I was nervous when I first left for boarding school at the age of 14. It was the first real time I’d left home, and with it came fears that I wouldn’t make friends or fit in at a preppy private school. But in a tight-knit community in which I was required to participate in extracurriculars and lived in close proximity to my classmates, my extroverted tendencies flourished and I made a close group of friends.
When I left for college two summers ago, I was riding the confidence characteristic of a friend-making veteran. I was excited to be going to a larger school filled with a wide range of people. Within two weeks, I’d made friends with whom I proceeded to get into my fair share of Jesuit school shenanigans. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t happily look forward to the next four years with them.
Sadly, in the winter, I discovered that changes in the budget of the history department of Boston College would threaten my ability to study American history. Aware of the potential problems at bay, I applied to transfer in order to pursue my passion, ambivalently hoping that I wouldn’t have to leave my friends. In early May, I received the results of my efforts, and in late August I was unpacking in Morningside Heights rather than Chestnut Hill. I thought that this third time moving would be easy for me—after all, I’d had a lot of experience making friends already. In this regard, I figured that I could become a part of the community quickly. I didn’t quite understand how wrong I was.
Transferring, in and of itself, poses a distinctive mess of issues. Foremost, we transfers find ourselves dropped into a world where everyone has already had a year or two to meet each other. Many of our classmates aren’t in the same rush to talk to new people in the way they were as bright-eyed first-years. Current residents have already developed routines, habits, and preferences. For them, time has fostered a level of comfort that isn’t exactly conducive to the exploration of new experiences.
I assumed, coming to Columbia, that this would be the case, but figured that I’d meet people in my classes, ask them to get coffee, and make lifelong friends regardless. Yet, I quickly found that for many people, the innocence of starting college had worn off. Perhaps it is just me overthinking, but I found that making friends wasn’t as simple as asking someone to lunch. I have had to slowly and—given my personality—awkwardly integrate myself into students’ incredibly busy daily regimens through small talk; a process that really blows if you just want to jump into a new place.
At Columbia this issue of a busy and aloof student body is strengthened by rigorous coursework that eats up large chunks of free time, housing that positions many transfer students nine blocks away from the rest of campus, and no clear means of integration other than a confusing maze of clubs and activities. It’s easy to get lost in Columbia culture, and, if you’re a transfer, it can be much harder to find your way.
To make matters worse, social media constantly reminds us of the potential life we left behind. I watch my Boston College friends throw crazy “Fuck Thanksgiving, It’s Christmas” themed parties with the walls of their suite covered in wrapping paper. I see them grow and evolve as their college careers march forward. Of course I’m happy for them and of course I love to see them be happy. But everytime I see their Snapchat stories, I wonder if they’ve forgotten about me.
So I trudge along College Walk on my way back from a night at Butler, listening to Uptown Folks by Dope Lemon and wondering whether or not I fit in with these uptown folks, whether or not I belong at Columbia. On this walk I wonder if I made the right decision to leave Boston College. I contemplate what really makes a college experience—the education or the friendships—and I am unsure of my choices. I lie awake at night thinking about the sophomore year I could be having.
It isn’t as if I’m unhappy. Everytime I hear Paul Chamberlin talk about the influences of Manifest Destiny on U.S. foreign relations in the 19th century, I’m reminded why I made this choice. And I have friends—the one thing that I have enjoyed about the transfer process is meeting the other transfers and forming a solid group. And it isn’t as if I’ve been optimizing all of my opportunities. I could be joining more clubs and I could be a more outgoing person. I have hope that things will get better, and I will certainly try to make them better.
Still, I can’t help but feel as if transfers are second-class students at Columbia. We attend the school, of course; many of us got in on our own merits, and we hold our own with original undergraduates. Perhaps, if students weren’t so caught up in their routines, if we were sorted into Core classes with our class year, or if transfers were integrated better into housing we wouldn’t exist as an awkward subsection of the community, alienated and marginalized in the hustle and bustle that so characterizes you uptown folk.
The author is a transfer student from Boston College and a current sophomore in Columbia College studying U.S. history. He swears his life isn’t as pathetic as it may seem to be in this piece. If you want to talk with him about history or if you want to make a new friend, feel free to ask him to get coffee and chat. Sanjay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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