The ups and downs: what to know about living in Orchard Hill

New residents may be surprised about the opportunity for community

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(Collegian file photo)

By Irina Costache, Assistant News Editor

The University of Massachusetts Class of 2023 officially moved into their new home for the next nine months. For freshmen living in Orchard Hill, there is a lot to unpack and learn about the small residential area. Here are some of the top things to know about O-Hill, as told by past and current residents.

Orchard Hill, as can be garnered from its name, sits atop a hill close to the center of campus. The area has four residential buildings, two of which are freshman halls. Centered between all four buildings is a grassy area called “The Bowl” where, from time to time, residents can find Baby Berk stationed.

“The stereotype is that it’s quiet, that nobody really talks to you, or that nothing really happens up here…but, for me, it’s all about your personality as well and how you approach a situation,” said Jenny Nelson, a Resident Assistant in Dickinson and an operations and information management senior.

“It is the opposite, the number of events we put out for all students, and for all of them to enjoy the residential experience; there’s a lot of work put into it,” said Alkenly Ortiz Pena, a junior RA and architecture major.

Mike Li, a sophomore on the computer science exploratory track, added that, though he did partially expect his freshman year floor in Dickinson Hall to be dead quiet “it was actually very lively.”

He added that because Orchard Hill is smaller than the other residential areas, he felt more connected with the other residents.

“It was really fun, just like for like the first few weeks just going down to the lobby, because everyone didn’t know everyone,” Li said. “And then from there… you meet all the people because it’s so small that you know, you see them all the time.”

Ortiz Pena touched on the feeling of the rooms in Orchard Hill, saying that “the best part of living there is the amount of space you’re given, in the sense that you really experience freedom, wherein other parts you feel cramped.”

Garrett Martin, a computer science major and Orchard Hill RA, also commented on the close, tight-knit feel of the building: “[There’s an] opportunity for community. I think many people find the groups they’re comfortable with and build these kinds of friendships that I know will last for a while.”

On the flip side, Li said that “if you live next to someone unfortunate…there’s not really a lot of places you can go to avoid them, because ‘O-Hill’ is so small.”

The residents of Orchard Hill also shared some of their favorite places to have fun nearby. Besides Sweets n’ More, open late at night in Field Hall, they recommended the nearby Orchard Hill Observatory, the basketball courts, the disc golf court, and an atmospheric trail through the woods near the path down toward Worcester Dining Commons.

Another place that is packed on warmer days is the big field between Orchard Hill and Central, where Nelson said she enjoys watching the sunset with friends.

“[T]hat’s like a really nice place just to lay out a tarp or just like a blanket when it’s nice outside [and]warm. Just go there maybe play some ultimate frisbee or just lay out. It’s really comfortable,” said Li.

And for days where residents need more quiet time to study, Orchard Hill offers plenty of options. The rooms feature long, cross-wall desks that are very spacious, and the lobbies now have desks for students to use.

The ground floor of the freshman residence halls also have small classrooms available to use. “Those are really good if you can get a crew together to have like a small study session,” said Li.

In the wintertime, residents should be wary of icy conditions, and Martin advises that residents bring shoes good for walking on ice. Yet, for the majority of the year, the hill is a manageable walk.

“I realized everything was actually just like, at most 10 minutes away…so it definitely feels longer than is just because of the hill,” Li said. “Climbing up the hill is just torture for like the first week. And then after that, you just get used to it.”

Ortiz Pena also recommended that students take advantage of the PVTA bus route that runs all the way up to Orchard Hill, saying “[we] have a great bus system here at UMass, that solves this challenge.”

As last pieces of advice for incoming freshman, Martin said, “Don’t take first impressions too strongly. Everyone’s trying to navigate the field, that can be awkward…So honestly, be flexible, and be reflective and try to be open. You know, give people as many chances as they deserve. But don’t sacrifice your wellbeing to stretch out for them.”

Nelson added, “Really know yourself and use college to figure out more….be prepared to answer those [icebreaker] questions, but also on a deeper level, like, ‘what do I think isn’t okay?’ and really trying to get to know what experience you’re getting out of college.”

She furthered, “I’ve always realized that it’s a different experience for everybody. So, if your friends at other schools seem to have everything figured out, just know that that’s not the experience for everybody and that there are people that are going through…some tougher times as well.”

Irina Costache can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @irinaacostache.