Unexpected Lessons of a Barnard First-Year

When I packed my bags in the days prior to September 4th, 2020, I had no idea how much I would change in the months following my move to New York. I was naive, embracing a long-distance relationship and the belief that I would be able to cook myself delicious meals three times a day, while also keeping up with my schoolwork and maintaining a clean apartment. I was very wrong. 

Three days after moving to New York, I broke up with my long-distance boyfriend as a pile of dishes grew mountainous in my sink, tears ran down my face, and my roommates sat on a blanket fashioned as a rug on the floor of our empty living room because we had not been able to find furniture to fill it. It was a gloriously chaotic moment. My first day of college would begin the next day and a new Bella would emerge from the chaos.

When you go to college, you expect yourself to change, but you can never predict the ways in which you will change. For example, I became a much faster typer and learned to love the independence that living in an apartment with three other young women would give me. But I did not expect myself to develop a McFlurry addiction, or to be walking around New York City in sweatpants for necessary late-night Duane Reade runs. 

Nevertheless, these things have occurred. When I returned home for winter break, I was amazed by the fact that I would now be eternally straddled between two homes, always destined to be missing the other. Back in the sleepy suburb of Chicago where I grew up, I moved into my sister’s closet of a room and actually reveled in its size because everything in New York is so much more cramped than what I was once used to. The only constraints I felt were the revived curfew and sleepiness of my town compared to New York. Whereas in New York, I yearned for the comfort of my parents and the friends who I left, in Chicago, I yearned for the very things that stripped me of those things: independence and my new friends who I had met in my first semester at Barnard. 

I returned to Chicago as a new person. I had exciting stories to tell and my spontaneous spirit had been watered and nourished by the endless possibilities of the subway and a city that never slept. I had developed new ideas at my disgraceful liberal institution and engaged in conversations with my friends when we met up in a COVID-safe manner. I was exposed to a new world. But the thing that changed the most was that I was actually finding myself. I had not found myself yet — and I still have not found myself — but I was exponentially closer than I was when I packed up my bags and first drove 12 hours to New York City. 

Now I can tell you all about the restaurant scene in Morningside Heights thanks to my reporting with the Columbia Daily Spectatoror tell you how to have friendly conversations with your superintendent when you run into him at the corner store by your building. I have also discovered how to maintain my bubbly, kind personality, while also making my happiness, rather than the happiness of others, my highest priority. For it is in the independence of college that you must stand up for yourself because you are steering your ship in this college adventure.

When you go to school in Manhattan, it is so easy to feel alone. There are so many people — over a million — packed onto an island like sardines. It is inevitable that you will wonder why you have not found your people yet when there are so many people around you. But I promise, hold your head up high and keep being yourself, because your people will come and love you for who you truly are. This is the most important lesson that I have learned in my first year of college.