KAPLAN: Beyond preparation

Before coming to Yale, I prepared as much as I possibly could for the college experience. I pondered prospective majors and read innumerable course descriptions. I watched “Animal House,” “Accepted” and “An Extremely Goofy Movie.” I made the requisite 18 trips to Target and purchased an almost incomprehensible number of packages of portable tissues.

But despite my extensive training, I felt increasingly insecure as move-in day approached. What if I couldn’t make friends? What if I couldn’t write a passing college paper? What if my go-to party trick — reciting scenes from the movie Grease, naturally — was not as successful as the efforts of Danny Zuko and Cha-Cha DiGregorio in the Rydell High School dance competition? Nothing breeds irrational anxiety quite like the unknown.

And is there anything quite so terrifying as moving to a strange school in a strange state filled with thousands of strangers? Almost certainly. But as I sat in the backseat of my dad’s car that day, palms sweaty and left knee jumping nervously, it was difficult to think of anything worse. Miraculously, upon stepping out of the vehicle, I didn’t immediately cry, trip or vomit. I consider this the first great triumph of my college career.

Move-in day was a blur of quick introductions, heavy lifting and indecipherable IKEA instructions. My suitemates and I got along immediately, and by the end of the day we were all excited and exhausted.

But in the interest of disclosing the true freshman experience — my first night here was awful. Around midnight I was hit with the very depressing (and somewhat true) revelation that everyone I had ever known was now out of reach. My parents were going back to Ohio, my sisters to the daily grind of high school and my friends to their respective universities. Needless to say, I did not sleep much that night.

The next day, the fidgety, overheated and awestruck freshmen gathered for convocation. The event felt like an out-of-body experience, and the whole thing might have been a lengthy and opulent mirage. We heard about all sorts of interesting and inspiring things — about socioeconomic status and the status of college education in 2013, about how the Aztecs managed time and how therefore we should manage time our during finals. Our time as college students had officially begun.

But after the pomp and circumstance subsided, Camp Yale brought its share of difficulties that seemed more like that first night than that hour in Woolsey Hall. I learned that Shopping Period is not, as I previously thought, synonymous with “Take Every Class You Want With No Exceptions or Consequences.” Getting into some seminars has proved as elusive as a steady Yale Wi-Fi connection. My desk is rapidly becoming a dumping ground for the dozens of pieces of paper that end up in my hands (crumpled at the bottom of my bag) throughout the course of a day, and I have not yet been challenged to the classic collegiate breakdance-off that appears so often in movies.

And yet, maybe a month into my new life, that ever-increasing pile of papers on my desk is now reassuring. It’s a daily, if disorganized, reminder that my experience here is becoming fuller and more complex. The friendliness of everyone around me is as infectious as a communicable disease in a dormitory (there’s something comforting about saying “hi” to at least one person every time I cross Old Campus). This beautiful place is beginning to feel like a home.

So now, a few weeks older and hopefully at least a little wiser, it feels like I’m finding a real and comfortable place in this great and often-mythic institution. My dorm is furnished. My textbooks are purchased. My fellow freshmen are absolutely fantastic. I feel ready for everything Yale will throw at me over the next four years. Danny Zuko would be so proud.

Madeline Kaplan is a freshman in Saybrook College. Contact her at madeline.kaplan@yale.edu.

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