Edited by Kavya Mittal
I’m almost tempted to begin this with the clichéd reminder of being born to stand out and not fit in. But, well, I won't because let's face it, the chances of it helping and you actually believing it are slim. We’re also beyond the point of thinking that being ‘different’ and ‘quirky’ is cool. So, I will just say this: fitting in is a myth. No one feels as if they fit in. And that’s the whole point of college. You fit in, despite not fitting in. Sorry, does that sound too complicated? What I mean is, you don’t need to ‘fit in’ to feel as if you belong. You can be someone who likes to stay confined to your room and just, not talk a lot. You can also be someone who is always out and finds it easy to talk to everyone. It’s all…okay. You can be your own person, do your own things and feel a sense of belonging, regardless. That’s the one thing everyone says about college, right? You can be anyone and no one at the same time, and you’ll be fine. College is a place where everyone is new but also different. And yes, everyone else can feel smarter or funnier or cooler or more experienced or just, more put together. It’s intimidating. And challenging. But this feeling does not last forever. I promise. And yes, yes, I know how this sounds and you’re unlikely to take my word for it, I didn’t believe this either when I was starting college. But that’s really how it is and most, if not all, college students will tell you the same thing!
Okay, so, here’s my truth about ‘fitting in’: I spent my first month feeling terribly homesick and missing my old friends, who at the time felt like the last friends I would EVER make. In all this self-wallowing, I made little effort to connect with anyone. I created my own comfort zone which consisted of Netflix, multiple naps, and brownies from home — basically, staying inside and not ‘socialising’ and those who I did talk with…hmm, let’s just say, being asked why I always look anxious is not my favourite conversation starter. And for a while, I truly believed this is how it would always be: me in my room, with my brownies and hundreds of readings, waiting till even that one O-week friend I made would get tired and run away (spoiler alert, she didn’t and now she’s stuck being my roommate for the next year, woops). I’m realising now that all this lack of socialising was okay and even normal, to some extent?
And, things eventually changed, you know? I can’t pinpoint the exact moment they did, maybe it was when I said yes to making popcorn with someone I barely knew at the time or when I decided to approach that ‘sort’ of familiar face in SPF? I don’t know. It was a gradual process of going from ‘I don’t fit in, when can I go home?!’ to ‘this is…not that bad, are we really going home in 2 weeks!?’ I guess there was a bit of a ‘say yes!’ element that led to me stepping just a little out of my comfort zone, combined with patience and time. Though, I wouldn’t say I got very far, Netflix and brownies were still important parts of my day (can you tell I really like brownies?) but there wasn’t that sense of homesickness attached to them. So yeah, that’s the thing, you know, there is no one way of making friends or feeling like you fit in. And even then, that feeling of strangeness never really goes away, but what does change is how you feel about it. Over time, faces become familiar and it gets easier to approach people, because, at the end of the day, there’s always going to be that one person you did a group presentation with or that one person who awkwardly sat with you in the shuttle until you both ended up bonding over Sonipat traffic. And before you know it, that ‘strangeness’ stops feeling so strange.
So, in all honesty, I don’t have any suggestions for you on how you can fit in, you’ll figure that out on your own. And honestly, there are always going to be some days where it all feels scary, like the first day of college again. For those days, I can only suggest that you go easy on yourself and do something that provides you some calm and comfort. That’s what I do. I’m lucky I have friends now who understand my anxiety and my silences and my occasional bursts of hyperactivity (you can blame sugar for this, sorry, I’m innocent). Reaching here took time. But, hey, we made it.
And especially for those starting (online) college right now in the middle of the pandemic, I can only imagine how anxiety-inducing it must be. That’s understandable. I can guarantee that most of your batchmates will be feeling the same way. Yes, even those who look confident and put together. So, the most I can do is suggest that you step out of your bubble if you can, and say yes a bit more (but only if you genuinely want to). And the least I can do is tell you to not be scared. Of making friends and not making friends, both. It’s okay if you’re like me and find it hard to hold conversations. That’s a real thing and it’s okay. You’re not going to suffer because of it. Or if you’re like my Popcorn friend (sorry, I promise I don’t always refer to him like this) and find it easier to call someone in the morning randomly and ask them if they’d like to make popcorn. It is fine, you’re doing great! And you know, you can fall into either of those categories and still feel exhausted and think you’re doing enough. And that’s also okay. And valid. The main thing is for you to be yourself, for you to not be so hard on yourself and for you to have faith.
I don’t know how much more preachy I can sound and how much more of my heart I can pour out to convince you that the idea of fitting in is a myth and eventually, college does get better. But here are some more words of reassurances, anyway:
This is what Tanvi, 19, Literature and Socio Major, and that ‘sort’ of familiar face that turned into a face I’d recognise anywhere, recalls from her first month, “It can feel like everyone else knows each other and that you're behind on socialising, especially if you weren't on all the groups before college started or if you spend even a minute away from people, but things eventually settle down for everyone. You're not going to have to spend 24/7 with people (unless you want to) just because you think you might miss out if you're not there. Everyone finds their people. It just takes some people more time than others.”
Surabhi, 19, Literature Major, and the one stuck rooming with me in the future, suggests to have a place of calm away from all the excitement, “I guess for me it was scary but also liberating because no one knew if I was generally an awkward or a confident person which became an impetus to help me socialise more. it’s been a year and the feeling of not fitting in still lingers(?) Since day 1, though, I’ve had a (physical) personal space that stays out of bounds of “fitting in,” where I can be careless about being a part of something so overwhelmingly big and that really helps!”
And here’s what Soham, 19, CS Major, and the one we know as the Popcorn dude, tells us about the ‘other’ side, “So I made a bunch of friends on the WhatsApp groups in the summer before Ashoka started, and that really helped because from day one I had a friend group full of people I'd never met before, ready and waiting for me. I got really lucky, since even my roommate was a really close friend of someone in that same circle. I spent most of Orientation Week with this extremely extroverted group of people, and it was really easy for us to talk to new people and keep growing our circle. Of course, today we're not as close to everyone we met that time, but most of us are still together and the best of friends.”
So, the point, here, isn't to tell you whether or not to stay in your comfort zone, but rather to say that whatever you do, you will be fine. Do what makes you happy. If it’s staying in your room, bingeing on B99 or doing group video calls, playing CAH — or even, both — do it. And that’s the thing about fitting in. You can do both, socialise and not socialise, and you will still be fine.