Before I left for Syracuse University, adults echoed the same advice: “enjoy college. It’ll be the best four years of your life.” I believed them. After all, college is just a fantastical land of parties, right? Sure, the first weeks were exciting. I met new people, experienced my first frat party and learned the importance of collecting quarters for laundry. But after first-week fun, college didn’t compare to high school; this Candy Land of cheap pizza and overpriced textbooks wasn’t magical. It was hell. I missed my home in Bangkok, Thailand, and every freshman’s worst fear soon became my reality: I peaked in high school.
From kindergarten to senior year, I attended the same international school in tropical Thailand, amongst exotic foods and an international community where I found my niche. As a president and co-editor-in-chief, I commanded the high school’s athletic department and student magazine. Honors classes and varsity sports didn’t interfere with my tight group of seven best friends. My position at school was secure and I had a culturally rich life to accompany it. And while college was a new, exciting prospect, I didn’t know how poorly I’d adjust to the transition.
I made friends to sit with in class, but those friendships didn’t translate outside of the classroom. I exchanged numbers in hopes of hanging out, but the only texts they responded to were homework answers. It seemed that my friendships in college weren’t as genuine as the ones I left at home. I couldn’t even find comfort in food; the dining hall served unrecognizable slabs of chicken in contrast to the spicy curries I ate regularly just a year ago.
I became an old record player that everyone wanted to smash; “The parties back in Bangkok are way better,” “American food sucks,” “people here aren’t as interesting.” Although my obnoxious comparisons drove people away, they comforted me. I told myself that life would get better once I returned to Thailand.
Finally, the end of the semester came to an end. As the plane slid onto the runway I was giddy with excitement. I couldn’t wait to return home, the one place that made me happy.
After I arrived in Bangkok, I reunited with the old life that I loved dearly. My mom and I slurped hot noodle soup and drank soda out of metal cups. My friends and I tanned at the pool for hours and drove motorbikes to get traditional Thai massages. At the time, I had no intention of returning to Syracuse. Slowly, however, I accepted the reality that Thailand wasn’t as great as I remembered.
Although I was happy to be home, I had no purpose left in Thailand. My friends were gone, I had no education to pursue and my job prospects were all awaiting me somewhere else: Syracuse. In reality, my Thai life was mundane, but I imagined it as a fairy tale to cope with homesickness. The parties weren’t legendary and the people weren’t more awesome, contrary to what I told everyone at Syracuse.
In hindsight, I didn’t need to return to Thailand to relive the glory days of high school. I needed to return to realize I matured out of my nostalgia and that I had a responsibility to make college my own fantastical land.
It took time to practice this revelation, but it improved my second semester experience. By avoiding making judgments, I became open to new experiences. I stopped talking about Thailand all the time. I joined a sorority and enjoyed the Greek scene. Frat parties don’t compare to dancing on the beach, but I make do. The weather is dreary and by no means sunny, but snowball fights entertain me.
I’m glad to say that while I’m not head-over-heels in love with Syracuse, I’m enjoying my college experience much more. I’ve learned to accept my school, the snow and the people that come with it. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a new peak.