Navigating my life on my own at a college in a new city was something I worked hard for in my secondary school years. Though stressful, spending the fall semester of my senior year of high school filling out many college applications was exciting because it meant that the next chapter in my life was approaching. Graduation day came and went, and I spent the summer patiently waiting for move-in day at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
My high school self would be devastated if she learned how I spent my freshman year in college. I was alone most of the time, staring at my computer screen for hours in a dorm room I shared with a roommate I barely talked to.
When I first came to UW-Madison, I was not worried about not knowing a single student here because it is a school with more than 40,000 students. I assumed it would be a year of socializing — even during a pandemic. At the end of the year, there were two people I called my friends.
My freshman year was also the first time I experienced the feeling of being lost. Throughout my first 18 years on earth, I was surrounded by people who took care of me whenever hardships in life happened. However, that was no longer the case. Suddenly I was responsible for almost everything in my life.
At the time, I was frustrated and disappointed because my first year of college did not meet the high expectations I had created over the years. I didn't go to a library to study or a party to make new friends. But now, looking back as a rising junior, I see it as a year of growth and maturity. I was challenged in ways I had never been before.
When I graduated high school, I thought I was ready for college. I learned many facts about UW-Madison through research I did on the university during class in high school. I knew which dining hall was the best and what student organizations were on campus. But what I didn't know was the number of unexpected challenges I would face, such as building a productive schedule and coping with loneliness.
The truth is there wasn't anything I could have done to better prepare myself for college. Instead, what I had to learn was how to embrace the unknown.
As a person who prefers to remain in the known, this was a challenging lesson to understand. However, growth happens when you are uncomfortable.
At first, I avoided my challenges because it was easier and less scary than facing them. I was also scared of failure. For example, I distracted myself from the feeling of loneliness by mindlessly scrolling through social media instead of talking to my neighbors or reaching out to my classmates, even though I knew it was making me feel more isolated.
As I kept ignoring them, I was becoming anxious because I felt stuck. The only solution was to leave my comfort zone. I started by taking small steps toward the fear I was trying to overcome. It was terrifying because I had no idea where the steps I was taking would lead me.
Ultimately, I realized that every time I made progress in overcoming an obstacle, I became a stronger version of myself — someone willing to take risks.
Of course, I am still learning about conquering my fear of the unknown. However, I now remind myself that pushing my boundaries is a conduit for improving myself and widening my learning potential.