The momentous time of finally going off to college is commonly viewed in a glorious light: tons of socializing, feeling free, being yourself, and fun life changes. But what gets hidden behind all the social media posts of everyone having a good time partying and hanging out with new people, and behind what the entertainment industry romanticizes, is the harsher realities that surface when going off to college.
Whether people admit it to themselves or not, homesickness is a major speed bump when it comes to transitioning smoothly into college life. Pretty much everything and everyone around you is unfamiliar and you begin to realize how much we find comfort in what's familiar. That isn't technically an unhealthy thing to recognize about yourself because positive experiences often come from feeling comfortable and confident. Beginning college life just makes you start to practice becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable.
This new era in your life is one of the first times you are basically on your own and loneliness can start to feel like a crushing sensation that inhibits your ability to embrace new things around you. Focusing on your family that you won't be able to see for months to come and realizing you won't meet people that can compare to your friends back home is a destructive spiral to catch yourself in. It's accepting that keeping in touch through technology with your family and friends is enough. It's accepting that the new people around you may not be similar to your other friends, but they can become just as close and just as amazing in their own way.
Being open-minded about all the changes happening at once was personally the most difficult obstacle for me to tackle. Most importantly, I found that being completely open with how you're feeling during this transition to be extremely helpful. You'll find a backbone to support you by reaching out to your family, friends, roommate, or some type of counseling service - and it is the beginning of many signs that will appear over your college years to remind you of your own strength. Holding it all in makes the overwhelming pressure build and your stresses can begin to mold together into bigger issues you will feel unprepared to handle on your own. It is such a healthy release to express what you are feeling with anyone you can reach out to. Even if you feel completely alone, there are always people looking out for you.
Personally, it came to a point where it was more different to hide how I was feeling and I felt like my only option was to open up to people about it. By opening up, I felt supported and validated in my emotions instead of feeling like I had made mistakes since my move in experience wasn't like everyone else's around me. Plus, it brought my roommate and I closer together knowing we had each other's backs. Having other people comment on how I was feeling and guide me through ways to combat all the negativity I felt trapped in has already been one of my college experiences that I am becoming most proud of. Even though I dwelled in all my insecurities and discomfort that moving in brought up, changing my mindset and behavior toward the negativity has made the end of my first week of college better than I thought I could feel when I first got here.
Changing your mindset is not always as easy as it seems though. For days I was covering myself in layers upon layers of everything that I thought wasn't right, wasn't supposed to be happening or should be happening and wasn't - homesickness, anxiety...basically anything but positivity was buzzing around my mind. It made me fall into an abyss of depressing thoughts that would stress me out because I felt like I couldn't escape them and that my whole college experience would continue this way.
Because media only portray the good aspects of moving in and college life, it was incredibly overwhelming and frightening that I was feeling so indifferent. I didn't feel like I should be in college or away from home or that I was capable of overcoming obstacles I was already facing in college because I had only ever been exposed to positive experiences of college life. I don't wish upon anyone to have a college transition like I experienced, and I realize now that many people might have been or still are in the same mindset I was in. One of my main motivations in writing this article is to reach out to those people as well as to share my negative experience moving to college so future students aren't only consuming the romanticized versions of college life.
Acknowledging the negative feelings and expressing them in a healthy way is the first way to start digging yourself out of the mindset you are trapped in. It was hard for me to start enjoying what I was doing because I became so overwhelmed inside my head that I would feel the need to cry all the time. Which is normal, it's actually a great stress reliever. But it was to the point where I could barely leave my dorm for more than a half hour. I couldn't embrace the events and new people around me because I had to focus more on appearing okay.
Since I had to isolate myself constantly, meeting new people was even more of a challenge. Move in week activities aren't all what they're hyped about either, I noticed many people found the few people they already knew and stuck with them. Going to a school where many people come from nearby towns with a selection of people from their high school to transition with whereas I'm from out of state with only one person from my high school, it was heartbreaking to me that other people had a comfort already at college that I was struggling to find. And meeting people once classes start was not as simple as people portray it to be. The first couple days of classes there was minimal interactions between the students, and I didn't know if I'd ever make new friends since I'm not someone who puts themselves out there like others do.
Along with feeling homesick, alone, stressed, and sad all the time adjusting to a new schedule of lifestyle and classes is an intense adjustment. I realized the courses I was put in weren't what I had hoped them to be and some weren't sitting right with me. You quickly realize what kind of teaching styles you learn best with, what kind of class set up feels the most productive to you, and which classes you'll enjoy as well as gain the most from. All of a sudden being hit with those realizations was intoxicating because I was under so much personal pressure to live up to expectations I had for myself - you have to trust your gut though if you're feeling like something is not right and needs to change. Really looking at my circumstances and reevaluating what was most important to me and what was best for me, forced me to make changes I wasn't prepared for but I feel so much better since doing. Instead of putting myself in a situation where I would constantly feel like I had to catch up and stress over, I made the initiative to change my schedule. I dropped a class and added one with fewer credit hours, so I went from 18 credits this semester to 16, and it lifted a bigger weight off my shoulders than I realized I was carrying. It was difficult for me to decide whether to change what I thought I could handle, because I thought I was letting myself down and others down, but I wasn't. I was taking control and knowing my limits. Adjusting to a new lifestyle and new surroundings is hard enough without bringing such high expectations on yourself and to the experience.
Socially it gets better too. You start doing group work in classes and meeting people you see a lot in the halls. Just start saying hi to people or reaching out the ones you have met. Even though it might not seem like you'd be good friends because it's new and uncomfortable, it can grow to be a nice friendship and you can meet other people through them as well. Join clubs, participate in hall activities. Yes, the activity fair wasn't as broadening as I had hoped, but the one club I did find is already bringing me opportunities to meet new people and find comfort away from home.
And not everyone goes and parties. Media tend to lean toward portraying college party life like that is the only way to experience college, but, unless that's the atmosphere you crave or the one you're around, partying is not the only way to feel like you are embracing this new life. Definitely is a way to let loose, but is not the only way and is not always the safest way either. Do what you want to do, not what you feel like you should be doing. But always be safe. So if you want to go to a party, feel free to go party, but go with a group you feel safe with and take care of each other. Parties aren't difficult to find if you know the right people, but they aren't hard to avoid either - there are plenty of better options.
It's helpful to keep some familiarity in your new environment to help you relax and feel normal and okay. Watch some Netflix or YouTube, listen to some music when walking to class, go get some food, or read for leisure if you don't have classes that give you 200-page reading assignments already. Whatever you need to do for yourself to start feeling better, do it!
I begged to drive home the first weekend. I thought maybe I had made the wrong choice and maybe this college wasn't right for me because I couldn't transition as smoothly as everybody else. But just by talking everything over with multiple people and hearing their support as well as rationalizations when I felt distressed helped me realize I need to become okay where I am and make the changes and efforts that needed to be done for myself no matter expectations I or others had set.
Yes, this has been a long article, thanks for sticking with me. But there is so much more that could be said about what moving in at college is really like versus what the world tells us it should be like. If you are feeling overwhelmed and unsure of yourself, just know it is normal and shouldn't always be easy. The good times we hear about and see online are only a fragment of those people's lives. No one likes to talk about the negatives, but there are a lot of negatives that can surprise us and we need to start expressing them openly.
It is okay if you are not feeling okay.
I was not okay, and am still working on finding my comfort here.
You will find a way to work past those depressing spirals you are facing now.
And you will have better days.
Enjoy them when they come.
The sadness may return, but happiness and comfort will always be there soon enough, too.