The Thanksgiving break of my freshman year of college was my first time going home since moving to school. Even though my hometown is a measly 15 minutes away from campus, I was now immersed in two entirely different spheres—my life at Arcadia and my life back in Willow Grove. Suffice to say, my friends and family were eager to be filled in on my exploits from my home-away-from-home.
“So how is school, really? What classes are you taking?” my AP Language and Composition teacher asked when I swung by my old high school for a visit.
“English 101… English 199… Photography… Oh, and my Hunger Games class!”
“Hunger Games?” he laughed, disbelieving. “Are you fighting kids and shooting things?”
“I’m getting a quality liberal arts education, obviously.”
Though I was joking at the time, my Hunger Games class ended up being extremely valuable to my education, and it holds a special place in my heart.
“The Hunger Games and Social Reality” was one of many first-year seminars I could have taken my initial semester of college. There seemed to be something for everyone, with courses spanning from “The Shock of the Sixties” and “Bodies in Motion: Foundations in Physical Therapy,” to “The Ethics of Harry Potter” and “Chocolate: From Montezuma to Madison Avenue.”
In the end, I’m glad I ended up in the class that I did. Like many others, The Hunger Games series was a staple of my early adolescence. However, while many moved on to the next flashy media sensation, my deep attachment to the books remained, particularly with regard to its protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. I was excited to return to something I loved in a more academic sense, especially considering that I was now older, with a more mature perspective.
Throughout the class, we used the The Hunger Games as a catalyst for deeper topics that are pertinent to our world today, such as mental health, war, gender, race, and the role of the government. Similar themes spilled over into our assignments, and rather than having prompts assigned, I was able to explore and write on what interested me, exercising my independence as a thinker and budding scholar. In particular, I took my fascination with Katniss and used it as a jumping-off point to write on gender performativity in the novels.
The ability to have agency in my intellectual pursuits—something not so readily found in high school—showed that learning in the first-year seminars did not begin and end with the books that we were reading. Rather, first-year seminars are a way for students to become acquainted with the expectations and allowances of college academics. A small liberal arts school such as Arcadia is not a place where you slump in the back of the room, scrolling idly through Twitter as a professor backlit from a PowerPoint presentation drones about information you will be expected to regurgitate back verbatim. What is right and wrong is not always so starkly black and white. Instead, through an emphasis on class discussion, you are challenged to listen and learn from each other. To think critically. To find your own opinions and articulate them. Here, your voice has weight. Your thoughts matter.
This is not to say that you are thrown into the shark-infested waters of academia and told to swim. First-year seminars introduce students to numerous campus resources, including the Writing Center, Learning Resource Network, Counseling Services, and the various databases and library tools necessary for scholarly research. Moreover, all first-year seminars have at least one upper class peer mentor. Having gone through it themselves, mentors know exactly what their mentees are facing. Sometimes they help students figure out how to register for classes. Maybe they’ll give an assignment a quick review. Other times, they are simply a sympathetic ear, ready to listen and weigh in on issues from roommate conflicts, to homesickness, to schoolwork struggles.
Although first-year seminars are academic classes meant to challenge and push new students, there is room for some fun to be had. Nearly all the courses have opportunities to take learning outside the classroom and go on trips to New York, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia. In my case, I was able to go to an archery range in West Chester and learn if archery as depicted in The Hunger Games movies is actually accurate and effective while shooting at targets ourselves. I must say—I am no Katniss Everdeen, but you wouldn’t want to cross me in the arena.
My first-year seminar played a huge role in making my transition from home to my home (15 minutes) away from home much more seamless. There was a time where I would have rather been reaped in the Hunger Games than share my literary analysis or political observations in front of a classroom full of people. But through my first-year seminar, I gained confidence in myself as a writer and thinker. I have even taken up being a peer mentor so that I can help incoming first-years have the same positive experience. College may be a daunting task, but in your first-year seminar, you will see that the odds may just be in your favor.