After six long repetitive years at a private Islamic school, I looked forward to the next chapter of my life at St. John’s University. Yet, after seeing the same hallways, classrooms, teachers and students every single day for the past six years, I knew that my experience at Catholic school may be slightly different.
I may have understated things a bit.
My time at a private Islamic school called Miraj flew by without any problems thanks to all of the friends I made. Fitting in came easy as everyone wore the same uniforms, which included hijab for girls. I liked this because I didn’t feel judged by what I wore, and definitely not by my religion. I felt at ease in Miraj, I had good friends, steady grades and I even got voted class clown in my senior year!
When I started wearing hijab on my own in 10th grade, I felt more than comfortable. Since I already wore it in school and I barely had a social life, I lived without any doubts. When my time in Miraj came to an end, my bubble of a comfort zone burst.
I went off to college, which of course meant starting all over. It couldn’t be that hard, right?
Although Miraj and St. John’s University are only a mile apart, they felt like worlds away. I felt a sudden need to dress to impress, I barely knew anybody, plus my social skills dropped to an all-time low. I never really introduced myself in Miraj because I had known my classmates for years, but now I needed to go through the awkward part of meeting new people for the first time since 7th grade.
Discomfort became a lingering feeling every day for me at St. John’s. As a freshman its arguably normal to feel this way at first but this feeling lingered my entire first year. I got so used to being around people of the same religion as me that I felt out of place. My hijab was the main reason for that. I hate to say it, but my discomfort mostly came from being the only person wearing a hijab in the room. It doesn’t sound like a big deal in retrospect, but at the time it loomed over me.
My social discomfort attributed to my sudden quietness.
I only went to school for class. I never mingled, or just barely talked to anyone for the majority of the day, before heading right back home. The few times I saw some old friends in the hall would make my day because I never thought the nostalgia of high school would hit me as hard as it did.
With the stress of taking six classes and working at the dean’s office, I didn’t want my social anxiety and nostalgia to continue to interfere with my college experience. I needed to take the advice of every coming-of-age movie and be myself.
What would Kat Stratford do?
Being myself definitely sounded easier said than done. Where there’s a voice of reason, there’s a voice of doubt, and I kept doubting myself. My lack of confidence proved a strong repellent to my peers who had already formed friend groups.
Seeing my old friends helped me regain the confidence of my old self and I slowly emerged from my shell. Connecting with familiar faces of the past helped me become comfortable in a nostalgic sort of way. It helped to realize I wasn’t the only one struggling with my newfound social awkwardness, and being able to relate to someone felt good. I found it easier to communicate and socialize with people on campus, I made friends and college didn’t seem all that bad when I had someone to turn to before or after class. There are times when I feel uncomfortable and desperately miss the ease that came with going to an Islamic school. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever feel as comfortable and safe as I did in Miraj.
I’m proud with the progress I’ve made to be comfortable with my discomfort. I know that I can handle any social obstacles that come my way in the future.