You know how people say that college is the time to break out of your comfort zone and try new things? You know, since it’s the Prime Time of your youth to do so? Well, I’ll be honest: I did step out of my bubble…eventually. But it wasn’t easy. It’s to be expected, dealing with new experiences and gaining a sense of independence you’re not quite sure what to do with yet. In my case, moving from Southern California all the way to rural Massachusetts for college already seemed to fill my entire quota for stepping out of my comfort zone. And so, freshman year me started out at Amherst College ready to keep to herself and not do much for the next four years.
Little did she know how adventurous she could really become.
See, I’ve always identified as an introverted person, enjoying the comforts of my own company and cherishing the few close friends I have. I’m perfectly content with that fact. Yet, college campuses are social spaces. It took a while to strike a balance in navigating social interactions, whether it be with classmates, friends or acquaintances. Add my decision to take some courses at other college campuses on top of that, and before I knew it, I became a ball of social nerves.
Now, I never would’ve considered taking courses outside of my home campus had Amherst College not been part of the Five College Consortium, which also includes Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and UMass Amherst. It was really easy for students to access each college’s unique resources. No spaces for a class you needed as a major requirement? No problem! You could easily register for a course at another college that fulfilled that requirement.
I found myself in this exact situation, and thus began my ventures exploring the other colleges.
You can imagine my slight panic when I stepped onto a new campus for the first time with no idea where my classroom was located. It felt like the first day of freshman year all over again. Luckily, I had Google Maps to help me find my way around, and over time I could navigate around the other campuses with no problem. Being familiar with the building locations definitely helped me blend into the other colleges’ spaces, but that was only a part of how I became a social chameleon of sorts.
From my experience, each college definitely has its own unique vibe. Kind of like when you’re staying at a house that’s not your own, trying to figure out how the shower works. You have a general knowledge of how the shower should function, but each one has its own quirks to get to the desired water temperature. In that sense, I always felt it was pretty easy to tell that I wasn’t on home turf whenever I took a course at another college. I always thought I either looked lost walking around or that my classmates could sniff out I didn’t belong based on our classroom interactions.
But by the end of my college career, I became more assured that I could soundly navigate new social environments and less worried if I was standing out at other campuses. Why? It sounds cheesy, but I grew to accept the awkward side of me and did my best to be myself when talking to others. But even more so, I can remember several times my classmates have asked me, “Wait, you don’t go here?”
This simple question made such a drastic shift in how I thought I interacted with my surroundings.
Remember how I said I’m an introvert who worked really hard to function smoothly through social situations? I’m still that person to this day, but apparently I must’ve done something right to mesh well at other places and even make friends there. Turns out, I didn’t have a social target painted on my back after all! I had reassurance in knowing that, even if I see myself as an awkward bean, I could still connect with people in unfamiliar places.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m still surprised when other people tell me how well I can adapt to different social situations. But if nothing else, my experiences have shown me that having an inner awkward duck doesn’t mean you can’t be a socially adept chameleon.