I walked back from U Fest, the Union’s welcome back to campus festival, with my stomach in a knot and a wavering step on the path to my new life as a college student. We had been on campus for a grand total of 72 hours and somehow it seemed everyone had already found their niche. Everyone was standing in clumps of self-assured students, brimming with endless conversations as if they had already found their place and staked their territory on certain groups of people. On the other hand, I was wandering out of the lines, desperately trying to find comfort in any person that would tell me their name, major, and where they lived, only to never talk again.
As I encountered and exchanged backgrounds with people, I felt that I was an outlier. I had spoken to students who were legacies of the school with their whole family clad in Michigan State merch, their corresponding diplomas proudly displayed on their mantle. Their older siblings were able to give them advice on professors and their younger siblings were sure to follow in their footsteps. Some of them had shown up with their best friend from high school, continuing inside jokes no one from the outside could relate to and displaying their unbreakable bond that no one could join. There were even intact friend groups, proving that cliques still click even on their journey to the next part of life. Everything was supposed to change, yet it felt like high school 2.0.
I came back to my new home, put my head in my hands, and tried to make sense of my purpose here. College without the classes right away felt like summer camp, yet I was stuck in the wrong bunk. It was a never-ending social event where things happened fast and became concrete immediately. If I made one wrong move or didn’t attend a pep rally or skipped one lunch with the girl from across the hall, I would be excommunicated. I was out of my element and place. I was searching for an outlet to release these feelings without having to share and show my weaknesses to the people I wasn’t comfortable enough to cry around yet. I decided to pull out my journal and embrace what I do best: writing it out until I reached a solution. I created a list titled My Intentions to Belong in College.
Find your balance
I felt as though my footing was lost. I was hanging off the balance beam by one finger while everyone else was Olympic-style flipping off of it with a perfect 10 finish. Everything had changed on move-in day: where I lived, how I lived, and most importantly who I lived with. All of my connections to home were gone or at least in a digital space. Many people seemed to bounce right back, so I forced myself too as well, not shedding a tear and trying to form connections right away. Acting unphased caused instability in my emotions. I had personal cognitive dissonance, not allowing myself to feel my raw emotion and pushing it back until it was out of sight, but not out of mind. I decided that I deserved time and a moment to breathe. I could feel my emotions in full without disgrace. This took pressure off of me to put my best foot forward immediately and find my footing at my own pace.
Follow your gut instinct
I was pushing out the most extroverted version of me when I got here, which was exciting, yet exhausting. I was trying to connect with every person who looked my way. Yet, I realized I was pushing deep connections, making myself feel worse and missing home even more where I felt effortless and natural. I realized my gut knew more about myself than I thought. I decided to follow it when it came to meeting new people. I did not want to be judgemental, but I wanted to safeguard myself. The people who were worth holding onto wouldn’t make me bend to them and ask me to be something I wasn’t. My gut told me who was worth my time, following my own path to social success rather than hitching onto attention instead of a real connection.
you will continue to meet people; the first may not be the Best
I felt as though the world stopped at the end of Mason Hall’s first floor and that those were the only girls I had access to meeting due to proximity. I had forgotten that the undergraduate population of Michigan State was over 38,000. I forgot that classes would open up my social world to other people not only inside my major, but outside of it. I realized that just because I didn’t have an immediate connection, didn’t mean it would never happen. Within the next couple days after writing this list, I found another one of my closest friends I have made on campus and have had countless conversations and dinners at the dining hall with new people. I realized that the first week would not make or break my social status.
Following the crowd won’t always make you happy
Does everyone have a plan that I don’t know about? Is there something that makes me undesirable to this group of people? I asked myself these questions before zeroing in on what actually mattered: what if I don’t want what they want? I assumed that just because a group of college students were doing something meant that I should also be there doing that same thing. Yet, I didn’t consider my own happiness or interest. In following the crowd, I realized that sometimes the mainstream isn’t for everyone. I realized that my new freedom allowed me to decide what made me truly happy. It was liberating, yet terrifying to have so many options. I now know that from this new transition will come an exploratory phase, but instead of cowering from it, I am going to embrace it.
Allow yourself to have boundaries
My social battery has not been the same since lockdown. I have spent more time learning to love my alone time and feeling comfortable in my own space. The minute I moved into the cramped dorm, I realized this alone time I had to learn to be accustomed to in the last year was going to be sparse. I also put social pressure on myself to make friends. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to balance social and academic life, as well as create a space for myself when everywhere I turn there are people right around the corner. I decided I needed to remember to put myself first. I didn’t create boundaries because I am weak and don’t know how to handle myself and my time, I set them to make me stronger and more independent and to prove to myself that I am worth taking care of.
Don’t let the fear of missing out control you
I have grown a tendency to throw myself at every social event, even if I don’t want to be there. I’m scared of missing something, or worse, people not even noticing that I’m gone. I’m scared that I’ll be forgotten about, especially when most of us on campus have barely learned each other’s names in the abundance of new faces. I’m scared that if I don’t show up and out at every chance given that I will be lost in the sea of randomly added Snapchats and never hear from people again, leaving me out of the loop. However, this is all paranoia speaking. I was on edge and realized that I let my anxiety take over and control my actions instead of listening to my actual desires. There is always something going on on campus and you will want to split into five different people so you can participate in everything, but it’s impossible. It is impossible to please everyone and missing out on one thing won’t ruin relationships. Missing out is not earth-shattering, so the pressure should not break you.
Reach out to home for comfort
I always have my phone in my hand and am constantly connected to home which makes me feel better. I feel like college often pressures you to find new friends and promises new connections that will last you a lifetime. While that may be true, that doesn’t mean that you need to sacrifice your safe space and your shoulders to lean on. A call from my mom or a text from my friend can be a game changer for any bad moment. Through the hard times of adjusting to college, I have looked to these people who know I can handle this transition and find comfort in their words that feel like home.
I am an only child. I have always had an abundance of alone time whenever I needed and now I live with groups of people all around me, finding no space from the crowd. This made me feel claustrophobic and made me feel like I had to have a relationship with everyone in my hall. However, I realized I could just coexist. This was my living space just as much as theirs and I deserved to allow myself to take charge of my space as well. I didn’t have to pressure myself to be best friends with everyone, but just live comfortably.
Reflect inward on doubts
It is very likely that no one sees your insecurities the way you do. Self-doubt may be the only thing that actually plagues you, not your mistakes or problems that you perceive you have. A lot of the doubts that I’ve grown up with turned out to be something that only I saw and felt. I felt awkward about putting myself out there, yet other people saw my attempts as natural and fluid, proving that every negative belief I had about myself or an interaction was in my head. It takes strength and time to realize that you may be the only thing holding yourself back, yet it is a comforting thought. Don’t overthink and overanalyze others’ behaviors, but search inwardly on how you can make yourself feel more self-assured during this period of change.
Everyone feels the same way you do
It’s hard to believe, but every person in those cliques are all masking the same emotion of wanting to belong. Every freshman and sophomore on campus for the first time is still opening their Google Maps to find their way around and feeling just as lost. Every person is looking for their place in this new environment away from everything they’ve known. Finding people is easier than you think because they’re all searching too. It’s all about growing, experiencing, and sticking through the hard moments to get to the moment we’re all waiting for: belonging.
When I closed my journal that night, I felt a new lightness. The pressure fell away. I realized that I could take this change at my own pace. I could take this unique and new experience and use it to benefit me and my needs. Within the past two weeks, I did meet people that saw these goals, shared my sense of humor, and calmed my fears and doubts. I did find my own rhythm and created a schedule that gave me both social and academic success. I kept these intentions in mind and slowly, I am finding myself here.