Catherine Kwon

My main goal this April is to not traumatize any admitted students. 

I need to adjust the story I’ve been telling everyone and their mother lately: the story of my miserable first semester — and the unbelievable 180º this spring semester has been. The latter is a great story to tell the incoming Yalies. It’s a story of adjustment, of victory, of learning to love and loving learning. But I can’t shake off the feeling that telling that story requires divulging the former.

Last semester, the thought of transferring hardly ever left my mind. I felt like I was constantly on the verge of drowning — in laundry, readings, psets, homesickness. I felt too aware of everything I had to do, and the only way I could calm down was to write to-do list after to-do list, bullet-pointing my life repeatedly in an attempt to seize control over it. I felt like a house of cards one breeze away from toppling.

On the way back from a solitary Hartford trip in late September, I sat on the Amtrak, watching not-Yale go flying by. The thought of pulling back into the State Street Station left me helpless and terrified. I’d never wished to not return somewhere so desperately.

The desperation never receded. It sunk its claws into every relationship I formed, every glance out my dorm window at Harkness Tower, every phone call I made back home. I didn’t go out on the weekends, and I was hardly around people during the week. All the energy it took to barely keep my head above the water — I spent it alone in the Sterling Stacks, feeling sorry for myself. My loneliness was largely self-induced, but at the same time, I was acutely aware of how much of a drag I was to be around; I could practically see the misery that emanated from me in waves.

Every day was a day closer to break, and I made digital countdowns for dates when I’d be back with my parents in my house in my neighborhood in my city. The countdowns lurked in the corner of my desktop screen, catching my eye at just the moment I needed a reminder that I would leave eventually. One of my main relief-granting thoughts was thinking about how limited my time was here, but it came with pangs of guilt and frustration. I’d feel guilty that I was throwing away the hard work it took my parents to get their only child to the school of her first-generation dreams. And I’d feel frustrated that the experiences I was accumulating on my own — the trips to Mew Haven Cat Cafe, to the Bowtie theater on Temple, to Pitkin Plaza — were moments where I was existing in a new city without living in it, throwing away what was supposed to be the best years of my life.

It’s unbelievable to me how suddenly things changed, how drastic the difference was between the end of December leaving and the end of January coming back. I still can’t pinpoint what caused the change; the way I can best describe it is that things just happened, and they were finally good

I threw myself into my summer plans before classes started, and when classes did start, I found myself loving the material. I am appreciating the learning process again, no longer getting through one assignment at a time in a race to the end of the semester. 

My relationships feel like they’re blooming at every turn. I feel more confident, less embarrassed and anxious about meeting new people and getting closer with people I already know. Now that I don’t spend most of my time sulking in the stacks, I feel closer to my suitemates and grateful about coming home to them. Home.

The realization that I could belong here came as I was planning my return to Dallas over spring break. As I scrolled through flights, my brain went off daydreaming about staying on campus. Having picnics in Wooster Square. Dining in downtown. Visiting the cat cafe. But this time, I’d be exploring the city with people I love rather than escaping into it, alone. As I hesitated hitting the purchase ticket button, I felt in my bones how happy I could be just staying here. I still booked a flight knowing it’d be the only chance to go back to Dallas this semester, but this hesitation granted me a great peace; it was an undeniable sign that everything was falling into place and that I was falling out of a period when I refused to fully live here.

At first, I was apprehensive about saying I was happy. It felt like too weighty a thing to say about my place in this bubble so far. I thought that officially allowing that word to define my emotions would either void everything I went through last semester or totally jinx my second, or both. But the more I corrected myself after saying I was happy — adding little caveats to my responses to “How are you?” —  the less I wanted to. I started feeling the need to embrace a stupid five-letter word, the need to reassure myself that feeling happy here would no longer be a game of pretend.

It was almost impossible last semester for me to imagine a time when I would feel good here. I fear that telling a Bulldog-Day-er about my first semester being the lowest point in my life will be a story that traumatizes them and functions as the sign that Yale isn’t for them. But I don’t believe that omitting those life-altering months is the right choice either. 

Come April, I’ll have to strike a balance. Maybe that means my roommate covers her first semester, and I’ll cover my second, and we’ll give a good medium rather than two extremes. Maybe it means giving the short version of my first semester and diving deep into my present. Maybe I’ll improvise completely, adapting what pieces of the story I tell as I go. But what I know for sure is that I’ll be honest with our visiting student, sharing what college has meant to me so far and what I’ve finally allowed Yale to give me this semester. Hopefully they don’t come out of Bulldog Days with whiplash, either.