As our car pulled out of the driveway, I questioned my decision to leave the great state of Michigan for Columbia. I was leaving behind too many familiar faces and places. On the way to the interstate, we drove past friends’ houses, favorite restaurants, and countless high school memories. It was hard to believe that I was saying goodbye to 18 years of my life and relocating to a city entirely unknown to me.
After my family moved me in and departed for home, I was alone—and afraid. Feeling imprisoned, I opened the door to my room and heard voices down the hall. Within seconds, a group of ebullient first-years crowded around my doorway. I quickly accepted their invitation to hang out with a smile that refused to fade. We shared ice cream and wistful stories of home. I returned to my room and slept peacefully, thankful for the friendliness of a few new faces and eager to dive into the college experience.
For the next few weeks, I spent my days exploring classes and clubs, figuring out exactly what I wanted to do with my time here. I spent my nights at halal carts and Tom’s Restaurant, acquainting myself with infamous Columbia staples. I discovered the beauty of Morningside Heights and the Columbia campus, and I embarked on new journeys with new friends everyday. Before I knew it, I was very comfortable with my environment. I had friends who were already as close as family. I had classes that challenged my parochial worldview and stimulated my mind. I even decided to run for student council because I felt confident that this community was one in which I wanted to be as involved as possible. Throughout those first few weeks, I was inadvertently building the image of my new home: Columbia.
A word to the wise: I have realized that it is imperative that you immerse yourself in that friendly atmosphere that surrounds the first few weeks of college. Everyone eagerly wants to make new friends and have new experiences, including you. There is no doubt that in doing so, you will emerge from these first few weeks with a solid grasp on a community that will provide you with a lifetime of companionship and support. In addition, the first few weeks are filled with plenty of opportunities to get involved on campus. The gates to Columbia’s community are wide open. You can run for student council, join a dance team, form a band, write for the Spectator, or do anything else that crosses your mind.
The best way to avoid the claws of isolation and fear is to remember that everyone else is in the same position as you are. You’re all new. You’re all lonely. You all want to make friends and find your place in the Columbia community. Open your doors and explore what Columbia—its campus, its resources, and its students—has to offer and take advantage of it all. Extend a hand of friendship to a passersby. Join a unique student group. Taste the cuisines of Morningside Heights. Forge a relationship with your surroundings when the fruits of Columbia are ripe. During the first few weeks of your college experience, you have the power to define who you are and who you want to be. The Columbia community will ensure that you realize your vision, so engage your peers and professors.
The path to an unforgettable college experience is clear during your first few weeks. The friends and memories you make, along with the classes and clubs you choose, will accompany you on the glorious four years ahead. So, capitalize on your position in these first few weeks. A world of opportunity is at your fingertips—don’t let it slip away.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore. He is president of the Class of 2016.
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