If you can smile indulgently at my friend’s distress, you are probably not a freshman.
Only a year away from my own orientation, I have difficulty remembering what my feelings were at the time — all that comes to mind is a vague but painful impression of negativity and angst. Dropping a teenager into the midst of several thousand strangers and saying, “Go make friends!” is a recipe for hormonal chaos. Each day I found a handful of new ‘friends,’ most of whom I wouldn’t recognize the next day. They had an annoying habit of changing clothes that made name recall an impossible challenge. Reception followed reception, assembly followed assembly; and the same inane questions about one’s hometown, prospective major and residential college made the events and the people attending blend into a dull blur of gothic architecture and awkward handshakes. Every so often a flash of enthusiasm about some interesting class or person granted a reprieve, but these moments were eclipsed by hours of clumsy discomfort.
It is impossible to convince someone in this situation that everyone around her feels the same. No matter how many times you swear there are hundreds of thousands of students all over the country drowning in the same first-year lonesomeness, few freshmen can be persuaded the majority of their peers feel as out of place as they. As a freshman, I was not surprised to hear many of my friends at Princeton and elsewhere express feelings of disappointment and frustration with college in their first months. I was bemused, however, when the same friends harbored the stubborn, groundless conviction that none of their peers shared a fraction of their unhappiness. Last year I called a frosh friend at NYU to report my dissatisfaction with the first two weeks of school. She twisted herself into knots trying to prove that my experience had actually been relatively positive and ended triumphantly: “Anyways, you can’t be having as bad a time as I am.” My friend found an absurd consolation in the conviction that she was alone and unsurpassable in her misery. She is, I think, exceptional in this respect; most of us would be glad to think others share our emotional plight. It is bizarre and unfortunate, then, that so many frosh believe themselves alone in their discomfort.
In my experience, the most isolating, depressing moments of the first weeks of school came during or immediately following the loudest, busiest social events. In a room where everybody is talking and laughing at once, it is easy to buy into the fiction that you alone have not yet established a satisfying, reliable social life. If you catch yourself feeling sad and friendless, don’t wallow. Run back to your room, hunt down two or three hall mates, and get a bananagrams tournament started.
In the upcoming weeks only a minority of freshmen will find their place at college. Everyone moves at his own pace, but for many students the discomfort of being summarily thrust into a new place, new system and new peer group will take an entire semester to wear off. The belief that you are taking an unusually long time to adjust, or that the period of adjustment is uniquely difficult for you is foolish and poisonous. When everyone around you appears to be comfortably settled, try voicing your own insecurities. You may be surprised by how many of your peers share them.
Tehila Wenger is a sophomore from Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached at email@example.com.