The first night on my own, I cried myself to sleep. Filled with the knowledge that I was all on my own in this crazy city, my ambition and desire for independence quickly gave way to doubts and fears that I had pushed off from fruition. In the thick of night, I kept asking myself how I was going to make it on my own, how I was going to be everything I needed to be.
The next morning, as my parents met me on College Walk (car packed, yet not quite ready to say goodbye to their only child), I plastered a smile on my face, quickly hiding any remnants of anxiety and apprehension from my eyes. I met them with the strength I knew I had to muster up for all of us. I knew that this experience was either going to make or break me. Yet I decided that all I could do, at that moment, was to put one foot in front of the other and just keep moving, because—as I think we have all come to realize—time moves too quickly here to be wasted on self-pitying angst. You must dare yourself forward every moment of the day.
College is the first true journey of our lives, and how we react to it, and what our experiences are, will shape both who we become and what we view our place in the world to be. I knew from all the stories, movies, and books that it was where I would first truly grow and create a community of my choosing, my “family.” But it is scary—this ability to become totally new and reinvent yourself goes both ways. You feel that even your closest friendships on campus are not the decades-forged ties of before, but rather built on drunken nights, NSOP meals, and floor bonding. How can this intimate time be shared when we don’t even know each other?
Sometimes, I am very frightened at the prospect of opening up to the wrong person or of confiding in what may become only a fling friendship. But how will I find my true friends here when I honestly know nothing about them? I remember back to how I first met the kids I am now closest to, overflowing with my unique stories and universal apprehensions. Most of these friendships, I realized, are kinships formed from the floor community, nurtured by late night trips to JJ’s Place and exorbitant study breaks (topping $60+ with artisanal ice cream and apple cider, mind you). And others are the friendships that breathe life into mind-numbing classes, enlighten awkward elevator rides, and develop from morning-after tales told in the omelet line. The memories are quirky and funny, yet seamlessly align with the mismatched and entirely unexpected experiences I have had so far.
As the school year goes on, parties become less frequent but more intense, and friendships begin to strengthen. I look forward to that moment when a feeling of true belonging washes over you. Some of college may have followed the script—but for the most part, the “traditional” experiences I have had have been tinged with the personality of the unique student body and city that is Columbia.
The author is a Columbia College first-year.
To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact email@example.com.