It feels like just yesterday that I was moving into WashU, and it’s hard to believe that a whole year has gone by already. As this year has come to a close, I’ve looked back on the highs and the lows and reflected on what has made this the most transformative year of my life. Going into a school like WashU, I knew that my classes would take up a significant amount of my time and energy during the year, but I was surprised to find that my most transformative experiences all came from outside the classroom. Freshman year was more than just another step in my academic journey; it was a transition into a new way of life.

Before this year, I had lived in one place my whole life. I went to school with most of the same people for as long as I could remember. I lived in an isolated bubble, deep within my comfort zone. While I had some freedom, most of what I did was set out for me, and I stuck to the structure. As soon as I got to St. Louis, that bubble burst. For the first time, I was completely on my own, living in a new place, knowing almost nobody. I felt like I was starting from scratch as I met new people and tried to find my own way in a new place for the first time in my life.

From the beginning, I found and joined student groups that fit my interests. I joined College Democrats and the WashU Israel Public Affairs Committee, and I eventually took on executive board positions for both. Not only did I connect with people who I shared similar interests with, but I also gained insight and experience that related to my interests, and took a leadership role on campus. I built connections with other student leaders, university administration, and even our local Congressmen and Senators. I also took action on a campus issue that disturbed me greatly—mistreatment of our beloved food service workers. I spearheaded the student group fighting to support their attempt to unionize, and I helped launch a university investigation into the food service contractor’s intimidation tactics.

This year was an amazing experience, but it was by no means easy. Starting a new life is a daunting task, and there were times at the beginning during which I felt completely lost. I went from a small community where I knew everyone to a campus where I knew almost nobody. It was a bit overwhelming, and it took time to find my way. Not everything always went as I planned, but as I started to meet more people and get more involved on campus, I started to settle in and find my place in a new world.

If I were to give an incoming freshman one piece of advice, it would be this: put yourself out there. Find groups on campus that look interesting. Introduce yourself to new people. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and try not to worry about being judged for what you do and who you are. Not everything will work and it won’t be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. If you’re struggling, it’s easy to convince yourself that everyone else has it figured out and you’re the only one struggling, but I promise that’s not the case. Just be yourself, and you’ll be able to find a place for yourself.