It was the experience of a lifetime, but I’d never do it again.
This phrase sums up how I feel about my freshman year of college. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it happened and now it’s over. But that also deprives that time of its magic--the freshness of a college campus, the exuberance of meeting friends during Orientation Week that you are sure will last a lifetime (they last about one week) and the horror of finding your bathroom closed throughout your entire first week of college. Oh wait, that last part might have just been me.
Whatever your highlights, freshman year brings with it plenty of challenges, and, for me, it brought more than most. I had dreamed about college since I was a little girl. While most girls played with Barbies and pictured their ideal wedding dress, I picked a different college of choice every week.
But I finally got to experience the reality of college when I was a mere fourth grader at a two-week sleep away camp at the University of Virginia. I nearly peed myself with excitement! I would live in a dorm room with other kids, and we would eat in a dining hall and we would learn about stuff. During the summer. I was crazy, I know.
After my parents pulled away, I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was gradual at first, a little bit of dread, but it eventually hit me hard. Evenings in the dining hall were spent picking at the pepperoni on my pizza while my friends dissected Harry Potter books. I frequently cried during class and I would not eat a single piece of food. (This is pretty huge, considering I will literally eat at any time anywhere.)
So my parents picked me up and I went home a full week and a half early. My college experiment had failed and I was now forever branded homesick, at least to myself. How would I ever deal with college, I wondered. But I pushed this thought out of my head—denial is a girl’s best friend.
When college did finally arrive, I could barely acknowledge it. The summer before I left, I begged my mom not to make me buy bedding or register for classes or really even think about going to school. Instead, I hung out with my high school friends nearly every hour of every day. Every Starbucks was the “last Starbucks,” every bonfire was the most important bonfire, every car ride with the windows down was the time of our lives.
Needless to say, I dealt with the transition to college poorly, to say the least. I remember my dorm’s first house meeting—I sat there and looked around, shocked. This was a capital M moment. These were the people I would spend my freshman year with and they looked so… normal. I ran outside and cried to my mom, telling her I wasn’t ready. Maybe I could put off college for a year? (Clearly, this was an extremely realistic plan.)
It only got worse. Later that week, I met with my academic advisor for the first time. He asked me innocuously if I was excited to start college. A normal person would have mumbled back “yes.” But me? Nope. I burst into tears, all the while saying that I had “really wanted him to like me” and “hoped he could see past this.” Needless to say, he did, but it was mortifying.
This column is not merely meant to serve as a montage of embarrassing events—or times I cried—that affected my freshman year, as if to say, “Hey, it might suck at first, but it can’t be as bad as mine.” Instead, I’d like to prove that freshman year is scary and uncertain and you can’t plan for it. Parts of it will make you want to cry harder than you ever have and make you feel so alone and confused.
But it’s the other side that is so amazing, the part I didn’t tell you about. Those 2 a.m. walks around the East Campus Quadrangle with your best friend, talking about anything and everything. Realizing that you control your own schedule. Eating five dinners at the Marketplace every night. And falling in love with not a person, but a place—Duke University. The best place on Earth.
Elizabeth Dijinis is the Editorial Pages Editor of The Chronicle V. 110.