I remember my Facebook feed the first week of my first year at Occidental as if it were yesterday, not the nearly two years ago that have actually passed. Of course, it was flooded with pictures – but not the type that I had expected, which were graduation photos and last-minute pictures with parents. They were of new students together, looking as if they had known each other for years.
While this may seem like a normal event, I was flabbergasted at the time. During orientation I met many people, some of whom later became my closest friends. At that point, though, we were barely more than acquaintances. I wondered how my classmates had become such fast friends, and why I had not – not only because of the pictures, but because of a pervasive expectation that barely a few days into school, everyone should have already found their niche. I felt like the new students were playing a game of musical chairs and I was still standing when the music stopped.
For much of my first semester, I felt more isolated than I ever had before. I could not help but think that it was my fault. Was I unfriendly? Not interesting enough? Had I made the wrong choice in coming to Occidental?
I was not the only student who felt that way.
“For the first few weeks of college, I was meeting people constantly, which made it all the more bizarre that I should feel so lonely,” Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA) major Brian Erickson (junior) said. “The constant small talk and forced socialization wasn’t exactly my idea of friendship.”
My story, along with most other students’, has a happy ending. In my second semester of college everything suddenly clicked into place. Already close with my roommate and a fellow O-Team member, I met the group of people who are my best friends today. Dance Production became one of my favorite college experiences. I got to know my professors. By June, I missed everyone so much I was willing to brave my first organic chemistry class just to see my friends again.
My advice to all new students is to at least stick out the first year. If all students acted upon their initial impulse to transfer, there would be very few upperclassmen on campus. I would have missed out on four years at the school that has become my favorite place in the entire world.
New students and returners alike should continue to actively seek friendships long after convocation. If a new student still feels lonely, as the vast majority do, they should go out of their way to get to know their classmates. And if they already have a group of friends, they can be open to new ones. It is important that we establish an open dialogue about loneliness and homesickness so that new students do not have to suffer alone or pretend that they feel fine.
I strongly encourage new students to utilize Emmons Wellness Center’s mental health services. It is easy to dismiss temporary unhappiness as an expected part of the college transition, but it could easily become something more serious. Even if that is not the case, there is no shame in getting help with a difficult time period.
As seriously as I mean this warning, my intention is not to make Occidental’s new students frightened of the exhilarating, poignant, and intense first few months of college.The dark periods that arise for many are also opportunities for growth – not that I recognized that at the time. As much as a college education teaches students about economics, English, biology, it also instills them with independence, resilience, and a heightened ability to empathize with other people. And that is something to look forward to.