Freshman Year, All Over Again

When I first start working with a student, I have them fill out a questionnaire to help me get a feel for their college likes and dislikes, and where they are in the process. At the end, I ask a series of questions that pretty much always gets the same response:

  1. Are you excited to go to college? Yes! (the exclamation point is optional)
  2. Do you feel ready to go to college? Yes! (again, optional exclamation point)
  3. Is there anything that makes you feel anxious about going to college? Making friends (some kids write two words and some write a paragraph, but this is always the gist)

I’m generally sympathetic but unconcerned about this fear. Freshman year of college is far enough back (but not that far, jeez) that I’ve blurred out the anxiety and stress of building a whole life from scratch. For the very first time. Without my mom. But I’ve recently been thrust back into a kind of freshman year redux, and I am suddenly flooded with compassion for my students.
Let me explain. A few months ago, I learned about a program called We Roam: a bunch of grownups who work remotely, traveling the world together. We take our assorted jobs with us, live with and near each other, and travel to a different country every month for a year. South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Like a college freshman, I’ve spent the last few weeks saying goodbye to my friends and family, my home, my dog, and packing all of my belongings into three bags. I arrived in an unfamiliar city to a bare apartment. The small desk and blank, white walls are reminiscent of my college dorm. The queen-sized bed, not so much (there are some perks to being a grownup). I met my roommate, Kari, who gamely agreed to investigate food options and buy toiletries with me. I’ve spent the last four days making friends, “making” being the operative word. And I am reminded how hard this all is.
So to my former students, whose stress I brushed away with a casual “Don’t worry about it! Everyone’s in the same boat,”…my bad. This is stressful. But also, what an excellent opportunity to sit with this discomfort, to feel all over again the exhaustion of figuring out how to use a washing machine, of navigating public transit, of finding a regular coffee shop. And this time I know that looking back, I won’t see the stress and confusion. It will just be the blurry background of a spectacular experience.

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