The Head Soph team had kindly prepared snacks and some fun props for the ceremony.
As our names were picked, one of us would share our funny/embarrassing/outrageous stories and the rest of us would shout out suggestions for a Soph name (nickname) based on the story. It was the perfect group bonding activity; through storytelling and vulnerability, the trust among us grew. For O-Week, we were to keep our real names a secret until the Name Reveal.
Training took place a few weeks before O-Week. The atmosphere on campus at Western University was unlike the quiet of the summer and unlike the stressful bustling energy that fills the campus throughout the school year. Almost everyone out and about on campus was there for Soph training. Everybody was busy and buzzing but nobody was stressed about schoolwork.
In addition to learning about academic resources and social activities, we learned to care of each other’s physical and mental wellness. One of the most challenging parts of training was learning the cheers and dances.
For Western University’s Orientation Week, the Sophs and incoming students were not allowed to consume alcohol. This was helpful since we woke up before 6AM everyday and slept after 12AM most nights. We had two t-shirts, one sweater (with our Soph names on them), and I had a pair of shorts and a skirt. There was no time to do laundry; the tip that circulated amongst Sophs which was to put these sweaty clothes in the freezer to stop the germs from partying up in your sweat marks. It made waking up each morning quite pleasant as it was very hot in London at the time.
Helping the incoming students move into their dorms was hard work but we played the perfect music (In the Air by Phil Collins) for the job. I was the only Arts Soph at Delaware Hall and the Engineering Sophs adopted me. We packed each elevator with plastic bins full of clothes, sports equipment, and the one roast chicken somebody brought like we were playing Tetris. It was great to do for new students what older students had done for us. We finished quickly and moved on to help Saugeen-Maitland Hall and Huron with their move-ins. Each residence had its own system for getting boxes out of parents’ cars and up into the dorms as efficiently as possible. There were many assembly-line type systems. It was great to see all the creative solutions thought up by students for students.
Every morning after a quick meet-up with the Arts team we would head to our respective residence halls to wake up the incoming students. While some students were very excited to participate in the activities, some were less excited and it was a struggle to get out the door together in the mornings. In addition to attending the school-wide activities, we had many Arts-specific activities such as painting huge canvases and our shirts.
The Name Reveal was when we shared our Soph stories with the Residence Hall we were affiliated with. Each Soph took turns storytelling to all the incoming students, Faculty Sophs, and Residence Sophs in that Hall. It was a nerve-racking experience to tell such an embarrassing story in front of so many people I did not know but I embraced the experience because it is such a rare opportunity for so many people to be brought together through storytelling. It was also immensely enjoyable to hear everybody else’s stories.
The Sophs’ attitude over O-Week transformed the vibe of the campus. Gradually over the course of the week, everybody seemed to have let go of any pretence and the walls had come down. It seemed as though the teamwork and sleep deprivation had brought our community closer together. Sophs were always open for a chat and ready to help anybody at any time. I believe that seeing this type of teamwork amongst Sophs as a First-Year student demonstrated the positive effects of having an open and friendly attitude. The community that Sophs build at Western University during O-Week is truly inspiring.
Once O-Week was over, we had a few dances and parties which were exclusive to Sophs. As soon as we were allowed to drink again but after a good night’s sleep, all the Sophs met up at Ceeps (Western University’s favourite bar). It was a very fun night but I was honestly just basking in the glow of my newfound appreciation for sleep. We also had a dance in the Mustang Lounge and one by Victoria Park. Although I did notice that as soon as O-Week was over, the magical warm team feelings had faded. I was glad to have appreciated it as it was happening in the moment.
For the rest of the year, I visited the Arts students at Delaware periodically. I was eager to share some of the things I had learned at Western with them like how to snag a study spot during finals and sharing the mistakes I had made. Best of all, I had a chance to hear about their First-Year adventures from their perspectives and relive O-Week in my last year at my beloved school.