One of the most terrifying things I’ve had to cope with growing up was being alone. As an only child growing up with a working parent, I always kept to myself at home, picking up various hobbies to keep myself busy until my mother came home. I taught myself how to knit and wood carve, even venturing into bison herding in Southern Illinois one summer, to keep myself grounded in the process of moving schools half a dozen times before my teens. The last two years of high school were particularly trying, as I took care of my grandparents single-handedly while my mother worked abroad. People ask me what motivated me to get a license in Korean cooking and joke about how bored I must’ve been to try; in reality, I had been learning to cook for my grandparents, who only ate Korean food. When friends mocked me about always going home during the holidays, I never told them it was because I was my grandfather’s legal guardian and had no choice but to return.
It’s no wonder then that Princeton was such a breath of fresh air to me. For the first time, I didn't have to worry about someone other than myself; I could pursue exactly what I wanted without anything to stop me.
In reality, I found myself swept away by students who were so driven and fixated upon their futures that they had little time for anything else. People told me that they felt guilty when they had free time. When given a choice between spending four hours cultivating a new hobby or finding activities to build their five-star resumes, few seemed to opt for the former. Then, when the stress of work or personal issues came up, people suppressed them, because nobody had time to be held back by trivial upsets. What I saw was a culture of busyness that emerged from people unwilling to face their problems, unable to accept that we were still young adults allowed to feel vulnerable and lost. I saw people establish superficial friendships, too lonely to shut everyone out, but too busy to seek anything more, only perpetuating a cycle of unhealthy coping. I saw a side of campus that wasn’t as orange and bubbly as #princetagram made it seem.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized how far I had let myself cruise through my first year at Princeton under this mentality. It was a series of rather regrettable mistakes that made me realize this, but it was a necessary process to force me into reevaluating my values. So I tried new things. I rushed for sororities to push myself outside my comfort zone; I made an effort to reconnect with old friends. I cut down on my commitments. I started to open up to people for the first time, realizing that being open and approachable earned people’s respect, not looking perfectly made up at 4 a.m. It sounds too obvious, and to be honest, a little simplistic, but it was terrifying how long it took me to realize this.
The past month I’ve spent opening up to people, I’ve been astonished by not only the number of people who have told me that they were feeling lost and vulnerable, but also who approached me about their issues. Some of the least expected people have become some of my closest friends, and it has made me question how we'd never interacted before. Reaching out has put so many things into perspective, and in the end, made it so much easier to joke about all the stupid things I’d done overcompensating (trust me, anyone who saw me last Saturday night will know what I’m talking about).
So before you put this column down, disparaging the past five minutes you’ve wasted, let me refer you to the websiteUpworthy: People find the most happiness in telling others how much you appreciate them. It’s easy to let yourself be swept away by Princeton, but nothing feels better than reaching out to people and showing how much you care. I think it’s particularly important for underclassmen, and especially freshmen, to realize that there is no shame in feeling lost or lonely; that it’s not necessary to always seem busy and “accomplished.” Who knows whom you may meet making lanterns at 2 a.m. or taking a quick midnight walk. It’s all in the leisure of feeling, and not always doing. We are human, after all.
Ye Eun Charlotte Chun is a sophomore from Seoul, South Korea. She can be reached at email@example.com.