My high school was where I did my growing up. Composed of three small white buildings and a rectangular field of green, it was an American institution located just a few kilometers outside of Paris. To me, it was the ultimate embodiment of an in-between world, a mesh of so much culture. The majority of students were American and went on to attend American universities, but they had traveled the world and lived in places for only a couple of years at a time. Again and again, they had been through the heartbreak of many hellos and even more goodbyes.
This was where we came together, in a school where it was normal not to know where home really was. For the first time in my life, being of Turkish and German origin and having lived in more than half a dozen cities did not make me stand out. Leaving this security behind to come to America was beyond difficult.
Today is a Wildcat Day. I can’t help but smile condescendingly at the prospies, remembering that I felt exactly how they look now -– excited, curious and absolutely terrified. I feel a superior kind of maturity as I glimpse these younger versions of myself walking through campus. I know so much more now than I did just ten months ago. And yet, the time has really gone by so quickly. I’m old news now. We all are.
To say that Wildcat Welcome was a strange experience would be an understatement. I found myself thrust onto campus and into a PA group, forced to talk to dozens of people everyday with a huge smile on my face when all I really wanted was to run home to my mother. I was lost and small and scared, but there lay a paradox in my heart too -– that I was finally free and couldn’t wait for this place to be mine.
September was over before I knew it. I started going to parties -– some were sweaty basement parties that I had heard about in high school, others took place in off-campus apartments and most were at frats. I remembered with a smile that I had “researched” Northwestern on College Prowler before coming to college. I had seen the term “Greek life” with the grade next to it (an A), and had wondered what it meant. Part of me was convinced that all American universities had a large supply of Greek food. Funny now, but it was all hopelessly new to me back then. Yet even with so much to learn and many cultural things to adapt to, I got used to it all much quicker than I expected.
Because I had subconsciously based a lot of my expectations of Northwestern on depictions of American colleges in movies (thank you American Pie), I think that a part of me was almost surprised to come here and find that frat guys really can be nice, and that we aren’t confined to a culture that solely promotes hooking up. If anything, I have been proven wrong -– because even though there are one-night stands and casual sex is not uncommon, Northwestern students manage to balance it out with long-term, or long-distance, relationships. It’s a lot more mixed than I expected, with a small majority of my friends in relationships. But I am a freshman, and there is still a lot more for me to learn about this place. My knowledge is limited to my experiences. And as time goes on, my perspective may change.
I remember my greatest fear — that I would never find people I could talk to, or that this would take several years. But with so many people living in such proximity, it’s hard not form strong and meaningful relationships, and all in such a short time. I had been scared of being set apart because I was European; I thought differently, I made jokes of a different genre and there were generally many things about American culture that I was either unaccustomed to or just didn’t know about. But in the end, I learned that this wasn’t a barrier in forming relationships. Most days I found it be a blessing and, if anything, it has only made me feel more comfortable here.
My first year of college changed me, as I’m sure it changes most people. I felt strongly that it was one of the last times in my life that I could be new, that I had the option to reinvent myself, that I could focus on figuring out who I was most comfortable with being.
For some people it’s a year that goes by smoothly. They leave home without much anxiety, and they slip right into the college way of life. For others, there are more bumps on the road. There are homesick nights and people who don’t get you like your friends back home did. There are intimidatingly large lecture halls and bad college food. There are nights out and snowstorms and the taste of terrible beer. There are teachers you love, classes you hate and the homey simplicity of Evanston. But these are things you get used to and, eventually, things you come to love, no matter where you come from.