In my first year at Grinnell, I tried to dive right into new classes, new friends, and new activities, and managed to present myself as a cheerful and comfortable person. But on the inside, I was struggling. The transition to was much more difficult than I had expected, old mental health problems were back with a vengeance, and I discovered that I had social anxiety, which made even the simplest interactions sources of great distress.
The trouble is, there was no quick fix. I could join a new club or sit with new people in the D-Hall, but I still felt uncomfortably afloat, alone in the world for the first time and unsure what to do with myself.
And everyone else was adapting so much better than I was, right? WRONG. “Fake it til you make it” is a commonly-applied strategy across college campuses. The reality is that being separated from everything and everyone you know and plopped down in a maelstrom of new people is one of the most difficult transitions of life. In some countries, it is the norm for university students to live at home and commute to classes, because they recognize that living in one small room with a complete stranger is actually a pretty weird concept.
Remember this if you find yourself beating yourself up over not being able to “adapt,” or questioning whether you’re “doing college right.”
And you know how so many adults refer to college as “The best four years of my life”? Well, for the most part, that is nostalgic bullshit. College is where you confront adult challenges for the first time, and as a result are forced to be a self advocate. As a result, you may face some of the most difficult things you have ever experienced. And that’s okay.
So take a deep breath and a step back, and try to be patient. You won’t just wake up one morning and feel like Grinnell is home. It is the actual process of interacting with the community, successes and mistakes alike, that teaches you to thrive independently.
But you can be proactive about this! Challenge yourself to have experiences. Try as many extracurriculars as you want–the leaders are expecting first years to come and go as they figure out what they enjoy. Ask someone you have a good feeling about to get a meal one-on-one–it may feel uncomfortably intimate, but it is a quick way to move beyond the mayhem of constantly meeting new people, forgetting them, and then pretending to recognize them when they remember your name. And of course, don’t push yourself too hard. If you need to take a night in and watch a movie by yourself to recharge, then by all means do it. It feels like constant socialization is obligatory, but everyone needs a break once in a while, some more often than others, and that’s okay.
And you might not feel more comfortable for a while. That’s okay, too. We all move at different paces, and there’s no rushing it. Even as a senior, I sometimes feel insecure about my place in the community.
Growing up is a process, not an endgame. We are all bumbling through it here, whether or not we acknowledge it. Keep pursuing what makes you happy and feel good about yourself, and the rest will eventually follow.