Just because older students may preface stories or advice with "when I first got here ... " doesn't mean that it's old, outdated, or irrelevant. In addition to having gone through many of the trials you may be facing, they also know the "ins and outs" of Johnston regarding evaluations, contracts, classes, and community process that only comes with being here for a year or three. Avoid idealizing/idolizing them, but be willing to listen to what they say
Your first semester is the best time to begin developing a good relationship with these people. The first year can be as aggravating as it is awesome; in order to get the help you need, make sure you are honest and open with your advisor. Share with that person what you're scared of, intimidated by, and insecure about. Almost every Johnston student reaches a point in the first year (not to mention the senior year!) when they'll throw up their hands and scream: "$#$@&%*! I don't know what's going on here!" When and if that happens, go to your advisor or peer advisor and they'll settle you down and get you back on the right track.
Because Johnston is so unstructured, your advisor and your peers play a critical role in your ability to make the system work to your advantage. Most of the faculty who regularly advise Johnston students are good at it, but the relationship you have with your advisor is a personal one; so pay attention to the chemistry between the two of you. In all of this, you should never forget that a good advisor doesn't always tell you what you want to hear. The best advisor is one who stays on your case and tells you when you're wrong. Your First-Year Seminar Peer Advisor is also an important resource in your first year.
Intro courses can be terribly frustrating for a typical Johnston student: they're big and they're structured. But don't 'Write them off without some consideration. They may help you find where your special interests connect with the entire discipline and at some point you'll have to make connections between things. They can provide a good initial exposure to an area you have interest in and they can change your perception about a particular academic area. If you are dissatisfied with a class, (it's too difficult, not difficult enough, not what you wanted or thought it would be), do something about it, don't just complain. As a Johnston student, you have the rare opportunity to re-contract or renegotiate a class as it is being taught-not just at the beginning of the semester. Few skills will serve you better at Johnston than the ability to write with minimal emotional turmoil. If you have insecurities about your writing, take advantage of Redlands' superb writing program as soon as you get to campus. Even if you're convinced you're a great writer already" a writing course won't make you any worse.
Imagine yourself in this typical Johnston scenario: You're a second semester first year student and betraying all common sense, you enroll in Sara Schoonmaker's "Contemporary Social Theory"'--an upper-division Sociology course known to be very tough. Three weeks into the semester you start thinking you've made a serious mistake. The older students come to class filled with ideas, constantly making witty and perceptive remarks; you can barely read the book. Occasionally you make eye contact with the other students in the class who aren't saying much, but you quickly look away feeling almost physically ill, convinced you are on the low end of the food chain.
On Saturday night you're hanging around in someone's room with a few other students from Sara's class. Someone comments on how demanding the reading load is and finally someone confesses that they're really quite lost. You start sharing your personal horror stories and after an hour you feel as if a thousand pound weight has been lifted from your shoulders. You're not stupid, you're normal! You decide as a group to talk to Sara about getting some extra help and maybe setting up a small group tutorial with one or two of the history majors in the class. Two weeks later you're still struggling but you've managed to say a few reasonably intelligent things in class, the extra help is paying off and you're feeling better about the class and yourself.
Take hard classes even if you have doubts about your ability to handle them, but don't be afraid to admit when you're clueless. Johnston is a community of people who want to learn together, not compete. If you're lost, say it. If you need extra help, ask for it.
Johnston is an exhilarating and intense social environment that has a close link with your academic life. You'll find out quickly that Johnston students like to talk - it's what makes Johnston classes so interesting. Discussions about the fate of the planet, music, movies, politics, the obnoxious guy on the second floor who wears chains and plays his music too loud, will take place in classes, dorm lobbies, around the dinner table, at the campfire in Joshua Tree National Park and everywhere else Johnston students congregate. There is no shortage of interesting, fun people at Johnston and that can sometimes cause problems.
If you find yourself walking into class unprepared because you were up all night talking with friends, planning the next week's campus-wide recycling pickup, or co-writing a long letter to the campus newspaper, you will quickly realize that whatever time was allotted to prepare for class is gone. Class begins and you sit there 'With nothing to say. Guilt sets in as you acknowledge that you have not met your responsibility to contribute to the success of the class. You weren't screwing around, it was just a matter of losing sight of the main reason for being at Johnston: to take full advantage of academic freedom and responsibility. A solution? Get together with friends and faculty, own up to all your guilt and work to find a balance between the many opportunities that "being Johnston" provides.
The Johnston Community is a complex organism that regularly tests its members. Our governance system - The Community Meeting - operates on a consensus model of decision making: there is no organized student government and the entire group must be in agreement on any issue that demands some form of action. This system is frequently inefficient, frustrating and as some say, hopelessly idealistic. We put up with it though, because it's egalitarian, it's open, and it's ... well, hopelessly idealistic. Consensus is not the same as the tyranny of demand for unanimity, but it is a recognition that individual and community concerns are always linked, if not always the same. Individuals in intentional community learn to distinguish between issues are truly relevant to collective goals, and issues that are personal concerns that can be "set aside" in decision making. It's important to understand that we all have different definitions of what it means to be quiet, loud, private, social; each of these needs/want are valid and need to be included in the compromise. You will not always get your way, but you will always be able to voice your opinions and feelings.
Selfishness and an unwillingness to adapt one's lifestyle when it conflicts with that of another community member has no place in the Johnston community. You should come here knowing that the Community is not perfect--it is an experiment in progress. New students have power equal to older students, so you should never assume that there is any Johnston status-quo you must abide by. Use the Community Meeting to learn about Johnston and to change it