It may seem strange that as a senior on her way out of college, I am speaking about the first few weeks of school. But to me, it is not unusual that my first experiences and feelings of Columbia still resonate three years later.
The first weeks of school are not just a walk down memory lane for me. I was a part of NSOP for the past two years, first as an orientation leader, then as coordinator of the Columbia College and School of Engineering and Applied Science orientation committees. In my case, my perspective on acclimating to Columbia’s lifestyle, neighborhood, and people has been renewed and refreshed more than once.
I first chose to be involved in NSOP so that I could share my story with incoming students. I wanted to let them know that I went through much of what they might have gone through or still be going through.
From a quick glance back at my arrival to school and the immediate aftermath, I see myself being inspired by campus and class options, meeting new people, and sensing that, for the most part, everyone I was meeting was talented, smart, and interested in getting to know each other.
And then I realize that my memory wants to read like a welcome letter in an orientation magazine.
What was I really thinking during orientation? How did I really feel during my first couple of weeks or months here?
In a closer look at myself during orientation and the following weeks, I see someone who was strongly attached to her high school friends and philosophy, skeptical about what college could do for an undecided and indecisive person, confident that she knew much more about herself than she did, and afraid to challenge and reconceive what she thought she knew.
Every time I met a fellow incoming student, I would try to categorize or conceptualize the person. I put people in boxes. During my big lifestyle shift, I sought stability by mentally stagnating the people around me. I compared all of my new friends to friends at home, seeking any way to affirm that the way of life I left back at home was superior to what I was encountering in my new environment.
My thoughts at the time led me to question my personality, strengths, and weaknesses—and why I possessed such a hardened, resistant attitude. I had conversations with myself almost every night. I turned to friends and family to talk through how I was feeling. Through dialogue, I was able to identify and begin to resolve my issues.
It might be hard, it might be rough, but I realized how important it is to self-analyze, talk to oneself, and gain an understanding of who one is and what one needs to be happy. For a long time, I did not realize that a coping mechanism for anxiety that could be identified as a normal nervous reaction to change steered my attitude toward new people.
I came to appreciate internal struggles like the ones above and what overcoming them did for my personal growth. Yes, the first experiences at college are central to meeting people and being inspired by those around you—but these times are also times for just you and getting to know yourself.
And the adjustment continues. My own adjustment to post-high school and post-hometown—for me, the Maryland suburbs–is ongoing and continues today. It will continue throughout my life. So I am glad that, in adjusting to Columbia life, I picked up self-preserving tools that will help me in any transition I undergo. I hope that incoming students acquire the same set of tools. I think that they should be proud of themselves when they do.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in biological sciences.
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