When turtles hatch, the lil’ baby turtles follow their instincts until they make their way into the vast ocean, where they’ll hopefully enjoy a long and fruitful life. Nobody tells them what to do or how to get there; not their moms, dads and most definitely not their college advisors.
During my first semester of college, I was kind of like an adorable little turtle fresh out the egg. But instead of making my way into the water with all of my friends, I headed shoreside–towards tourists and mini malls–only to have my sweet turtle self violently snatched up by a seagull and mashed into a bloody pulp.
Going into college I was prepared for the best experience of my life. I thought I would stroll onto the UC Berkeley campus like a rock star, greeted with fanfare and applause from professors and students alike.
“I’m a young adult,” I thought. “This is the best time of my life, and I’m going to the place I’ve wanted to go to since I was a little kid.”
Surrounded by tons of newly emancipated coeds when I was at my most virile and least bald, I thought I’d make the most of it and whip through the pack of condoms I packed alongside my SpongeBob DVDs and Star Wars pajamas. “I’m going to burn rubber like I’m in the Indy 500!” I exclaimed when I first arrived on campus.
But alas, Animal House lied: College isn’t a massive orgy, but is instead an emotionally turbulent adjustment period.
The adjustment period differs depending on both the person and the school. Some freshman-turtles make it by the ocean pretty easily–but I’m a manchild whose mother packed his lunch until the very last day of high school, and I was attending an enormous public university with little in the way of hand holding.
It’s truly a miracle I didn’t starve within the first week.
As a directionally-challenged individual who still gets lost going to his friend’s house–mind you, we’ve been having playdates since first grade–it was a nightmare finding my classes. I considered laying bread crumbs whenever I went into the Main Stacks, a hellish labyrinth of a library.
Also, it was impossible to navigate any of the school’s websites. Signing up for classes and searching for clubs and organizations brought this grown man to tears.
But the most difficult aspect of my first year in college was making friends and overcoming homesickness. I didn’t make insta-friends, nor was I a Casanova on the first day.
For starters, I lived in a cataclysmically antisocial dorm. I had one angel of a roommate, but another lived in a World-of-Warcraft-esque MMORPG for seven hours each day. His incessant chatter about spells and goblins nearly gave me an aneurysm. Another roommate snored so loudly he set off shockwaves that hit mid-8 on the Richter scale.
What’s worse, homesickness was a very real thing for me freshman year. I was in a new place, with new people and in a culture I was unaccustomed to. I missed my friends, my family, my routine and all of the little things that made me feel at home. I was even voluntarily calling home, which I thought I would never do in a million years.
Instead of wallowing over my letdown-situation, I looked for the silver lining. My dorm was antisocial, so I ended up hanging out on a friend’s floor where I felt at home and made some of my best friends in college. I had a hard time navigating the school, but I made an effort to get better at something I’ve always been miserable at. I wasn’t born with the right chromosomes to easily get into a frat party, but I learned how to weasel my way into things.
I pushed myself out of my comfort zone on the daily. I did things I was always too nervous to do in high school, like striking up conversations with complete strangers. Now some of those strangers are my good friends and some of my fondest memories have come from joining them in legally ambiguous pastimes.
If I’d made it to sea on the first try, I would never have experienced the tremendous personal growth that comes with the steep learning curve of entering college. I was upset I wasn’t rolling through campus like I owned the place. But really, I was just too foolish to appreciate the valuable experience of maturation, humility and exploration that I–along with all other college freshmen–faced.
If your hallmate is acting like a hot shot when they first arrive, then they’re a good actor. If they claim they haven’t had any difficulty adjusting, then they’re a dirty rotten liar.
As a second semester sophomore, I can confidently say that I love my university and that I’m having an amazing time. I’ve made great friends, learned more than books alone could teach and am doing things with ease that would once have terrified me. And while at first the campus was isolating, now I see familiar faces wherever I go.
It took me a long time to make it to the ocean. Still, that made my college experience all the more rewarding.