The summer before I started college—more like the entire year leading up to that fall—I had no idea what college would be like. I imagined college as an overload of new experiences. I would face a new level of difficulty in my academics, be exposed to new opportunities, meet new people and make new friends.
As much as I loved my high school friends, I knew they would soon be miles away.
Each of my friends was headed to a different university, so making new friends was a given. To be honest, this is the mindset I thought all incoming freshman would have. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that not everyone was ready or willing to leave behind their high school friends. In fact, not everyone needed to leave behind their high school friends.
In the weeks leading up to move-in, I texted with my future roommate. One big difference between us (although I didn’t realize to what extent until after move-in) was that I was an out–of–state student and she was in-state. Other than that, we had so much in common. I knew we’d get along and hopefully would be one of my first friends.
When we met on move-in day, there was the usual awkwardness of meeting a new person, and we mostly minded our own business as we unpacked. After our families left, we ate at the dining hall together.
A list of activities was posted on our front door and we decided to go to several of them as a way to have fun before classes started and to meet more people. We had fun playing glow–in–the–dark ultimate frisbee and dressing up in feather boas to make a karaoke music video together (I wonder what ever happened to that DVD?).
This was only a couple days into my freshman year, so I knew absolutely no one on campus besides the one other person from my high school graduating class (who happened to live right next door), my roommate and a few people I’d briefly talked to on my floor. I thought all freshman would be in the same boat in this regard. But when she introduced me to her friends from high school—I realized we weren’t all in the exact same situation.
One of the events was a huge outdoor dance party where we met up with several of her high school friends. They asked me to take a picture of them, which was later posted on Instagram with the caption, “homecoming part 2,” meaning they had all gone to their high school homecoming dance together and college was merely a continuation of their friendship.
Thankfully by the time we attended the largest event of the welcome activities, a gathering in the football stadium where we learned the fight song and other game–day cheers, I was integrated into their friend group enough to be on the other side of the camera for the Instagram picture. Unfortunately, I still stuck out rather comically due to my outfit choice—I wore a blue dress, while they all wore red T-shirts, our school color.
Looking back at that picture always makes me think I should have felt like an outsider, an addendum to their squad and a little out of place. But in reality, that’s not how it was at all. That’s not how I felt at the time, and if any such thought ever crossed my mind it would only be because I wore the wrong color.
I didn’t realize I was an outsider because they welcomed me with open arms. This made me realize that although we were coming into college with different friend counts, this was a new experience for all of us. We had no choice but to embrace the newness of it all. In those early days, I was overwhelmed with the pure joy of being in college—an experience I had long awaited—and grateful to have a group of friends to enjoy those first days with.
When I look back at this experience through the lens of out-of-state versus in-state students, I always get a bit pretentious, thinking that in-state students should be more open to making new friends. I think my way is the only “right” way and that everyone should move on from high school.
But when I look at the experience through a positive lens, I realize how grateful I am to have had an in-state roommate as an out-of-state student. I am even more thankful when I remember that I adopted this second point of view during those first days of college rather than being critical and feeling like an outsider. Because in reality, we really were all in the same situation. We were all new to this college thing, and that is what allowed us to get along.
Although I’m no longer friends with that group, I have come to realize that my positive perspective in that moment made me grateful and appreciative that they welcomed me into their group right away and that I had friends to be with at the welcome activities. I would have felt so alone had my roommate not allowed me to enjoy being part of her friend group.
Living in the moment and practicing gratitude are the two most important lessons I learned from this experience. I appreciate that my roommate was an in-state student, because it meant I could meet more people through her—it meant I had a ready-made friend group for welcome activities. What more could I ask for?
Finally, I learned that not everyone had the same expectations for their college experience. Although new people, experiences and opportunities were at the top of my list, that may not be for everyone. And that’s perfectly okay.