The latest Journal Day prompt is all about challenges, big and small, and how we overcome them. This morning, for whatever reason, I found myself thinking about my freshman year of college, and the struggle I endured as I adjusted to a new normal. At eighteen years old, I was so incredibly excited to attend Northern Illinois University and go away to college. The campus was about 45 minutes from home, not too far away but just far enough, and 90 minutes to Chicago, where my boyfriend of a few months was living and attending school. I moved into the dorm and started classes and, for the first time, experienced living on my own.
It was fantastic. Mostly. But after a few weeks, a few months, I started feeling overwhelmed, and anxious, and homesick. I was then, and I am now, so lucky and so grateful to have such a strong relationship with my family; I started missing them, and home. Freshman year, I was unable to have a car on campus, and so I was stuck relying on the NIU bus system to get around (not the most inconvenient thing in the world, but not great, either). My boyfriend and I only saw each other on weekends, sometimes every other weekend, and I missed him.
In addition to this, I happened to live on the party floor in my building, and while I got along with my roommate, we had different priorities when it came to our academic and social lives. Most of the floor, actually, had different priorities than I did. One weekend, I stayed on campus and ended up on judiciary probation because I chose to hang out with some of my fellow floor mates--my record was clear of it after a year, but it was a stupid choice and I regretted it. I was just uncertain about a lot of things. I feel like I did a good job of putting on a positive face, for the most part, but truthfully, those first couple of months were quite rough. Somehow, it felt different than I always thought it would, though I couldn't exactly pinpoint the reasons why.
With the support of my parents, I put a plan in action to make things better for myself. I met with the hall director of my dorm and asked for a transfer to a different room. My hope was that a change of scenery and a different group of people would improve my outlook. I was approved and moved up to the 9th floor less than a week later. I also started attending weekly sessions with a therapist-in-training at the Psychology Center, meeting with him through the end of the fall semester.
I can still remember how nervous I was during that first appointment, the quiet tone of my voice as I explained my past and present. He helped me identify the issues I was having as far as adjusting to a new chapter of life and also my insecurities and lack of self-confidence. I didn't tell very many people about this addition to my life, which looking back on it seems a little silly now. I started journaling more, and I got to work on defining the brand new world I had entered in to.
It took a little bit of time, but by spring semester, I was much happier, much more comfortable. I was still homesick, but it was a little more under control. Life on the 9th floor was loud and crazy--the reality on any floor in a freshmen-only dorm--but the crazy was a little more contained. My new roommate was nice; however, she ended up dropping out of NIU at the end of the semester, leaving me with a single room when I returned from winter break. Of course, this also helped to greatly improve my college experience, and was something that would also happen during my sophomore year as well. I felt much better about being there at NIU, and I was starting to feel much better about myself, too.
And so began the multitudes of goodness in my college life. Spring semester went well, and by the fall, I'd found a group of good friends, a job, and had a job on campus. I was happy and I fell in love with the college town I'd been inhabiting--and even when tragedy unfolded before my very eyes, my love for DeKalb never wavered. I was incredibly sad to leave when the day finally came, and NIU will always have a place in my heart. The shift I experienced from that scared, homesick freshman, to the happy, confident senior getting ready for the real world, is quite remarkable, and I am glad that I was able to overcome that challenge. Little did I know, that was only the beginning of an even greater transformation... a story for another time, no doubt.
(Thanks again to Danielle over at Sometimes Sweet.)