Football weekends at Penn State bring back thousands of alumni, current families and aspiring Penn State children. Walking around campus, everyone dresses in Penn State apparel and talks in excitement about THON. Whether you are a frat boy jock or a computer nerd, there is a home for everyone at Penn State. And though I eventually found my home here, I never loved Penn State as much as my peers seemed to love it.
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I’ve always considered myself friendly and outgoing. I started college intending to make new friendships that would last a lifetime. I even rushed to join a sorority freshman year. With 65 girls in my pledge class, the biggest pledge class to date, it was difficult to get close to any of the girls. It was as though I made 65 new acquaintances, not sisters. I felt discouraged. I told myself that with time I’d bond more with these girls. Three years later, I’m only close with about 10 of my “sisters.”
My roommate and I became best friends based solely on the fact that we felt like we didn’t belong at Penn State. We were among the majority (white, American students who live less than three hours away). But we didn’t find comfort in that fact like other students did. We craved diversity, and Penn State didn’t have it.
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The people my roommate and I met sounded exactly the same. We didn’t like being stuck in the middle of rural Pennsylvania where everything was composed of all things Penn State. We didn’t like the dining hall food and our outdated dorms. And without a car on campus, Penn State suffocated us every day. Going through it together was our only chance for air.
My roommate ended up hating Penn State so much that she transferred to Temple sophomore year. I didn’t want to give up that easily. I thought maybe I just hadn’t had enough time to give it a real chance.
When I had to decide where and who to live with my sophomore year (I had to decide one month into freshman year), I decided to move into an apartment with three girls from my hometown who were also looking for a place to live with. We all attended different high schools, so we didn’t know each other well.
After moving in, we got closer over the fact that we all came from the same background. Better yet, they all felt the same way about the uniformity of Penn State life as I did. Being with a larger group of girls who understood my background and my interests (that were different than typical Penn Staters) made a huge difference in how comfortable I felt at Penn State. I didn’t feel as isolated as I did freshman year. I didn’t view my differences as negative things anymore. My “differences” made me stand out.
I found my place at Penn State, but there was still something missing. Meeting mostly white people from Bucks County pursuing a business or engineering degree who were involved in Greek life, THON or both suffocated us.Now, I don’t mean to be stereotypical. Obviously, not everyone fits in that category. But a huge percentage does. The people who don’t fit in that category are really hard to come by.
I joined clubs, got a job and joined a yoga teacher program to meet new and different people. Still, I continuously find myself surrounded by my peers’ Instagram accounts saying “No place I’d rather be,” when I could probably name about a million places I’d rather be than PSU. “What were these people doing that I wasn’t?” I asked myself. “Why do they love Penn State so much?”
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But how I felt wasn’t about I wasn’t doing right. It was about me. I felt like I needed to absolutely love my school. I pressured myself to do everything to feel that way. When in reality, even though I had found my place, I just don’t love college.
I don’t go to Penn State because I want to wear the apparel or fit in. I go here to get an education that’ll get me a job as a photo-journalist for National Geographic. Making friends and fitting in are just the added icing on the cake, but it’s not the whole cake. College is the only four years of my life that I get to skip class for a binge session of Grey’s Anatomy, talk about how weird that boy was that I hooked up with last night was with my roommates, and most importantly, the last time I get to live dependent on my parents’ money.
Over the last three years, I’ve learned to enjoy college and not force myself to love a school that I’m just not capable of loving. Since then, I’ve been a lot happier. And the truth is, I’m ready for the next chapter of my life thanks to Penn State. My experience of finding my place after feeling lost in an obsessed-about-college world is a story many people don’t have to look back on.
“WE ARE!” defines a microcosm filled with 99,000 students–some are the most down to earth and unique people I’ve ever met, and some of the most hateful and selfish people I’ve ever met. I’m a proud Nittany Lion, but college is only one chapter of my lifelong story.