By Ben Reichard
My freshman year began like most everyone else’s — tons of excitement, a touch of anxiety, and a whole lot of meeting new people. There were dozens of fresh faces on my residence hall floor, hundreds of fellow scholars in my large lectures, and hordes of strangers on McKeldin Mall.
But it’s funny — sometimes you can get lonely even when you’re surrounded by many people. After a few days, I needed to find a group of friends I could share my college experience with. Like many other freshmen, I was a little awkward and apprehensive, but I gave myself a challenge; for the first month of school, I would say yes to anything that would introduce me to new people.
Fast forward to late September and I was exhausted. Classes were kicking my butt. Learning to feed myself was difficult when I realized I couldn’t eat Krave cereal three times a day. Never mind trying to settle into a regular sleep schedule. But more than anything, meeting all these new people was draining, especially when I couldn’t seem to make a real connection.
With my policy of saying yes to everything, I tried to join a friend group in my residence hall. I attended as many sporting events as I could. I even rushed social frats as a first semester freshman. But in each instance, something was missing.
I realized that I didn’t want to be friends with just anyone; I wanted to find people who had something in common with me. I learned a valuable lesson: surface-level friendship wasn’t fulfilling. I needed to seek people with similar interests and values.
Over the next couple months, I sought and found some of those people. My roommates and I grew closer by playing Super Smash Bros Melee. I found a hobby group to play my favorite card game. I joined the Residence Hall Association and found a rewarding experience serving my campus community.
But as a student with a passion for public service and an interest in government, I still longed for friends to share that important part of my life with. And I couldn’t find that group.
It took three years.
Late in my junior year, I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and got a notification; a friend of a friend invited me to like “Kappa Omega Alpha UMD.” A quick glance at their info revealed that KOA was a new professional fraternity at Maryland focused on public policy. I told my friend, Rick — who was also searching for that certain group — and we agreed that we would try rushing KOA’s Alpha class that fall.
And, as they say, the rest is history.
During rush, Rick and I found a trove of friendly faces that all cared about serving our community. We all wanted to develop skills to solve our public problems. We didn’t all agree about politics, but we all could have energizing, enlightening conversations about them. My Alpha class brothers clicked as a group and we quickly became personal friends.
We all wanted the same thing. It just took KOA to bring us together.
During my senior year, KOA became a treasured community for me. I genuinely wanted to spend all the time with my bothers that I could. Chapter, our social and professional skill building events, or even just dinner with my brothers were the highlights of my weeks. In the spring, I was honored to serve as Director of Member Interaction, where I could facilitate the bonding that I had craved. I now serve as Director of Professional Development and help build my brothers’ skills.
Kind of like the Beatles said — KOA, where had you been all my life?
In KOA, we talk about finding your NEST, the place where you can grow into your best self, surrounded by a strong support network of close friends. I found my NEST with KOA.
I hope you can find yours.
Ben Reichard is a public policy graduate student and the 2019–2020 Director of Professional Development of KOA.