So I went to the USC grad student Barbecue/orientation yesterday. Approaching the field I immediately noticed a line of students the length of two city blocks. Wow, was this the check in line? I started rifling through my back for the online confirmation later I’d been told I MUST BRING for admittance, along with a picture I.D. and comfortable walking shoes. I’d spent a good 45 minutes the night before wrestling with foreign printers and internet connections in order to print the confirmation
“What’s the line for, dude?” I asked before entering the line. (For some reason since returning to L.A., I’ve been saying “dude” a lot. Mostly just in my head, but still, it’s there.)
“Oh. Where do you check in?”
There were several, much shorter check-in lines. When I got to the front I gave them my name. No one asked for my printed confirmation or I.D. before handing me a thick packet of materials and a course catalogue the size and weight of a phone book for a large metropolitan area.
I started for the end of the field/food line, but on my way was happy to spot my classmate Conor. Conor is already one of my favorite classmates, not least because he is 6’6” and thus easy to spot in a crowd. He’s also from Ireland, so possesses a pleasurable accent which lends him an air of intelligence and amicability. He was with a German guy named Peter who is studying computer programming—specifically robots.
“Cool,” I said “I just started watching the Sarah Connor Chronicles!”
He looked at me blankly.
“So what do your robots do?”
The line passed quickly as he explained about “mirror neurons” and physical learning, and how it can be used to teach a robot to pick up a cup.
My veggie-dog was a little scary looking, but not untasty. Over lunch, Conor and Peter told me about the special international orientation, which had begun that morning, five hours ealier. They had had both a campus tour and some rudimentary indoctrination in the form of learning and practicing the “Trojan Cheer” for football games. As the lunch hour came to an end–a mere seven minutes after I’d finally sat down with food–some deans gave short speeches, and then dismissed us for our afternoon of hour-long “workshop of interest.” We could choose from among a list that included “Library Survival and Research,” “A Walking Tour of Campus,” and “Academic Success.” Interestingly the “Academic Success” workshops were limited to U.S. Citizens only, which felt a little embarrassing and inhospitable. Even though I have little clout with the USC administration, I somehow felt I should apologize or explain, No offense. They’re just feeling a little cowed by the Olympics.
“You foreigners,” I said, “With your serious study habits and work ethics! We can’t afford to give you tips for success, too!”
Just then we were joined by another group of film school students.
“Hey,” said Ryan to Conor. “I’m going to that “Academic Success” workshop, then I’m going to tell you how much you missed! I’ve seen Ryan on a couple of occasions now, he’s quick-witted and easy to like. I might be prejudiced because he’s from Indiana, and spent time in Chicago before heading to the west coast.
“This is Peter,” said Conor, “He makes robots!”
“Cool,” said Ryan, “How do you feel about EVIL?!”
Peter looked at him blankly.
The group of us decided to forego academic success in favor of the library, but arrived to be told the session was already full, we would have to wait until the next hour. Who knew that so much of going to USC was going to be like a trip to the Cheese Cake Factory?