Mountains tower over the valley I call home. Snow falls eight months out of the year. And that’s how the 1,200 permanent residents of Fraser, Colorado like it.
For 18 years, I could walk into the grocery store confident that I would see at least five people who had known me for the greater part of my life. Strangers would smile at me, ask how my day was going, ask for directions if they were new in town.
Making acquaintances in this manner is a way of life.
I had never been exposed to anything different.
Eighty-five students were in my graduating class; most of them had been in my kindergarten class 12 years earlier. I knew each by name as they mounted the stage for graduation. So I was hardly prepared for the shock I was in for when I made the decision to go to college in Boston.
Boston College has an undergraduate population of 9,000 students, about seven times more the population of my hometown. I left Colorado with every intention to discover city life. Not only did I yearn for a new environment, but I craved to be surrounded by the energy of a crowd of people. And I began to get a taste of this as soon as I arrived.
The first week on campus was a registration week for 200 of the 2,000 freshman students in my class. We broke up into smaller groups of around ten. Immediately, I met a girl named Bri who also came from Colorado. The instant connection made us share stories about the winters back home. Later on in the week, I began to realize just how important these small connections would become in my college journey.
Bri and I just so happened to live in the same building on campus. We would walk to breakfast and orientation sessions together. Over the “Welcome Week” we practically spent all of our time together. I loved it. Even though she was from my home state, she was also new.
But our continuous companionship shifted once classes began.
There are over seven academic buildings at Boston College where classes are held. The first day, each of my four classes was in a different one. Adding to this stressful situation, I had a mere ten minutes between classes to traverse the campus, find the correct building and plunder the hallways for the right classroom.
No one wants to be the one in the wrong class the first day.
As Bri was a chemistry major and I was an English major, none of our classes even came close to corresponding. I felt totally on my own in a sea of people. In a panicked flourish, I began to wonder what I was doing there at all in the first place.
Standing there in the middle of the academic quad, struggling to take the vastness of it all in, I remembered my first trip out to Boston College. The previous spring, my mom and I travelled across the country to tour Boston College. We stayed downtown in Boston and took the subway to get to Boston College itself.
I had never travelled by subway before this. Where I’m from, there is a public bus system, but this service runs only during the winter months.
And the subway seriously perplexed me. My mom attempted to explain how to transfer lines and where to get on and off, but still I was in awe. Descending into the earth to travel was foreign. Te sheer number of bodies pressed together in this singular moving tube felt bizarre. Also, the noise was overwhelming. The names of each stop became stuck in my head, and I soon lost any sense of direction or placement.
The first day at Boston College, this same sense of utter bewilderment consumed me. Then, I remembered how halfway through the journey, as my mom and I rode the subway, she pulled out a map. Intertwining colors of the various subway lines sprawled across the map: Green Line, Red Line, Orange Line.
Her finger slowly traced over the path we took, along the Green Line, indicating where we began and that Boston College waited at the end of the line. Then she explained how she used the subway her whole college career, racing to catch her train with her three closest roommates.
This began to calm me. I could see her, young and in college, living the experience I was about to commence. She told me I had to remember where I came from, that I had to count each stop in between so that I didn’t let where I was going pass me by.
All at once, her advice for navigating the subway came back. But this time, I took it in a different context. Standing there, I had no map—no colored train lines that showed me where I would be picked up or dropped off. But I knew where I had come from.
And I knew that I was supposed to be right there, in that quad; I knew Boston College was my final destination. This moment of uncertainty was just one of the numerous stops in between the beginning and the end of what is the college experience.
It took some courage, of course, but I eventually oriented myself. I remembered the building towering in front of me with the wooden doors was the English building. That’s where I’d find my first class.
I asked upperclassmen about my other three classes, discovering each of them smiled at me, happy to help a lost freshman. When I met back up with Bri later that day, she told me she got lost, too. It wasn’t something new for freshman on the first day.
This was just the first of many minor struggles I am sure that I will have during the duration of my college years. But navigating these problems has been made much easier by the tips my mom gave me while looking at the Boston subway map.
To this day, I envision the sure paths of the trains that take thousands of commuters into and out from the city daily. I envision making my own path as I take new courses and accelerate towards the daunting future. And it doesn’t seem so vast if you take it one stop at a time.