My Freshman Year, I Turned Invisible

The first few months of college can be difficult because you're thrown into a new place with all new people. You’ve got no idea what you're doing, who anyone is or what your life is going to look like for the next four years. College is a tough transition, especially when it feels like you don’t fit in right away.

I spent the majority of my high school years with friends I made in middle and elementary school. And when I went off to college, I wasn’t 100% sure I even knew how to make friends anymore. The first real chance I was given was the second full night of my freshman year.

My roommate and I were invited into the room across the hall to meet our neighbors. The best part was that we were all in the same boat, as friendly as we’ll ever be, and eager to meet new people. I was both excited and nervous. As I said, it'd been a while since I needed to introduce myself to anyone new.

I sat on the couch with two other girls I’d met that night. They lived right next to me and were some of the only other girls in my dormitory hall.

They both managed to be cute with seemingly little effort. I, however, did not receive the "how to look effortlessly cute" memo. I had my hair up in the worst way because I had underestimated the humidity and unpredictable weather of Clemson, South Carolina. I was in this new place and already didn’t feel like myself. Just a few hours before meeting these new people, I was crying after my parents dropped me off, and now, I looked like a total scrub in a room full of strangers. I desperately wanted to be liked.

After we discussed where we were from and how we found ourselves at the same school, I thought I might test the waters with my stellar sense of humor. I took a risk and made a joke that fell completely flat. No one thought it was funny, and I prayed the couch I was sitting on would swallow me whole. Maybe what I said really wasn’t funny, or maybe they just didn’t get it – but I decided that, after they stopped awkwardly staring at me, I was done with trying to be funny.

My first real attempt to show-off my personality had failed, and I took it very personally.

We left the door to the room open, so as new people walked by, they were invited in to join the welcome party. I smiled at everyone as they introduced themselves to the room, forgetting names immediately after I heard them, still pissed at myself for the comment I’d made just minutes before. As we piled 10+ people into the tiny dorm room, I felt myself slowly turning invisible before my own eyes. It’s a strange feeling when you realize everyone is looking right through you. As I sat there listening to other conversations, I noticed a dynamic forming that I already didn’t fit into. I’d never had a problem fitting in before, but it wasn’t the first time I felt out of place. When you are the only black girl in a lot of places, it's a feeling you get used to.

Later that night, I laid awake in my lofted bed, trying to comfort myself. "It was just a one-time thing, and tomorrow would be different as long as I didn’t say anything stupid," I thought. But I was wrong. I wasn’t the problem, but it would take me almost the entire semester to figure that out.

Some of the people I met were in my classes, so I sat with them and found myself in the same situation over and over again. When I was around them, I was on the outside of everything. I was the least important person there. Like, if I weren’t around, no one would care. I felt completely invisible, and I blamed myself.

I was haunted for months on what to do because nothing I tried was really working. Literally everyone else seemed to be making friends so easily, and I was the only one having trouble connecting. The FOMO (fear of missing out) was the hardest part by far. I hated being in my room at night because I had to listen to other people laughing and getting along so well.

It was a bad cycle because I felt like I was missing out even when I was included. I was convinced that they didn’t really want me around. If I was with them, I didn’t want to get up or use the bathroom, afraid they’d talk about me in my absence. That’s not the way it should be.

Luckily, I had a safe place to run to when I was feeling particularly down. I’d come to school with my sister and some friends from high school. I could have just spent all of my time with them, but I was determined to meet new people. Also, their dorm was always a five-minute walk from mine and open to me whenever, so it was convenient. It was a place I could be myself and be around people that loved me (lame jokes and all.) This is, unfortunately, a luxury a lot of students who are far from friends and family don’t have.

Eventually, I adjusted to the weather at Clemson and got my hair how I like it. I learned my way around campus, got more involved in different organizations, and met other people. Slowly but surely, Clemson started to feel more like home, and before I knew it, I didn’t dread going back to my room at night. It took me a few months, but by Christmas break, I wasn’t haunted by the things I’d said or done.

This first semester of college was difficult, but I’m grateful for it because it gave me new meanings to lessons I’d learned years ago:

  1. 1. You can’t make everyone like you.

    That's something you learn when you’re trying to make friends in elementary school, and I’ve realized going off to college’s kind of like that. You’re trying to make friends with a whole new group of people. Still, even when you do everything right, some people still won’t like you. It’s out of your control, and that's okay.

  2. 2. Sometimes, it’s not meant to be.

    This goes hand-in-hand with not being able to make people like you. Not everyone is going to be friends with you. People’s personalities don’t always mesh together. Not everyone is going to be a good fit for you. Sometimes, it’s not meant to be, and that's okay too.

  3. 3. You’ll find your place.

    Things aren’t always perfect from the beginning. I would know because I’m not the best at first impressions. But hey, there are so many clubs and organizations on a college campus that, if you keep looking, you’ll find your place. The best thing about college is that you get to find out who you are and what kind of people you want to surround yourself with. Just because things aren’t working now doesn’t mean they never will, so just be patient. You’ll find your way.

  4. 4. Be yourself.

    Sure, it’s simple and basic, but it’s not always an easy thing to do. Being your authentic self is sometimes easier said than done. Keep this in mind though: if you ever feel like you have to dial a part of yourself back to fit in, then that certain situation or friend group isn’t the right fit.

My neighbors aren’t terrible people because they didn’t get my jokes. Sometimes you just aren’t meant to be friends with people. The upside to having a rocky start to college is that things can only get better from there on out. Second semester’s already better: I’m prospering and finding my footing. College can be tough because one week your world is falling apart, and the next, you’ll swear you’ve got it all figured out. But that's also what makes it so great. I don’t know if I’ve found my place yet, but I’ve found my people – or, at least a few of them. Sometimes I swear I’m still invisible, but when I’m around my friends, that’s when I feel seen. They care whether I show up or not, and that's what matters. Go out and meet people that not only see you but love you – lame jokes and all.