When adults tend to talk about their college experience, I often hear them using the phrases “wild” or “the best four years of my life.” Many of them rave about the crazy parties they went to and the friends that had become family over the years. The summer going into college I watched all of the movies about kids starting university, and it seemed like they were all having the time of their lives. And so, I entered my first week of college with high expectations. I expected to have these unforgettable adventures that I had heard about from adults and from the movies I watched. I expected to meet people who would immediately become my best friends. I expected a lot, and unfortunately, the first couple of weeks did not live up to my rather high expectations.
As a freshman moving to New York City, I obviously felt nervous. Although home was only a thirty minute train ride for me, I promised myself that I would not run home if things were difficult. I craved independence, and I knew that meant learning how to handle myself and my emotions in a new place. The first couple of weeks, I could not help but feel lonely. It seemed like everyone around me had designated friend groups, which made me feel as if I had done something wrong given that I did not have one. I definitely put myself out there. I introduced myself to a number of people I had met in my dorm and ended up hanging out with them, but even while spending time with them, I still felt lonely.
As I struggled to make friends, I also began to feel burnt out socially. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I had not met as many new people as I had in the first week of college. Oftentimes, my conversations with strangers would center on what we were studying, where we grew up, and what dorm we lived in. After the first week of college, I found myself dreading meeting new people because of the surge of anxiety that often accompanied these interactions.
The worst part about feeling lonely in college is that no one else talks about it until you bring it up. I spoke to many of my friends from home who were in their first year of college, and most of them stuck to discussing the same pattern of topics — new friends and experiences. However, onceI told them about how I was feeling lonely, they immediately sympathized . That is not to say that everyone feels this way, but I believe that many college students do.
The strange thing about this situation is that, although many students feel lonely, rarely does anyone want to admit that they feel this way since, according to the societal norms and expectations that were imposed upon us, we were supposed to be “having the best time of our lives.” However, as a result, the feeling of loneliness keeps hovering beneath the surface until it comes to consume us entirely.
After completing my fall semester of freshman year, I definitely feel more content than I had in the beginning. I learned a lot about myself in these few months and there were a few strategies I practiced that helped me feel better at times of hardship and anxiety.
1. Try not to compare yourself to others
I found myself frequently thinking about the pictures I had seen of my friends from back home, surrounded by their new college friends, and I could not help but feel envious. How did they have so many friends? How has it been so easy for them? What have I been doing wrong? These were the type of questions that began circulating in my mind, and it took a few weeks for me to recognize them as thought patterns.
Once I did recognize them and labeled them as envious thoughts,I realized that they often, if not always, left me feeling worse about myself. Upon reflection, I realized that I had spent so much time focusing on my friends’ experiences that I had begun to believe their journeys were somehow inherently better than my own. I had forgotten that since we were all different, our experiences were also going to look different, and that is okay.
I had to remind myself that we all have different priorities, interests, and values, all of which make us the unique, beautiful individuals that we are. And so, I realized there was truly no point in comparing myself to others.
Naturally, this reframing is easier said than done, but learning to recognize certain thought patterns and starting to label them is an important step that must be taken in order to gain clarity in one’s life.
2. Give yourself time to find your people.
Rushing to make friends was something I struggled with at the beginning of college. In the first couple of weeks, I met a lot of people. Some of whom I connected with instantly, and others that I didn’t really have much in common with.
Looking back, I think, at times, I may have spent too much time forcing myself to connect with people who had substantially different values and priorities than myself. I was struggling to accept the fact that I did not enjoy spending time with these people simply because that would have meant that I would have had to meet a new group of people all over again.
It is not easy being vulnerable with others, especially after a number of negative experiences where one feels like they put in more effort than the other person. That is why, it is important to remember that it takes time to forge meaningful connections with people that make you feel safe and nurtured.
Often, I would miss how easy it was to talk to my friends from back home given that engaging in conversations with new people always seemed to have required more effort. Yet, I soon realized (and perhaps forgot) that it takes time to cultivate such profound friendships, and in order to feel close to people, you have to spend some more time together.
Therefore, I would advise you, dear reader, to let go of some of your expectations regarding what certain relationships ought to look like and, instead, allow yourself to be surprised by what friendship may end up being.
Ultimately, I learned that perhaps the most important thing in college is to give yourself time to adjust to the new environment you’ve found yourself in. Fora adjustment is never easy, but with time, one can develop a routine that works for them.
3. Join clubs and organizations.
Personally, I feel that joining clubs at my school helped me feel like I belonged to a community greater than myself, a sensation that, definitely, made me feel less alone.
In particular, I joined one of the chapters of Active Mind, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the conversation around mental health. There, I met amazing people who shared my passion for mental health advocacy. Since I enjoy having stimulating conversations and learning about people’s passions, I learned that it was important to me to connect with people who are driven and goal oriented.
Finding clubs that may be close to your heart (or major) can help you meet like-minded people and, by extension, potential friends.
For instance, I also joined a pre-health co-ed fraternity at my college which allowed me to meet a number of my peers that are pursuing a variety of pre-health tracks. Because I had the chance to talk to them, I became even more passionate about healthcare, Yet, perhaps even more importantly, I began to feel as if I had a community of people that I could ask for advice.
Without a doubt, college is hard. As one has to move away from everything they had ever known and plunge into the great unknown. Yet, I also know there are ways that we can help each other ease more gently into such a new environment. These are just some of the ideas that helped me cope easier. Some might work and some might not. Whatever it may be, I truly hope you end up loving your time at university.