I was 18 years old and begging my mom to bring me home. I ran into the staircase of the third floor of Oneida Hall so neither my roommate nor anyone in the hall could hear me as I held back tears, pleading with my mother to come down to Oswego and pick me up.
It was almost time for the first weekend following classes my freshman year. I had been on campus for six days and, in that time, was already sure that Oswego State wasn’t the place for me. I wasn’t making any friends and the prospects of finding any seemed low enough that I was already prepared to call it quits. I was homesick and counting the minutes until Friday of that week, when my parents would come pick me up and take me home to my bed and puppy so I could put the plans in place to transfer to St. John Fisher, a private school near my home in Rochester where several of my friends had gone.
“You have to come, I’m miserable here, I can’t do it,” I told my mom—all to no avail. The pain was mutual on this one, though, as both my mom and dad could tell just by my voice how hard it had been on me and how badly I wanted to get out of there. My dad wanted to get in the car and bring me home the first time I called and said how much being away was bothering me, but my mom held firm, sure that I would be doomed if I went home that first weekend. It killed them, but they knew it was right.
I felt hopeless and completely alone after that call. I had no one to talk to that I thought would understand, and I was sure I was headed for a weekend of watching movies alone.
What I remember most is feeling like a failure. I had come to Oswego State mainly because I didn’t know many people going there and thought I might “start over.” I imagined myself instantly finding new friends and going out to parties every night. Instead, my first days mostly consisted of wandering around campus and going to the various opening week events hoping someone might strike up a conversation and we would become instant best friends. After hanging out with the same group all of my high school years, I had not even the slightest clue how to meet new people, and it showed brutally.
What made it worse was that it seemed everyone around me was so frustratingly happy. They appeared to be making friends and having fun. They were being invited out to parties. I couldn’t see the truth then. The only thing I could think was—what was I doing wrong?
And even though I did stay that weekend and was lucky to have met the majority of the people I’m best friends with today over those two nights, that feeling of failure still stayed with me all of college. I was this close to turning my back on a place I came to love, all because I didn’t have the confidence to go out and actually try to meet people. I kept that late-night phone call and my plan to transfer back home hidden from all of them, embarrassed that something that was hard for me came easily to everyone else— or so I thought.
It wasn’t until last spring, three years after that weekend, that the details came out. One of the very people who I ran into the staircase that night to hide that phone call from was graduating, and, since the only thing to do in the end is to discuss the beginning, we talked about that first weekend when all of us, seven in total, became friends. The truth was, I wasn’t alone at all. Almost every single person in the group had some variation of a story like mine. We were all completely miserable but desperately hiding it from everyone around us. I had one friend who was also ready to head home that first weekend and enroll in a local college and another so lonely and homesick he had a habit of standing in front of the school’s webcam to wave to his parents. We laughed at him then and at all the other stupid, desperate things we each did that first month to appear to fit in. We each thought we would never make new friends here, but wanted to create the illusion we were having a blast from the get-go.
College had been so hyped up in all of our minds, from the media depictions of crazy parties to the constant reminders from friends and family that this would be the “time of our lives,” that it was impossible to believe that anyone would have a hard time adjusting. We all thought we were, well, alone in our loneliness. The truth about college is that, although it’s an amazing time once settled, it’s impossibly difficult socially for a lot of students. After being in a small community of friends and living with family all their lives, 18 year-olds are suddenly thrown into close quarters with a massive amount of strangers, not to mention the added pressure of adjusting to an entirely new academic environment.
Homesickness and loneliness are inevitable, but somehow they still have a stigma attached to them. To admit either is a sign of weakness or social ineptitude. While many like to pretend posturing is a thing that is left behind in high school, it still exists on a large scale in college. Often the people bragging the loudest about the crazy party last night and how great a time they’re having in college are actually the ones most desperate for the comforts of home. This leaves students having actual difficulty adjusting feeling completely isolated in their struggle, even though there are many just like them living in their halls or even their own dorm rooms.
Moving away for the first time is never going to be easy. Some people may hit the ground running and instantly begin having the time of their lives, but others will be miserable and beg their parents to come pick them up. There’s nothing wrong with having doubts. The most important thing is to understand that it’s natural to feel this way. You have to give it a chance to get better.
I have no idea how my life would have turned out if my mom had allowed me to come home and transfer. It’s obviously possible I could have had four great years there too. But no matter what resulted, the feeling that I quit at something would have hung over my head.
Instead, thanks to some serious nudging by my family, I gave Oswego State a chance, and ended up making some amazing friends and landing a pretty sweet gig at the newspaper, where I met even more great people. I’ll miss this place like hell when I leave in six months.
Undoubtedly that week was miserable, but it was just the first in a series of moments in college that were trying to teach me something important. Nothing comes easy to anyone and, most importantly, always listen to mother.