For the unenthused freshman
Words of advice and comfort
After I graduated from high school, almost all my friends were raring to get out of town and onto campus, eyes sparkling and heart pounding. Their excitement was lovely to see. I remember thinking, “I wish I was this thrilled.”
But I wasn’t. I enjoyed my time in high school, and by the time senior year rolled around, I had grown to love my calm, comfortable, pretty life at home. I got along well with my family, I was in a very happy relationship and I was as successful as I was truly interested in my academic life. I was happy right where I was and I was bitter to be jolted out of my quaint routine into the inevitable and unfamiliar land of college.
My first two semesters on campus were, for the most part, unhappy ones. I don’t think I was alone in feeling this – many first years don’t find their way till the end of spring semester – but at the time, I felt very lost.
This column is for the freshman filling out emergency contact information and buying dorm supplies without enthusiasm.
It might take you a year or two before college becomes enjoyable and that’s OK. While you’re at it, here’s a few things I wish I had known before I began my undergraduate career on such a low note.
Everyone else is as new to this as you are.
Don’t think for a second you’re the only one who can’t figure out how the meal plan works, or when the bus is supposed to come, or why the silent section of Capen library is always buzzing with chatter (try Lockwood Library, instead). You’re all newbies together. There’s no shame in not having everything – or anything – figured out. Chances are, every other freshman on your floor also has no idea what they’re doing. This is a time to declare and embrace confusion. It will foster humility, an all too unappreciated virtue, and create fellowship among you. No adventure is complete without adversity.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Buffalo isn’t exactly known for etiquette, but asking a fellow student where Clemens Hall is or asking an employee when mealtime starts is much quicker and economical than missing your class or spending 30 of your dining dollars in one day. If it turns out the person you’re asking also has no idea where to go or how to feed themselves, great! This is a fun time to bond over your shared incompetence. You’ve just made a friend.
While we’re on the subject, making friends can often prove a daunting task for the gloomy and fearful freshman. For the awkward, socially graceless, nervous first years out there, I say to you: courage. Be of good cheer and have patience. The truth is, you won’t get along with everyone, and it might take you weeks, even months, to find one person you really like. Don’t worry if you don’t totally click with your roommate, or hall mates, or no one at all for the first couple of weeks. True friendships are hard to come by, but they do come.
I won’t tell you to get out there and “make” friends; I’ve always hated that phrase. To “make” a friend indicates something manufactured, insincere and untrue – it’s not as if you can just run to the friend tree, pluck a few pleasant people and be on your merry way.
The best friends I’ve had have been hiding in the little nooks and crannies life; try the top floor of the libraries, empty tables in cafeterias and corners of classrooms. Keep your eyes open. Weeks and months of loneliness will seem like a distant shadow once you’ve met that one kindred spirit.
Anne of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, the dearest friend in fiction, offers the timid freshman in all of us hope as she declares, “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world!”
Keep in mind, this is the same character who used to talk to her reflection in the orphanage for years. If she can find a friend with whom to joke, laugh, share and reflect, then so can you.
But you’ll never meet a soul who gets your quirky jokes if you spend the day in your room on Tumblr. Automatically assuming the role of wallflower just makes you a victim of your own loneliness. You don’t have to be a social wizard, but be open to conversation when it happens and try to give people as many chances as you can.
Even with all this in mind, change is always really scary, and at times, really difficult. At times like these, it’s important to remember that some things never change, and there are pieces of happiness which have comforted humankind since the dawn of time – or at least, for long enough to deserve credibility and celebration. If nothing else will comfort you, here are some bits of joy I hope will brighten your impending life change.
To start with the basics: the sun rises every morning. Spring comes after every winter. Every day, as Anne Anne of Green Gables would say, “is fresh, with no mistakes in it.”
Angelfish mate for life. Dark chocolate is good for your heart. Narwhals actually exist (and there’s no proof that mermaids don’t). Harry Potter defeated Voldemort. Neopets is still a thing. Au Bon Pain sells the most delicious chocolate chip cookies and the Iced Capps at Tim Hortons are what happiness tastes like.
When life seems unkind and unwelcoming, keep these tiny truths in your back pocket, and cuddle up with them on darker days. Maybe UB will seem huge and new and ugly and cruel to you at first, but it’ll get better – in the mean time, have a chocolate bar.