Western University: Thousands of first-year students tackled the exciting, overwhelming task of moving to London for school this weekend

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The Canadian frosh experience is a little bit puzzling to those who grew up outside the country.

“You guys are weird about the school spirit thing,” Josh Heathcote, who’s at Western University on exchange this year, said with a laugh.

“In the U.K. moving in is just pulling your stuff up and that’s it. But you’ve even got chants prepared.”

He’s not exactly frosh, having put in two years at university back home in Warwickshire, England – but Heathcote’s sure getting the frosh experience.

London gained thousands of new and returning residents this weekend as university and college students swarmed the city. At Western, more than 4,000 frosh pulled up on campus with cars packed with belongings.

Parents were overjoyed to hear they wouldn’t be carting suitcases and mini-fridges to their kids’ new rooms.

“I didn’t expect anything like this. I thought we’d be lugging things up the stairs ourselves,” said Adrian King, whose daughter moved into Sydenham Hall on Sunday.

And the welcome was just as important as the physical help, he said.

“This is amazing. We drove down from Toronto, you’re worried about it all the way down. They really make it fun,” he said.

Marianna Marangi, from Oakville, moved into Ontario Hall on Sunday. She said the welcome was a lot to take in.

“It was cute but it was embarrassing,” she said with a laugh. “They had a song and everything.”

Peggy Wakabayashi, acting associate vice president in charge of housing, said it’s a big effort to move in thousands of students each day, but praised the 800 enthusiastic upper-year students who make it happen.

Those orientation leaders – Western calls them sophs – are doing more than moving suitcases. It’s also about building community, Wakabayashi said.

“Overwhelmingly, our sophs tell us that they remember what a positive experience it was for them, when they arrived on campus to live in residence,” she said. “Sophs greeted them and made them feel welcome, broke the ice, helped them get connected to another friend.”

Alex Luby, a Western alum who met her husband at the school, was on campus Sunday to move in her daughter. She warned her about the special welcome, but said her daughter wasn’t intimidated.

“It went really smoothly. I think they did an amazing job organizing it,” she said. “She’s all set up and ready to go, just waiting for the fun to start.”

And though some Londoners won’t be as excited for the arrival of the city’s student population, Wakabayashi said frosh and upper-years will be working hard to give back to the community during their first week back.

Western University is launching a new program this year called Orientation Serves, where first-year students will dedicate 10,000 volunteer hours to community causes on Sept. 9.

They’ll plant trees with ReForest London and help run a community picnic for newcomers with the Cross Cultural Learner Centre, among other volunteer ventures.

“Londoners will feel the benefit from the enthusiasm and the labour of the city’s newest residents,” Wakabayashi said.


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