I keep telling people I’m a “first-year,” but I think “fourth-week” would be a more accurate term. Barnard was my dream school because of the people who choose to study here. I noticed how the students balanced being individuals—with full lives and engrossing passions—while investing deeply in the unique community this school offers. I liked how Barnard students were socially aware, kind, and goal-oriented without becoming competitive. During my tour, I saw myself forming fulfilling, lasting friendships. After four years at a 200-person high school, with all the social complexities you’d expect of its small size, that prospect alone was enough to sell me.
The fact that I’m here now is an opportunity I don’t take lightly. Even so, I wish we spoke more openly about the struggles of social integration in an entirely new environment, especially one we’ve idealized along the way to arriving. In middle school, I dreamed of moving to New York City (I watched a lot of Gossip Girl, where Manhattan itself is a character). My inner 12-year old pinches herself on neighborhood walks through brownstones and subway rides. Throughout high school, I dreamed of the lifelong friendships I’d form in college, without a concept of the work that goes into making those relationships my reality.
I’ve met fantastic friends in the short time I’ve been here and for that, I feel lucky. But while shared life experiences mean we’re not starting from zero when connecting, we’re still opening up and learning each other’s quirks and boundaries. The bonding process can be rewarding in its own right, but I think it’s normal to miss the people you’ve known forever and the ease of never needing to explain yourself.
I came to college with a fantasy of stumbling into my best friendships on the very first day. Perhaps I’ve met my best friends, but that fantasy doesn’t account for the effort it takes to make lifelong friendships happen. Nothing worthwhile comes instantly, and developing closeness among brand-new peers can feel isolating. Yet we, as fourth-weeks negotiating a city geared toward independent people, are told that we’ll make more friends by projecting smooth-sailing. Whether it’s posting group subway “candids” or standing in little circles along The Quad before nights out, we strain ourselves over optics—maintaining the appearance of dreamy, cosmopolitan social lives.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that every new social situation requires some acting until it feels comfortable. This part of the process exhausts me, so I’ve been making time to re-energize through calls with my family and friends from home. At first, I worried that devoting time to “home,” which appeared to exist in a separate sphere from my aspirational life in New York, was a cop-out, coming at the expense of new friendships.
But that logic is inherently flawed. For at least the next few years, New York is my home. In order to feel integrated, my life here needs to encompass the aspects of my upbringing that provide support, joy, and stability. Further, while I’m stumbling through my fourth week, my home friends are also confronting life-changing decisions, exciting opportunities, and everyday tribulations. Remaining reliable, available, and invested—while allowing for space we need to forge ahead in our respective environments—grounds me.
I guess there are two morals to the story. First, social integration during first semester is choppy. Some days will feel fulfilling, and others less so. As first-years, one of the best things we can do is acknowledge how lonely these weeks may get. Now that we’re past the post-NSOP social hiatus (the period when people cling to nascent friend groups after enduring the stress of forming them), I’ve appreciated how classmates have begun reaching out in elevators and bathrooms again. I’m resolving to do the same. Secondly, it’s okay to make time for people from home. It doesn’t mean we’re not getting the most out of our present. Instead, these connections fuel us to take in everything our new experience has to offer.