Wharton Correspondent: What It’s Really Like Moving Away To College

Moving away to college was both the most terrifying and exhilarating time of my life. I do not think there are words that do enough to convey the range and depth of emotions that one goes through from the point of acceptance to moving onto any given college campus.

To even say the process was bittersweet, for me, would be inaccurate as that somewhat over-simplifies the feeling of it all. There is something so emotionally poignant about moving away from everyone and everything with which one is familiar to begin a new life. It is almost as if you are walking away from everything that has helped define you for 18 years, and beginning something that will mold you into the person you aspire to be.

NO LIMITS, BUT LOTS OF EMOTIONS

Simultaneously, beginning college for me meant believing that there was no limit to what I could do; believing that this life-altering change would propel me several steps closer to the future I desired. I could go on and on about what my first few days at college meant to me, as reflecting on them right now has me experiencing the emotions as vividly as I did in the moment itself. However for now, I’ll settle by saying it was a brilliant moment, foreshadowing the abundant moments of brilliance and joy that I was going to experience during my four years at Penn.

Lexi, my current roommate and also a senior at Penn, used words such as “excited, anxiety, fear, anticipation, inspirational, and hopeful” to describe how she felt in that moment — hopeful that it was going to go well and fear that it may not. Her biggest surprise? Finding her best friend in her freshman year roommate and immediately knowing that she would be such. Another was having the privilege of being on a campus where she saw reflections of both her current self in other freshmen, as well as reflections of the future towards which she aspired in upper-classmen.

Another senior to whom I spoke threw out words such as freedom, relief, and liberation. Liberation not from her parents or friends whom she adores, but the liberty to redefine her entire persona — to become who she wanted to be as opposed to who others perceived or expected her to be. To her, that reality was nothing short of liberating as she was finally free to not only find herself, but then be herself as well.

Some may say that these feelings are somewhat magnified for international students who, like myself, have to adjust to both that feeling as well as adapt to an entirely different culture. This was true for me in some areas. For instance, prior to Penn, I had never experienced winter and the Northeast is not particularly known for its soft introductions to extreme weather. The food, manner of speaking, and clothing were also somewhat different from what I was used to. However, every student, regardless of their origin, feels some measure of this wave of emotions upon arriving to Penn. This is because each university carries its own culture that requires some getting used to regardless of one’s background. Therefore, no one is alone in their quest to fit in. Knowing that is something many students can take comfort in.

SOME WORDS OF ADVICE TO MY FRESHMAN SELF

As my own time in college draws to a terrifying close, I imagine that there are some words my freshman self might have benefited from hearing when moving onto Penn’s campus for the first time. I would tell her to:

  • Be prepared to be the happiest you’ve ever been: College — intellectually, socially, and emotionally speaking — has the potential to be one of the high points of your life if you allow it to be.
  • Be prepared to meet your best friends: College is the chance to meet dozens of new individuals, some of whom will become your lifelong friends.
  • Be prepared to be lonely: College might have the potential to make you the happiest you’ve ever been, but it matches that reality by also providing you with the chance to feel more isolated than you ever have. Without the safety net of family, friends, or guardians to come home to daily — away from a support structure that loves you no matter what — facing problems in college can be hard. But it is OK to feel out of place, especially during the first few weeks. In those moments, be reminded that it is OK to call home, it is OK to enjoy one’s own company, it is OK to feel alone. In those moments, during my freshman year, I did my best to reflect on what made me happy. Then I proceeded to do those things and seek out others who enjoyed doing them as well. This is not a solution that will work for everyone, but I believe that knowing that you are not alone in these feelings can be something of a comfort.
  • Finally, be prepared to be terrified, be prepared to feel unstoppable, and be prepared to be you. The very best version of you that no one, (perhaps not even you), has yet to encounter.

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