This Monday I woke up with an empty feeling, some sort of a void inside me. I couldn’t make sense of what I was supposed to feel about the fact that I would be leaving my first semester of college in less than a week. I knew I wasn’t the same person who entered Saybrook F41 three months ago, but I didn’t know who I had become.
It is an undeniable fact that leaving home for college changes a person. Though we may realize this later on, it is the first step we take in being an adult, the early steps to find our own way.
We all know college is more than just four years of education. How college changes you as a person and adds to your identity, however, is rather a mystery. Until a certain moment of self-realization, we don’t even see how much we — and in turn, our perspectives — have changed.
Last August, we left our homes as the reflections of our families, schools, friends and neighborhoods. We were all raised under the shadows of familiarity. We learned from our parents, cultures and friends — always surrounded by something known. Though we seemingly decided on certain things all by ourselves, we were influenced by this familiarity at all times. We were less stressed about the consequences of our actions because we knew we had a safety net guiding us.
Now, we will be leaving our rooms as people with more than just familiarity guiding them. Our familiarity was taken away; we had to come up with ways to create a community that would support us rather than take any responsibility for us. Before, we had others to blame for our failures. Now, we carry the burden of our own responsibility.
In his book “Education and Identity,” Arthur Chickering defines seven vectors of college student development, outlining the ways in which college serves as an atmosphere where students go through a psychological, I would say, whirlwind. These vectors are listed as developing competence, managing emotions, developing autonomy, establishing identity, freeing interpersonal relationships, developing purpose and establishing integrity. The sheer number of vectors is itself an indication of the numerous ways we change, often into surprisingly different people.
To me, establishing identity is the crux of our changes: All the other vectors lead to it. For me, one crucial change in my identity is the way I make decisions. Without my family and friends from home to guide me, I’ve learned to weigh the negatives and positives before making choices. A meeting I refuse to attend or the time I spend on a particular organization helps me realize what I value more. Questioning how I want to approach certain societal issues or how I want to react to various situations reveals the early steps in developing my purpose and identity.
I’ve learned to take a step back once in a while and see the bigger picture — what I am doing and how it is impacting the college life I wanted. For me, developing my identity is defined by finding my purpose and integrity. Amid the uncertainties of a chaotic year, I set my priorities — not an easy task to do alone — so that I could thrive in this foreign environment.
As we all get ready to leave, we have taken a big step towards establishing our own identities.
For some of us, this transition might feel negative. We might feel like we are lost in the game or as if things move quickly and out of our control. We might not like some of the decisions we have made. But if you are able to make this evaluation now, this shows that you have grown nevertheless. Self-awareness is something much more complicated than being able to resolve issues. Changing and evolving are based on failure and the ways we handle our mistakes. If we are failing today, it is because we will thrive tomorrow.
To my fellow Yalies who are leaving this semester, once you go back and settle into your old rooms, you will realize that you have changed. You may either like or dislike this new person, or you might not want to even think about it. Take your time to see how you have changed, and if this change resonates with the kind of person you hope to become. This can be overwhelming and exhausting, but there is a long way ahead. Just embrace the change.
For anyone waiting for us back home, excited to see that same high school senior who left: You probably won’t be able to find what you are hoping for. Try to be welcoming to this new person who will feel like she is stuck between growing up and staying where she is. And note that just when she is getting used to this new form of freedom, she is forced to go back to her childhood bedroom. Remember this is harder for us than we all initially thought.
This year, we have changed and grown through uncertainty. We need to put in the time to understand this struggle and move forward.
DILGE BUKSUR is a first year in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.