As I looked around my senior apartment this move-in season, I realized how lucky I was to not only be living with three of my closest friends, but to have met all three of those friends during freshman Welcome Weekend.
When I was about to go to college for the first time, I remember that what people told me most was, “You are going to have so much fun.” They were right eventually. But in the midst of pick-a-dates with random classmates and circling rooms listing off basic facts, the emotion that underscored every experience was loneliness.
For a long time, I thought this was unique to me. When I left home at 19, I moved 2,000 miles from California to go to a college I had never visited in a state I had never been to. But as I continued on in college, I realized that even those who recognized a few familiar faces around campus felt the same sense of loneliness I did during that first semester.
College, for most people, is the first major transition in life. It is the first time many of us have lived away from home and everything associated with home. It is also the first time we are expected to figure out for ourselves what we want out of life and who we want to become — the habits to adopt or dispose of, the people to surround ourselves with, the ideas to explore.
This process of becoming is precisely what adds nuance to our loneliness. No one returns home in December unchanged from their first semester of college. In the meantime, what was formerly an uncomplicatedly sad feeling is distorted with the thrill of what could be. But it is easy to get lost in that process without a few guiding principles.
First, the best way to quell the loneliness that often defines the first semester of college is to start building friendships. This is an ideal time to do so. Very few people are lucky enough to go to college with their best friend. In a sense, we are all kindergartners again, stranded in a world full of strangers, just wanting to find a friend or two.
Not everyone you meet is going to be your best friend. But you will find your closest friends in unexpected ways, usually through insignificant moments that become well-worn stories in the years to follow.
The second is a tough pill to swallow. College is not high school 2.0. I see a lot of people come to college trying to fit into whatever brand of “cool” they wished they were in high school. In fact, I still see many people do this well into adulthood.
Struggling to fit into a mold is an uphill battle you will never win. Let go of your abstract ideas of what you “should” be and you will land on the other side where the freedom of deeper relationships and radical acceptance lie.
The last and probably most important of these principles is to take time in college to define yourself. If you are not actively creating your own definition, you will find yourself being defined instead by others — usually according to the place you live, the place you are from or the classes you take. Those things contribute to who we are, but the definition of who we are comes first from loving Christ and second from loving others.
The truth is, to know someone well, you must know them a little first. Some of the greatest friendships of my life have started simply by circling a room and introducing myself. If you are lucky, you may find some of those friendships during your freshman Welcome Weekend. And if you are really lucky, you might just end up living with them three years later.