Freshmen have a bad rep. We try to distance ourselves from acting like freshmen as soon as possible. It’s even in our language: a “freshman move” is to lose your Wildcard, lock yourself out of your room or miss dining hall hours (even though that can happen to anyone). But as a sophomore, I’m starting to think we could learn a lesson or two from the youngest class.
On the first day of Winter Quarter sophomore year, I grabbed a seat next to a stranger in statistics. People were still trickling in so I grabbed my phone and checked for messages that had accumulated when I was in politics (probably zero, but it’s a bad habit). I didn’t have any friends in the class so I proceeded to do anything on my phone while waiting for the lecture to start.
Needless to say, I was shocked when the person sitting next to me asked me my name and proceeded to make small talk with me until class started.
I definitely thought twice about it, but thought more than twice afterwards about why I found it so strange. The conversation was quite pleasant and a much better use of my time than scrolling aimlessly through my newsfeed would have been. As we exchanged numbers on our way out of class so we could do problem sets together, I couldn't help but ask, “Do you normally talk to people in your classes?” The answer was yes.
He is a freshman.
It was over lunch that we progressed from the small talk, speaking in particular about the freshman experience. I found myself wishing that I was as keen to introduce myself to the strangers in my clubs and classes. Last year, I was more willing to strike up conversations with strangers and believed it was possible to make friends through classes. That enthusiasm has been replaced with cynicism, arguably the worst side effect of growing up.
He also reminded me of another lesson: Don’t lose the excitement you had as a freshman. As we talked about what groups he had joined and wanted to join, I found myself missing the times when I felt that kind of excitement to get involved. My freshman fall, I went to general meeting after general meeting and was receptive to most opportunities. I applied for positions I didn't think I would get, checked out clubs whose interests didn't align with my own and generally was very willing to leave my comfort zone.
But now as a sophomore it feels as if I’m back in a comfort zone – albeit a slightly larger one. I ask myself way too often whether it’s weird to join things “late” and I’m definitely more aware of my age when I do go to general meetings. My peers have gushed for ages about clubs they’ve heard about only to end with “I wish I had gotten involved freshman year.”
I tell them it’s not too late, but I can understand why they’re concerned. Maybe there was no one to go with them since everyone was already booked with commitments or perhaps they’d find it hard to make friends. Those are valid reasons, but if walking into a university alone didn’t deter you freshman year, why should walking into a meeting alone bother you now?
The end of freshman year isn’t a cut-off point set in stone. It doesn’t determine everyone you know and everything you do on this campus and in no way are you limited once that first year expires.
Someone else asked me once how to not seem like a freshman and I gave him the obvious tips, like SPAC instead of Henry Crown Sports Pavilion, Plex instead of Foster-Walker, NU instead of NWU. I walked away from that exchange with something I described later on as “false and undeserved swagger,” feeling like a very learned sophomore. But when I look back, I wish I’d asked him how to be a freshman.