Overcoming the fear of first week freshman year

My first week of freshman year, I was scared. I was excited. I wanted to make new friends. I didn’t want to leave my old ones. I was anxious to make my first escape from the Chicago suburbs. I was hyperventilating the second my parents drove away. I was left alone at Allen Hall orientation with some 200 awkward, anxious, gangly freshmen — or was that just me?

I thought I was ready. I hadn’t just imagined the “taking-your-child-down-to-college-for-the-first-time” drill in my head, I lived it two times over. Both my older brothers went to U of I. Each time, I ceremoniously assisted in the ritual packing up the van, driving two hours through the cornfields, unloading in Champaign and saying our goodbyes.

Both times they were more than content when it came to the goodbye part. I was just as excited for no curfew, no one to report to, all those house parties I kept hearing about where they served some kind of fruity punch called “Jungle Juice.” Oh, the stories I was going to have — or the stories I would hear from others and pawn off as my own.

It wasn’t until the night before I left when fear of leaving home crept into my head. I went to a barbecue at my uncle’s where the family said their goodbyes and well wishes. My grandma handed me a $10 bill “in case I get hungry over the next four months.”

Walking to our car that night, my mom looked over at me wearily.

“We’re going to miss you, Rebecca. Our daughter … leaving.”

That’s when it hit me like a brick wall. I wasn’t just going to college — I was leaving home, my life of 18 years, the only life I knew. That entire phase was coming to a close the next morning. I had been so focused on what I was leaping into, I had forgotten to think about what I was leaving behind.

The next morning, I protested going. But that evening I was standing in front of Allen Hall watching my parents drive off.

“Just try and go to the activities, Rebecca. Don’t stay in your room. Go to one of those college parties … do something.”

Inside the building behind me were those gawky freshmen and a plethora of “activities” awaiting me at my week-long orientation. But I just wanted to stay in my room and be alone, which I did for about 20 minutes until my rambunctious sophomore roommate barged in grabbing my hand, forcing me downstairs for the opening activities.

“What are you doing in here?!” she exclaimed, too distracted in her own excitement to realize she was giving me wrist burn. We went down to watch the RAs introducing themselves to all the new “Allenites.”

Thank god she forced me down there.

Admittedly, the Campus Recreation Center East gym takeover was a bit awkward, but I found myself in a game of horse with some new friends. By the 90s dance party, I was focused on the fact that I was hearing Haddaway’s “What is Love?” for the first time since 1998. During capture the flag the next night, I finally started remembering everything I had been looking forward to.

My advice to new students is this: Go to the activities this campus has to offer during your first weeks. I promise there’s something out there for everyone. Maybe that’s a house party in Urbana amongst a group of vegan, banjo-playing hipsters or a C-list comedian at the Illini Union, where the jokes are half funny, half confusing. Or, if you’re like me, it’s an awkward 90s dance party, where they keep alternating between the same three Spice Girls and ‘N Sync tunes, but only play that freaking Haddaway song once.

You have your options. Just go.

I met the majority of my best friends on campus during my first week. Had I stayed in my room, romanticizing about my twin-size mattress in my room of 18 years, I know what would have happened.

I’d have called my mom sobbing, demanding to go home, so I could hear the dulcet sound of my dad snoring at 3 a.m. and experience more good bonding moments with my brothers when we fight over who gets to hold the remote during The Simpsons. The high life, I tell you.

But I forced myself to find distractions. And it didn’t take long for the “distractions” to become enjoyment.

That won’t be true for everyone. Some students will only be pegged by fear for a day, some several months; others are pointing at this article and laughing (but secretly we all know they’re just as afraid). But growing up is inevitable, and your college transition has already begun. Time doesn’t wait for those who want to sit in their rooms all day. But those who are willing to try will find that with time, it gets better.

For me, by the second week of classes I was content. Life wasn’t perfect; I still hadn’t had a chance to try any Jungle Juice. But I did have a good group of friends and a solid schedule. And time kept on going.

_Rebecca is a senior in LAS._