“Just do it.”
“Reach out to those people.”
“Take the leap of faith!”
How many of us high-school graduates have heard these words as we prepare to take the next step in our lives and enter college? We all spend the last few weeks of high school not only making last-minute memories that will last us a lifetime, but also moving forward and finishing up applications, attending college orientations and wondering how in the world are we supposed to start over at another place that we will have to attend for the next 4 years? And if high school was socially and academically difficult at times…how will we ever survive university with all those more-adult-than-kid students and stern professors?
If you felt even a flicker of anxiety at imagining those scenarios…well, then you’re just like me. Coming from an immigrant family and having only been in the U.S for two months before starting high school as a freshman, was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. We all have felt like ‘that odd kid’ in class at least once in our lifetime (If you haven’t, kudos to you!). In my case, I battled Islamophobia, alienation by my classmates that had been friends with each other since elementary school, and feeling like I was never going to fit in or find friends.
Until one day, I broke down in front of my English teacher. I couldn’t tell you what I said to her while pouring out my feelings for lack of recollection, but I’ll tell you the sentence that I will always remember, regardless of where I am in life. She said, “One day, you’re going to fit in. Once you go to university, I promise you, you will find your people. And everyone who made you feel alone in a crowded room, or laughed at your ‘stupid’ questions, will be a distant memory.”
Those words turned my depressing, hollow year to an optimistic and resolute one. I took steps to ensure my college resume shone through. I joined clubs, earned straight As, and attended volunteer events. I didn’t necessarily make a lot of close friends, but I met wonderful people. And any day I felt like maybe I didn’t belong in this space, I repeated my teacher’s words to myself.
I am now only a few weeks away from entering UT Dallas as a freshman at age 18, and in my mind, the parallel with my high school freshman year at age 14, is mind-boggling. This time, I didn’t wait for encouragement to step out of my comfort zone, or cry after Freshman Orientation at the overwhelming emotions engulfing me. I saw an organization on Instagram called ‘UTD Comet Life’ and after giving myself exactly one day to think about it, I contacted them and barreled my way into the amazing team of people connecting Comets to UT Dallas, as a member of the writing and photography teams. And it amazes me that in the extremely short time I have been part of this student-led organization, with never even having set foot on campus grounds unlike most members, I have never once felt like an outsider, or felt stupid for asking basic questions. But most importantly, I have already made some of the most supportive and open-minded friends that have helped me navigate this turbulent transition from high school to UT Dallas. Suddenly, university doesn’t seem too terrifying.
In a way, it almost feels like I might have just found my people.
Don’t wait for anyone to help you. Take that step outside your comfort zone. Who knows? You might just find yours.