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The First Month of College Does Not Define Your Entire College Experience

I ate on campus twice last week. Not unusual for some, but unusual for me as I live off campus and don’t have a meal plan. I was busy, stressed, and feeling really lazy. So I made the short walk down from University Village to the Commons to get a bagel and coffee from Einstein. It was there that I saw her. I knew who she was immediately—her arms were crossed and she forcibly smiled as she waited for her frozen coffee with three girls—freshmen, no doubt. She seemed to not be enjoying herself at all; she seemed uncomfortable and miserable. I got my bagel and coffee and high-tailed it out of there, leaving behind the painfully sad looking girl.

A few days later I was in Paws with my Her Campus girls. As I dove into my Chicken, Bacon, Ranch Wrap, I saw the girl from Einstein again. This time she was smiling proudly, but above the smile she had these tired, sorrow filled eyes. It looked as though this was the first time she had genuinely smiled all week. I caught myself staring at her for an inappropriate amount of time, but I couldn’t help it. It was one of those moments where you see a stranger that you don’t know, but really know all too well. I knew her so well because I was her. Exactly three years ago, that very day, when I was a freshman, I had those same eyes—full of unhappiness and discomfort at the start of college.

Truth be told, I was never super excited to go to college. I went to college because I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Plus, short of having some other plan that doesn’t require a college education, that’s what you do. I also didn’t have a terrible adolescence nor had I been eager to exit from my picturesque suburban town. I liked my parents and had lots of friends. I wasn’t part of the in-crowd, but I had fun. I was happy and content; terrified of leaving my safe, happy, high school bubble. But high school was ending and, like it or not, I was going away to college. I wasn’t completely dreading college. I was somewhat excited, it would be a new adventure, one that everyone else was going on and I hated to be left out of all the fun.

Everyone said that I would “just know” when I stepped onto the right campus. They told me that I would have this magical, all-encompassing feeling take over my body when I was at my college. They equated it to meeting the right spouse or finding the right wedding dress. That didn’t happen, not even slightly. I was completely lost and overwhelmed by the entire choosing process.

My decision to attend Towson came by process of elimination. I didn’t get into my top two choices and the other two schools I was accepted to were too expensive. Towson was the last school standing and that’s where I went. (I did like Towson. I just wasn’t completely sure).

On August 27th, 2009 I went to Towson. My first memory of Towson was walking into my dorm on the 6th floor of Tower D, opening the door, and crying. My mother had just said, “Gee, this looks like a jail cell! Not like the model huh!” She meant it in the nicest way possible, but it suddenly wasn’t avoidable anymore; I was in college. I met my roommate a short time later and she was nice, but we didn’t really click as friends. Good roommates, yes, but best friends? not so much.

We jazzed it up so it didn’t look like a jail cell.

That first week was awful. I’m not overly outgoing—in fact I am rather shy, especially when I feel uncomfortable. It seemed like all the orientation activities were so forced and I felt like I fit in with no one. If it wasn’t for the three friends I knew from high school who went to Towson with me, I don’t think I would have made it through that first week.

However, it did get better. Eventually I made friends and I started to feel happy again. It wasn’t easy, but I did it, and I feel like such a stronger person now for getting through that. As I go into my senior year and reflect on the past three years of college, I can’t stop thinking about how far I have come. I think about that girl I saw last week in Einstein and I want to hug her and tell her to keep at it because the next few years are going to end up being some of the best years of her life—she just doesn’t know it yet.

I also want to dispel this rumor that the first month of college is always fun and amazing. The truth is, although many people do have fun during their first week of college, the mass majority does not; I’d say about 2/3. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Everyone is feeling awkward, uncomfortable, and somewhat miserable.

On the tiger, with my high school friend, her roommate, and her friend

Everyone will tell you to meet people in your classes, go to parties, or get involved in different groups on campus. I’m not saying that doesn’t work for everyone, but I didn’t become best friends with my lab partner in Geology and I can’t remember half the people I met at parties.

Making friends is a lot like dating. You have to put yourself out there and be willing to meet different types of people. You aren’t going to make friends if you sit in your room all night and go home every weekend. You have to go out and make yourself a little uncomfortable.

Many people will tell you to forget your high school friends and make new ones. I don’t agree with that. If you came to Towson with a couple of friends or even a couple of acquaintances, I suggest you make plans to meet up with them. You were friends with them already for a reason, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to be friends. Plus, tons of people meet one another through friends. That’s why I find it even more helpful to make plans to hang out with people you already know. I met about 80% of my friends through people I already knew. Sometimes you might even notice that you become closer with people you meet through your existing friends.

At the Den with my high school friend, first week

To meet more people, you might also want to get involved. I know this may sound contradictory from what I told you earlier, but I think there is a certain way to get involved. You don’t want to join ten different clubs that sort of interest you. Go to a bunch of different interest meetings and see what clicks then concentrate on a few specific groups. That way you can dedicate your time to the ones you are really interested in. I’ve also found that you do make friends in your classes, but usually that doesn’t happen until you are in your major. Once you get into your major you’ll have class over and over again with the same 40 people.

But above all, step outside your comfort zone and try new things. I tried to go to every event that I was invited to or heard about. I can’t say that I made friends immediately, but it did keep me busy. Friendships are like relationships, you have to build them. You won’t just make a new group of friends overnight.

Looking back on my freshman year, it turned out alright. I discovered Hopkins, the Den (no, not the one underneath Newell—you’ll have to ask a senior about it) and one time was almost held hostage by a cab. We got snowed in during Snowmeggdan, ate chicken salad sandwiches for three days (it was the only thing edible in the Glen) and then went sledding down the lecture hall hill on trays from Glen. It was blast and this stuff will happen to you. You just gotta keep your head up.

And until that happens you can email me (alexandrapannoni@hercampus.com), tweet me (@alipannoni) or anonymously message me on AIM (alissn8675309) and I’ll keep you company. <3

Alexandra (Ali) Pannoni is a senior at Towson University majoring in journalism with a minor in theatre. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Her Campus Towson. As the Campus Celebrity columnist for Her Campus Towson, Ali has interviewed Country Music Superstar Chuck Wicks and Major League Baseball Player Casper Wells. In Spring 2012 she was an editorial intern with Baltimore magazine. Currently she is an intern for the nationally syndicated radio morning show, The Kane Show, heard locally on HOT 99.5 in Washington D.C. and Z104.3 in Baltimore.  You can view some of her published work for Baltimore magazine on her website. She loves reading magazines, (attempting) to run, and hanging out with friends and family. 
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