I never knew that I like tie-dye. I never knew that I like ska a little too. I found myself standing in the middle of my new home on the first night of school, gazing at my suitemates’ belongings. Tie-dye wall hangings cluttered the floor. A mysterious CD was in my stereo. What are these things, I thought to myself. Who are these people?
I had driven the length of a day, towing all of my possessions in a trailer halfway across the country. My things were speedily put in the center of the Vanderbilt courtyard by unfamiliar faces and then lugged to my room. My belongings spoke for me; I couldn’t help wondering what people would think of a girl with a bright green garbage can and 200 Ziploc bags. I didn’t rid myself of this feeling of exposure until at least the second week of school.
This is what college is supposed to be, I was told, and the hundreds of students I met and the hundreds of dollars I bursar-billed at the bookstore and Durfee’s were a part of it.
At Bulldog Days I picked up my packet and listened to a middle-aged woman rattle off a series of instructions about panels and registration. She took a quick breath and said, “Welcome to Yale.” I didn’t really know what that meant at the time. When I arrived at Yale a few weeks ago with my new shower shoes and tattered Birkenstocks, I still didn’t know. It wouldn’t be until after classes had begun and we had survived our first 24 hours straight of rain that I would begin to feel like a Yalie.
Like many other freshmen, I was shaking in my sandals the first day of class. I had endured parting from my parents, my first late-night pizza and the time I huddled with four other unknowing freshmen over a washing machine during a heated discussion about bleaching. If I could handle that, college would be a piece of cake.
But I had also met some incredibly talented people, such as the boy downstairs who can strum nearly any tune on his guitar or the girl who knows four languages.
“What do you do?” people asked me. “I — I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I — like to people-watch. That’s it. I’m a professional people-watcher.” Indeed, I was shaking in my sandals on the first day of class.
Of course, my life found stability eventually. I learned more about the guitarist and linguist. I began to understand more French and find more concrete things to say in English class. I was beginning to find comfort in my common room and my new friends.
Then, tragedy struck.
Every freshman has a story about how they jogged from class back to their room to watch CNN all day. Everyone remembers calling their parents the night of the attack on the World Trade Center to assure them of our safety. Everyone remembers the dull silence that overcame the crowd during the campuswide vigil on Cross Campus. While the news came suddenly and drastically changed our world, Yale stayed calm.
I was bursting with energy; my mind was racing faster than I could speak my thoughts. But my freshman counselor was there to slow things down, sign my schedule and offer soda.
I was overwhelmed with unfinished reading and e-mails to write to friends at home. But the dean of my college stood in front of me with a basket of warm cookies. I was afraid to be alone in a frighteningly different world, but upperclassmen in my college assured me that we stood together.
People I didn’t know a few weeks ago embraced me and talked to me about ordinary things, such as cereal and pets. I felt comfortable for the first time since I had packed my shoes in my hometown.
It was during this time of crisis that I realized how normal Yale is. It isn’t the Ivy League school I dreamed about attending in high school. It isn’t the intense academic institution I feared when I was accepted. Yale is a community of terrific people, engaging conversations and stimulating lectures.
The support I found within my college, from the dean and master, the upperclassmen and my fellow freshmen was still there days after the terrorist attacks on our country. It is this community that makes me feel like a Yalie.
What do I do, you ask? I sit in my common room exchanging fears with a new friend under a tie-dye wall hanging. I vacuum my rug while I listen to ska. I run to the library late at night to finish a paper and return to find all of the pizza gone. I rush to class with wet hair and people-watch from our window seat Sunday afternoon.
I do the one thing that every freshman does: I call Yale “home.”
Sarah Weiss is a freshman in Branford College. She will be the freshman columnist this year.