How to Avoid Orientation Icebreaker Hell

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When is the only time you can’t seem to come up with two truths about yourself? Ding ding ding. Ice breaker games. Designed to get everyone acquainted with the inadvertent slippage of embarrassing stories, icebreakers are the notorious trademarks of college orientation. Whether you go to a huge state school in the city or a tiny liberal arts college in the boonies, you will play icebreaker games at orientation. Here’s how to handle them.

Find Your Footing

Once you’re placed in a group, you’re bound to do two things: assess the attractiveness level of your orientation leader and locate the hottest person in your group. Nature is cruel like that. Once you’ve gotten that instinct out of the way, you’ll likely give every other face in the group a look during the silence that precedes the dreaded icebreakers. Are they nervous? Is there anyone you can make an immediate connection to? Is that dude wearing a Nationals shirt? Are you the “way too eager kid” or the “about to shit your pants because you’re so nervous” freshman? Figure this all out at the beginning. Then, FORGET IT. This is college—you can be whoever you want to be. So don’t label yourself off the bat.

Don’t Be Afraid To Be First

Once the icebreakers begin, you will experience the second inevitable moment of orientation: the awkward silence. Don’t be afraid to kick off the game and be the first to speak up. If you’re like me, having control over a situation makes it easier to bear. If you’re the one setting the tone, then you don’t have to worry about failing to live up to Suzie’s eloquent intro about her trip to Nigeria to save animals (because Suzie is the greatest thing since sliced bread, which she doesn’t eat because she’s a celiac). If you’re first, and honestly admit to all the Netflix you watched this summer, you’ll be both the fearless and the down to earth group member.

Don’t Be Afraid To Be Last

Sometimes you’re in a group where Suzie is itching to kick it off with her story of saving the Amazon rainforests (yeah, she did that too.) Since the group is probably answering in a circle, you might end up last to participate in the icebreaker. That’s OK. You could be the beautiful endnote to a dreaded game. Pro tip: If you can ever end an icebreaker game with a group hug, do it. You’ll be your orientation leader’s favorite human for all of eternity (or at least that day.)

Pick Up On Themes

The majority of us fall in the middle of the icebreaker spectrum and don’t get to bookend the game. If you seem to be blanking as the game goes on, have no fear. Simply tune in to what your peers are saying and pick up on some common thread to work off of. You may even instigate your group’s very own inside joke. “One time, I asked for a fun fact from everyone and then started mine with ‘I’ve never had my ears pierced.’ Then somehow all 10 people in my group had a fun fact about their ears or their dog’s ears or something, so we ran with it,” UVA junior and orientation leader Julia Mattox said.

Push It (Push It) To The Limit (Limit)

Orientation fosters the façade we all know and hate: You will all pretend to have no idea that sex, drugs and alcohol are very real things that exist on college campuses. I challenge you to break that façade, even if it’s in a minor way. One crack leads to the shattered illusion, and then you may actually get to know some fun stories about your ~new friends~. “Once, my group wasn’t talkative at all so I made them play ‘Never Have I Ever’ (PG-rated of course) at dinner, and it actually brought up some really good stories,” Mattox said.

Fake It ‘Til Ya Make It

Some of us are just going to be uncomfortable no matter what. “We played a game where you had to make people laugh and it was awkward because I didn’t know these people well enough to crack certain types of jokes. Plus some people made jokes that made it really uncomfortable for me,” Christopher Newport University freshman Kellyn DeChirico said. If this is you, the one silver lining is that orientation is relatively brief and college lasts four years. Just grit your teeth and get through the awkwardness. It will be over before you know it.

Be Someone’s Story

Go big before you have to go home. Be the kid people remember from orientation—cause there’s no such thing as bad press, right? UVA freshman Kristin Zwicklbauer said she played the icebreaker of the hour, “Oh Captain, My Captain,” an apparently “touchy” game to say the least. “Long story short, ‘Man Overboard’ was called out to us, and one poor girl jumped onto the back of a boy probably half her size and height. He dropped her, she plummeted face first to the ground and the game came to an immediate and extremely uncomfortable halt,” Zwicklbauer said. Go down in infamy, people.

Just promise me one thing: Don’t be the kid who is “too cool for icebreaker games.” There’s one thing I know for sure. As much as we all hate them, they work.

Lauren is a third year at the University of Virginia studying English and media. She loves baseball, pretending to do school work but actually watching Netflix, and three square meals of dark chocolate each day.

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