By Ariel McGee
Your first year of college. The first year of your life that you are completely free: no curfew, no obligation to tell your parents where you are going or ask permission and no one to tell you to study. This sounds like an absolute dream come true, but no one ever talks about the drawbacks to starting your college education.
College comes with many things other than freedom, such as personal liability, hours of homework every night and the necessity of time management skills. College can hit you like a train when you do not even know you were standing on the tracks. As a first generation student and someone who was homeschooled for six years, the social and educational challenges of transitioning into college seemed even more difficult.
My foster family was so excited for me to attend college. They told me that college was a time to explore yourself and find a passion. I was so ready to leave my small, apathetic Colorado town and find people who were as interested in learning as I was. But my family failed to inform me of the lonely, lost feeling that often comes with leaving the town you grew up in and redefining your entire persona and purpose.
I figured that attending a small liberal arts college would make the search for friendship much easier than if I were to attend a state school the size of a small city. However, I found that the small atmosphere could breed a culture of clique and exclusivity.
My first semester at LC was one of the most difficult semesters of my life. I only had a handful of friends and I only knew them because we had done our New Student Trip together. They were not very similar to me and they had no interest in getting involved in the Lewis & Clark community. I did not feel like I could branch out from them because it seemed like everyone else had found their “group.” We would go to dinner and the round tables would be filled with people who were laughing and talking like they had known each other their entire lives. I felt trapped, but at least I had friends.
I also had an unusually difficult class load. I spent many lonely nights in Watzek Library trying to base my entire personal worth on the grades that I was getting. I failed to recognize the goal of a liberal arts education: to expose yourself to different areas of study and become a more well-rounded individual and student. I felt the need to define myself by picking a major and sticking to it.
Though unnecessary and somewhat destructive, this desire to immediately focus on my area of study ultimately led me to a happier college experience. I decided that International Affairs is what really interested me and I knew that I wanted to major in it. I became more vocal in my classes and would more openly talk about politics. I found a group of people who were also interested in politics and they accepted me with open arms.
Ironically enough, one of these new friends was a person from my high school. We were not very close back then and I did not know how to get closer to them. One day, I was sitting at the Bon all alone and they asked me if I wanted to sit with their friends. I said yes, and I have been eating almost every meal with them ever since.
Having friends that liked studying and joking helped me integrate myself into LC culture and restored my confidence. I joined the Associated Students of Lewis & Clark, started writing for the school paper and finally started enjoying my time at college.
It is a ridiculous assumption to think that you will immediately find friends and an area of study that perfectly fits you. Yet, this is the rhetoric that seniors in high school are fed. Freshman year of college has taught me that it is okay to be lost for awhile, and that good communities take time and effort to create. So do not worry, you will find yours eventually.