I’m not writing this to tell you what you should do or how you can solve your problems. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to, because I don’t know how to help you. I’m not writing this because I want to dwell in negativity or relive the past school year.
I’m writing this for you – for myself as a new freshman – because I felt alone in feeling alone when I was you. I’m writing this for the new freshmen who want to know that they’re not the only ones who are struggling to do college and not feeling like they belong anywhere. I’m writing this because I didn’t find out until later in the year that lots of other people actually had or were having difficult freshman years, because it seemed like I was surrounded by people who were loving it and having a great time.
You’re going to meet people who can gush about how great Penn is and how exciting college is and how there are so many things they like about this school, and you’re not going to be able to join in. You’re going to struggle to have things to say because you don’t want to be a downer and you’re going to think it’s socially unacceptable to say you’re having a bad time in college.
You’re going to feel bad because you have run out of people to reach out to. You’re going to feel like you’ve burned all your bridges and ruined your life. You’re going to lose your high school friends. It’s going to seem like you have no friends. You’re going to feel like you have no place at Penn and no place away from Penn.
You’re going to send way too many Snapchats to people who weren’t that much friends with you in the first place but definitely are not your friends anymore. You’ll just want someone to accept that you’re having a hard time and not act as if there’s something wrong with you for it or say that it’s not that hard or that it shouldn’t be that hard. A few of your high school friends will eventually occasionally respond to you, but you’re going to have to realize that you’ve started to depend too much on others’ opinions.
Sometimes the people in your hall that you met at the beginning of NSO are going to cut you off or misconstrue what you said, or they’re not going to get your jokes, or they’re going to laugh too loud when you’re not trying to be funny. You’re going to think that means you’re too much for them. You’re going to notice that some of your new friends don’t like confronting people, and you’re going to assume that means they are too scared to stop pretending to be friends with you.
You’re going to have a breakdown over what class – physics or economics? – to take freshman year. It’s going to feel really high stakes because you’re not even sure your parents can actually afford to pay for your college education – especially not if you do something cost-inefficient like take such a difficult and impractical class as physics. It’s going to be hard to pay attention in class when you’re trying to figure out if you should take it or not. You’ll decide on a third option, and after two weeks of relief at having finally made a decision, you’ll spend the rest of the semester and then some regretting it.
After a few weeks of being overwhelmed with life decision crises, you’re going to decide that it’s time to make some friends. When you get to class, you’ll realize that everyone else already has friends and has formed ideas of what everyone is like and you’re probably the aloof kid who doesn’t like talking to people even though that’s not true. Which means that you have already lost your chances of making friends and you’re going to live the rest of your life friendless. Your insides will crumble away and your body will collapse at the thought of having ruined your life already.
You’re not going to get enough sleep for the entire school year. It’s going to seem that nobody else is getting enough sleep, but it will seem like everyone else has explanations – late-night Youtube binge-watching, cramming, partying. You’re going to be tired every day. Your body and mind will sometimes scream in the middle of the night. You’re going to have a lot of thoughts that don’t make that much sense.
The lectures are going to spin around you in a dizzying blur. It’s going to be partly because you’re sleep deprived, sometimes partly because it’s past time to eat the next meal, and partly because you’re having a huge identity crisis that makes it impossible to act like a normal person. Sometimes there isn’t anything you can do to live up to your ideals or to be a good student. You’re going to struggle to keep up with the reading. You’re going to feel bad for not doing the reading because you don’t even have other commitments preventing you from studying.
You’re going to try to force yourself to do homework when you’re more tired and have more of a headache than you would have allowed yourself to do productive-sounding-things with in high school. The words are going to blur and not register when you read, and you’re going to feel hopeless because you can either keep trying and not get anything done, or you can stop trying and not get anything done.
It’s going to be really hard to figure out what you think under the stress of the identity crisis and sleep deprivation and other people’s various opinions, but somehow you’re going to figure out that that conflict you feel is you rebelling against what you think you’re supposed to think.
You’re going to end up wearing the same outfit almost every other day.
Laundry is going to be hard. Keep trying! I want to say that laundry will get a bit easier with practice and planning, but it’s probably just luck.
It’s going to be hard to find a student group that you want to be part of.
You’re not going to like Penn this year. You’re not going to protest stuff you don’t like about the world or Penn. The hardest part with disliking Penn is going to be that people think there’s something wrong with disliking Penn.
It’s going to feel horrible for most of the time. There’s going to be no evident way out of this mess, but as you stumble and quit and start again, over and over, you’ll find one.