I believed that I was free the day my parents vanished into the horizon. It was move-in day, and the air was slick with moisture and excitement. I had just set my suitcase down on the warped floor of my room in Welch Hall. My thoughts were like fireworks. So, this is what it is like to be free. I was a fresh-faced freshman with a gleam in my eye. This was the beginning of my life as an independent adult. I had the freedom to do whatever I pleased. I soon found out, though, that this newfound freedom, while exciting, came with its own set of challenges.
My freshman year was miserable for a variety of reasons — some of which I will never speak about — and being alone was one of them. The truth is that I was not comfortable with being alone. I had come from a small high school in Texas where everyone knew me, and I knew everyone. At Yale, I was swallowed up by the hundreds of faceless students and staff members. I struggled to fit in because I struggled to make myself known. It was hard for me to exist in a place so large that it doesn’t notice you, or sometimes makes the deliberate choice to ignore you. I spent my entire freshman year wondering if the adult life that gleams of brilliance and success on the television screen was really all a lie. Where was the community I was promised? The opportunity? The friendships and connections? Where were the bright college years that this hallowed place crooned about? I felt cheated. I felt scammed.
I spent my first year at Yale mourning the life I left behind. It was a strict and regimented life. I would wake up before dawn, go to school, be with my friends until the final bell, and then I would go home and do homework until bedtime. That was my life. It was what I had known for as long as I could remember. Suddenly, this unfamiliar freedom to do whatever I wanted destabilized me, and I spiraled. I was thousands of miles away from home in a place where I felt foreign and obtrusive amongst my peers. My parents had thrusted the reins of my life onto my lap and jumped the carriage.
My new life was a learning process. I had to manage my savings, do my own grocery shopping, make my own doctor’s appointments and meet with my teachers. It did not come to me naturally. For example, the first time I went shopping I was shocked by how quickly my expenses racked up. Everything cost more than I thought it would. I realized that everything only seemed expensive because growing up, I had the privilege of not having to pay attention to the price of things. My parents had carried that burden for me. They carried other things like taking me to the doctor or making sure that I was fed. Now that I was on my own, I had to figure that all out on my own. So, I got crafty. I bargain-hunted for books, purchased things in bulk and kept my eye out for things that were on sale. I learned to sew buttons and to patch the holes in my clothes. But above all, I learned to speak up for myself.
Using my voice to get help, to introduce myself and to make myself known was something that took me a while to learn. I felt that because I had succeeded in high school, I didn’t need to make a big effort to succeed on my own. But Yale is a place of boundless opportunity, and you must take advantage of it. I learned to ask questions. I learned that if I spoke up, I would not need someone to speak for me. Most importantly, I learned that living on my own meant I could live a life on my own terms.
When I first moved to Yale three years ago, I had slipped out of my comfortable life with my friends and family and fell into a life where I had to fend for myself. I grew stronger and smarter because of it. It takes bravery and confidence to live on one’s own. Adulthood is a time where one is happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time. It is both miserable and magical. Above all, it is a learning process. I admit I still have much to learn as I figure out my place in the world around me. I am alone, but I have learned that living on my own means dancing to the rhythm of my own imagination.