College freshman tips

I am a semester into my freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania, and although I’ve already discovered what cold weather actually feels like (I’m from California), studied Russia post-Crimean War, and conjugated more French verbs than I care to count, what I’ve learned the most about is solitude.
Having grown up in a town where I knew all the kids since kindergarten, it’s weird to walk into the dining hall and not see many familiar faces. It’s weird to be in an environment where no one knows my history, knows me, and even weirder to realize that during my four years here I will only really get to know a small fraction of the ten thousand undergraduates I study alongside. During the first couple months of school, when all the freshmen are incredibly eager to make friends, I shook more hands than I thought possible, recited my hometown and major every two minutes, and smiled until my face hurt. I made plans for every meal with friends, arranged workout sessions with people, and texted anyone whenever there was a cool event on campus to ask them if they wanted to come with me. I did my homework in the lounge on the floor of my building so I could socialize with everyone I lived with. I was constantly surrounded. And sometimes when you’re surrounded, it can be suffocating.
I became okay with developing my own schedule and doing things according to my wants and needs. I started eating meals around my classes, not when someone else was available to eat with me. I became okay with sitting by myself, reading a book, or simply just breathing and processing the chaotic events of the day. I started going for runs by myself in the early morning mist along the Schuylkill River, feeling nothing but the pounding of my own heart, appreciating that I was going at my own pace, my own rate. I marked interesting events on my calendar and if no one else was interested, I went anyway. I went to an arts festival in Old City, saw three theater productions and a slam poetry show, went to New York for the weekend and watched Lion King on Broadway, tapped my feet along to the familiar music of The Nutcracker at the Philadelphia Academy of Music. I attended most of these events by myself or as part of a program with people I didn’t know beforehand (which also gave me the chance to get to know awesome people I wouldn’t have met otherwise!). I went into the lounge when I had free time to talk, but otherwise studied in the library or in my room to maximize academic productivity and efficiency.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m involved here at Penn, and interact with people for a majority of the day. I am a freshman representative on a branch of student government called the Undergraduate Assembly, am an officer on my House Council, write for some literary magazines, and work with the Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women, among other things. I love what I do and I’ve met truly incredible people here whose friendship I treasure greatly. But college has taught me to love my own company just as much as that of others’. I’ve learned to prioritize the experience I want over the experience other students might project onto me. And if this means going by myself to a production of King Lear while a bunch of friends go out to a fraternity party, that’s okay. I stand by my choices. I stand by me.

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