Deeper than a Solo Cup: Finding Meaning in College Interaction

September 11, 2012

Coming into college, a number of my older friends drilled a single sentence into my head that both intimidated and excited me. “College is different than high school.” That was both obvious and confusing to me – of course, the classes would be harder, I would be living on my own, but college is still school. I was not expecting anything other than high school on a grander scale.

Attending my first college party changed everything. I would not consider this worth writing about unless the party was the zenith of three weeks of complete amazement. And it was. It defined something that, without the accumulation of a lifetime of high school and the three weeks leading up to it, is critically important about college interaction.

Moving to college was a trauma. I felt exactly as I had when I first moved to my hometown: lost, friendless, overwhelmed. I am a very independent person, so these emotions were foreign to me and resulted in my contraction of what I call “college depression”. I no longer wanted to be in college if it meant feeling the gut-wrenching pain of feeling alone. Being thrust into adulthood in such a short period of time had messed with my suburban head. My vision of reality was clouded by film images of college, where everyone is friends and strangers invite you into their homes.

I felt like this until I attended the Involvement Fair on campus, where every club known to man sets up a booth and advertises in hopes of your interest in their organization. What surprised me most about this fair was not the sheer number of booths, but that everyone was so welcoming. If I approached a booth, the club members immediately handed me brochures and told me about what they did and, best of all, why they wanted me in their club. I was flattered! Why would they want me? Don’t they have enough people in their club that are already friends?

That was the high-school logic in me. Soon after, I began to notice how complete strangers would ask how I was in the elevator, or my neighbors would invite me to join the movie night down the hall, or fellow rowing crew members would ask if I wanted to have lunch. My “college depression” melted away as I reveled in the feeling of being involved. After working so hard to remain liked in high school (which I strongly believe everyone does, subconsciously or not), not having to try was relaxing. I soon adopted the attitude and welcomed the flood of eager Facebook friend requests and lost the apprehension toward meeting hoards of new people almost every day.

It was so refreshing to dwell in an environment of equals. For example, the girl who sat next to me in Math lecture asked me with a smile if I had a nice nap in class instead of glaring or laughing at me. I felt homesick my second weekend and went home, and when I returned, my suitemates said they were jealous that I had gone home and wanted to hear all about my weekend, even though I know they had much more fun. Now I notice every little nuance and difference that makes college so comfortable and so radical at the same time. In high school, students constantly strive to outdo each other, whether it’s in the classroom or in clubs or sports or outside of school. Here, it seems that everyone is treating others how they would like to be treated, obeying the Golden Rule.

At the party, over 90% of the people were strangers to me, but by the end of one of the most eventful nights of my life, I had forged so many new bonds that I grin just thinking about it. The amazing part? I was not trying to make these new friends, but simply leaving my judgments and worries in my dorm and introducing myself. I danced, I sang, I laughed along – each and every one of my friends, new and newer, told me they were looking out for me, and I did the same. On the long walk home, we were all caught in a storm on Fraternity Row and I was separated from my group. I plucked up the courage to ask two guys walking down the street to help me back to campus, and they didn’t hesitate to give me their umbrella and walk me toward campus until I recognized where I was.

Frankly, I am still reeling from this night. I never realized how complexly abnormal the behavior of college students was until I became a college student. I am lucky to have not yet run into a negative situation, but I am sure I will. When this happens, I will realize that the invisible symbiotic bond between students does not extend to everyone – it is an option that to turn down, one must be truly blind.

College students are simply all the same: wandering adults, stuck in a small area and forced to mature for the first time without guidelines. No matter your age, race, religion, financial status, relationship status, physical appearance, etc., in a romantic sort of way, we are all students under the same university, and it brings people together with unexpected magnetism. Loving your neighbor is the easiest and most widely-adopted technique, and with this, no one ever feels alone for long. So, I ask:

Why doesn’t the rest of the world live like this?

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