It was the first day of freshman year, and while I stood in the middle of the Quad trying to decipher my new schedule — which looked more like a math worksheet than a timetable — I realized just how clueless I was about my new Viking home.
I came from a very tight-knit international private school in Palo Alto, only a short drive away from Palo Alto High School. My school, where I grew up surrounded by the same 30 people for most of my life, made sure that my peers and I grew up in a very sheltered environment, the teachers and administration taking the time to guide each and every one of us by the hand through kindergarten, elementary and middle school.
So, when I arrived at Paly, completely unfamiliar with the public school system, or even the American school system, I had no idea how to navigate this new environment, nor who to ask for help. I was all on my own.
My experience on the first day of school wasn’t as smooth as I was assured it would be, and I felt stressed and unprepared for what was to come. I started out having trouble finding and keeping up with the pace of my classes, always two steps behind everyone else. At times, I felt too embarrassed to ask for help with what seemed to be basic knowledge, such as logging in to Rapididentity.
Although I attended a school located in Palo Alto, the methods of teaching were very different compared to the schools in the Palo Alto Unified School District. When I started my freshman year at Paly, I noticed that teachers expected students to already understand certain concepts that were taught in middle school — concepts that I wasn’t familiar with, causing me to struggle in my classes.
“When I started my freshman year at Paly, I noticed that teachers expected students to already understand certain concepts that were taught in middle school — concepts that I wasn’t familiar with, causing me to struggle in my classes.”
The sudden transition to Paly’s huge campus was rough at first, but the administration provided me with some guidance to help my move. They suggested I join TEAM, a program where I would be surrounded by the same group of people for most of my classes. This allowed me to gradually form strong friendships. However, regarding other aspects of Paly life, I was still clueless and left to fend for myself.
Link Crew, a nationwide program aimed at helping incoming students familiarize themselves with new campuses, was also there to help students on orientation day. I feel I could have used this resource more efficiently, by going up to the Link Crew leaders and asking what I would need to know to get through my high school years. But as a shy new student, I lacked the confidence to do so, and unless approached by others, I wasn’t comfortable with talking to new people, especially upperclassmen from a new school.
Paly could try to make this transition process easier next year by providing more information on the basic resources that the school offers, from Schoology to the Wellness Center, giving new students a better idea of how the system works and the chance to feel more comfortable and welcomed in their new community.
By the end of my first week, I quickly learned to adapt to my surroundings. I was now used to my courses being taught in English rather than French, knew where to find my classes with the help of the campus map and understood how to utilize and locate important resources.
Although I was able to learn how the school worked in only a couple days, I recommend to new students, either from smaller or out-of-state schools, or even from the surrounding middle schools, not to be afraid to reach out to others and ask questions.
While the school tried its best to help me and a number of other new students adapt to this new community, I still ended up feeling lost and confused for the majority of my first week. New students shouldn’t worry too much, though, for with time and the help of others, I felt prepared and comfortable in a community I now knew I would become a part of.