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First Week At College
I’ve looked forward to college ever since my mother told me that it was just like pre school, except you could have all your classes start at noon and there was a pool. My parents both encouraged me, in the most benevolent possible way, to go to college, and I’ve never really strongly considered not going. In these ways I’m similar to a lot of kids who have travelled in the past couple of weeks across states, countries, and continents, in cars stuffed to the brim with suitcases or planes with just a carry-on, to begin their journey through higher education.
Just looking at my Facebook feed it’s easy to see the differing attitudes towards the coming change. There are those who don’t even try to temper their enthusiasm at the fact that they’re heading off to “The home of the Berklee Baboons!” or whichever school it is they’re representing on their sweatshirts in every selfie they’ve posted for the past two weeks. Then there are the rest of us, swimming in the middle area between the enthusiasm of the prolific selfie taker, and the foreboding that nobody really seems willing to acknowledge.
College is a big transition. For a lot of us it means living away from home for the first time in our lives; left to fend for ourselves when it comes to food, chores, academics, and personal hygiene. Even for the people coming in as enthused as can be, the challenges of the first week of college come wearing many disguises. Here are some excerpts from the meticulous journal I kept during my first week of college at New York University, as well as some comments and tips In bold from my more mature and worldly self, now in my second week in college
Sunday: Well, I’m here.
I figured that I likely wouldn’t want to write later tonight so since I’m alone for a moment and I have nervous energy from so much frantic activity exploding all over the place I might as well remind my future self of what his first day at college was like.
Oh Yeah, the hustle and bustle on moving in day is insane! Especially if you’re going to a big school make sure to get there early and be prepared to be overwhelmed.
It’s beautiful here. The view from my room isn’t spectacular, in fact it’s basically brick building bordered by brick buildings, but Washington Square Park is 100 yards down the road, and is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I’m going to get to go there every single day if I want to.
Seriously, college towns are often some of the most beautiful places in the world. Remember, a bunch of smart people decided to build a place dedicated to getting smarter in this location. Try and figure out why, and you’ll connect with your campus in a whole new way. My campus happens to be New York City so even on day one I knew it was special, but according to my friends it’s just as true in places like Providence Rhode Island, and Worcester Massachusetts.
I’m in a triple, and because I was last in I have the top bunk, but that’s not what’s bothering me. For some reason I’ve been really snippy with my parents, I swear it’s an instinctual thing. I don’t know for sure when humans would go off to start their own families when we were still nomads, but I doubt many of them were nineteen. That’s like a fully grown adult, so I’m going to blame it on my animal instincts telling me that I’m behind schedule with the whole get out of the nest thing. I really do appreciate that they are feeling crazy emotions right now, and when they get back from the parent meeting they’re in right now I’ll be the most cherubic son they’ve ever seen. I am almost certain that in like two days I’m going to be desperately missing their presence, so I might as well get a head start on making sure we are in a good place as a family. It’s 1:40PM, the lava lamp I brought is basically just a tiny pink jar full of dust as it heats itself up, and I feel just about how I thought I would at 1:40PM. Okay, and ready for more.
This may be the most important thing I wrote that first day. I’m really glad I didn’t indulge in my frustrations because I’ve been texting with my parents nearly every day. It’s not so much support they offer as a combination of love and faith that’s surprisingly hard to appreciate when you’re living with them. Also yes, top bunks suck.
Monday: First Day Alone
I wouldn’t say it has been a complete alleviation of the pressures I was feeling yesterday, but today has been, in many ways, a relief. I met a bunch more people, and I ate at the dining halls for the first time. There wasn’t much variety in the choices, but it’s all you can eat which is kind of awesome.
Day One was inarguably the hardest. Even day two was a lot more smooth. Also inarguable is the fact that there is basically unlimited food at my fingertips, a pleasant realization.
The presidential address for the Freshman is tonight, and the rumour is that the keynote speaker will be the movie director M.Night Shyamalan, or however you would write that dudes name out, which would be a pretty cool way to conclude my second ever night of college.
This ended up being true! And he told some stories that would make even the most sophomoric freshman blush. High School this is not, people can say whatever they want to you in college. It’s really strange hearing a Dean of Students swear like a sailor.
I’m enjoying college, such as it is, so far, but I have yet to really sink my teeth in. I’m hoping that classes are everything I hoped they would be. This first semester I don’t have any one class that sticks out as being particularly difficult, or boring, which is a blessing, so I’ve been feeling today like I could maybe make academics the first priority of my schooling for the first time. The friends come organically, everyone says so, and the parties are there whether you want them or not. I’m sure I’ll eventually have to make some sacrifices for good grades, and to get the most out of my time here, but for the moment I’m free to study all I want to, and I want to study a lot.
Even if it never becomes entirely easy living here, and I’m relatively certain that it will, I have a lot to look forward to. When I come back for breaks I’ll be able to see my family and friends, and just as I suspected that already sounds like a good time.
Even though Day Two was easier, these are the words of a kid struggling to connect. I’m not the most outgoing of folks, and at first I had trouble dealing with all the frenzy. It really is harder than I expected to adjust, but after a few days things start to click into place, although I hope I can hang onto that motivation to study! It’s already harder than I expected it would be.
I’d say that chronicling my week so far has been a boon to my comfort levels, and that’s a boon to comfort levels that have yet to dip dangerously low. While here I’ve already showered, written twice, pooped, and combed my hair, all things that I thought would be obstacles. I’ll tell you, having a private bathroom has got to be the biggest relief so far, even more so than the legitimacy of the meal plan. Now, if I can figure out transportation and start to actually do stuff on my own then I can start to feel like I’m actually the college kid I’ve been imagining myself to be all these years. Once classes start of course.
That bathroom thing is no joke, communal bathrooms are scary!
Tuesday: That Third Day
Well it’s 7:48AM on a Tuesday morning and here I am writing my report already so you know something interesting must have happened. I’m only really on the ball because I fell asleep at like 10:30 last night so I’m probably more rested than I have been in months. It’s weirdly effective. Maybe something about being uncomfortable in my surroundings turns me into a superhuman version of myself because I am ready to go! The last time I woke up at this hour with no alarm was probably Christmas morning 1999.
Wow, I sound so peppy here! Everyone has their own reaction to stressors I guess. Hedgehogs roll up into balls, I turn into a 15 year old cheerleading prospect on tryout day.
Last night we took the subway to Madison Square Garden where the Presidential Address was held, which was fine. It probably would have taken me an unfortunate number of minutes to figure it out on my own, but I was with about 100 other NYU kids on the same platform as I went, so it would have been exceedingly difficult to get lost. In fact I don’t really know how I’d do it. On the way back however, all those convenient NYU kids vanished somehow, and I was left with like five other kids who sort of knew where we were supposed to be going. After a lot of confusion we made it back, only ten minutes or so behind my roommates, but it was an adventure.
I put on a brave face for this paragraph. As I desperately tried to find my way back all I could think about was how sad the first hour of Homeward Bound is.
It was pretty late by the time I made it back, so I was trying to figure out what I was going to do for dinner/my remaining three hours of the day, and I kind of just decided to go walk around. I’d been craving some time by myself and it was really nice to just wander around the city.
So there I was looking for a Starbucks (It was the only time in my hour of walking last night that I required a GPS, and it didn’t even work very well), and I get a call from a number I don’t recognize. It was John Smith (Intentionally obvious pseudonym used to protect Johns anonymity), and he sounded really uncomfortable. He talked a little about how College has been so far, then sort of awkwardly asked me if I’ve made any close friends yet. I replied instantly in the negative, without even thinking of lying, normally I would have been all over the opportunity to cover up what I perceive to be my social failures, but I’m glad I told the truth. John then agreed that he’d been having the same problems. He noted that he was making a lot of acquaintances without ever really making a friend, pretty much exactly how I felt, and it was good to hear him say it.
Tough as may seem, it really is everyone who goes through it. Isolation is an illusion, and it’s an illusion that’s really the opposite of what college actually is. When I felt most alone I was surrounded by around 4000 other Freshman, many of whom probably felt the same way.
At home my lava lamp is finally looking like a lava lamp should, with balls of plasma oozing into one another, and if you want some evidence of how things are improving, note how this sentence started with me calling my dorm home.
Wednesday: Fourth Day Okay
Although it started like all the other days I’ve begun at NYU so far (the other two), today seemed a lot more seamless. I didn’t need directions to get anywhere, I took the subway and it wasn’t all that scary anymore, and through a conversation randomly struck up on the way to my service activity I developed a group of friends that feels like it might actually last.
I have a terrible sense of direction, but even I picked up the gist of where things are around here pretty quickly.
Last night was good too. Because I had so much time to kill yesterday I actually managed to get myself out of the dorm room and into the gym! It was the first real excursion into an NYU facility I’ve made completely on my own, and I already feel how things like that are becoming more and more natural to me as I spend time in the city.
I’m glad I used some of that energy at the gym while I had it because the Freshman fifteen is no myth! I’ve already talked to people who are ahead of schedule.
After the gym, I came back to the dorm and shaved my beard off. Take it from me, a necessary procedure. I’d been feeling awfully scrubby for awhile, so it was a long time coming, and I feel pretty good now that it’s gone. I’m going to shave again today, and probably every day for awhile now, which actually leads me into my next point. I may not be having the exact experience I would have wished for before coming here, but now that things are in swing, I wouldn’t change a thing. To continue a now heavily tortured metaphor, yesterday I thought that my lava lamp had given up all the excitement it had within it, but right now it looks better than ever.
Apart from tooting my own horn I think that this passage will illustrate the turning point. Greys Anatomy is a favorite show of mine, and one episode that always sticks with me is the one that begins and ends with a voice over monologue about how it takes humans three days to adjust to big changes. If you don’t count Sunday you might say that this has been true for my experience here. Now when I sit down to eat, I enjoy my food, and when I write I don’t have to worry about how to explain my discontent without coming off overly sad. I would like the record to show that it wasn’t easy, and me making it through those first few days wasn’t as simple as it probably (hopefully) looks like in hindsight. Things aren’t perfect, as I keep saying, but now they are good.
This is about the time I started feeling good. Sleeping better, enjoying myself more. Three days seems to be about the consensus for how long it takes most people to get to that point.
Thursday and Friday: My Little Catastrophe
Without really trying too hard yesterday, I went to the Freshman block party with a friend, went to someone elses dorm room for the first time, went to the Palladium gym with two other people, then met a bunch of people in the common room, played Cards Against Humanity (a politically incorrect card game that’s huge in college) with them, and went to get late night crepes.
Things start happening organically if you put yourself out there. People appreciate it if you’re outgoing, even if you’re as awkward as I am.
I wrote all those good things above in such a spare paragraph to leave myself room for the sad story that follows. As the Cards Against Humanity game wound down and it was decided that some people were going out to get crepes it came to light that the creperie in question only took cash. I asked where I might find an ATM, and my helpful classmates suggested the one in the mail room. I took their suggestion enthusiastically.
I walked into the pitch black mail room, tried to find a light switch, failed, and approached the equally pitch black ATM. I pressed a button on the machine experimentally and nothing happened, which to my mind meant that there was nothing wrong and I should probably put my debit card into it. At this point it might be wise for me to rewind a few seconds as I would soon wish were possible to do in life as well.
The mailroom is housed in the lobby of my residence hall, just past the gates at which you have to swipe your ID to get out of the residence portion of the building. This wouldn’t have mattered to the story if I weren’t a colossal enough idiot to continue to hold my ID card after swiping out of the room, and even continuing to hold it into the pitch black mail room.
It’s at this point in the story that my frantic jitteriness come into play, because I’m choosing to blame my tendency towards anxious action for the fact that I assumed the card in my hand was in fact my debit card, and not the ID card I had just used to swipe myself out of the building, and would need to swipe myself back in, or if I ever wanted to go to class. Or, say, get a meal.
So of course I tried to swipe my student ID in the slot I lost my grip and dropped the card that I was ineffectually trying to swipe into the downward facing slot, thus condemning it to a short, yet deeply tragic fall to whatever is at the bottom of an ATM. Naturally a moment after I heard my meal ticket clunk pleasantly against the plastic of ATM guts I looked up from my fight or flight stance to find myself being observed by one of the girls I had been about to go and get crepes with.
We all spent the rest of the night making fun of my idiocy and to be honest I don’t even really regret it. It was a really good time and I made several friends out of the ordeal. The security guard let me back in when we returned with an amused and extremely condescending chuckle, and I ended up getting a newer and shinier card from the card center office this morning. The card center where I retrieved it, funnily enough, is located in the NYU Spiritual Center. Things still aren’t perfect, they never will be, but yesterday set me up to have a casually good day today, and I don’t aim to disappoint.
I don’t think the above anecdote really needs any commentary, but I will note that dumb things do happen to everyone. After witnessing my blunder my companions showered me with a calming tirade of their own mistakes this first week. To err is human and all that.
Saturday: One Whole Week
Surprisingly different from how I imagined it. More comfortable day by day. Both better and worse than I expected. These are the ideas that I’ve had every day of my first week at college. They remain as true today as they have for every other day.
I walked to Central Park today and it is amazing. Although it might be difficult to walk there if you don’t go to school in NYC, I’d still highly recommend just walking around, almost all of my favorite things from this past week have been off the ‘beaten trail’ of my ‘campus’. It’s almost comical how much more confident I am walking around now that I’ve got my sea legs under me a little more, so to speak. I’m running through taxi ridden streets and dodging the solicitations of homeless people like a pro, which is new.
My lava lamp is mesmerizing to look at now. It’s doing things I’ve never seen a lava lamp do, and I think that right now it’s a better metaphor for my experience during this first week of college than any that I could make up.
To finish off my thoughts, I figured I’d contrast my closing thoughts from Day 1, Sunday, with my closing thoughts from Day 7, Saturday.
Sunday: I’ve been looking forward to this for almost as long as I can remember, but it’s harder than I expected. I’m excited, so excited I can barely contain it, but my parents haven’t even left yet and I’m already missing home. It’s not going to be as easy as I thought it would be, but I can tell that before long I’m going to love it here, I just have to show everyone that I’m as enthusiastic about this experience as I’ve ever been about anything. My college journey is beginning now.
Saturday: Although it’s definitely new still, when I wake up in my dorm room it feels like waking up in my own bed. I catch myself saying things like “I’m heading home.” and meaning my room. Settling was tougher than I thought it would be, but now it feels like I’ve been here for months, and I’m looking forward to the years that I’ll stay.