I’ve already moved out of the dorm room that I’ve lived in for the past school year, and essentially all of my most important life’s possessions are either packed up into boxes or haphazardly stuffed into the horde of spare plastic CVS bags that I’ve accumulated throughout the course of the year.
As trite as it sounds, it is hard to believe that a whole year has passed. Everyone expects college to be a defining period in their lifetime, and now one chapter of it has passed. And to be frank, my first year in college disappointed me in some respects — though perhaps not for the worst.
My whole high school career, like any other angsty, self-important teenager growing up in Georgia, I was preoccupied with these daydreams of “getting out of here” — going to college in what we thought of as some respectable state up North, or maybe as far away as another country.
As a mere high schooler, I looked forward to college eagerly, really believing that my high school graduation would be some rite of passage, that my first college acceptance letter would be a document that verified my newfound adulthood.
But because I decided on attending Emory, a lot of my grandiose (and maybe slightly unbalanced) daydreams were slashed by the fact of proximity. Instead of boarding on a plane or embarking on a cross-country road trip to move into my residence hall like most of my friends were doing mid-August, I woke up five hours late, drove 10 minutes and showed up at my room lazily with nothing more than some linens, a laptop and a James Dean poster.
I live four miles away. “Move In Day” is the whole year for me if I want it to be.
I never had the opportunity to get lost in Atlanta, figure out how to get downtown, take MARTA for the first time, go shopping in Little 5 Points or have my first dinner in Midtown after brunch in Candler Park. A part of me has felt like I was missing out on some huge moment of growth and revelation that everyone else was experiencing from being in a new city. Socially, I was stuck in some kind of unmoving mass of gelatin.
Eventually, I had to learn to focus my attention elsewhere. I spent a lot of time outside my dorm, in the library or at the Wheel office. I found a couple people whose company I really enjoyed, and I kind of stuck to them. College felt a little different from high school, and since I’d been trying to run away from high school, now I was always trying to avoid college, whether it be late nights out, frat row or whatever else college is supposed to be.
As the year drew to a close, I accepted the fact that college wasn’t going to be the one, single definite catalyst in my life that changed me into the person that I would be forever. I met great people, but at the same time, they’re not the best friends I’ve ever had in my life, at least yet. I learned a lot, but I’d already fallen in love with certain subjects way before I came to college.
While packing up my room, I mulled all of this over in my head. As I carried boxes down the stairs, I considered how infrequently I actually felt like a college student this year. I took a taxi maybe a handful of times, I didn’t hng out with a lot of older students, I didn’t really go to parties that often.
But I also thought about what I did instead. As often as I bemoaned all the time I spent at work, I felt proud that I had stuck with it. And I’m happy that I kept in touch with my friends from high school; though I met great new people, I didn’t polarize my old friends. I haven’t had some life-changing college experience, but I did have a stable year that I’m grateful for.
In the end, I’m happy that I decided on Emory. Being so close to home forced me to actively shape my own college experience. I didn’t have the prototypical college freshman experience, but I had my own.
And as I looked at my room before tucking my keys into a return envelope, and saw my clothes and books packed and the furniture moved back — all by my little self — I realized that somewhere along the way, I developed a little bit of independence.
I had done this alone — an experience that probably should be some sentimental family moment, or one shared between your friends — and I thought that, though I didn’t quite learn how to take a double shot freshman year, maybe I learned what it means to be one year older, what it means to be your own person and that sometimes, in looking forward, you have to look back.
Asst. Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College freshman from Atlanta.