As I stuck my numb, cracked hands into the lining of my jacket, I stared up at the gray Midwestern sky. It had been snowing nonstop for the last three or four days, and the so-called “permacloud” had rolled in for what would eventually seem like an eternal winter. My first semester of college was coming to a close, and while I let the snowflakes gently fall on my face, I whispered into the night sky: “What am I doing here?”
My inner contemplations extended beyond just my physical presence on campus to a bigger sense of existence. My inner contemplations encapsulated a much bigger sense of existence. As I frigidly put one foot in front of the other in the dead of winter on my way back from the library, I started to think about my direction in college. The topics I wanted to delve into, the places to which I wanted to travel, and everything in between ran through my head. After several days of introspection, I realized that my college trajectory did not fit what I wanted to get out of my four-year experience.
I couldn’t help but second-guess whether transferring would be worth giving up the life I had made for myself during my first year. I enjoyed my classes, my friends, and my extracurricular activities. Everything seemed to be exactly to my liking. However, I soon remembered the motivating factor that eventually drove me to apply to transfer: improvement through change.
A few months later, I would learn that I had been accepted as a transfer student to Columbia University.
For some, change gives way to uncertainty, which in turn produces anxiety; for others, change is the necessary to shattering expectations and breaking out of one’s comfort zone. It is, undeniably, more challenging to view change as the latter than the former. I, however, wanted to see what it meant to step out of my comfort zone in college, to improve through a change in campuses.
As I doubted my resolve to move, I thought to myself that success at one university by no means guarantees success at the next. I soon realized that the decision staring me straight in the face served as a microcosmic example of life’s impending decisions. Absolutely nothing in life would be guaranteed, and without risk comes no reward. In the end, I decided to take the chance and accept my offer from Columbia.
After three months at Columbia, I have come to realize some important lessons related to change. At its core, change is desired by few but needed by all. I have found that it is only through change that I can realize my own abilities. Having attended three high schools, I am accustomed to being new in a community, and being new at Columbia was no different. Eventually, I discovered how quickly the novelty of being the “new kid” fades and how, in the end, all I would have left was one thing: myself.
Changing colleges was one of the most sobering experiences in teaching me how to be comfortable with what defines me, because I became the only constant during the transition between the two campuses. I began to find myself as people, places, and relationships turned from present tense to past tense. As my surroundings faded away to just my own two feet, I realized that the biggest motivating factor pushing me forward was me.
If anyone tells you that transferring is easy, especially to Columbia, they are not giving you the full picture. Finding your footing in a community that is as big and intimidating as Columbia is a constant challenge. Aside from having to complete the Core in one or two years fewer than your classmates, transfers have to navigate finding new friends, joining new clubs, and discovering who they are, all while keeping pace with everyone else. This process is by no means easy, but it forces you to reexamine yourself constantly.
I could not be more grateful for the opportunities—academic and otherwise—I have been given. Although each transfer student has a different reason for moving, a shared desire for change binds us all. It is this ability to feel comfortable with change, to venture into the unknown that each transfer student must embrace.
The label of “transfer” soon fades as you integrate more into the community here on campus. However, I have experienced just how the desire to seek change for happiness is something that never leaves a transfer student. This attitude is one that everyone at Columbia and beyond should strive to embody. Constantly question, never settle, and keep pushing through, even when you can’t feel your hands or see the other side.
The author is a sophomore in Columbia College majoring in mathematics-statistics and concentrating in sociology. He is a member of the executive board for the Columbia Data Science Society, the treasurer for SIC Hall Council, a sports radio host for WKCR, and a head advising fellow for Matriculate.
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