A few weeks ago, one of my favorite high school teachers sent a message via Facebook to several of my friends in Boston demanding that they “stop hanging out” with one another, emphasizing her sincerity with all-caps text and more exclamation points than a humanities teacher should ever use. The unwritten message was that in spending time with one another, my friends weren’t embracing the full college experience; time spent keeping in touch with old friends from high school was time not spent establishing new relationships within their respective universities throughout Boston.
I sat idly as three of those friends chattered away at our reunion in a small burger restaurant in Davis Square. They told their stories as one, adding an anecdote about a person who was mentioned or bulking up a story with another version of the same happening. They had shared experiences, as students of city schools can. I was out of place with my isolated stories of Princeton. The smell of burgers settled into my hair as they babbled on.
I couldn’t contribute to the stories of people everyone knew—I’ve had only brief encounters with the few students from my high school who are at Princeton — but I didn’t have any particularly thrilling stories about new friends and experiences to make up for it. It dawned upon me that in a single week, I had run into more friends in the city of Boston than I have made in the two months I’ve been at quaint little Princeton. I still don’t quite feel settled into my room in Bloomberg Hall, but it took me less than a week to feel at home in my boyfriend’s triple dorm room. As I set to work choosing which whimsically named burger to order, I wondered whether I was “doing college wrong.”
Advice to incoming freshmen often includes some version of the notion that college is a fresh beginning, a departure from life in high school toward a greater world of academic and personal growth. Childhood memories and high school friends are great, but we have to move on. Holding on to what was means missing out on what is.
I never imagined I would struggle to “move on” the way I have since I left home. In anticipation of my new, bound-to-be fabulous life at the extraordinary place that is Princeton, I packaged my memories of high school — friends, home, Tokyo — into a pretty hypothetical box and tucked it away into the far recesses of my consciousness. I was ready to face college head-on and determined to build a new life grander and more fulfilling than anything I had experienced before.
But I couldn’t commit. I’ve been neither here nor there, neither fully engaged in my relationships and activities at Princeton nor committed to staying connected to my old friends. Every day I woke up convinced that today was the day I would start to be more present, more connected, and every day I went to bed resolved to do better tomorrow. I found myself in no man’s land, and until my visit to Boston, I didn’t realize that this awkward gray area I’ve found myself in is a construct of my own interpretation of how I should be “doing college.”
“Moving on” implies letting go. It suggests that we leave something behind. In order to successfully move forward, we can’t ever look back. But how can we see how we’ve gotten to where we are if we don’t remember where we’ve been?
We shouldn’t feel compelled to move on. It’s okay — better, even — for us to simply move along, following the current of experiences that then become memories. I had to see for myself how new friends can intermingle with old ones, how new experiences add to, rather than replace, old memories and how life isn’t a collection of disjointed stages dictated by how the educational institution is designed.
As I lay in my boyfriend’s bed stuffed to the brim with burger and frozen yogurt, responding simultaneously to worried texts asking whether I made it safely past the post-World Series Championship craze on my way home and curious texts asking what everyone was up to over fall break, I had an epiphany: I had been wasting away what should have been the most stimulating two months of my life so far fixated on pursuing the “right” college experience, when really I should not have been worrying about that in the first place. “Doing college right” isn’t about the college experience itself; such a narrow focus undermines the worth of what we gain. It’s about discovering how that experience falls into place in the broader timeline of experiences throughout your life.
Jiyoon Kim is a freshman from Tokyo, Japan. She can be reached at email@example.com.