Reflecting On My Freshman Year

            My freshman year was unusual to say the least. Although I’m currently a sophomore, my college experience thus far has been limited to the eight months of normalcy during my freshman year and nearly a year of online learning. Despite this, I learned a great deal in my freshman year and while it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, the experience will certainly stick with me for the rest of my life.


            In May of 2019, I had just finished high school and decided to move across the country to go to Emory. I was scared, but a sort of adventurous spirit was also stirring, which was entirely unfamiliar to me. Throughout the Summer I talked with my roommate I had found on the Class of 2023 Facebook page, looked at dorm décor, and tried to mentally prepare myself to leave the town I had lived in my entire life.


            When it came time to pack up my clothes the night before I left, I wasn’t crying or scared; I was excited to see what my life would be like in a week. I remember landing in Atlanta for just the second time in my life in disbelief that this city would be my home for the next four years. The first few days were an absolute whirlwind, and I definitely cried a little too much when my parents left. Other than the my-parents-just-left-and-I’m-all-alone-in-a-random-place tears, there was a certain fearlessness to my mindset. I wanted to meet so many people, make friends, try new things, meet boys, get to know Atlanta, and everything in between.


            If I had to give one piece of advice to incoming freshmen, it would be to take advantage of this initial fearlessness, when everything is shiny and new and exciting. During this period, I met my best friend in my orientation group, and I was referring to her as my best friend about three days after meeting her. I wasn’t shy or scared she didn’t want to be around me, I was excited about the spark we had. She was the person I started to roam the campus with, go to parties with, and study with. We met other people together, and as the fearless attitude started to wear off, I still felt it when I had her by my side.


            As time went on, we all settled in and things were different. I felt weighed down by social anxieties, lots of studying, boy problems, and homesickness. I had a great support system between my roommate, my best friend, and my family back home, but it wasn’t always perfect. I felt the fear I hadn’t felt in my first few weeks at Emory creep back in. Fear that I wasn’t working hard enough, that I wasn’t making enough friends, or that I wouldn’t ever be happy so far from home.


            Somewhat unexpectedly, finals brought me some relief. I felt like I had clear tasks to complete, and then I would be able to recollect myself over Christmas break. I worked every day for two weeks, writing or studying. My friends and I went to the free workout classes at the WoodPec and would study into the night together. When I finished my calculus exam at 9 p.m. and got into an Uber to catch a flight home, I felt like I had reached a summit on a mountain I had been climbing for months. I even had this weird rom-com moment when I cried on the plane once I landed in Houston while listening to Harry Styles. I was relieved, yes, but I was mostly proud of myself for finishing, even if that calculus exam was less than perfect.


            Over Christmas I regrouped. I had time with family, with my newborn niece, and with old friends. I found myself missing the people I had met at Emory, my little twin bed in my dorm, and the noisy nights in which my roommate would bring new friends she wanted me to meet. Suddenly, going back in January wasn’t as scary as I thought it might be.


            January was a month of mishaps for me, but that is mostly unrelated to my overall freshman experience, so I’ll skip over it for my own sake. For the most part, Spring semester was turning out to be a complete 180 from the Fall. I had a solid group of friends and felt more prepared for my courses. While I never really found that August fearlessness again, the residual fears I had in the Fall slipped away, and I felt the happiest I had been since coming to Atlanta.


            Of course, they say nothing good can last. Spring break came and so did COVID-19. I was in California with my parents when I got the email that we would have to move out of the dorms and transition to online learning. My phone started blowing up with texts from my friends and sad Instagram posts from everyone I knew. I was in shock, but with everything going on in the world I felt like it was the right choice to send everyone home. I flew home from California with my parents on a Saturday and back to Atlanta on a Sunday to pack up my dorm. I had less than 24 hours to pack everything up and say goodbye to my best friends. With teary promises of weekly facetimes and Zoom study dates, my freshman experience was over two months early.


            The next few weeks of Zoom classes were a little rocky, but I appreciated how much effort my Professors were putting in to keep everyone engaged. The days blurred together and my most exciting outings were the weekly trips to Target to get groceries. But it’s all over now. Looking back on it all I see my freshman year as a sort of rapid-fire maturing process. There were highs and lows, and some moments that felt like some cliché coming of age movie. Through it all, I’m thankful for all the things I learned about the world and about myself, even if it kind of sucked sometimes.