My youngest sibling has recently started college, and the intense loneliness she talks of brings me back to my first-year days — eating dinner alone at the Neilson dining hall on Cook campus. I ate pasta every day while reading Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar" and found solace in its relatability. Anyone who has read the book knows that is not a good sign.
The general consensus is that the first year of college is hard, but you will get the hang of it as you go on. But in my experience, there have been different challenges throughout my entire time college career thus far.
It is worth noting that I experienced many of these challenges alone as the eldest child of immigrant parents. I am sure there are others who are in similar positions to me, facing college essentially alone.
For those people, I would like to share things I learned along the way.
Try the free therapy here
Rutgers' Counseling Service, Counseling Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) were pivotal for me during my sophomore year and every year since. I was lucky and matched well with the first counselor I got. Counseling gave me the opportunity to talk to someone who was professionally trained to listen and hear the things that existed underneath.
Get out of your room
There is a particular prison-like quality to the cement walls here in the residential hall. If there is one good thing about college, it is that there are things to do. Visit the Barnes and Noble at the end of College Avenue. Go hiking in the nature preserve on Livingston campus. Attend a religious worship service. Bring your roller skates and skate around on the rink on Cook campus.
Treat yourself to a movie at the Rutgers Cinema and fro-yo next door on Livingston campus. Set out a blanket near the Passion Puddle on Cook campus. Set out a hammock between two trees and enjoy the sunshine.
To socialize, join clubs, and try to visit them more than once, even if the first meeting is awkward and hectic.
You may meet people you gel with. It is OK if it takes time. The first meetings were overwhelming and loud, but the people who continued to go became my closest friends once the weeks passed. If not clubs, do not discredit the social interactions one can have with strangers in residential halls, classroom halls, buses and dining halls.
Travel outside New Brunswick to get out of the bubble
Take the train to New York City for a day trip or study abroad. Even if you feel that it is out of reach, check out some programs that pique your interest before you disallow yourself the possibility of even studying internationally.
And for those who want to do it but are short on cash, Rutgers offers scholarships, and so does the government. I suggest searching the Gilman Scholarship for more information. I received a scholarship from the organization that allowed me to go abroad.
Try classes that pique your interest
Try courses that challenge and interest you, maybe even in subjects you feel you struggle with. Try to figure out why you think you struggle with them. Try to figure out why other people are interested in these subjects when they seem like death to you.
In my experience so far, college has been a time when I learned who I was and why I had difficulty with certain things in high school. It allowed me to see that I could get help for things I thought were normal and experienced opportunities I had not considered. I wrote this article hoping it would help someone like me, someone who had to figure things out on their own.
The last thing no one told me when I started college was this: You are an adult.
The terrifying thing is that you are not a teenager anymore, the things you do matter more and the choices you make are your own. It may feel as though college is just another step like high school, but it is not.
Going to college is a choice. Maybe the decision was influenced by others, but your choices are now under your name and are your responsibility. The gratification of it, though, is that you can control where you go.
Even when it feels like there is no choice, there is a choice.
Rachel Cho is a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Korean and minoring in critical intelligence. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.
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