My senior year of high school and first year at Florida International University were largely spent battling my parents in hope of gaining approval to leave home for college. Privileges that my peers took for granted were things that required long and draining arguments. When I begged my parents to let me leave Miami and seek an English degree at Florida State University in Tallahassee, my friends and family laughed at a dream that seemed impossible.
As the summer before my first semester of college came to an end, I enviously watched from the sidelines as my friends set up their dorms, made new friends and enjoyed their first taste of independence. Meanwhile, my battle on the home front raged on. Years of arguing left me hopeless, and I had one last attempt to convince my parents of the benefits of my impending transfer.
I researched every single academic, housing, and financial detail of both FSU and FIU to compare the pros and cons of each school. It was a risky move because it was obvious that living at home and attending FIU was the cheaper option. However, for an English major, the academic offerings at FSU are more diverse. The risk proved worthwhile when my parents agreed to let me transfer from FIU to FSU starting my sophomore year. My excitement was uncontainable, and I immediately registered for orientation and signed a lease for an apartment. My friends at FIU were sad to see me leave, but my friends already at FSU were excited to welcome me to life as a Seminole.
As my moving date approached, I packed my bags, said my goodbyes and prepared myself for independence. The immense jealousy that I had once felt vanished because I would soon understand and partake in the “college experience.” Finally, I could join the crowd instead of standing behind the barricades as a spectator. I couldn’t believe the dream that had once seemed out of reach was becoming a reality.
My moving day finally arrived. My parents and I packed the car and drove the eight hours from Miami to Tallahassee. Moving into my first apartment was both exciting and overwhelming. I was excited at the prospect of having a place to call my own (along with my three roommates) and overwhelmed at the responsibilities that independence brought, like finding a part-time job, budgeting my money and feeding myself, all while keeping up with classes. Because they had started at FSU as freshmen, my friends were already used to the “real world.”
My friends also had an entire year to make new friends and establish new friend groups at FSU, whereas I only had my old high school friends. While I was busy adjusting to life away from home, my friends were off hanging out with strangers. When I did meet these new people, I felt welcomed as a newcomer but left out of the experiences and memories that had bonded them together during their freshman year. I missed the prime time for making friends (living in the freshmen dorms) during the year I was busy battling for my independence.
Classes started and gave another chance to meet new people. Everyone in my classes was in my major, so we had similar interests and goals, and it was easy to talk to people during class. But just like my roommates, the people I spoke to had already established their niche and didn’t have an interest in being friends outside of class. I became completely discouraged; it seemed that everyone else had already found their place the year I spent stuck at home.
For a while, it seemed that I’d always be stuck behind the crowd, failing to fit into the pack. When I went out, I tried to stick with friends from home. So if they didn’t go out, I didn’t go out. I hesitated to do anything outside of my comfort zone, focusing on the experiences I missed out on, instead of making my own memories.
When I went home for Christmas break, my family and friends asked me how I liked my new school and how I was adjusting to the transfer. The truth was that I was loving where I was, but struggling to fit in and find my place. As I recalled stories, I noticed that they involved the same people from high school stories because I wasn’t really branching out and making new relationships. After struggling to transfer to FSU and leave home, I realized that I wasn’t taking advantage of the independence for which I fought so hard. I used my hometown friends as a crutch that allowed me to avoid having to make a new start.
I returned for spring semester with a goal: to step out of my comfort zone and talk to new people. I wasn’t being fair to myself if I was only sticking to my hometown friends because they had already struggled their freshman year to make new friends. It was my turn to do the same, as a transfer.
I started tutoring at FSU’s Reading and Writing Center which allowed me to meet and interact with students and join a community of tutors. I also played intramural women’s softball which helped me get to know the girls I’d see at parties on the weekend. I stopped focusing on the year I missed, and focused on the present and the future. I came to terms with the fact that I will never have the same freshman experience as my friends, but my experience as a transfer is unique and entirely of my choosing. Although I still sometimes feel that I’m trailing behind everyone, I can’t let that stop me from getting in line.