I cried the day that I got my acceptance letter to Lehigh University.
I also cried the day that I explained to my parents why I wanted to transfer.
It was November 14, 2014 and I was in my senior year of high school when I decided to apply Early Decision I to Lehigh. I was being recruited for rowing and it seemed like the best decision for my family and I at the time. After spending a weekend there and at my other choices of schools on Official Visits for rowing I was convinced that Lehigh was my dream school. After an amazing first semester where I saw success both in school and in athletics I was more than excited to come back for the spring semester. I had never had academics be so easy for me due to all the newly found free time and I had never been rowing so well as I saw my personal best drop by over thirty seconds. I centered my life around academics and rowing in an effort not to overwhelm myself and knowing that come spring time I was hoping to add being a member of a sorority to the mix. I wanted to put maximum effort into the few things I was a part of, instead of stretching myself too far and half-assing a bunch of small activities. It reached the point where I was stressing and obsessing over what boat I would be in, how many seconds I needed to drop off of my 2k, and whether I was using the proper form during lifts.
All of this being said, it's no surprise that when I slammed my head into the edge of a squat bar and was out for my first major collegiate season, my world began to feel like it was crumbling.
As I lost the ability to participate in the activity I had thrown myself into the most and dealt with an injury that required me to sleep or lie alone in the dark all day I felt cut off from everything and everyone I thought I was so close to. It took seven weeks, four failed bike tests, countless headaches, and a lot of tears before I was finally granted return to play. The date I was cleared also happened to be two days before our league championship race and the end of our season. It was more than seven weeks out from my last legitimate practice, I had gained thirty-one seconds on my newfound personal best, and I was distraught.
I was beyond happy for my teammates as I watched them excel countless times throughout the season, each race only getting better and better. They were having the successful season that we as a team had worked so hard for and talked about so much. However, as I sat alone in my hotel room the night before championships (we were given roommates by boat pair), I couldn't help but cry. I knew that the role my teammates needed me to play now was one of the spare; helping out with extra details and loose ends and cheering them on as loud as I could and I was more than happy to do that. But, that doesn't mean that sitting in on a pre-race boat meeting that night was any less bittersweet. As they spoke about how hard they had worked all season and that now was the time to showcase that work, I couldn't help but think of all the hours I had put in as well and how badly I wanted to be out there pulling for each and every one of them.
Championships passed, the team did well, and we were right back at it getting ready for the fall season. I was ready for a fresh start and even more motivated to work my hardest, but a part of me couldn't help but feel something was wrong. I loved Lehigh, at least I thought I did, but I spent my spring semester of freshman year feeling miserable. Though I was granted accommodations from the University for my concussion, there was no uniform procedure for each class, leaving discretion completely up to my professors on when I needed to make up exams and assignments I was allowed to miss. Most of my professors were completely understanding and accommodating, but in one of my classes, I was made to make up an exam two days after having concussed myself or take the 0. I struggled to keep up with work that I should have asked for extensions on because falling behind in college is like a death sentence for your GPA. I told myself I would rather suffer through the worsened headaches that staring at a page gave me than sleep through class to heal. My GPA suffered anyway even though I found myself spending more and more time on assignments and blowing through a bottle of Tylenol instead of just sleeping to make my headaches go away. In retrospect, this is probably why it took me seven full weeks to recover.
So, with this disillusioned mindset coming out of the spring semester of my freshman year and as someone who wants more than anything just to be happy, I sat down with my parents and told them all of the reasons I thought I wanted to transfer. I thought I needed a smaller school, where I could put less pressure on myself but still row. I felt guilty because Lehigh is an expensive place to be unhappy. At the end of May, I found myself applying and being accepted on partial scholarship to a small, Division III school close to home. It took me about a month of weighing pros and cons and a visit to the rowing team's NCAA training practices to decide whether or not I wanted to make the switch. At the end of June, I thought I had it all figured out.
I wanted to make the switch, I wanted to switch to a Division III school closer to home, where I could have the time to be involved with things outside of just rowing, academics, and my sorority and where I could drive home for the weekend if I wanted to. Telling my friends, teammates and sorority sisters I was leaving was the hardest part, and after that, I started to get excited for a fresh start.
I was excited the day I moved in, I was living in a freshman hall on the edge of campus and was a quick bike ride away from the water and the boathouse in the morning. However, post four-day orientation and two days into classes I began to realize how much I missed Lehigh, it was beyond what would have been characteristic of someone who had transferred and left behind friends. I realized just how small 1,400 people was and I began to feel like I was in a different version of my high school. It was a great school with some extremely nice people, but something wasn't clicking with me. I called my parents and my best friends bawling every day, multiple times a day, I skipped meals because all I wanted to do was lay in bed, and the thing I had thought was my main priority in school outside of academics, rowing, became unimportant to me. It was something I could take or leave, I was late to morning lift and I was missing meetings, I had become apathetic to almost everything. Sure, I didn't give the school that huge of a chance and some people may judge me for that but sometimes when you know something is wrong, you just know.
Four days into classes starting, I withdrew from the college I had transferred to and had petitioned for readmission back into Lehigh for the Fall 2016 semester. I was walking back to my bed after class when I got the e-mail that granted me readmission and I started crying tears of joy. I ran back to my dorm, packed up my things and was gone the next day, en route to Lehigh without even stopping at home first.
I cried the day I was driving back to Bethlehem, PA and I saw Lehigh's campus again. I was flooded with emotions and overjoyed to be back, this time with more than one hundred percent certainty that this is where I needed to be. Transferring taught me that your experience at college is what you make of it and if you're unhappy somewhere that you thought was your dream school, you probably just need to switch up your involvement. When I was making my decision to leave, it didn't occur to me that I was probably just so miserable second semester solely because of my concussion, and I'm not going to have to go through the rest of college in a constant state of being concussed. Just because I had a bad experience in dealing with that, doesn't mean that the rest of my experiences will be bad here.
Since coming back, I've tried to throw myself into getting involved in any way that I can and I have thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. I love being able to attend all of the events I previously had to miss for my sorority and I love being able to go volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club some afternoons, both things I never had the time for before. I'm no longer the same freshman that was afraid of getting too involved and I have come to realize that it is up to you to decide what shape you want your college experience to have. I miss rowing and I do want to explore if that is something that is still in the cards for me because it made me happy.
But, I can honestly say that since coming back to Lehigh and deciding to try things I thought I never had the time for before, I am the happiest that I have ever been.