The Freshman Experience: A Year in Review
I can’t count on one hand how many people told me that freshman year would be the “best year of my life,” but boy were they wrong. I came to Pittsburgh from southern California, about 2,500 miles away. Having never been away from my family (besides the casual sleep away camp), college was something new and terrifying. I knew that I would be homesick, but I wasn’t prepared for the level of homesickness that I would feel.
Adding to that, I was under the impression that freshman orientation would get me used to how Carnegie Mellon works. I thought that I would learn where the dining areas were, how to use my meal plan, maybe even where some of my classes were located. I can safely say that I knew none of that upon the end of orientation. The first time I used my dining plan, I ended up paying $2 of my own money because I didn’t know how DineX worked. I also got so lost on my first day of classes that I had to ask a stranger for directions, and I went to a class that I wasn’t actually taking until the second mini of the semester. So sure, maybe I got a really nice lecture on mental health and learned some cool chants to brag about Stever’s AC (even though they turn it off in September), but I had no idea how to actually get around Pittsburgh or our own campus.
My first day of classes was really rough. I came to this school as a Guitar major, but after that first day I knew that the music program wasn't the right choice for me (in fact, on the second day of class I was already speaking with my advisor about changing my major to Film & Visual Media). It was so lonely and isolating that I found myself having to call my mom after I had to sing in front of my entire Solfege class. Combine being new, homesick, confused and sleep deprived, and you have the recipe for disaster. I didn’t yet have any friends or a support system of any kind. I didn't make strong connections with the people on my floor, everyone I had ever known was 2,500 miles away. It was really hard. When fall break came around I was relieved to be able to escape from a place where I felt like such an outsider.
I held on to the belief that after a while, I would find a support network and some sort of community. While this did eventually happen, it took much longer than I ever expected. I joined clubs and played in the pit orchestra for Scotch'n'Soda, but it still never felt like I belonged to a community.
Upperclassmen and adults had also told me that I would make most of my friends during orientation. When I made zero friends during orientation, I got really scared that I would never find a group of friends. While I eventually did, the stress of feeling like I had to make lifelong friends during one week of meetings and games gave me so much anxiety.
Speaking of anxiety, I had to go on anxiety medication for the first time in my entire life. In fact, I didn’t even realize I had anxiety until I began having daily panic attacks. I honestly feel like the one thing that kept me from leaving school altogether was the Introduction to Film Studies class. I needed to take it to change my major, and although I enrolled two weeks after the semester began, it quickly became my favorite class and the only thing that got me through the day.
I’ve spoken to other freshmen, and a lot of them feel the same way. They feel like orientation didn't prepare them to find their classes, use their meal plan and utilize campus transportation.
Although freshman year has been incredibly difficult, I was eventually able to find a group of friends that I feel like I can rely on. I was also able to change my major to something that I enjoy infinitely more; I’m having fun playing guitar again and I felt my confidence and independence grow significantly.
So even though my freshman year was probably the most difficult year of my life, I was able to figure things out eventually — it really did just take time. I thought it would only take a few months, but it took eight, and that’s okay. I found my footing eventually and I hope that future freshman classes don’t put too much pressure on themselves to immediately make friends and find community. I wish people had given me a more reasonable expectation for college rather than the excessively optimistic view that it would be “the best year of my life.” It’s perfectly normal if it takes longer than a week to meet your people and feel like you belong, and it's okay if it doesn't always feel like the best time of your life.